Whittling this list down to a mere 50 spirits from the hundreds of bottlings tasted throughout the year was a challenging task.
Why was it so hard to choose?
Because 2013 brought an excess of excellence. A list of favorite spirits tasted within the last year could have easily been double this length. For sure, this is a nice problem to have—and it certainly doesn’t happen every year. But particularly within the whiskey and brandy categories, there have been many “Wow!” tasting moments. Producers are embracing innovation like never before. And this creativity is coming from all areas—an unusual barrel-aged gin, a field-to-flask whiskey and a citrusy Tequila fermented using wine yeasts are only three examples among this year’s Top 50 Spirits.
While all of the spirits featured on this list received high scores, we considered many other factors as well. We strove to provide a diverse list reflecting a broad range of spirits categories, regions and price points among those reviewed during the past 12 months. Although some limited-edition bottlings are included on the list, we avoided including those available in extremely small quantities.
We hope this list of must-try spirits will yield many memorable moments for you in the year ahead.
Extremely flavorful and rich, with a lush caramel scent and notes of butterscotch, hazelnut, toffee and fig. Savor with an ice cube or two. The 2002 edition represents the 17th year of production for this bottling.— K.N. (7/1/2013)
From master distiller Dave Pickerell, this estate-grown, field-to-flask offering makes good use of oloroso Sherry barrels. Look for peach and vanilla aromas, bold raisin and brown sugar flavors and a gentle exit that just hints at Sherry. At nearly 93 proof, the alcohol makes its presence known, so add some water or vermouth if you must. Attractive and substantial…— K.N. (7/1/2013)
Golden and bright, this straight Bourbon whiskey is one of the most versatile around. Though it starts with a sweet flavor profile with hints of vanilla and cookie dough, it finishes supple and dry, with notes of leather, black tea and cinnamon. Bracing alcohol levels.— K.N. (7/1/2013)
The first rollout in Jim Beam’s premium Signature Craft series, this Bourbon is finished with Spanish brandy and aged in Bourbon barrels. It’s delicious; dried fruit, vanilla and praline notes are chased by a long finish that winds into ginger and cinnamon. It grows richer and fruiter the longer it’s allowed to open in the glass.— K.N. (9/1/2013)
Consider this blended Bourbon for dessert pairings or a fruit-spiked Old Fashioned. Look for caramel and dried-cherry aromas and a flavor akin to dark chocolate-covered cherries. The long, mouthwatering finish is dark and decadent, evoking chocolate, espresso, Port, leather, nutmeg and clove.— K.N. (7/1/2013)
This luxurious Bourbon shows layered and dense flavors that run to the darker and drier side: cocoa, espresso, clove and allspice, all wrapped in beautiful caramel and butterscotch aromatics. At 100 proof, the alcohol deservedly feels intense, so best to temper this with a bit of branchwater or ice.— K.N. (7/1/2013)
This Bourbon boasts concentrated caramel aroma. Flavors run to caramel and honey, touched with charred oak and allspice notes. It’s plush and rounded in feel. The soft-wax cap is frustratingly hard to open, but luckily, it’s worth the struggle.— K.N. (7/1/2013)
Finished in the barrel with specially seared oak staves, this Bourbon is a new classic. In the glass, it sports a bright maple color, and lively, spicy aromas and flavors of oaky vanilla and tropical fruit touched with clove, ginger and allspice.— K.N. (7/1/2013)
Full of bold vanilla, dried fruit and sweet caramel, this Bourbon pops with spicy cinnamon, ginger and clove on the finish. Just a splash of water opens up more gorgeous vanilla and oak. Has a pleasing viscosity and modest alcohol presence.— K.N. (7/1/2013)