It didn’t seem like too long ago when I published my 2020 Best Whiskey Awards. And yet, here we are in December. This year went by so fast! It is already time to review my 2021 awards.
I know, I know, if you’re only recently enjoying my reviews, you’re likely rolling your eyes and thinking to yourself, Oh… joy. Another list of whiskeys that I’ll never be able to taste. As the greatest clown/philosophizer said many times, Homey don’t play that!
What differentiates my “Best Of” list from most others is that mine is for the average whiskey drinker. What’s that mean? To begin with, for any whiskey to qualify for one of these awards, it must meet the following four requirements:
1. It must have been something I’ve both tasted and reviewed this year. I don’t have a team of tasters who whittle something down for me to review. It is my palate that you put your trust in. And, as wonderful as something is, if I wrote about last year and am still drinking this year, that wouldn’t qualify for this year’s list.
2. It must be fairly reasonable to get your hands on. I’m not suggesting that you can walk into any liquor store to find it – the three-tier distribution system makes that impossible. But, it also won’t be something you’d have to sell your soul to see in person, let alone acquire.
3. It must be reasonably affordable. I tend to put a ceiling of $150.00 for my awarded whiskeys.
4. It cannot be a store pick. While these are a fantastic way to taste truly unique whiskeys, the average whiskey drinker outside of the store’s or club’s locale typically can’t get their hands on a bottle.
In my opinion, the bottom line is that for “a “Best” Of” list to have any value, it must contain whiskeys you can actually drink. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Something else I’ve never understood is how reviewers can name a Best Whisky/Whiskey of the Year way before the year is close to over (some publish theirs in September! That's why I wait until mid-December to hand out awards. I can safely say I've found my top whiskeys while still giving you some time to buy presents if you're so inclined.
I also occasionally tweak the categories. Last year, I added a Please Santa? Category. It allowed me to point out something genuinely outstanding that was either extraordinarily difficult to find or way above the average whiskey drinker’s bankroll. I added a Runner Up to each category (except Please Santa?) to highlight another excellent option this year. I'll not include links in an attempt to circumvent social media claiming my annual list is (yet again) clickbait. However, you are welcome to use the search function of my Blog to locate reviews that interest you.
This year, I reviewed somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 whiskeys. While that may seem like a lot, I've not tasted whiskeys from every available niche. If you don't see something in the category you're interested in, it means I either didn’t drink anything in that category, or if I did, I didn't find anything worthy of “a “Best” Of” award. Finally, all I care about is the liquid inside the bottle. It matters not if it is sourced or a brand's own distillate.
And now, let's get to it! Here’s the best of my #DrinkCurious journey for 2021:
- Date reviewed: March 24, 2021
- Price: $89.99
This is probably the most unusual whiskey I’ve tried. It was sweet. It was spicy. It was earthy. The challenge became both exciting and a little frustrating. But, as I experienced the frustration, I caught myself smiling because the mystifying quality just worked for whatever reason.
If you’re adventurous and want to really #DrinkCurious, I’m here to tell you this will stimulate the heck out of you. Of course, I’m in that camp, which means Seagrass grabs my coveted Bottle rating.
Runner up: Cat’s Eye Distillery Nassif Family Reserve
- Date reviewed: January 29, 2021
- Price: $39.99
Nassif Family Reserve is touted as something approachable for beginners yet nuanced enough for more experienced sippers. Overall, I’d have to agree, although I’m left wondering if the 107° is a tad too aggressive for newbies. Regardless, I appreciated the nice balance between sweet and spice. The price offers no real barrier to entry. Do the math, and this one winds up snagging a Bottle rating.
- Date reviewed: August 25, 2021
- Price: $55.00
This is a peated American Single Malt. There are so few of these out there that they’re special just by existing. But, this one is also delightful. It is lightly smoked. It is sweet. It has flavors that naturally transition from one to another. Even if you don’t like peat, this one is something you can work with. While the cost of a bottle is about average, there’s nothing average about this whiskey. If you see it, buy it. American Single Malt - Peated is a slam-dunk Bottle rating.
Runner up: Cedar Ridge The Quintessential American Single Malt
- Date reviewed: June 25, 2021
- Price: $59.99
The QuintEssential is a stand-out. I wish more American distilleries tinkered with peat. This American Single Malt is an excellent introduction because the peat is understated compared to the rest of this whiskey. I loved the fruitiness, I enjoyed the complexity, and I wish I could find something to complain about, but I can’t. Even the price is attractive. This is what American Single Malt should be and a super-easy Bottle rating.
- Date reviewed: April 14, 2021
- Price: $54.99
I’m not a fan of anise - at all. And, yet, Stellum managed to make anise work for whatever reason. This rye is a spice bomb. If you’ve never had American Rye before but have a preconceived notion of what it would taste like, Stellum Rye fits that bill almost perfectly.
All the various spices mingled as if they were meant to be together (even the anise). The $54.99 price is more than fair, especially when you consider this is barrel-proof. I’m happy to convey my coveted Bottle rating for it.
