Top Picks Of 2020

By Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas, Owner-Editor

I handed out a personal record of six A grades in 2020, but not a single A+, which makes both Best New Whiskey and Best To Pass My Lips hard calls to make. Frankly, my choices are easily interchangeable. Both were wonderful and both were released during 2020. Just a hair behind the two are my honorable mentions: Old Forester 150th Anniversary Bourbon; King of Kentucky 2020; Glendronach 21 Year Old.

Best New Whiskey: Angel’s Envy Mizunara Cask
Angel’s Envy didn’t pioneer secondary maturation, better known as cask finishing, not even in the United States. However, they are the brand that has done more to establish the practice than any other, and recently they have taken the long awaited step of branching out beyond their standard fare to release some very carefully finished releases, these drawing on specialized cask stocks. The company chose to mark their 10th anniversary with the most exotic cask choice of all, rare Japanese Mizunara oak. The result of two extra years in Mizunara casks was a marvelous, strongly incense-influenced bourbon, exactly that sort of thing that I hoped a Mizunara finish would yield. I adored it.

Best To Pass My Lips: Redbreast Dream Cask Ruby Port 28 Year Old
If anything just slightly edged out the three excellent whiskeys from Brown-Forman mentioned above, and the marvelous Angel’s Envy Mizunara Cask, it was this 28 year old single pot still whiskey finished in a Ruby Port pipe. The whiskeys chosen for use in making it, aged in ex-bourbon, barrels, an Oloroso Sherry cask, and a previous Ruby Port cask, were discovered and set aside during the initial round of work put into creating the Redbreast 27 Year Old. What could be said about the outstanding quality of this whiskey than it’s constituents were deemed too good for use in Redbreast 27? I mean, seriously.

Biggest Disappointment: Tattersall Bottled in Bond Wheated Bourbon
The review might have been published just after the New Year, but I sampled this bottle and took my notes late in 2020. Although not a bad whiskey (C+), I’m a big booster for the gaining maturity of craft whiskeys, a maturity best embodied by the growing number of bonded expressions coming from small distillers. Being such a big booster means I have big expectations too, and in this instance those expectations were not met.

Kurt Maitland, Deputy Editor

Best New Whiskey
I have a three-way tie: 1) Michter’s 25 Year Old Bourbon, for yet again showing that you can release an old bourbon and not have the wood overwhelm the flavor; 2) Glenmorangie Barrel Select Release Malaga Cask, which hit my whisky sweet tooth in the right way; 3) Stranahan’s Mountain Angel, for sticking the landing and releasing the first 10 yr old American Single Malt.

Best to Pass My Lips: The Whisky Agency/The Whisky Exchange 27 yr old Irish Single Malt
I’ve actually owned a bottle and I still went back 4 to 5 times for additional drams at this year’s Old and Rare Show in London. Don’t sleep on Irish Whiskey.

Emma Briones, Senior Contributor

Best New Whiskey: Brenne Ten (2020)
Brenne launches each year a limited edition where they marry four different barrels and create Brenne Ten. Brenne might not be a whisky for those classic Scotch lovers, but Brenne Ten might be. The extra aging brings a deeper character to the whisky, leaving behind the intensity of its candy-like notes. Still sweet, but with more chocolate and dried fruit notes, takes the French whisky to another level.

Best To Pass My Lips: anCnoc 16 125th anniversary
anCnoc celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Knockdhu distillery in 2019 with a couple of limited editions. One of them was a 16 year old bottled at cask strength malt that, though it keeps the classic citrus style from anCnoc, is creamier. This big glass of sweet lemon pie was not what I expected from the whisky, but oh did I love it. We might be needing more cask strength anCnoc after all.

Biggest Disappointment: DYC Doble Roble
I’m a huge advocate of Spanish whisky, and this year has been great for a lot of small craft producers. But then DYC, the biggest Spanish whisky brand and one of the most recognized worldwide, has taken a step back on what was really nice track. For the past three years, the distillery has released limited-edition whiskies in their “Maestros Destiladores” collection, with ages 12 and 15, that were truly a good dram at a nice price. The third launch of the collection was launched in November 2020 – and it’s been a completely different whisky than what I expected. Don’t get me wrong, the new DYC Doble Roble isn’t a bad whisky, but it’s really far away from the latest releases of the distillery.


Randall H. Borkus, Senior Contributor

Best New Whiskey: Parker’s Heritage 10 Year Old Heavy Char Bourbon (2020)
The Heaven Hill rye recipe bourbon spirit for this 14th edition of Parker’s Heritage was put into 102 barrels which were charred for 1 minute and 30 seconds, making them a level 5 char. The barrels were aged on the 6th floor of Rickhouse Y for a 10 year sleep. The bourbon whiskey is proofed to 120 proof and is non chill-filtered. The series continues to charitably support ALS research, having raised over $1 million since beginning contributions.

