All posts in “Drinks”

Somehow, a Whiskey Named After a Golf Course Is One of the Best Things I Drank Last Month

Every month, a huge amount of booze moves through the Gear Patrol offices — beer, wine and a whole lot of whiskey. This week: star-studded bourbon, a crushable IPA from Vermont and more.

Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon

Sweetens Cove is a new spirits label and its first product is a 13-year-old bourbon blended by Marianne Eaves, a former blender at Brown-Forman (the company that owns Old Forester, Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve and others). Its received praise from reviewers at Breaking Bourbon and whiskey writer Aaron Goldfarb and signed off on it.

That’s quite a CV for a new brand, but the whiskey in the bottle lived up to it. Its heavy on vanilla and oak characteristic (13 years will do that), but there’s a clear and powerful peanut butter flavor that works its way from the nose to the finish. It is an electric whiskey, which is even more surprising once you learn its technically a “celebrity” spirit. Among others, its backers include Andy Roddick, multiple Mannings and Jim Nantz. The cold bucket of water on the Sweetens Cove hype train is the price — it’s set to retail at a whopping $200. The brand says there are 14,000 bottles in the batch. If you’ve got money to spend or someone to get a unique gift, seek it out. —Will Price, Assistant Editor

Lawson’s Finest Liquids Little Sip IPA

The Sip of Sunshine family of East Coast IPAs is the backbone of Lawson’s Finest Liquids. And Sean Lawson has added a newborn to that family: Little Sip IPA. Still relying on the Citra hop to do the heavy lifting of floral and citrus flavors, Little Sip is more of the Session IPA of the family at 6.2 percent ABV. It’s clean, hoppy, a tiny bit of bite but nothing overpowering. It’s another example of liquid perfection from Lawson’s and one that’s paired perfectly with a summer day outside. —Ryan Brower, Commerce Editor

Basil Hayden’s 10-Year-Old Rye

Because of its low proofing, Basil Hayden’s isn’t looked at kindly by capital-W Whiskey Guys, but it was never meant for them. Its premium bourbon for the masses, and no expression to date has represented this as much as the 10-year rye. Its low proof means alcohol doesn’t get in the way of tasting the whiskey’s maturity, which comes through a pleasant dryness and hug of vanilla on the tongue. It’s delightfully nice to drink, and you can get it at most liquor stores. —Will Price, Assistant Editor

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Canned Cocktail

Say what you need to say, but know that deriding canned bubbly-honey-lemonade-whiskey is a denial of happiness. It’s not artful and it’s not going to win awards, but it’s a wildly satisfying summer drink, and the perfect drink to reach for when your buddies pull out the Claws. —Will Price, Assistant Editor

Torch & Crown Brewing Company Tenement

Most newer craft breweries take a bit of time before releasing a lager because, as the old adage goes, there’s nowhere to hide in a lager. In its short time as a brand, Torch & Crown has not shied away from brewing crispy pilsners — and they’ve succeeded at it. The latest lager offering from the soon-to-be-first-brewery-in-Manhattan-since-1995 is Tenement and it’s hit the spot on warm summer days. It’s lagered for over 100 days and offers up crackery malts with a floral noble hop compliment for a smooth, clean finish. When you’re able to produce enjoy 4.9 percent ABV pilsners like Tenement before you even have a physical space, you know you’re on to something. —Ryan Brower, Commerce Editor

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

This Used to Be an Insider Bourbon You Could Only Buy in One Place. Now You Can Get It Everywhere

At first glance, spotting a bottle of Old Tub on the shelf doesn’t inspire much fervor. If we were to play a game of whiskey name bingo, surely the word “Old” would be the free space (to be fair, “Tub” wouldn’t even be on the sheet). The bottle doesn’t say much either, outside of your standard declarations of provenance and lore. The whiskey is 4 to 5 years old, cut to 100 proof and set to retail for a $23. Why care?

For bourbon enthusiasts — particularly Jim Beam loyalists — Old Tub is a marker of knowledge level. It is, after all, the foundation of what Jim Beam is today. Once distillery’s transitioned from a gas pump approach to selling actual bottles of whiskey, it was called Old Tub. It kept the name from 1880 from 1943, when it was officially renamed Jim Beam. Since then, the name was relegated to a Kentucky-only release nobody but diehards knew about.

Before the re-release, the whiskey was only available in 375ml sizes, with a flask bottle shape.

The Old Tub you’ll see on shelves in late June is the first large-scale re-release of the brand since it was replaced almost 80 years ago. It remains a Bottled-in-Bond offering. In its day, it was a workhorse whiskey, enjoyed on the rocks or in a cocktail. At $23, that hasn’t changed. In an interview with Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe, the great-grandson of Jim Beam himself, Noe mentions the bottle was a reliable go-to for past generations of bourbon drinkers.

“I always say just look at them old guys and you’ll see pretty quick. They drank one brand and one bottle — that’s it. If my grandfather on my mom’s side was drinking, you better believe it was an old whiskey called Old Tub, and that’s what he drank. He didn’t drink beer, wine or vodka. If we didn’t have no Old Tub, then he drank water,” he said.

The new Old Tub is rolling out to liquor stores nationwide “late June,” according to the brand. It is a limited edition offering.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

The Best Scotch Whisky Makers You’ve Never Heard of

There are more than 125 active whisky distilleries in Scotland. For every man, woman and child, there are about three casks of whisky maturing somewhere in the country.

Distilleries and bonded warehouses are strewn across the country; very few parts of rural Scotland are not touched by the industry in some form or another. But who owns it all? Historically, distilling has been a family affair, with many families engaged in illicit distilling “going clean” and building legitimate, commercialized distilling empires over the last two centuries. Since then, much of the industry has been consolidated and bought up by international drinks giants like Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Bacardi, leaving very few of the original great distilling families in business.

But there are a few notable exceptions. Whilst not all of these are still run by their founding families, many are still in private hands. Then there are brand new independent distilleries, approaching the traditional and often stuffy world of scotch whisky in novel ways.

Whisky, like a lot of things, seems to taste even better when you know what it’s made from, those who crafted it and the landscapes that influence its style and character. Always keen to get to know the story — and the people — behind our choice spirits, these are some of the most outstanding independent Scottish distilleries to look out for, and a choice bottling from each.

Benromach

Bottle to Try: Benromach 10 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

The Urquhart family knows a thing or two about whisky. Fourth-generation distillers, the family are custodians of independent bottling firm Gordon & MacPhail. Predominantly bottlers of single malts sourced from distilleries across Scotland, the family didn’t have a distillery of their own until 1993, when it acquired Benromach Distillery a few miles from Elgin, Moray.

Five years of re-equipping later, Benromach was awoken from a dormant slumber of around 15 years of inactivity. One of the smallest distilleries in the region, Benromach are sticklers for quality and stubbornly insist on only using “first fill” casks that have not been used to mature Scotch previously, enabling Benromach’s raw spirit to extract maximum flavor from the wood. Unusually for a Speyside distillery, Benromach lightly “peats” its malted barley by drying the grain with peat smoke, for just long enough to impart a subtle but discernible dry smokiness to its world-class malt whisky.

Arbikie

Bottle to Try: Arbikie Highland Rye Single Grain Scotch Whisky

Perched on the east coast of Angus in the Scottish Highlands, the Arbikie Estate is a working farm that’s been in the hands of the Stirling family for four generations. Now run by brothers John, Iain and David, it’s a true single-estate distillery with an ethos to match. The Stirling’s plant, grow, sow and harvest everything that goes into their creations — which includes a range of vodkas, gins and, of course, whisky. A relative newcomer to distilling, Arbikie does not yet have a bottled single malt — rumour has it that the family are willing to wait for nearly 18 years before sharing their malt whisky with the world. Arbikie has, however, been busy bottling something unique.

Its Highland Rye is the first Scotch Rye Whisky distilled in over 100 years; records suggest that Rye was being used to produce Scotch hundreds of years ago, but in recent times the grain fell out of favor. Leading the pack of a handful of Scottish distilleries experimenting with this spicy and often overlooked grain, Arbikie’s second Rye release – bottled at a youthful four years old – offers a glimpse of what is to come.

Kilchoman

Bottle to Try: Kilchoman Sanaig Whisky

The first new distillery for 124 years on the Isle of Islay – known as Scotland’s “whisky island” for boasting no fewer than nine distilleries – Kilchoman is a quintessential farm distillery. For its “100% Islay” bottlings, the team at Kilchoman grows its own grain, malts it, mashes it, distills it, bottles it and probably also drinks a fair bit of it too. It does get pretty cold on the west coast, after all.

With its own malting floor – where its homegrown barley is dried and turned by a man with a shovel- Kilchoman can smoke barley using peat dug from ancient bogs just a stone’s throw from the farm. This really is distilling as it was 200 years ago (Kilchoman has an uncompromising obsession with keeping things traditional). The copper stills here, for example, are a fraction of the size of any other on the island but that only adds to the charm; the emphasis is on getting it right, not on producing en masse. Kilchoman is also a full-on family affair, with Managing Director Anthony Wills’ three sons traveling the world with suitcases full of island malt which is quickly giving the old guard distilleries of Islay a run for their money.

Arran

Bottle to Try: Arran Amarone Cask Single Malt Whisky

Given that Scots have been at this distilling thing for a few centuries, Arran Distillery is a relative newcomer, having just turned 25 years old. Nicknamed “Scotland in Miniature,” the picturesque Isle of Arran shares characteristics of both the rugged, dramatic scenes of the Highlands and the gently rolling hills of the Lowlands. Despite its youthfulness, Arran wasted no time in building an eclectic range of expressions which showcase this island distillery’s versatility. We’re particularly big fans of Arran’s “wine finish” releases; ex-bourbon cask matured malts transferred to various wine barrels including Port, Sauternes and Amarone to impart distinctive and exotic flavors to this sublime island malt.

