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.
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.”
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.
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.)
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 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.