The nose is full of traditional vanilla and caramel flavors with oak overtones. The palate bursts with butterscotch custard, accented by vanilla, caramel, and candied cherries. The finish is smooth with notes of butterscotch, honey, caramel, and a pinch of chocolate-cinnamon swirl. This is a graceful full-bodied bourbon whiskey.

Best Whiskey To Pass My Lips: Bladnoch Talia 25 Year Old
Talia, means ‘dew from God’ and is Lowland single malt Scotch that has been aged for 25 years in a combination of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-whisky before finishing in new American oak casks will not disappoint. The whisky is non chill-filtered and has no color added. Bottled at 48.4% ABV is truly one of my favorite Scotch whiskies of all time.

This has a stylishly, mature nose with hints of old oak, ginger, and mature malt with a hint of fresh green apples. The palate is silky smooth and flavorful, with distinct gingerbread, honied-vanilla, sweet fresh oak with a hint of coconut paletas clinging to my tongue. The finish is sweet and spicy with citrus hints, honey and sweet oaky notes. This whisky is soft and elegant which lingers with sweetness and gent spicy dryness that leaves me wanting another deep pour.


Andrew Graham, Contributor

Best New Whiskey: Kings County Bottled in Bond
The best way I can describe the Kings County Bottled in Bond expression is that it smells and tastes like high-quality, freshly polished, impeccably conditioned wood furniture looks. The nose delivers explosive wafts of oak and dark fruit throughout whatever room you’ve poured it in. On the palate, the whiskey drifts from sweet creme brûlée flavors towards dark chocolate and coffee beans and ends at cinnamon and chia tea.

Kings County has really been on a roll over the past couple of years, creating consistently great expressions at the distillery in the Navy Yard neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Best To Pass My Lips: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye 2019
A promotional event by Whisky Auctioneer afforded me the opportunity to taste some scarce drams that I otherwise wouldn’t have encountered in 2020.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye (Fall 2019 release), a barrel-strength Kentucky straight rye, is one of five bottlings in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection released each fall. This rye is superbly warming and fragrant, with prominent notes of mint and pepper, as well as the requisite baking spice flavors. But what really puts this one over the top is one specific flavor that I picked up on immediately: fresh oregano. I have never encountered a whiskey that puts that flavor on my palate so prominently. This whiskey’s combination of flavors works extraordinarily well and the barrel-proof bottling creates versatility. It’s the best whiskey I had in 2020.

Biggest Disappointment: Evan Williams Bottled in Bond
This is not a cop out. Even though this whiskey has the price tag of a good sandwich ($15 in New York), a bottled-in-bond expression from such an established distillery, Heaven Hill, ought to be better than this.

The Evan Williams Bottled in Bond (BiB) has an aggressive sugariness that begs for some ice and a mixer–any mixer–for balance. The finish is empty, offering no discernible positive qualities. It adds alcohol to a cocktail and does little else. I picked up a bottle of this stuff expecting a basic, vanilla-and-wood bomb that could fuel some whiskey cocktails. Instead, I got something that really misrepresents the distillery’s work. I have not had the now-discontinued six-year BiB selection from Heaven Hill, but I have had the seven-year BiB that replaced it, which is very good.


Douglas Fraser, Contributor

Best New Whiskey: Knob Creek 15 Year Old Bourbon
Although it is, in my opinion, a little overpriced, this new addition to the Knob Creek line was outstanding. Dominated by the oak, once passed, hints of maple syrup, vanilla, baking spices, dark red fruits, caramel, and peanuts arose. On the palate are hints of vanilla, charred oak, rye spice, dark chocolate, leather, baking spices, and toffee. The finish is long, gentle, and warming with continuing hints of leather, oak, vanilla, and baking spices. Knob Creek 15 can be found for $100 USD, however, for $40 USD less on average, the slightly younger Knob Creek 12 is almost as good and a much better value overall.

Best to Pass my Lips: Glenfarclas 25 Year Old
A magnificent dram out of the lush glens of Scotland. Glenfarclas stands among some of the nations best distilleries and is consumer friendly keeping their expressions at reasonable prices. Upon pouring the Glenfarclas 25 into my copita glass, I was hit with wonderful aromas of sherry and oak which told me this was going to be heavily sherried. While inspecting the spirit, I noticed the deep golden colors that masked my glass and its elegant legs dripping down the sides. The nose is very floral but sophisticated with complex but gentle notes of sherry, dark chocolate, oak, orange marmalade, and some hints of nuts. The palate is slightly smoky accompanied by coffee notes that arise with continuing hints of nuts, dark chocolate, oak, sherry, and leather. The finish is long and intense but still warm and welcoming with notes of cherry, cocoa, leather and oak. Glenfarclas 25 is a well-rounded, complex, and full-bodied whisky that is top shelf worthy.

Biggest Disappointment: George Dickel Bottled in Bond 2020
I don’t get it. I’ve heard the hype, tried it, and thought it was sub-par at best. I just don’t get it.

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