Bladnoch

Bottle to Try: Bladnoch 10 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

With its two-century-old deep bluestone walls situated on the banks of a gently flowing lowland stream teeming with brown trout and salmon, is it any wonder that Bladnoch is known as the “Queen of the Lowlands”? One of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, Bladnoch recently had a short spell of inactivity before being purchased by Australian David Prior who gave it a much-needed refurbishment, reawakening this sleepy lowland legend and launching a range of limited edition malts bottled in unmissable, striking decanters. Nick Savage, former Master Distiller at Macallan, runs Bladnoch’s production and has recently overseen the release of ultra-rare single cask bottlings, including one exclusively for a bar in the owner’s native Melbourne.

Edradour

Bottle to Try: Edradour 10 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

As one of Perthshire’s original farm distilleries, Edradour has a certain rural charm about it with its bright white fencing and impossibly small stone buildings crammed with equipment. When visiting one summer, I was present when the mash tun – the vessel in which the barley is steeped with hot water right at the start of the production process – was being emptied of draff (the spent grains left behind). Distilleries often sell this protein-rich byproduct onto farmers for use as animal feed. I noted, however, that two small, perfectly measured buckets were being kept back whilst the rest was hand shovelled into the farm trailer sitting outside. I asked about the buckets. “One of the lassies who works in our visitor centre owns two cows.” Of course. Welcome to Scotland.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

For the Second Year in a Row, This $40 Tennessee Whiskey Will Be One of the Best Values at the Liquor Store

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George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond


Last year, George Dickel released a limited run of $36, 13-year-old, Bottled-in-Bond whiskey. Thanks to its exceptionally rare balance of proof, age, flavor profile and reasonable price, it was one of the best whiskeys of last year, even earning the honor of Whisky Advocate’s Whisky of the Year over pricier and more prestigious bottles from Woodford Reserve, Dewar’s, Four Roses, Glenmorangie and more. Distiller Nicole Austin and the Cascade Hollow team are going for it again in 2020.

The 2020 expression of George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond is 11 years old and priced at $40, a slight bump from last year’s bottle. Speaking to the magazine that handed last year’s rendition the crown, Austin says this year’s is bigger and bolder than its predecessor. And though it is listed at a higher price and is made of spirit that’s a couple years younger, it remains a great value at $40. Though there’s a healthy chance many retailers will seize on the hype of the 2019 release and sell the 2020 expression for much more, as is often the case with whiskeys that make the news.

For those unfamiliar, George Dickel is a Tennessee whiskey brand distilled at Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. outside Tullahoma, Tennessee. Though it satisfies nearly every requirement to call itself bourbon, Tennessee whiskey employs the Lincoln County Process, which uses charcoal filtering to mellow the whiskey. Jack Daniel’s is the only Tennessee whiskey brand larger than George Dickel.

The brand says this year’s release is rolling out to stores in select markets this month.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

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Why Are New Fathers Obsessed with Single Barrel Bourbon?

The guide to the whiskeys you should buy your old man for Father’s Day is a men’s lifestyle media trope. I wrote the one for this very site. And while the whiskeys on that list are quality enough gifts and there’s no doubt a whiskey-loving dad will gleefully take a bottle of whiskey they didn’t pay for, it remains a ho-hum, surface-level gift. Running late, you may very well have gone to the liquor store around the corner from your dad’s home and grabbed Laphroaig 10 off the display shelf at the front of the store (in a highly giftable tube, to boot!) and passed it off to him that night. Job done.

For fathers who are both collectors and bourbon enthusiasts, though, the calculus is different, involving what is perhaps the most challenging whiskey hunt of all: date-specific bottles.

Whiskey fiends willing subject themselves to what is a needle-in-a-haystack search do so to find bottles of whiskey with a date worth remembering scrawled on the label, often the birth of a child or a wedding anniversary. By and large, the hunt for these bottles begins and ends with single barrel bourbons, which are the most likely to carry barrelling dates (when the unaged whiskey was added to the barrel for maturation), dump dates (when the barrels were emptied of whiskey) or bottle dates (when the whiskey was bottled) on the labels. A quick Google search of any of those terms yields dozens of posts in popular bourbon forums like /r/bourbon and Straight Bourbon discussing the task at hand.

But hunting for these bottles isn’t like hunting for other ultra-rare whiskeys like Pappy, which has more to do with your willingness (and ability) to spend money than it does truly hunting for it (if you’re willing to dabble in whiskey’s grey markets, you could have Pappy in your hands in a matter of hours). Bottles with a singular date on them — even just a year and a month — are magnitudes more difficult to track down.

“We don’t have a way to track where specific dates end up in stores. Once it goes to the distributor, we have no way to know which stores they still specific bottles to,” Amy Preske, Sazerac Company’s public relations manager said. Preske, who handles PR for Buffalo Trace Distillery brands as well, added the brand does get “quite a bit” of these requests.

Heaven Hill Distillery’s Henry McKenna enjoyed a relatively quiet existence as a readily available, 10-year-old single barrel bourbon before its surprise-win at 2019’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which has driven the price from $35 to $100 or more in most markets.

Blanton’s, one of those brands under the Buffalo Trace Distillery umbrella, is the most popular bottle among the date-specific bottle crowd. The bottle’s label lists the barrel number it was made from, what rick it matured on and the date it was dumped on. Its peculiar shape, collector cult bonafides (even the bottle stoppers are collectible) and claim as the world’s first single barrel bourbon doesn’t hurt, either. It’s so sought-after by these collectors it addresses the subject in its FAQ page. If the distillery can’t track them, who can?

Blanton’s fans are luckier than most in this regard. There are Facebook groups dedicated to the hunt for Blanton’s and websites built to track bottles with specific dates on them. But what about the others? Heaven Hill’s Henry McKenna Single Barrel has a “Barreled On” date handwritten on each bottle. Wild Turkey’s Kentucky Spirit and select bottles of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel both come with dates, as does Evan Williams budget-minded Single Barrel Vintage and plenty more.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B81pRqrnHLu/

“I think most people run to /r/Bourbon, Straight Bourbon, or possibly large Facebook or Discord groups like BourbonR or Bourbon Pursuit. But that’s only a guess.” David Jennings, author of American Spirit and dedicated Wild Turkey blogger at RareBird 101 wrote in an email.

Co-Founder of New Riff Distilling Jay Erisman says it’s not a task a distillery can lend a hand with.

“The problem would be, OK, so you want a bottling from such and so date — where are you? Is that bottling even in your market? Generally that is far too granular of a detail for us to track. When we ship out pallets of single barrel to a distributor, who knows where it winds up,” Erisman said.

According to Erisman, who operated a major Kentucky liquor store before getting into distilling, date-hunters are the evolved version of the year-hunters, or buyers looking for bottles that are 21 years old for their kid’s 21st birthday, or 15 years old to commemorate 15 years at a job. Like all hobbies, things only become more confusing with age.

Maybe that bottle of Laphroaig 10 wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

The 9 Best New Bourbons and Whiskeys of 2020 (So Far)

The year isn’t even halfway over and, despite an actual pandemic, the American whiskey boom hasn’t slowed. Big and small, producers are releasing great whiskeys on a weekly basis. These are the nine best I’ve had so far.

Weller Single Barrel

Weller Single Barrel is the brand’s Goldilocks expression. It’s proof is high (97) but manageable, and you get more vanilla-y wood characteristic than you do with Antique 107 or Special Reserve. It’s impossible to say how much it’ll be available for at stores, but it’ll certainly go for more than its $50 asking price for the Weller name alone. Buffalo Trace Distillery said bottles will ship to stores in June.

Knob Creek 9-Year Bourbon Whiskey

Jim Beam Distillery’s Knob Creek line was in the news recently for bringing a 9- and 12-year age statement bourbon back to its permanent lineup, a sure sign of supply creeping up on the outrageous demand of the bourbon boom. And while the 12-year is also excellent, the 9-year, 100 proof roughly $35 bourbon is immediately one of the best values on the shelf. It’s rich, peanuty and priced at a point where you can mix it, drink on the rocks or sip neat.

Larceny Barrel Proof Bourbon

A beefier version of a favored budget wheater from Heaven Hill was always going to be good. New to 2020, the distillery says it plans to release three batches a year at $50. Drink it with an ice cube.

Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish Rye

If they’re not the best, Sagamore Spirit are among the very best at barrel finishing whiskey. The brand’s cognac-finished and port-finished ryes have raked in awards, and I fully expect the calvados-finished to follow. It’s a mix of four and five year old ryes that spend almost a year in ex-calvados barrels, a brandy made from apples or pears. The result is a lively, spicy rye flavor with a mellow, sweet backbone. It’s dessert whiskey.

Wilderness Trail Straight Bourbon Whiskey

It’s not necessarily new whiskey, but it’s new to most people. The relatively young Danville, Kentucky operation is finally expanding broadly outside its homestate, and its straight bourbon is only getting better with age. This year’s bottles are six years old and serve as proof that good bourbon isn’t reserved for the macro distillers.

Bulleit Blender’s Select 001 Straight Bourbon

Long synonymous with ultra-spicy and affordable ryes, Bulleit is steering into the premium market now. Blender’s select is a new limited offering made with more than 10 whiskeys, all aged for at least 9 years. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s an excellent pour, and shows the brand can create bourbons with some finesse just as well as it does fiery rye bombs.

Woodfoord Reserve Batch Proof 2020

Last year’s was the second release of Woodford’s full strength, annually released bourbon and it earned itself a top 10 ranking in Whisky Advocate’s best of the year. This year’s, IMO at least, is better. Opening a sample flooded my kitchen with the smell of banana pudding and vanilla wafers, and the taste followed through on that promise. Because it’s available in limited quantities and priced at a stout $130 retail, it’s best-suited for Woodford completionists.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (Batch A120)

First of all, I know the image is not Batch A120. Don’t email me about it. Secondly, while I’m aware it’s redundant to say Elijah Craig’s Barrel Proof bottlings are the most underrated bourbons on the shelf, it bears repeating: this is 12-year-old bourbon dumped at full strength that can be had anywhere for about $60 to $70. It has won every award that matters, and 2020’s first batch, A120, will win more. Like Tiger Woods in the early aughts or Lebron James for the last 15 years, its greatness is so regular we’re numbed to it. Buy a bottle and remind yourself.

