This story is part of our end-of-year series This Year in Gear, rounding up the most notable releases of 2022. For more stories like this, click here.
Regardless of what style of whiskey you consider your favorite, 2022 had something for you. Whether it's an upstart bourbon brand that's shaking up the industry, a wild-fermented single-malt Scotch created by accident, the deconstruction of a legendary Japanese whiskey or a celebrity-backed spirit that actually lives up to the hype, this was a year that was filled with pleasant surprises in the whiskey world. These are the whiskeys that most excited us in 2022.
Additional reporting by Tyler Chin
Garrison Brothers 2022 Cowboy Bourbon
For the eighth straight year, Texas-based whiskey distillery Garrison Brothers is releasing their annual Cowboy Bourbon. The uncut and unfiltered straight bourbon always sells out fast, and this year's hooch is looking to be no exception. Clocking in at a fiery 134.8 proof for 2022, this year's Cowboy Bourbon is a blend of 8- and 9-year-old whiskeys from the distillery. It boasts an interesting palette, with notes of newly tanned leather, monkey bread aroma, Texas-style Dublin Dr. Pepper and more.
WhistlePig PiggyBank Rye
WhistlePig is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its first "Best Rye" award with a limited-edition 10-year-old rye in a special pig-shaped decanter. The bottle — which pours whiskey out of the pig's, ahem, rump — is inspired by 19th-century Berkshire Bitters pig bottles and makes for one of the best whiskey presentations you'll likely ever see. As for the whiskey inside the porcine vessel, it's a 110-proof rye with a nose of mint, dill and a hint of truffle; a taste of black pepper, tobacco, citrus peel and anise; and a long and spicy finish full of oak tannins. It showcases WhistlePig's expertise in crafting rye whiskey — there's arguably no one better — while also showing off the brand's trademark fun side. We'd call that a win-win.
Redbreast Kentucky Oak Edition
Redbreast is an Irish whiskey brand that, with its new release, gets a little American love. As part of a future collection of American oak-aged Irish whiskeys, Redbreast put out its Kentucky Oak edition. Matured in American oak bourbon barrels and Spanish Oloroso sherry butts, the whiskey is finished for three to seven months in American oak sourced from Kentucky's Taylor Family's Elk Cave Farm, prized for its high-quality white oak. The resulting whiskey is a 101-proof juice that is a little bit Irish and a little bit American. Expect baking spices and stone fruit on the palate and a delicious wood scent on the nose.
Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea Rye
Jefferson's has a line of whiskey that it calls its Ocean portfolio, in which barrels of bourbon are placed on ships that sail around the world. The theory is that the motion of the sea helps to churn the whiskey, while extreme temperature fluctuations age the whiskey faster than any other method. While usually done with bourbons, for its 26th voyage Jefferson brought rye out to sea. The Ocean Aged at Sea Rye starts off as fully mature rye whiskey that's double-barreled in charred barrels and toasted barrels. After its voyage, the rye tastes of toffee, marshmallow and leather, before finishing off with notes of baking spices and sea salt.
Jack Daniel’s Bonded Tennessee Whiskey
In 2022, Jack Daniel's added a new premium line extension for the first time in 25 years with the new bottled-in-bond series. The line consists of two bottles — the blended Triple Mash, and this, a stronger, bottled-in-bond version of Old No. 7. The new Bonded Tennessee Whiskey has immediately drawn praise across the board thanks to its true bottled-in-bond nature — it's distilled at one distillery over one distilling season, it's aged at least four years under the watchful eye of the US Government and it's bottled at 100 proof. The new whiskey's flavor is familiar yet different, almost as if someone took a bottle of regular Jack Daniel's and maxed out all its attributes.
The Macallan Harmony Collection II
In 2021, The Macallan debuted their Harmony Collection — an experimental initiative that combines sustainable packaging with innovative flavors, with the first two bottles themed around chocolate. For 2022, the Scotch distillery launched the sequel, this time with a focus on coffee. The two-bottle collection includes The Macallan Harmony Collection Inspired by Intense Arabica and The Macallan Harmony Collection Smooth Arabica, both of which are single-malt Scotch whiskies created by The Macallan in consultation with five coffee experts to craft the new spirits.
Inspired by Intense Arabica is the bolder of the two and is meant to invoke a sweet and strong espresso with notes of espresso, raisins and dark chocolate. The Smooth Arabica, meanwhile, is modeled after a subtly-spiced americano with the main notes being ground coffee, hazelnut and vanilla. Both are meant to be enjoyed alongside coffee (though this isn't a requirement), and even the bottles' packaging is made from recycled coffee husks.
Most great whiskeys have a backstory about the careful consideration that went into their crafting. But this new single-malt Scotch from Islay favorite Ardbeg? It was created by accident. An equipment failure at the distillery shut down the fermentation tanks, leaving the option of destroying what was brewing inside them. Instead, Ardbeg's head of distilling and whisky creation, Bill Lumsden, decided to roll with the punches and see what happened. Leaving the tanks open for 24 hours to capture airborne microbes, they were then resealed to continue fermenting on their own for several weeks until the machinery was operable again. The result was a wild-fermented liquid that, once distilled, came across far funkier and vastly different from anything else in Ardbeg's roster. Here's to happy accidents.
