For the average drinker, today’s whiskey landscape offers a lot of information to unpack when looking for a great bottle to taste. As one of the most popular spirits on the planet, many styles and blends from distillers across the globe crowd the shelves these days. Toss into that mix the broad spread of prices for bottles today ranging anywhere from low double digits to high four digits, and it’s enough to drive most people up the wall.
According to the American Distilling Institute, there are over 3,800+ whiskey distillers in the world, and they are on every continent except Antarctica. From the ages-old single malt distilleries in Scotland to the elegant blending operations in Japan to the classic bourbon makers in Kentucky, abundant drams are just waiting to be enjoyed. But with so many options available, how can anyone know what bottles are best?
That’s where the leading international spirits competitions can come into play. Long the heralds of taste, their blind-tasting panels of industry experts cleave through crowded fields and spotlight truly fantastic bottles. Much like we did for bourbon, rum, tequila, and gin, we found five truly fantastic bottles of whiskey deemed the best in the world in 2023. These would be a worthy addition to any drinker’s bar.
15 Stars First West Fine Aged Rye Whiskey
When 15 Stars was launched in 2022, its founders had two goals for the brand. They wanted to craft the planet’s finest aged whiskey and honor the birthplace of bourbon, Kentucky; hence their name, the Bluegrass State was the fifteenth state. Well, they had done a bang-up job of both. Their First West Fine Aged Rye was named the World’s Best Whiskey at the New York World Spirits Competition. A blend of straight rye whiskeys aged between six and eight years, it has all the spiciness you would expect from a rye perfectly balanced with subtle fruit and tobacco undertones.
Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whiskey
This beautiful whiskey illuminates one of the most exciting developments in whiskey in the new Millennium, the emergence of American single malt whiskeys. Once the exclusive domain of the Scots, the complex simplicity of flavors that arise in this style has captured the attention of distillers in the U.S. Named Whisky of the Year at the London Spirits Competition, Courage & Conviction American Single Malt is made from 100% malted barley, sourced in North America and is a double cask bottling. It spent at least five years in first-fill bourbon casks before finishing in European red wine cuvée casks. The resultant liquid has hints of bright berries with notes of toffee.
Glenfairn Floral Highland Single Malt Whisky
Look no further if you are looking for a whisky that turned more heads on the awards circuit this year than any other. By taking home a Gold Outstanding, a Whiskey Trophy, and the highest mark (99 pts) for a whisky at the International Wine & Spirits Competition, Glenfarin Highland Single Malt proved that an excellent whisky doesn’t have to break the bank. Produced by the same folks responsible for single malt mainstays Jura and Dalmore, this budget ($30) whisky was made almost exclusively for supermarkets in the U.K. The judges loved it; here is what they had to say about it. “Wonderfully fragrant on the nose with a tropical mango base and a creamy toffee palate that is sweet and unctuous with great balance that finishes with a rich floral character that lingers.”
Heaven Hill Bottled-In Bond
As one of the first distillers to open shop after the repeal of Prohibition, Heaven Hill quickly became a mainstay bourbon for drinkers across America. These days, they are the second largest holder of aging bourbon whiskey in the world, with an estimated 1,600,000 barrels laid down in a myriad of rickhouses throughout Kentucky. Their Bottled-In Bond is a testament to the skills that their distillers bring to the trade. Named the World Whiskey of the Year at the Bartender Spirit Awards, this straightforward bottle has a subtle spicy rye hit balanced with vanilla, honey, and caramel sweetness. It’s perfect in a cocktail or straight-up.
Tomatin Highland Single Malt 36 Year Old
If you are a collector looking for rare bottles to step up a collection, or if you love fantastic whisky, then Tomatin Highland Single Malt 36 year Old is what you want. A limited-release whisky, only 1,200 are released globally each year; a bottle can easily run thousands of dollars on the resale market, so be prepared if shopping for one. Crafted in the heart of the Scottish countryside, the Tomatin distillers are renowned for producing exceptionally complex scotches. By being named Best in Show Whisky at the venerable San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the second time Tomatin has won the award in the last decade, their whisky has bested over 1,800 other entrants. A remarkably smooth sipper, its complex flavors make it indeed a memorable dram.