Blanton’s Gold Edition

Available summer 2020, Blanton’s Gold isn’t technically new whiskey, but it’s new to most. Blanton’s has a long history overseas and distributes a number of bottles to international markets exclusively. Until this year, Gold was a part of that groups, along with Straight From the Barrel, Special Reserve and others. Gold is aged slightly longer than regular Blanton’s and proofed higher as well. The result is a fattier, deeper bourbon.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

The 2020 Version of One of Last Year’s Best Whiskeys Is Showing Up at Liquor Stores Right Now

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Last year, George Dickel released a limited run of $36, 13-year-old, Bottled-in-Bond whiskey. Thanks to its exceptionally rare balance of proof, age, flavor profile and reasonable price, it was one of the best whiskeys of last year, even earning the honor of Whisky Advocate’s Whisky of the Year over pricier and more prestigious bottles from Woodford Reserve, Dewar’s, Four Roses, Glenmorangie and more. Distiller Nicole Austin and the Cascade Hollow team are going for it again in 2020.

The 2020 expression of George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond is 11 years old and priced at $40, a slight bump from last year’s bottle. Speaking to the magazine that handed last year’s rendition the crown, Austin says this year’s is bigger and bolder than its predecessor. And though it is listed at a higher price and is made of spirit that’s a couple years younger, it remains a great value at $40. Though there’s a healthy chance many retailers will seize on the hype of the 2019 release and sell the 2020 expression for much more, as is often the case with whiskeys that make the news.

For those unfamiliar, George Dickel is a Tennessee whiskey brand distilled at Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. outside Tullahoma, Tennessee. Though it satisfies nearly every requirement to call itself bourbon, Tennessee whiskey employs the Lincoln County Process, which uses charcoal filtering to mellow the whiskey. Jack Daniel’s is the only Tennessee whiskey brand larger than George Dickel.

The brand says this year’s release is rolling out to stores in select markets this month.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

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6 Bourbons You Should Buy Before They Become Way More Expensive

Dusties — old bottles of whiskey that haven’t been in production for years but still taste delicious — are cool as hell. Look into them yourself and you’ll quickly see why. Old whiskey lasts forever in an unopened bottle, and lots of the old stuff before the Bourbon Boom really was delicious. Here is a history lesson in your mouth, that usually cost half what the good stuff does today (and rarer, too). Once the last bottle of a discontinued whiskey is drunk, it’s gone.

This might make you start thinking about what other bottles you’re going to miss when they’re gone, or ones that will become prohibitively expensive and stripped from shelves. In the bourbon world, whiskey perceived as good quickly becomes too good. People start making noise about some delicious bottle (or Jim Murray writes about it), and suddenly everybody wants it. Bourbon drinking and fandom rolls on, and every day one new good bottle creeps toward becoming overhyped, overdrank, the market drained dry of it.

It’s enough to make you a little anxious, isn’t it? It also makes you wonder what good stuff is out there that you can get now, before the horde buys it all up. We asked a trio of experts which bottles they’re stocking up on before it’s too late. Here are the bottles you’ll wish you’d bought ten years from now.

Four Roses

A Whiskey in Transition:“I would put a lot of time into Four Roses,” says Fred Minnick, the Editor-in-Chief of Bourbon+ magazine. When looking for “the next big thing,” he considers whiskey that’s had a transition. Hence Four Roses, which changed master distillers from Jim Rutledge to Brent Elliott in 2015. “The whiskey coming out of them is amazing right now,” Minnick says. “The style is so different than when Rutledge was there. They’re both amazing whiskeys. I love the differences between the two.”

Woodinville Whiskey

Young Bucks: The young distillery based in Washington state won Craft Whiskey of the Year in 2016 for its Straight Bourbon whiskey and Craft Rye Whiskey of the Year in 2017 for its Straight Rye whiskey. At the 2020 San Francisco Spirits Competition, it won “Best Straight Bourbon,” too. Its two founders, Orlin Sorensen and Brett Carlile, were mentored by the legendary Dave Pickerell. “I would buy every single bottle of Woodinville,” Minnick says.

Wilderness Trail

Science Nerds: Before they started their own distillery, Shane Baker and Pat Heist were fermentation experts, helping Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries age the good stuff. They started Wilderness Trail in 2012. Their single barrel and small batch bourbons and ryes are delicious, in part because they’ve applied their scientific attention to detail to their distillation process: their proprietary Infusion Mashing Process delivers precise heat to “gelatinize starches without degradation of the quality of the grains.” (Probably just take their word for it.)

Wild Turkey

Underappreciated Gems: “Several Wild Turkey releases have been underappreciated,” says Blake Riber, founder of the Bourbonr blog and Seelbach’s, a spirits curation company. Wild Turkey’s 101 Rye had a popular but confusing release — was it discontinued or wasn’t it — that could mean it’s going away sometime soon. He also has an eye out for Master’s Keep, a 17-year-old bourbon hand-picked by master distiller Eddie Russell.

New Riff

New Kids on the Block: They don’t want to be called craft, but they’re certainly not part of the Big Four. (They request “mid-major.”) Whatever you want to call them, New Riff is making good shit. The young company makes young-ish bourbons, ryes and gins with lots of info provided (mashbill, clear age statements, etc.). The proof is in the pudding, and the bourbon world has taken notice. “They’re leading the way on a lot of these non-heritage distilleries,” Minnick says. High demand and not-so-high supply means they could be tough to find sooner than later. Grab ‘em while you still can.

A Slew of Craft Distillers

Under the Radar:: “Right now several names stand out as leaders of the pack in the small distillery game,” says the anonymous user behind the Instagram account @OverpricedBourbon, which has 40,000 followers and posts images bottles to help whiskey drinkers understand the right price point. Smokewagon, Blaum Bros, Pinhook, Belle Meade and Chattanooga Whiskey “have released bottles that already have a loyal following and I see those bottles being highly sought after in the not so distant future,” he says.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Buffalo Trace’s New Goldilocks Bourbon Is the Best Thing I Drank Last Month

Every month, a huge amount of booze moves through the Gear Patrol offices — beer, wine and a whole lot of whiskey. Here are a few of our favorites.

Weller Sinlge Barrel Bourbon

“Late in May, Buffalo Trace Distillery announced the latest expansion of its covetable line of Weller bourbons. A mid-proof, annual release bourbon with the company’s famed wheated bourbon mashbill, Weller Single Barrel is already my favorite of the lineup (except for the Antique Collection’s William Larue Weller bottle). Its 97 proof is high enough to keep a fatty mouthfeel and deliver big flavor, but not so high as to drown out the whiskey’s lighter cherry and floral notes, like Full Proof. There’s more barrel influence in the finish than something like Antique 107 or Special Reserve, too. Because it’s Buffalo Trace and because it’s Weller, it will be more expensive than its listed $40 asking price but, for me at least, it may just be worth it.” — Will Price, Assistant Editor

New Belgium The Purist Clean Lager

“Drinking a light lager in the coming summer months is ingrained in all American beer drinkers. But this new clean lager from New Belgium is in a category of its own when it comes to light lagers: it’s USDA Certified Organic and clocks in at only 3.8 percent ABV, 95 calories and 3 grams of carbs. It’s snappy, bright, offers very little head retention and has the mouthfeel of sparkling water/beer hybrid. It looks and smells a bit like white wine, and even carries a little bit of that musty white wine aftertaste. But don’t let that confuse you: this is a delightful and satisfying beer we’ll be drinking plenty of this summer.” — Ryan Brower, Commerce Editor

Daviess County French Oak Finished Bourbon

“Daviess County (that is how to spell it) is the latest project from Lux Row, an independent bottler of some of the best value whiskeys you can buy (Old Ezra and Rebel Yell in particular). The new line launched with three expressions, each a blend of wheated and rye bourbon mashbills. Each is solid, but the pair of cask finished whiskeys stand out, and the French Oak-finished spirit even more. The combination of mashbills lends an unfamiliar sweet and spicy flavor, then the tannin-heavy French wood hits and everything pulls together is a fatty, dry, warm and syrupy finish. It is atypical, but it is delicious. Bottles should be on shelves for around $40 or $50.” — Will Price, Assistant Editor

Threes Brewing Eternal Return – Apricot

“The Eternal Return Saison running series from Threes Brewing is a favorite among NYC beer lovers, and the Apricot variant is in the top three of the rotation. It’s a Brettanomyces beer aged in stainless steel, which is not typically how good Saisons age but Threes does it right. It also uses German Pilsner malt that adds a bit of snapiness to balance out the sweetness of the apricots. Simply put, it’s like someone made a sophisticated Saison out of gummi peach rings.” — Ryan Brower, Commerce Editor

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Love Buffalo Trace Bourbon? These Are the Next Whiskeys to Try

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The Upgrade


Everybody has a go-to bourbon, but sometimes, whether by choice or by limited selection at the liquor store, a backup bottle is needed. A fairly reliable shelf staple in most markets, Buffalo Trace bourbon has long held its status among the most dependably affordable and versatile whiskeys out there: a proper sipping bourbon that holds up just fine in a cocktail and keeps its proof at an easy-drinking 90. Here’s what to reach for if Buffalo Trace isn’t on the shelf, or it’s come time to branch out.

Eagle Rare

Retail Price: $30 – $40
Proof: 90

Older Brother: Eagle Rare is made by the Buffalo Trace Distillery using the same low-rye recipe as Buffalo Trace bourbon and it’s cut to match the familiar 90 proof. What’s different? Where Buffalo Trace is aged at least 8 years, Eagle Rare is aged at least 10. Those extra two years maturing in the barrel make for whiskey with far more barrel characteristic, a slightly fattier body and loads more vanilla and spice notes. If you want a slightly upgraded sipping whiskey for not a whole lot more cash, Eagle Rare is the move.

Four Roses Small Batch

Retail Price: $30 – $35
Proof: 90

Like-for-Like: Four Roses Small Batch is among the best “everyday” bourbons in the world. A blend of high- and low-rye mashbills and 6- to 7-year-old bourbons, its proven to be among the most consistent bottles in all of whiskey. It also happens to be cut to the same proof as Buffalo Trace and hovers in the same price bracket. If you can’t find Buffalo Trace but want a bourbon that exhibits similar drinking flexibility, price and age marks, reach for Small Batch.

