2020 has been one heck of a year. We've been locked up in lockdown, we've had whiskey events canceled, we've lost loved ones and we've had, of course, yet another miserably long election season. At the same time, 2020 has been an amazing year, at least whiskey-wise. I've had some mind-blowing whiskeys and been introduced to many new (and new to me) brands. Quite frankly, I ran across very few mediocre whiskeys this year.
But now, 2020 has come to an end, and the end of a year means it is time for the 2020 Whiskeyfellow Awards.
Yeah, I know, lots of folks do their "Best Of" lists and I'm no exception. However, my annual "Best Of" lists are different (no, really, they are, I promise). My list is geared to the average whiskey drinker.
First of all, the average whiskey drinker doesn't stop drinking in October. Yet, many of these "Best Of" lists come out then. Um, hello? The year is not over in October! The only thing I can factor is they're desperate to be the first one to render an opinion. Yawn. I actually wait until the end of the year because I'm tasting stuff all year long.
Even more important is being able to get your hands on something that wins an award. After all, if I'm naming something that is hopelessly out of reach for you, what's the point of my naming it as the "Best Of" anything? So I can have the "Best Of" bragging rights? That's terribly self-centered and absolutely unhelpful.
Anything that is up for consideration must be something I've tasted. Unlike some famous but unnamed folks, I don't have a team of interns separating the wheat from the chaff on my behalf. I'm tasting everything I can get my hands on - good, bad, or ugly. This is something I never want to change. I don't even want one intern. I love the #DrinkCurious lifestyle. Plus it is my palate you have trusted, not someone else's!
After saying all of that, what will the average whiskey drinker not see on my "Best Of" list to make it relevant?
The Impossible. That means nothing Van Winkle, no Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, no Birthday Bourbon, etc. The average whiskey drinker isn't getting his or her hands on a bottle unless they're very lucky. There is no point to include these.
The Unaffordable. This one is more subjective, I know very few people who can afford to drop several hundred (or thousands) of dollars on a bottle of booze. I know I can't.
The Store Pick. Private barrels are awesome. They could very easily sweep a "Best Of" award from me because I pick many barrels each year. But, again, that's not very helpful if the store pick is in Wisconsin and you're in Florida with no reasonable way to get it, or if you do travel, it is gone by the time you get there.
In my opinion, for a "Best Of" list to have any value, it must contain whiskeys you can actually drink. Otherwise, what's the point?
Unfortunately, due to our fractured distribution system, I cannot guarantee that everything on my list is available in your specific market. I'm not sure anyone with national distribution can. But, everything on this list is reasonably available, even if it means having to travel to another state (meaning, when you get there, you stand a realistic chance of finding it on the shelf).
Lastly, despite the fact I've published over 120 reviews in 2020, I've not tasted whiskeys from every available niche. If you don't see something in the category that you're seeking, it means I either didn't drink anything in that category or, if I did, it wasn't worthy of a "Best Of" award.
Believe it or not, this year I gave a Bar rating to a whiskey that appears on my "Best Of" list. If you're scratching your head about that, the price was the only thing that kept me from handing it a Bottle rating.
Let's get on with the show...
Best Bourbon of 2020: All I care about is the liquid inside the bottle. I don't care if it is sourced or someone's own distillate. This year, it goes to Lux Row Distillers for Blood Oath Pact 6, and my April review will tell you why it is so deserving.
Best American Rye of 2020: I had a few top candidates for the Best American Rye. Some were surprisingly young. But, when the dust settled, Woodinville Whiskey Company's 100% Straight Rye came out on top. It was full of flavor, had an attention-grabbing nose, and easy on the wallet. My July review provides all the details you'd want to know.
Best American Whiskey of 2020: This is not to be mistaken for the Best Whiskey Made in America. Rather, there exists a category called American Whiskey, which, at least for me, is any whiskey made in the United States that isn't Bourbon or Rye. I considered Wheat Whiskeys, Single Malts, Triticale, and blends. I tasted some fantastic American Whiskey this year, but the easy stand-out was Barrell Dovetail. Feel free to read more from my August review.
Best Scotch Whisky of 2020: Here's the issue with Scotches this year - I tasted some stupendous ones. Yet, many of what I sampled are just too difficult for most folks to find (or priced through the ceiling). Hidden amongst that was a shining star called BenRiach Curiositas 10. This Speyside whisky is an excellent way to dip your toe into peated whiskies, and it is shockingly affordable. Check out the review from July.
Best Irish Whiskey of 2020: This was easily the most difficult category for me to judge. Considering that Irish Whiskey was near-death not so many years ago, its resurgence is a great thing to see, and it came close to a flip of the coin for me to choose my winner, but my favorite Irish Whiskey of 2020 is out of The Dublin Liberties Distillery and it is called Murder Lane. It was finished in Hungarian Tokaji casks and was so impressive, it caused me to run out and buy a bottle of Hungarian Tokaji!
For what it's worth, I've never had a barrel finish lead to my seeking out what was in the barrel originally, and you can read my review of Murder Lane.
Best Asian Whisky of 2020: Last year, an under-the-radar Japanese whisky took the award. This year, I looked to mainland Asia and, from India, I discovered Paul John Nirvana. The weird thing is, Nirvana is a Rodney Dangerfield whisky, meaning it doesn't get a lot of respect. My recent review will explain why this undervalued Single Malt earned its place and my respect.
Best Flavored Whiskey of 2020: This is a new category for my "Best Of" list and one I would have never imagined would ever even exist. Typically, flavored whiskeys are for mixing, but this year I found several that were delicious when drunk neat. The winner is Select Club Pecan Praline Ultra-Premium Whisky. Mrs. Whiskeyfellow may have had some influence here, and you can read why.
Before I get into the Best Whiskey of the Year, I'd like to pause a moment and disclose my Santa Wish. This one violates everything that exists with my "Best Of" list, but it was so amazing and could quite possibly be the best whiskey that's ever crossed my lips. I'm talking about The Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage by The GlenDronach. I can't even pretend to afford the $1300.00 bottle, which is why it was disqualified from my list, but you can read all about this Highland Scotch if you'd like. So, Santa, please?
And the 2020 Whiskey of the Year is... (Drumroll, please!) Last year, it was a Rye that took the top spot. And, while Woodinville was delightful, it didn't come out as the top dog. The one whiskey that drove me crazy with curiosity is the winner of my 2020 Whiskey of the Year, and it goes to The Dublin Liberties Distillery for Murder Lane!
Congratulations to each of the category winners! I'm looking forward to an even better 2021. Cheers!
My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
- Bottle = Buy It
- Bar = Try It
- Bust = Leave It