Jim Beam outdid itself in 2022, debuting an entirely new premium brand of whiskey called Hardin's Creek. The new brand, which is distilled at the parent company's new high-end Fred B. Noe Distillery, launched with two bottles: Jacob’s Well and Colonel James B. Beam. Both of them are Kentucky straight bourbon whiskeys, with the latter being the more affordable and accessible of the two. Colonel James B. Beam pays homage to the brand's founder by aging just two years in a style similar to the style of whiskey its namesake was producing shortly after the repeal of Prohibition. The young bourbon still packs plenty of character, as it is taken off the still at a lower distillation proof to better highlight the barrel's characteristics while also helping to impart more flavor from the fermentation process.
Hidden Barn Whiskey
Jackie Zykan is a rising star in the bourbon scene, so much so that she caused headlines when she left her job as Old Forester's master taster to strike out on her own. She ended up founding Hidden Barn Whiskey alongside brand ambassador Nate Winegar, finance and operations lead Matt Dankner and master distiller Royce Neeley. With the goal of shaking up the industry by doing things their own way, Hidden Barn released its first series in 2022 to wide acclaim. Distilled as an old-school Kentucky bourbon by Neeley and expertly blended by Zykan, Hidden Barn's first output is just a (delicious) taste of what's to come. Moving forward, the upstart brand plans to collaborate with top talent from distilleries all over the country, potentially making each new release more intriguing than the last.
Bushmills 12 Year
Irish whiskey is having a bit of a moment, and we certainly have Bushmills to at least partly thank for that. The world's oldest licensed whiskey distillery didn't rest on its laurels in 2022, instead dropping intriguing new high-end single malts like the new 29- and 30-year-old bottles. But for our money, the most exciting new offering out of Ireland this year was Bushmills 12-Year-Old. Slotting between the brand's existing 10- and 16-year-old single malts in its current collection, Bushmills 12 combines a pair of dozen-year-old single malts, one aged in bourbon barrels and the other in sherry casks, that spend the last part of their aging process together in Marsala wine casks. The result is a complex whiskey that's full of dried fruit and nutty notes.
The Last Drop Signature Blend by Drew Mayville
Everything put out by the UK's Last Drop Distillers is remarkable, as the company's entire purpose is to seek out the world's rarest and most exceptional whiskeys. For their 28th release, and second-ever Signature Blend, the brand enlisted Master Distiller Drew Mayville to create what might be the ultimate Kentucky whiskey blend. Utilizing a vast archive of vintage bourbons and ryes from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, Mayville tried 40 different whiskeys before settling on the perfect mix. The resulting blend was left uncut and unfiltered to allow for maximum complexity, and bottled at 121.4 proof. It's limited to 1,458 bottles with an MSRP of over $3,800, making for some very exclusive expertly-crafted whiskey.
Yamazaki Tsukuriwake Selection
This year, Yamazaki, the distillery that helped put Japanese single malts on the map, broke down what makes its single-malt whiskey so special — literally. The brand launched the Tsukuriwake Selection, a collection of four single malts that together make up the original Yamazaki Single Malt. The 96-proof bottles come in Puncheon, Peated Malt, Spanish Oak and Mizunara expressions, allowing drinkers to quite literally isolate their favorite aspects of Yamazaki. It's a super interesting project from one of the most storied Japanese distilleries, and hopefully it's the start of a trend that more brands will get on board with.
Four Walls Whiskey
Celebrity spirits are everywhere these days, and they tend to come off as cringey cash-grabs more often than not. So we were pleasantly surprised at the launch of Four Walls Whiskey, a new brand from the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia gang that's actually pretty great. Featuring two bottles at launch, the $1,000 Cask Strength Single Barrel Collector's Edition, a 15-year single-malt Irish whiskey aged in bourbon barrels, and the $90 Bartender's Blend Limited Edition, a five-year-old mix of Irish whiskey and American rye. Not only are these legitimately good whiskeys, but they're also doing good, with a big chunk of initial revenues being donated to charities aimed at helping bartenders recover from the financial damage they've suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic.
High West Campfire Whiskey
If you're looking at the name High West Campfire and thinking, "Wait a minute, that's not a new whiskey!" well, you're part right. The unique blend of Scotch, bourbon and rye was arguably High West's flagship, but then it disappeared for a while. In 2022, High West brought Campfire back not only with a new formulation, but with a new mission. The reborn whiskey launched alongside the Utah distillery's Protect the West initiative, which aims to dedicate $1 million toward fighting forest fires in the American West over the next three years. As for the whiskey itself, it boasts tasting notes of wood smoke, naturally, along with tobacco, honey and chai spices.
The Balvenie Twenty-Five
In 2022, legendary Scotch distillery The Balvenie debuted the Twenty-Five, a part of the brand's new Rare Marriages collection that also includes The Balvenie Thirty and The Balvenie Forty. The collection features whiskeys that matured separately in American and European oak casks before being "married" together for its final bout of aging. The youngest expression of the collection has all the makings of an extra-aged whiskey — so depth, maturity and intricacy — but an overwhelming lightness that makes it feel like an everyday sipper. Well, an everyday sipper for those with very deep pockets, as this 25-year-old Scotch retails for $800.