E.H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel

Price: $60 – $80
Proof: 100

Mystery Bottle: The E.H. Taylor line is another member of the Buffalo Trace Distillery’s famed mashbill #1 family. All E.H. Taylor expressions are Bottled-in-Bond and therefore 100 proof and aged for at least four years. Buying a bottle of its single barrel variant, like all single barrel whiskeys, is a game of roullete — you could get a honey barrel or you could get something more forgettable. It’s higher in price and proof and it can be tougher to track down, but its flavor potential is levels higher than standard Buffalo Trace whiskey. Get this when you’re feeling lucky.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

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We Know What Bourbon Every Whiskey Geek Will Be After This Summer

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Weller Lineup Expands


Following up on last year’s Full Proof release, Buffalo Trace Distillery announced Weller is adding a single barrel expression to its lineup.

Weller Single Barrel will roll out in June of this year, and release in limited quantities annually, at 97 proof. The brand says the suggested retail price is $50 and there was no information given regarding age of the liquid inside.

After 2018’s CYPB and 2019’s Full Proof releases, the Single Barrel launch marks the third consecutive year Buffalo Trace has added to the Weller brand, which also includes a sought-after 12-year-old expression, Antique 107, Special Reserve and the Antique Collection’s mighty William Larue Weller bottling.

Based on the $200+ prices premium Weller expressions like the 12-year and Full Proof demand, expect the single barrel expression, one of very few in a sparse wheated bourbon category, to sell for at least twice its $50 suggested price.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

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The 25 Whiskeys You Need to Try Before You Die

The 25 whiskeys herein are not the best whiskeys in the world. There isn’t a rating system or greater calculus behind them. This is a list of whiskeys that, in one way or another, matter. Some, like Johnnie Walker Blue Label or Old Grand-Dad 114, tell a story about where whisk(e)y has been. Others, like Bulleit’s ubiquitous rye or Buffalo Trace’s Blanton’s line, quietly reshaped whiskey history. And then there’s whiskey that’s just so good, so unique and so iconic, it makes the cut by force of will; like Four Roses’ 2017 release dedicated to and co-designed by the legendary Al Young, or the cook-kid-scotch Lagavulin 16. These are the whiskeys every would-be whiskey drinker should try before they die.

Is there Pappy? Maybe.

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

Shortened to BTAC by its followers, the crown jewel of Buffalo Trace’s whiskey-making empire is an annual show-off session for its best juice. The collection includes an uncut rye bomb, extra-aged Eagle Rare bourbon and Sazerac rye and, what every bourbon enthusiast is perpetually hunting down, George T. Stagg and William Larue Weller. The former is essentially extra-old, barrel strength Buffalo Trace, the latter is a barrel strength Pappy that can be even trickier to track down.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$250 to ~$750

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

Laugh all you want, Fireball has earned its spot on a bucket list bourbon sheet by sheer force. And though it is not technically a whiskey, it is the ground floor entrance for millions of soon-to-be whiskey drinkers. To have not slugged a shot of it is the whiskey equivalent of having not tried Miller Lite.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$10

Weller 12

A $20 Buffalo Trace bourbon available everywhere is now $200 and nowhere to be found. What happened? Hype. Whiskey writers, shop owners and bourbon lovers started calling it “baby Pappy” because of a shared wheated bourbon mashbill, and it began to disappear. Is it worth the skyhigh price it goes for nowadays? That can only be answered after you’ve tried it.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$200

Booker’s Bourbon

Today, Booker’s is a mid-to-top shelf bourbon staple — a limited quarterly release from Jim Beam Distillery that typically falls between 6 and 7 years old and 120 and 135 proof. In the context of bourbon history, Booker’s represents the beginning of bourbon premiumization. Before it, American whiskey was considered cheap schlock, unworthy of comparisons to the stuff being made across the Atlantic. Then its creator and namesake Booker Noe put it on the shelf for $50, a ridiculous figure for American whiskey in the 1980s, and ushered in the beginning of serious American hooch.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$70

Four Roses 2017 Limited Edition 50th Anniversary Small Batch

Likely the most iconic of Four Roses’ annual limited edition series, 2017’s tribute to Al Young’s time at Four Roses has sadly became more iconic with his passing. The legendary Four Roses ambassador and bourbon historian insisted that the release had to be like the old stuff Four Roses made, and it had to look like it, too. The bottle is is styled after bottles from 1967, and the whiskey inside is a blend of 23-, 15-, 13- and 12-year-old juice. Your best best at getting a taste is ordering a pour at a well-stocked bourbon bar.

Availability: Past Release
Price: ~$500

Hibiki 21

A number of Japanese whiskies undory the Suntory flag could be here, but Hibiki 21 is a classic example of Japanese whisky decadence. As with all Hibiki entries, it contains spirit aged in American oak barrels, Spanish Olorosso sherry casks, ex-bourbon barrels, ex-wine casks and the iconic Japanese Mizunara oak barrel, which is easily the most expensive maturation barrel money can buy. It is the pinnacle of a line that was created to cater to the Japanese palate, and shows incredible finesse in its intense, almost tea-like floral structure. Its rarity and price in the US represent the downside of the category, which hasn’t been able to keep up with demand in close to a decade now. It’s always Suntory Time.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$900

Wild Turkey 101

Deep char barrels, high rye content, sturdy proofing and a classic 7-ish years spent maturing (really a blend of 6-, 7- and 8-year old whiskey) for $20 to $25 makes Wild Turkey’s famed 101 offering a bottom shelf whiskey cheat code. It packs enough punch — in proof and flavor — to serve as a suitable cocktail whiskey, and its peppery-vanilla depth lends to drinking on the rocks, too. By the end of the Russell era at Wild Turkey (may it never come), the father-son duo’s prized bourbon deserves a spot in a museum. This is more than 100 years of family distilling know-how in a bottle you can nab for the cost of a movie date.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$25

Lagavulin 16

Our pick for “Best Scotch Under $100” also happens to be the rest of the world’s favorite. Full of sweet smoke and dryness, it’s perhaps the most classic example of the Islay scotch whisky, and, if it matters, comes with a recommendation from one Ron Swanson.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$65

Red Spot Irish Whiskey

Before the distillery’s demise in the 1960s, barrels of Mitchell & Son company whiskey were splotched with a blue, green, yellow or red paint to indicate their aging potential. Revived in 2018, the newly formed Spot Whiskeys pay tribute to the traditional Irish single pot still distilling of old. At 15 years old and bursting with fruit flavor, Red Spot is the highest-end of the lot, and represents some of the best whiskey the country has to offer.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$135

Bulleit Straight Rye

A divisive, affordable masterstroke by one of America’s greatest living distillers in Larry Ebersold. Ebersold and the secretive operators at MGP in Indiana created a 95 percent rye, 5 percent malted barley mashbill for a dozen craft distillers or more and it took over the category, defining what rye whiskey tasted like (hot) for a generation of whiskey drinkers. Bulleit’s ubiquitous straight rye is the most famous result.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$20

Henry McKenna Single Barrel

This is a time capsule to whiskey hype in early 2019. What was once a $35 bourbon available everywhere became a $100 ultra-premium whiskey lining the top shelf overnight, all it took was a San Francisco World Spirits Competition crown. The price may droop from peak hype, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever see it next to your regular old Knob Creeks, Four Roses and Buffalo Trace again.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$75

Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark has changed over time; not the whiskey, but the brand. In its early days it was known as a premium whiskey, carrying the tagline “It tastes expensive … and is.”As the whiskey industry has evolved, Maker’s, despite being bought and sold by multiple mega-corporations (it’s owned by Beam-Suntory today), is still very much the same distillery it once was. They still rotate barrels from the tops of warehouses to the bottom to account for differing temperature and humidity levels. The bourbon is still wheated and still carries a higher-than-normal barley percentage. Through decades of growing and becoming one of the most-sold whiskeys in the world, they’ve even preserved the hand-dipped wax bottling practice. Though made in absolutely monstrous quantity today, it is as well-crafted a whiskey as can be.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$30

High West Rendezvous Rye

The first whiskey from the first distillery in Utah since Prohibition ended was created by whiskey mad scientist David Perkins, who combined old MGP rye with the green as can be stuff he had made. The result is a timewarp in your mouth — a biting, young rye with a slow, drawn out finish. Today, it represents the early days of the craft whiskey boom, and what nimbler distillers can do to create whiskey that competes with the big dogs.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$60

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7

The single greatest economic force in the American whiskey canon, JD is a behemoth. Brown-Forman’s money printing machine ships nearly 14 million cases of the stuff every year, which translates to something near 175 million bottles annually. That’s reason enough to pour a Jack and Coke, even if it’s just to see what the fuss is about.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$15

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon

Birthday Bourbon arrived right as the American whiskey boom began in earnest, riding the wave of ultra-rare, ultra-premium whiskeys that captivate thousands of collectors annually. Its late summer, early fall release also acts as the unofficial beginning to whiskey hunting season, when most major distilleries begin releasing their most prized stuff. On a smaller scale, its release is an earmark between era at Old Forester — before Birthday Bourbon, the brand was mostly a budget pick with a relatively small following outside of bartenders; since its release, Old Forester has filled out its lineup on every shelf at the liquor store, cementing itself as a full-stack whiskey label.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$250

Jameson Irish Whiskey

Yes, Irish whiskey is getting up off the mat again. Old family distilleries and new innovators are driving new growth, but Jameson still makes up well over half of sales, and kept the entire category afloat for decades.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$30

Blanton’s Bourbon

Created by Elmer T. Lee, one part of the band that saved American whiskey from extinction along with Booker Noe, Jimmy Russell and Parker Beam, Blanton’s was, by most accounts, the first single barrel whiskey ever. It’s credited with a role in kickstarting the premiumization and proliferation of bourbon around the globe (along with Booker’s, Old Grand-Dad and others). Nowadays it serves as both the entry- and expert-level collector’s whiskey, depending on how far you’re willing to go down the rabbit hole. Beginners might seek out Blanton’s with a dump date that matches their birthday, or collect all the cork stoppers (buying them through that link is cheating), while experts track down rare international market releases like the barrel strength Straight From the Barrel, or even rarer releases like those only found at the Le Maison Du Whisky festival.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$65

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (First Edition, 2012)

After decades of lifting the likes of Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve to new heights, Lincoln Henderson retired, founded a new whiskey brand with his son and casually released a barrel-finished whiskey that’s become the high water mark for the practice. Only 600 bottles of the heavy duty port-finished whiskey were ever released, so settling for a more recent cask strength release from the brand isn’t the worst thing.