Runner up: Coalition Whiskey Margaux Barriques
- Date reviewed: January 27, 2021
- Price: $89.99
Coalition Margaux Barriques was, simply put, elegant. I’ve had several wine-finished whiskeys, and this one is a stand-out. The whiskey is a quality base, and the wine barrels were top-notch before the two even interacted. There was absolutely nothing not to like from nose to finish. Even the mouthfeel was luxurious. The fancy decanter was unnecessary - this could be packaged in a mason jar, and I would still not have any problem dropping $90.00 on it. Obviously, this grabs my coveted Bottle rating.
Winner: Remus Repeal Reserve V
- Date reviewed: July 19, 2021
- Price: $89.99
Everything about this Bourbon was delicious. But strange as this may sound, the luxurious mouthfeel eclipsed all that. This was easily the best batch of Remus Repeal Reserve I’ve had, the price is right, and I love the fact it is pretty easy to get your hands on. This is a slam-dunk Bottle rating. If I had, say, a Case rating, this would take that.
Runner up: Blood Oath Pact 7
- Date reviewed: April 26, 2021
- Price: $99.99
All the Blood Oath Pacts are unique from one another, and of the (now) four I’ve reviewed, I’ve yet to find a cadaver. While Rempe won’t ever pony up his recipes, he knows what he’s doing. The more I sip this one, the more I enjoy it. I give props to Lux Row for keeping the price the same over the years and am happy to have this one in my library. Pick up a Bottle; you won’t be disappointed.
Winner: Paul John Christmas Edition 2021
- Date reviewed: November 5, 2021
- Price: $84.99
This is everything Christmas should be. It is sweet, smoky, and savory, and the flavors blend stupendously with one another. The fact that I only had a 50ml is heartbreaking because this whisky is stunning. The good news is that in my area Paul John Christmas Editions aren’t too difficult to come by, and I’ll track a Bottle down to earn a coveted place in my whiskey library.
Runner up: M&H Elements Peated
- Date reviewed: January 22, 2021
- Price: $65.00
The Elements Peated did an admirable job of reminding me of an Islay Scotch while still offering something a bit different. While not as heavily peated, if you told me that Ardbeg was the distiller, I’d accept it as gospel and wouldn’t balk at the price at all. The fact that it isn’t Ardbeg makes it even more intriguing, and as far as a rating goes, I’m sold! M&H Elements Peated takes a no-brainer Bottle rating.
Winner: Blue Spot
- Date reviewed: October 8, 2021
- Price: $100.00
This is one dangerous whiskey. At no point did I recognize the proof. But, it sure recognized me. It came at me like a wave; I could feel the flush in my head. Despite that, I enjoyed every iota of Blue Spot. Is it worth $100.00? Yeah, it is. It also earned my Bottle rating, and if there were something higher, it would take that, too.
- Date reviewed: December 1, 2021
- Price: $34.99
This is very likely the best $7.00 I’ve spent on a bottle of whiskey. I have no idea why this was on the store’s clearance rack, but I’m thankful for the opportunity. I loved everything about Jameson Black Barrel except for one thing. I really adored the finish and wanted it to last longer. Now, as far as a $34.99 bottle goes, I’d still rank it a Bottle all day long.
Winner: Ardbeg Wee Beastie
- Date reviewed: April 28, 2021
- Price: $39.99
It is difficult to see a bottle of Ardbeg at this price and ignore it, youthful or not. Some distillers have that sort of magical power, and I’m not talking hype. Wee Beastie doesn’t disappoint with its smoky punch, character, and distinct mouthfeel. Not only do I think this was a good purchase, but I believe it is a steal. Wee Beastie is an absolute Bottle rating.
Runner up: Kilchoman Sanaig
- Date reviewed: December 6, 2021
- Price: $70.00
Sanaig was one of those mind-blowing whiskies. The nose and palate were amazingly complicated but also managed to complement one another. I loved the nosing to finish and everything in between. In my opinion, Sanaig blows Machir Bay out of the water, and I enjoyed Machir Bay tremendously. There was a total lack of anything remotely astringent, which is another plus. Tie all that up with the very affordable investment, and that’s a perfect recipe for a Bottle rating.
- Date reviewed: April 2, 2021
- Price: $300.00
I gave this away already, but I’m confident in my Bottle rating. Mrs. Whiskeyfellow gave this a sip and was blown away. Frankly, so was I. I cannot understand how aging something in virgin oak and ex-Bourbon casks equals a nuclear sherry explosion in every aspect of the whisky. If you want a complex nose, Mithuna has it. If you desire a crazy-good palate, Mithuna will deliver. If you seek an Energizer Bunny finish, Mithuna will satisfy that desire. If you’ve got $300.00 to invest in a beautiful pour, this should be what you spend it on.
And that, my friends, leaves one final order of business to conduct. Which of those named best in their respective classes is my Whiskey of the Year? Everything that I've listed was unique. However, only one can be king, and the crown goes to the King of Bootleggers, Remus Repeal Reserve V.
Congratulations to the distillers who made this year's cream of the crop. Cheers!
Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.