Availability: Past Release
Price: ~$2,000

Old Grand-Dad 114

A favorite among bourbon insiders and value hunters, OGD114 is a pivotal piece of bourbon history. Released in the same era as Blanton’s and Booker’s, it’s one of the whiskeys credited with saving the category from collapse in the ’80s, though it doesn’t get near the press or sales of its contemporaries. Good for you. You can taste this high-rye, high proof piece of bourbon history for $25 in some states, where Booker’s and Blanton’s run close to three-times that.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$30

Hakushu 12

If Icarus were a bottle of booze, he’d be Hakushu 12. Once a $50 bottle you could find in most decent liquor stores around the U.S., it is now a discontinued product that sells for nearly three times that price. Luckily, there are still bottles floating around, and, thanks to its intensely wild mountain environment in central Japan, it remains perhaps the most clear example of terroir in the greater whiskey world. It’s also the last of the Suntory whiskies to feature peat, making for a nice side-by-side pour with other Japanese whiskies or proper scotches.

Availability: Discontinued
Price: ~$140

Laphroiag Cask Strength

I’m counting this as a twofer: one for classic Laphroaig 10, and one for its meathead twin brother. Though not necessarily the greatest abuser of peat in Scotland, Laphroiag is probably its best known advocate. The standard 10-year-old expression is available almost anywhere for a fair price and should be tried alongside the cask strength expression, which suits the proof-obsessed American palate nicely. I would pour it with a splash of water to avoid blowing a tastebud.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$80

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

King of kings, Johnnie Walker’s Blue Label serves as the definition of what a blended whisky can achieve and, as Aaron Goldfarb writes in PUNCH, a time when scotch reigned. More recently, it was called “close to perfection” by Whisky Advocate (where it also earned a 97/100 rating, the highest in publication’s history) and the “Cristal of the blended whisky world” by Whisky Exchange. As it was in its heyday, Blue Label remains a must-try whisky.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$175

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

When whisky writer of note Jim Murray named this then-$30 bottle of relatively unknown Crown the best whiskey of 2016, the whiskey world was angry, but it vanished off shelves regardless. Murray, arguably the single most influential whiskey authority working today, had snubbed the most prestigious scotches, luxe bourbons and high-end Japanese whiskies in favor of a budget Canadian rye. It was the first Canadian whisky to claim the title, and has lived a more posh life on a higher shelf ever since.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$60

Nikka From the Barrel

Nikka’s From the Barrel is the best widely available Japanese whisky to ever arrive on American soil. Unlike Suntory’s near-extinct Yamazaki and Hakushu lines (and its highball-focused Toki brand), From the Barrel has never been hard to find. It arrived in the U.S. in 2018 and Japan three decades before that and the makers claim there are more than 100 unique malt and grain spirits blended within. It’s prototypical Japanese whisky without the assumed Japanese whiskey price.

Availability: Widely Available
Price: ~$60

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23-Year

No American whiskey inspires emotion like Pappy. If you don’t have it, it’s the symbol of grotesque price inflation caused by the Bourbon Boom; If you have it, it’s one of the best things you can put in your mouth. Whatever it is or isn’t, Pappy 23 is the undisputed king of the Van Winkle Collection. Find it and form your own opinions.

Availability: Allocated
Price: ~$1,250

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

We Know What Bourbon Every Whiskey Geek in America Will Be After This Summer

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Weller Lineup Expands


Following up on last year’s Full Proof release, Buffalo Trace Distillery announced Weller is adding a single barrel expression to its lineup.

Weller Single Barrel will roll out in June of this year, and release in limited quantities annually. The brand says the suggested retail price is $50 and there was no information given regarding age of the liquid inside.

After 2018’s CYPB and 2019’s Full Proof releases, the Single Barrel launch marks the third consecutive year Buffalo Trace has added to the Weller brand, which also includes a sought-after 12-year-old expression, Antique 107, Special Reserve and the Antique Collection’s mighty William Larue Weller bottling.

Based on the $200+ prices premium Weller expressions like the 12-year and Full Proof demand, expect the single barrel expression, one of very few in a sparse wheated bourbon category, to sell for at least twice its $50 suggested price.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

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The 15 Best Rye Whiskeys You Can Buy in 2020

This definitive guide to the best rye whiskeys explores everything you need to know about bourbon’s spicy sibling, including the bost bottles you can buy at your local liquor store.

At one time in our history, rye, not bourbon, was America’s whiskey. In the late 1700s, distillers in the rye-growing regions of Pennsylvania and Maryland created a market so reliable that rye was used to barter. When rye became the first domestic good taxed by the newly formed U.S. government, the backlash was such that it led to a rebellion.

Then Prohibition decreased production and bourbon, produced from corn grown in the newly farmed Midwest, supplanted it as America’s favorite brown liquor. As recently as 2006, in an article in The New York Times about a potential resurrection, rye survived only “by whiskey lovers who want to preserve its singular, almost exotic essence.”

Then something happened. The sweet-toothed, older, bourbon-drinking generation gave way to a generation that reached for more spice and flavor. Since the late aughts, rye sales have increased by hundreds of percentage points, which has driven the number of ryes on store shelves up in turn. From a $20 must-have to the most coveted rye whiskey in American, these are the best bottles of rye you can get your hands on.

The Short List

Best Overall Rye Whiskey: Russell’s Reserve 6-Year Small Batch

Despite rye’s recent burst of popularity, for a time it was represented consistently by only three brands: Jim Beam, Old Overholt and Wild Turkey. Then the bourbon boom spilled over into rye, and Eddie Russell stepped up rye production. With an excess of rye, he decided to let some barrels age a bit longer. The most interesting thing is that Wild Turkey only uses two mashbills (one for rye, one for bourbon) and one yeast. So to taste their lineup is to taste differences that purely came from aging. Their rye is 51 percent rye, 37 percent corn and 12 percent barley, leading to a more complex, sweet and bold rye that’s ideal for cocktails or sipping neat. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more consistently excellent and available product at a fair price.

Proof: 90
Price: ~$50

Best Cheap Rye Whiskey: Old Overholt Straight Rye

Old Overholt is cheap and easy to drink. It’s a perfect bottle for anyone transitioning from bourbons (which are less spicy) to rye. First made by Abraham Overholt in 1810 and produced in the Jim Beam portfolio, we recommend it for a light, summery Old Fashioned with a bit of spice to combat the sweet.

Proof: 80
Price: ~$20

Best Rye Whiskey for Cocktails: Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye

If you drink rye, you’ve probably had some Rittenhouse. It’s made with a mashbill of 51 percent rye (called “barely legal”) along with Old Overholt and Sazerac, so it tends to be sweeter and more accessible than ryes which made almost entirely from rye and tend to be extremely spicy. At 100 proof and a 4-year minimum maturation, it makes for a wicked cocktail whiskey.

Proof: 100
Price: ~$25

Best Everyday Rye Whiskeys

Old Forester Rye

It would’ve been fair to call it a tie between Old Forester’s new 100 proof rye and Old Overholt for the “Best Cheap Rye” title. It’s a stout, cheap rye that balances spice and Old Forester’s classic bumblegum-like sweetness nicely. It’s been out for less than two years, but don’t be surprised when it becomes a staple well rye at your local bar.

Proof: 100
Price: ~$20

High West Whiskey Double Rye!

David Perkins is a creative distiller, and Double Rye! was among his first to push the envelope. He blends ryes from two to seven years old, including MGP’s famed 95/5 rye and its own 80 percent rye, 20 percent barley rye — spicey-meets-sweet, basically. The result is a whiskey that feels green and springy, with a strong, mellow finish.
Proof: 92
Price: ~$30

Sazerac Rye

This is the namesake of the Sazerac cocktail, among the oldest American cocktails and one that still turns heads (especially in New Orleans). Once considered among the best bangs for your buck in the rye world, it’s suffered from its own cult success, and the price tag has risen over the years. It’s complex, both spicy and a little sweet, and tastes very similar to Old Overholt and Rittenhouse. In fact, a general rule would be to buy Old Overholt to save money, Sazerac for an easy drinker and Rittenhouse for cocktails.

Proof: 90
Price: ~$30

Knob Creek Straight Rye

What Knob Creek’s standard rye has going for it: sturdy proof, solid price and hyper-consistency. It isn’t the rye you pull out when showing off your collection; it’s the go-to pour for the nights in between. Its relatively high proof and high corn mashbill make it a workhorse whiskey, not unlike a slightly upgraded Old Overholt. Find it literally everywhere.

Proof: 100
Price: ~$40

Sagamore Spirits Signature Straight Rye

Though there is some debate on what once defined a Maryland-style rye, Sagamore Spirits is deadset on establishing what it is going forward: subtly sweet, not-too-spicy and much closer to bourbon than the ryes of the 2000s. Its signature rye is low proof, relatively affordable and becoming available in more states every year. It’s easy-drinking to the point where one might consider a straw. After you’ve tried the signature, do yourself a favor and reach for one of the distilleries barrel-finished ryes, which are among the most awarded in the business.

Proof: 83
Price: ~$40

New Riff Distilling Rye

New Riff is the distillery your whiskey-obsessed buddy won’t shutup about. Its straight rye is Bottled-in-Bond, non-chill-filtered and springy as can be, but the most interesting part is the mashbill, made up of the classic 95 percent rye and a very rare 5 percent of malted rye. Seeing as the whole of the whiskey is rye, it’s sharp out of the bottle, but not problematically so. Try it on the rocks and your breath will taste like mint.

Proof: 100
Price: ~$45

Pikesville Straight Rye

Not long ago, Pikesville Rye was a bottom-shelf rye from the Potomac region. First distilled in 1895, the name was aquired by Heaven Hill in 1982, who began distilling it on-site in Kentucky. Then, in 2015, Heaven Hill launched an older, higher proof and much better version nationwide. The bottle was named runner-up for Jim Murray’s 2016 World Whisky of the Year, even though its price tag stays in the $50 range.

Proof: 110
Price: ~$50

Willet Family Estate Small Batch Rye

Willett, led by Drew Kulsveen, is a fantastic distillery. The family, which has distilled for 120 years, reopened their still in 2012 and their made-on-premise rye batches have been just as promising as their older ryes which they purchased from MGP. The younger ryes — which are four and five years old at this point — have a distinct taste, and drink nicely neat or on ice.

Proof: Varies
Price: ~$60

Best High-End Rye Whiskey

WhistlePig 10 Year Old Straight Rye

There used to be a lot of hate surrounding WhistlePig. Its whiskey isn’t distilled at the Vermont distillery, but rather imported from Canada, a fact that snobs bristle at because Canada has more relaxed regulations on what can go in a rye (caramel coloring is allowed, for example). At first, the distillery printed that the rye was made in Vermont, which literally isn’t true, and then subsequently explained it as a finicky requirement of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Tax & Trade Bureau. It’s also pretty expensive. Don’t buy into drama. WhistlePig produces great rye. It won’t be the cheapest in the store, but this list is full of cheap alternatives. Plus, it was featured in Breaking Bad because it was creator Vince Gilligan’s favorite whiskey. So drink the pig and stop worrying.

Age: 10 years
Proof: 100
Price: $75+

E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye

Sazerac is likely Buffalo Trace’s most well-known rye. For E.H. Taylor, Jr., Buffalo Trace pays homage to the original recipe, dropping the corn and only balancing rye and barley for a spicy, clean rye. It’s not cheap and won’t be available at every store, but is worth the price for EHT completionists and seekers of unique ryes.

Proof: 100
Price: ~$100

Michter’s 10-Year Single Barrel Rye

Michter’s has made a lot of bourbon bloggers upset due to a perceived lack of transparency when they just began distilling, rebooting the Michter’s name in 2004, after closing in 1989 after operation since about 1753 near Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. But despite its whiskey being produced in Kentucky, not Pennsylvania, it’s extremely tasty and carries a hefty price tag. Its single barrel rye older than most Kentucky-style ryes, lending it a tannic-rich quality that makes it absolutely delicious with fattier foods. It’s going to be hard to track down, but it’s worth a spot on your personal top shelf.

Proof: 92
Price: ~$150

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye

Rye novices need not apply. One of five bottles in Buffalo Trace’s mighty Antique Collection, Handy Saz is an uncut, unfiltered, max proof rye made from the same juice as the standard Sazerac bottling (known as “Baby Saz”). Each year’s release is a little different, but you can generally expect a five-finger rye (and alcohol) punch to the tastebuds. If you find a bottle at its $99 retail price, and you won’t, you should buy it immediately — bottles from the Antique Collection are typically sold for three- and four-times their SRPs, at minimum.

Proof: Varies
Price: ~$250

The 7 Best New Bourbons and Whiskeys of 2020 (So Far)

The year isn’t even halfway over and, despite an actual pandemic, the American whiskey boom hasn’t slowed. Big and small, producers are releasing great whiskeys on a weekly basis. These are the seven best I’ve had so far.

Knob Creek 9-Year Bourbon Whiskey

Jim Beam Distillery’s Knob Creek line was in the news recently for bringing a 9- and 12-year age statement bourbon back to its permanent lineup, a sure sign of supply creeping up on the outrageous demand of the bourbon boom. And while the 12-year is also excellent, the 9-year, 100 proof roughly $35 bourbon is immediately one of the best values on the shelf. It’s rich, peanuty and priced at a point where you can mix it, drink on the rocks or sip neat.

Larceny Barrel Proof Bourbon

A beefier version of a favored budget wheater from Heaven Hill was always going to be good. New to 2020, the distillery says it plans to release three batches a year at $50. Drink it with an ice cube.

Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish Rye

If they’re not the best, Sagamore Spirit are among the very best at barrel finishing whiskey. The brand’s cognac-finished and port-finished ryes have raked in awards, and I fully expect the calvados-finished to follow. It’s a mix of four and five year old ryes that spend almost a year in ex-calvados barrels, a brandy made from apples or pears. The result is a lively, spicy rye flavor with a mellow, sweet backbone. It’s dessert whiskey.

Wilderness Trail Straight Bourbon Whiskey

It’s not necessarily new whiskey, but it’s new to most people. The relatively young Danville, Kentucky operation is finally expanding broadly outside its homestate, and its straight bourbon is only getting better with age. This year’s bottles are six years old and serve as proof that good bourbon isn’t reserved for the macro distillers.

Bulleit Blender’s Select 001 Straight Bourbon

Long synonymous with ultra-spicy and affordable ryes, Bulleit is steering into the premium market now. Blender’s select is a new limited offering made with more than 100 whiskeys, all aged for at least 9 years. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s an excellent pour, and shows the brand can create bourbons with some finesse just as well as it does fiery rye bombs.

Woodfoord Reserve Batch Proof 2020

Last year’s was the first release of Woodford’s full strength, annually released bourbon and it earned itself a top 10 ranking in Whisky Advocate’s best of the year. This year’s, IMO at least, is better. Opening a sample flooded my kitchen with the smell of banana pudding and vanilla wafers, and the taste followed through on that promise. Because it’s available in limited quantities and priced at a stout $130 retail, it’s best-suited for Woodford completionists.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (Batch A120)

First of all, I know the image is not Batch A120. Don’t email me about it. Secondly, while I’m aware it’s redundant to say Elijah Craig’s Barrel Proof bottlings are the most underrated bourbons on the shelf, it bears repeating: this is 12-year-old bourbon dumped at full strength that can be had anywhere for about $60 to $70. It has won every award that matters, and 2020’s first batch, A120, will win more. Like Tiger Woods in the early aughts or Lebron James for the last 15 years, its greatness is so regular we’re numbed to it. Buy a bottle and remind yourself.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

Mexico Is Getting in on the Whiskey Game and You Should Be Excited

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corn whiskey is popping


The Scottish Highlands, Japan and America continue to lead the pack in the whiskey market. But a new Mexican distillery is getting into whiskey production, and its inaugural spirit is proving to be a worthy contender.

Abasolo, the first whisky made from 100 percent Mexican corn, uses an ancestral varietal called Cacahuazintle, which has been around for hundreds of years. The corn undergoes nixtamalization, a process in which the kernels are soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, then washed and hulled. The process dates back over 4,000 years and is commonly used before the grain is turned into masa for tortillas. Nixtamalization produces a bolder flavor and aroma that makes the corn substantial enough to leave out other grains, and it’s the first time the process has been used to make a spirit. The whisky is distilled in copper pots, aged in used oak casks and bottled at 88 proof. The result is a strong, toasted corn flavor complemented by vanilla, leather and caramel notes.

Despite launching during a pandemic, Abasolo is committed to giving back to the hospitality industry. Through August 1, the company is donating 100 percent of its profits to Another Round, Another Rally, a US nonprofit that is providing financial relief to hospitality workers affected by the spread of COVID-19, and a yet-to-be-chosen partner in Mexico. Abasolo Whisky is on shelves now for $40 in 750mL bottles.

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Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tyler Chin

Tyler Chin is Gear Patrol’s Editorial Associate for Editorial Operations. He’s from Queens, where tempers are short and commutes are long. Too bad the MTA doesn’t have a team like Ed-Ops.

More by Tyler Chin | Follow on Instagram · Contact via Email

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Screw Tequila. Here Are 5 Bottles of Mezcal to Get Delivered to Your Door ASAP

Right or wrong, Tequila has long been associated with bad nights and even worse mornings. For a different experience with agave-based liquors, mezcal its hand. From smoky sippers to fruity shooters, here are five great mezcals to get delivered for a slightly more solitary Cinco.

Del Maguey Vida Mezcal

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For an entry-level bottle, Del Maguey’s Vida is a great sipper as much as it is a great spirit for mixed drinks. Expect fruity overtones and honey-like sweetness. Then sit back and wait for mezcal’s quintessential smokiness to creep in. Drink however you please.

Pierde Almas La Puritita Verda Mezcal

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For a smoky and earthy mezcal, turn to Pierde Almas’ La Puritita Verda. This variety of mezcal uses Espadin for its agave, one of the most common varieties of agave. If you’ve had mezcal before and enjoyed it, La Puritita Verda is a safe bet for your Cinco de Mayo spirit. Its lighter body means it works well as a shooter, if you feel so inclined.

Alipus Santa Ana del Rio Mezcal

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Imagine sweet tropical fruit with black pepper on it and you’ll be pretty close to Ana del Rio. If you want to dive deep into the complexities of mezcal, the Alipus series will show you how different regions affect the flavors of the spirit. Much like wine and terroir, mezcal’s flavors are derived from the climate and earth that it’s grown in.

Madre Mezcal

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“Wild yeast” is a buzzword in wine and beer, and the practice of harnessing the funk of wild yeast also applies to mezcal. Madre uses a blend of the agaves Espadin and Cuishe to achieve an herbal and smoky flavor. The mezcal has a nice minerality to it that leads to a floral finish.

Mezcal Vago Elote

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You may be familiar with elote — grilled sweet corn topped with mayonnaise, cayenne and cotija cheese. Mezcal Vago’s Elote is not a delicious Mexican street food, but it is a dram-worthy mezcal distilled with sweet corn. The addition of corn is unique and adds a silky mouthfeel to an already rich, smoky and sweet mezcal.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tyler Chin

Tyler Chin is Gear Patrol’s Editorial Associate for Editorial Operations. He’s from Queens, where tempers are short and commutes are long. Too bad the MTA doesn’t have a team like Ed-Ops.

More by Tyler Chin | Follow on Instagram · Contact via Email

Buffalo Trace’s New $70 Bourbon Will Probably Be More Like $1,000. Here’s Why

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Marriages Are Expensive


Just announced, the latest special release from Buffalo Trace Distillery’s E.H. Taylor line of whiskeys is an 18-year-old blend dubbed “18 Year Marriage.” Like most E.H. Taylor releases, it’s Bottled-in-Bond, 100 proof and comes in its giftable tube packaging.

The whiskey is the latest in the brand’s line of one-off releases, which are separate from its regularly allocated bottles like Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof and Rye. For those unfamiliar, E.H. Taylor special releases are more limited than the standard lineup and, despite their comparable suggested retail prices, demand far higher prices. Past releases like the Amaranth, Cured Oak and Four Grain all fetch between $300 and $600 at liquor stores and in whiskey’s Facebook black markets.

The newest special release will go for more. The blend is two parts standard rye bourbon mash and one part wheated bourbon mash — the same wheated mash that’s used to make the Pappy Van Winkle collection and most Wellers bourbon. It’s also 18 years old, making it the oldest of any E.H. Taylor release, elevating it into rare air in the bourbon world. This adds up to a rather cold take: you won’t find this $70 bourbon for $70 — you’ll find it for north of a grand.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

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The 14 Best Tequilas You Can Buy in 2020

This definitive guide to the best tequilas of 2020 explores everything you need to know about the world’s most popular agave spirit, including important tequila terms — such as blanco, reposado and añejo — how to drink it and a list of the best tequila bottles and brands worth tracking down.


Prefer to skip directly to the picks? Click here.

Editors’ Picks

Best Overall Tequila: Siete Leguas Blanco

“This is the brand that basically all tequila is based on,” says tequila expert Chantal Martineau. “The distiller here back in the day was poached by Patrón, whose recipe is based on this one.” A nastier characterization of that is that it was stolen. Its blanco is made using a blend of stone-crushed and mechanically shredded agave. “But what’s really amazing,” Martineau adds, “is that it’s made like mezcal, using the fibers of the plant not only in the fermentation but also in the stills during distillation. That creates intense flavors and a rich, almost velvety texture.”

Tasting Notes: Sweet with earthy herbal notes. Some bitter herbal-green notes, too, but not in a bad way. A very complex spirit.
Price: ~$50

Best Tequila for Margaritas: Cimarron Reposado

“I love making a margarita with a reposado. It brings more spice and an extra layer of flavor,” Martineau says. “This one is great for [cocktails], and it’s only $22. I don’t know why it’s so cheap: it’s very well made by a prolific distiller. Because it’s so mellow, it’s also the perfect pour for someone who thinks they’re not into tequila because of that one bad experience in college.”

Tasting Notes: Mellow and easygoing. Aged in American white oak barrels for three to six months. It’s got a hint of vanilla and a little bit of cinnamon.
Price: ~$22

Best Cheap Tequila: Espolòn Blanco

Cutesy branding and bottle shape aside, Espolòn’s blanco (and reposado, really) is among the best values in the agave spirit category. It’s made without diffusers or additives, it’s available everywhere and it hovers between $20 and $30, depending on where you live. It’s the ideal budget mixer.

Tasting Notes: Sweet, clean, slightly spicy.
Price: ~$25

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Introduction

There is perhaps no spirit as villainized or misused as tequila. In America, it’s all about getting trashed; glugging with cheap margarita mix; doing shots that are so unpalatable you need to assault your own tongue with salt and acidic lime; toeing the line between lit up and throwing up. At least absinthe gets to be the bad boy.

Incredibly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for tequila’s problems. Seven out of every ten bottles are exported out of Mexico, and 80 percent of those end up in the States. Our drinking culture, with its collegiate attitude toward the spirit, has reflected back on the way the spirit is now made, and its place in Mexican culture. “Americans did fundamentally change the industry in Mexico,” says Chantal Martineau, a spirits writer and the author of How the Gringos Stole Tequila: The Modern Age of Mexico’s Most Traditional Spirit. “By the time official laws defined tequila in the 1970s” — it must be made using at least 51 percent blue weber agave, and only in five regions of Mexico — “the spirit had already gained popularity in the U.S., to the point where producers in Mexico were having trouble keeping up with demand. They had to change how they made the spirit, which modernized and mechanized it,” Martineau says.

Seven out of every ten bottles are exported out of Mexico, and 80 percent of those end up in the States.

And so the bar for tequila was lowered. We became consumers, largely, of what’s known as mixto — tequila made using only 51 percent agave and 49 percent non-agave sugars, usually cane sugars. We didn’t check the label for additives like caramel, oak extract, sugar or glycerin, and big tequila producers were happy to oblige us. Which leads us to where we are today: Most of us don’t care about where, or how, our tequila is made. We just want to shoot the stuff and wince.

If we broke tequila, however, we can also fix it. Because for all our denigration, we have not managed to snuff out the soul of tequila. It’s still there, being made the right way, in Mexico — and yes, you can still drink it. “The first time I sat down in a real tequila tasting setting, it was set up just like a wine tasting,” Martineau says. “The glasses were all laid out with space to take notes. People were swirling and sniffing and talking about soil composition. Someone said something about migration patterns, and how the growth of agave spirits had affected those. That’s when I realized this was more than just something that tasted good — it had an amazing story.”

So here’s your way to fix this, drinker: learn the story. Try each of these tequilas, Martineau’s favorites. Made with 100 percent agave, they are subtle and aromatic and worth savoring. Understand what makes them delicious. Respect them. They come from distilleries that represent a connection to the Mexican culture and people. And we should feel lucky to have them.

Before we get to the bottles, however, here’s an overview of what tequila is, and isn’t, along with some tips on how to drink it.

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Important Tequila Terms You Should Know

Tequila: A type of mezcal made using at least 51 percent of the sugars of the blue agave, which is cooked, shredded or mashed, fermented, double distilled, and then, in some cases, aged in barrels. It must be made in several regions of Mexico, mostly surrounding the town of Tequila, including Jalisco Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. To be imported to the US, it must be at least 80 proof.

Mezcal: A spirit made using various types of agave, which is cooked in a pit underground and traditionally mashed using wooden mallets. All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcals are tequila.

Blue Agave: A succulent native to Jalisco, Mexico. Its heart, or piña, is harvested, cooked and mashed, and its juices fermented and then distilled twice to make tequila. The use of clippings to create new agave plants, which are in essence clones of the original plant, has created a monoculture for the plant. This has led to increased vulnerability to diseases and parasites.

Mixto: A tequila made using the minimum 51 percent blue agave sugars, supplemented by other sugars, particularly cane sugar. These tend to be low-end tequilas, most often used for shots or margaritas.

100% Agave: As opposed to a mixto, a tequila made using only blue agave for its sugars. It is considered the purer form of the spirit.

Gold, Joven or Oro: Usually, an unaged mixto that has been darkened by adding caramel coloring.

Blanco: An unaged tequila. Sometimes, it has been kept in a vat for a couple of months to settle.

Reposado: Tequila that has been “rested” between two months and a year, usually in used oak barrels.

Añejo: Tequila that has been aged between one and three years.

Extra Añejo: Tequila that has been aged more than three years.

Tahona: A large stone wheel attached to a pole that is towed by a mule or tractor to crush cooked agave piñas. It is the most painstaking process used to mash agave, and, therefore, the most expensive.

Diffuser Method: Using large machines that boil and chemically extract the sugars out of agave. It is generally considered to remove much of the flavor and character from agave and produce subpar tequila.

NOM: Short for Norma Oficial Mexicana. Marked on a label it serves as both proof that the tequila meets standards set by the Mexican government and as a specific number stands for the distillery where the tequila was produced.

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What Gives Tequila Its Flavor?

“The differences between tequilas really happen in the earlier steps of the making process. Traditionally, the agave piñas are cooked by steaming in a huge brick oven. More modern ways of cooking include the autoclave, which is like a pressure cooker; it can be used to cook the agave quickly or slowly and tends to result in lighter, more citrusy flavors. The third way is not even really cooking: it’s these giant machines the size of a locomotive called diffusers. Real tequila purists take issue with this method. Diffusers tend to be reserved for high-volume brands, though there are expensive luxury tequila brands made this way. It doesn’t cook the agave so much as process it raw using hot water and, in some cases, chemicals to extract the sugars. What it produces is almost like an agave tea.” — Chantal Martineau

Is Tequila Made with Additives?

“Caramel, oak extract, sugar and glycerin are all allowed, and they don’t have to be included on the label. Remember: these sorts of things don’t have to be included on wine labels either. Whether you care depends what kind of drinker you are. Do you want to avoid these things in whiskey? In wine? To me, the craft of making tequila is distilling this amazing, prehistoric-looking plant that people have been using for almost 11,000 years. They used it for everything: building their homes, making clothes, bloodletting ceremonies. They ate it and made beer out of it to worship the gods and make them high. So you have this amazing, sacred plant, and distilling that alone is the art of it.” — Chantal Martineau

How to Buy Better Tequila

‘Hecho en Mexico: “If you don’t find that [on the label], run. There are other places making agave spirits, but they should not be calling it tequila,” Martineau says.

100% Agave: The industry really doesn’t want you to use that term, but what it means is that the agave sugar has been mixed with 49 percent ‘other’ sugars.”

The NOM Number: “Look for what’s called the NOM number,” she says. “That’s short for Norma Oficial Mexicana. That’s a set of standards for everything in Mexico. And every NOM number is associated with a distillery. There are actually only about 150 distilleries in all of tequila country. Most distilleries are making tequila for multiple brands. There are probably close to 2,000 brands now.”

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Best Blanco Tequilas

Of all tequilas, blancos offer the purest expression of agave, Martineau says. They are “unaged,” though sometimes kept in a vat for several months to settle. “A really good blanco should have, above all, a very rich nose and body of cooked agave,” she says. “Besides that, there are so many different flavor profiles. Some are really green and herbaceous. Some have chocolate notes. Pineapple in some, jalapeño in some. The best ones have really interesting finishes, too, like pepper or mint. You see why in Mexico they drink tequila with food.”

Best Upgrade from Patrón: Fortaleza Blanco

“This is made by the great-great-grandson of Cenobio Sauza, Guillermo Erickson Sauza,” Martineau says. “He’s not allowed to use the Sauza name anymore –a Spanish corporation bought the distillery and its name in 1976 — but he still owns some of the original family lands. It’s 100-percent tahona-milled. Guillermo was going to do the same thing Patrón does, where they make a blend using some agave that was tahona-milled and some that went through the more modern mechanical shredder. But then he tasted the 100-percent tahona-milled tequila and said, ‘I have to sell this.’ It’s more labor-intensive. But there’s something about the shredder — it shreds the fibers of the agave and introduces more bitter flavors, whereas the tahona more gently presses the agave.”

Tasting Notes: Round and fat. Agave-forward. Rich, creamy, nice minerality that’s imparted from volcanic soils.
Price: ~$45

Best New Tequila: Siembra Azul Valles Blanco

“This is a relatively new brand, created by David Suro, who does a lot of grassroots agave activism. He came up with a tequila made in a very traditional way,” Martineau says. “He is also known for putting so much info on the bottle. You can trace the bottle back to the individual plants used, what field they grew in. He started Siempre Azul to do tequila right, but also as another way to spread this awareness. It’s a labor of love, and a way to put into practice this idea of making tequila sustainably and in a way that respects its history and its people.”

Tasting Notes: Starts with honey and spice. In the body, a rich, cooked agave flavor. A floral note and a minerality in the finish.
Price: ~$40

Best Tequila to Taste Terroir: Tequila Ocho “La Magueyera”

This is a collaboration between the Mexican Tequila Ambassador to Europe, Tomas Estes, and a prolific distiller in the highlands, Carlos Camarena. “The whole idea was to create line of tequilas that are approached the way wine is,” Martineau says. “There are eight tequilas in the line, each one made from agave grown on a different estate. You can taste one next to the other and see what terroir brings to the table for tequila.”

Tasting Notes: Each estate is different; same with the vintage. From Martineau: “I drank the 2014 vintage, which had very tropical aromas, and on the palate, a lot of green flavors: anise, herbs, some green vegetal notes. Eucalyptus on the finish.”
Price: ~$55

Best Weird Tequila: Chinaco Blanco

“There is a new distiller making this tequila, and a lot of people would agree that it’s not the same as it used to be. But I still like it,” Martineau says. “It’s made in Tamaulipas, the one state that’s completely separate from the rest of the tequila appellation. For that reason, it tastes really different. Its agave is also cooked in an autoclave for 12 hours, rather than the brick oven method.”

Tasting Notes: Flavors are intensely herbal. Very floral and very grassy. There’s a zesty lime quality to it, too.
Price: ~$30

Best Reposado Tequilas

Reposado refers to tequila that’s been aged between two and twelve months in oak barrels. “The amount of time makes a huge difference,” Martineau says, and you can expect different flavor profiles to follow. It’s also worth noting the color of the spirit. “I always raise an eyebrow when I see [a reposado] that’s really, really dark,” she says. “It suggests to me that maybe color was added. I don’t mind seeing a light aged spirit because 11 months is not that long to spend in a barrel.” A good reposado should maintain the agave-forward flavor of a blanco but it’s going to show some barrel: sweetness, vanilla, spice. According to Martineau, however, the best examples are not overwhelmingly influenced by the barrel. “Reposado means rested, not aged,” she says.

Most Robust Reposado Tequila: El Tesoro Reposado

“This is also made by Carlos Camarena,” Martineau says. “A lot of distillers are just happy to have a recipe that works; Camarena never stops coming up with new things. There are a couple ways to approach tequila, and he’s wanted to do all of them. This one uses agave ground by tahona, and is aged up to 11 months in Kentucky bourbon barrels.”

Tasting Notes: A rather intensely flavored spirit. Roasted agave with sweetness. The green earthiness of a blanco gets lifted into something minty. A bit of bourbon vanilla, too.
Price: ~$55

Most Complex Tequila: ArteNOM Reposado 1414

“Another brand that does some interesting projects,” Martineau says. “This one is a twist on estates. Instead of switching where the agave comes from, they used the same agave but had three different distilleries make it. This one is from the distillery numbered 1414.”

Tasting Notes: On the nose, grilled vegetables. On the palate, notes of salt taffy, baking spice, and even a little bit of jalapeño. The finish has a yeasty tang.
Price: ~$45

Most Environmentally Friendly Tequila: 123 Organic Reposado (Dos)

While most reposados are rested in ex-bourbon barrels, this one is aged for six months in new American white oak. It’s both USDA and EU certified organic. “That’s important,” Martineau says, “because some biologists and botanists are concerned about the high level of pesticide and herbicide use on agave, which have caused problems with the health of the soil in tequila regions.”

Tasting Notes: Clean, subtly peppery notes with just a hint of vanilla.
Price: ~$50

Best Añejo Tequilas

Añejos are tequilas that have spent anywhere from one to three years in barrels. After three years, the spirit becomes an extra añejo, which is a rather new category, Martineau says. “Maybe I’m biased here, but I think [some] añejos shouldn’t be. A lot of distillers come out with one to complete their line but aging a spirit is a whole other ballgame, and not every spirit maker knows how to do it.”

Still, there are good añejos out there. They’ll have more color than a reposado, though Martineau warns that very dark ones could be doctored with additives. “I think of [añejos] as something you reach for with dessert,” she says. “You still want that cooked agave, almost pumpkin flavor. But on top of that, you’ll find other flavors, too.” For example, the chocolate notes found in some blancos become sweeter, like milk chocolate, after aging.

Aging influences the weight and texture of a tequila, too. “Once it’s been left in a barrel for this long, you should expect it to have an almost syrupy quality to it,” Martineau says.

Best Tequila for the Wine Lover: ArteNOM Seleccion 1146 Añejo

“Just like the reposado 1414, there’s a wine bent [here],” Martineau says. “The añejo is aged in used Loire Valley wine barrels, then spends an additional year finished in bourbon casks. The Loire Valley is known for its white wines, and the tequila takes on a lot of dried fruit flavor from the wine barrels.”

Tasting Notes: Very warm spices, toasted pepper and nuts. Sweet vanilla and fruitcake.
Price: ~$60

Best Robust Añejo Tequila: Tapatio Añejo

“This is a good standard for a robust añejo,” Martineau says. “It’s another Carlos Camarena brand. Though it’s an 80-year-old brand, it’s only been in the U.S. for a little bit.” It’s from the highlands, and it spends 18 months in bourbon casks.

Tasting Notes: Woody with a real bite. Fruity vegetal notes hold over from the blanco but the finish is all pepper.
Price: ~$45

Best Sleeper Tequila: Pueblo Viejo

“This is an undersung tequila for sure,” Martineau says. “It’s quite a good value for an añejo, considering it spends 18 months in Kentucky oak. It’s brick oven cooked, and mechanical milled. You won’t find it everywhere in the U.S., but if you can, it’ll be very, very affordable.”

Tasting Notes: Earthy, chocolatey notes come through the caramel and vanilla, creating a balanced, layered effect.
Price: ~$30

Most Intense Tequila: ArteNOM Fuenteseca Extra Añejo

“This one’s crazy,” Martineau says. “It’s aged nine years and is a blend of 85 percent liquid aged in American oak and 15 percent aged in French oak. It’s super concentrated, and the kind of drink I’d need to have with a cigar.”

Tasting Notes: The barrel influence hides a lot of the original agave. It’s got some dried fruit, lots of woodspice and tobacco. Like sticking your nose in a cigar box.
Price: ~$190

The Best Scotch Under $100

We spoke with experts and consulted our liquor cabinets to find 10 of the best mid-range ($50-$100) Scotches — and to help you navigate the sea of single malt whiskies. Read the Story

Award-Winning Bourbon from One of the Best New Distillers in America Was the Best Thing I Drank This Month

Every month, a huge amount of booze moves through the Gear Patrol offices (or, as of right now, our apartments) — beer, wine and a whole lot of whiskey. Here are a few of our favorites.

Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey

If you don’t know Woodinville yet, you will soon. The distillery has earned numerous accolades, including Craft Whiskey of the Year and, more recently, Best Straight Bourbon at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year. Bourbon authority Fred Minnick said he’d “buy every single bottle of Woodinville.” Its straight bourbon is an easy-drinking 90 proof that’s aged in standard 53-gallon drums for five years which, for a non-major distillery (like Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace or Brown-Forman), is a rarity. What’s rarer, the booze is better than its stats. It’s rich, buttery and sweet, and, at $40, it won’t cost you a fortune.

Threes Brewing x Modist Brewing Mutually Exclusive

Threes Brewing has been absolutely holding it down during shelter-in-place by continually putting out delicious beers and delivering them across New York. Mutually Exclusive is hazy like a New England IPA, but more crisp than juicy. The beer is brewed with oro blanco, essentially a white grapefruit, that provides a nice delicate bitterness that makes me want to drink this on a stoop in the summer… six feet away from anyone else.

Whitcraft Winery Lagrein

Drake Whitcraft has made a big name for himself by making really stunning, hyper low intervention Pinot Noirs in Santa Barbara County. The only downside is that you won’t find them for less than about $65/bottle. However, Whitcraft also bottles a Lagrein — a red native to northern Italy, that’s zippy and intense but not overtly juicy — that’s $34 and absolutely rips. Grab a few bottles and drink ’em slightly chilled on your stoop on a spring evening. (It’s also worth begging them to throw a bottle of their recently bottled Gamay on the order, you won’t regret it)

Sufferfest Gut Check IPA

Apple cider vinegar in beer? Yeah, I was a little skeptical at first as well. I expected to get some very sharp acidity at some point through a sip, but that was not the case at any point. Instead, it provides a bright hop-like tang that blends well into the hop character of the beer itself. It’s also a gluten-free beer, which means it only packs 100 calories and 6 carbs — and for someone like me who limits his gluten intake, it’s a nice change of pace. While Gut Check is certainly no hazy New England IPA, at just 4 percent ABV it’s a clean-drinking complement for these quarantine times.

Athletic Brewing Free Way N.A. Double Hop IPA

Before shelter-in-place, the majority of my beer drinking was being done either at breweries, in the office sampling with co-workers or at beer bars — I honestly didn’t keep all that much beer at home. Now that all of my beer drinking is happening at home, I don’t want to overdo it, which is where non-alcoholic beer comes in. Thankfully, back in February we published a big guide on the best N.A. beers and discovered that Athletic Brewing’s Free Way Double Hop IPA is one of the best out there. Hopped with Amarillo, Citra and Mosaic hops, it’s a refreshing break that tastes really similar to a well-balanced double IPA but removes the drunk factor.

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