There’s great whiskey, then there’s great-looking whiskey. The best bottles to look at might imply what a distillery is all about in way that pleases the eye; they could stand out from shelves full of script types and black-and-white illustrations of long-dead tycoons, like Nikka’s From the Barrel; or they just make a home bar back look damn good, like Blanton’s Gold or the Irish whiskey Powers Gold. Either way, sometimes you can judge a whiskey by its cover. Here are some of the best-looking bottles you can buy.
Willett Family Estate Rye
Willett’s bottles do a brilliant job signalling the age of the company, and the no-nonsense approach of its Master Distiller Drew Kulsveen. It looks old and the only information on the bottle is proof, age and the type of whiskey. The contrast of the matte canvas label and metallic gloss of the seal are satisfying, too.
Google the people behind Wolves Whiskey and the inspiration for its gold-lettered, sheepskin leather label becomes clear. Or just enjoy the how nice the bottle looks on your shelf.
Heaven Hill’s bartender-favorite, 90 percent corn Bottled-in-Bond whiskey has kept its same label for long enough for it to become retro. Love or hate its decidedly ’80s vibes, its label and the whiskey inside is one of the most unique on the shelf.
E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch
Colonel Taylor’s enormous signature ensures there is no missing his whiskey on the shelf. When it comes to traditional labels, this is near the top.
Old Rip Van Winkle 10-Year
Not technically “Pappy,” but still included by most in discussions revolving around the Van Winkle bourbons, Old Rip Van Winkle 10-Year is often abbreviated to “Wizard Pappy” for the guy on the front. The label looks like one you might find on “dusties,” with plenty of hard-to-read script type and phrases like “Asleep Many Years in the Wood” scrawled on it. Its weirdness may have inspired labels on other strange (and excellent) whiskeys like High West’s A Midwinter Nights Dram.
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte
I don’t have a source for this, but there’s a high chance Bruichladdich’s bottle design pisses off scotch whisky traditionalists. In place of gold-trimmed type and oval-shaped labels with little information on them, the distillery, which makes some of the best scotch you can buy, opts for blocky-modern type and huge amounts of bottle information (especially on the gift tube). Basically, it’s the Dr. Bronner’s of scotch bottles.
With its uber-minimal label and simple shape, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking Chicago craft whiskey stalwart Koval is a Japanese whisky.
Seagram’s 7 Crown
Say what you will about Seagram’s 7, its impact on drinking culture is undeniable. Its website calls it an “AMERICAN ICON” and its label places a crown on the top of an enormous red 7. It may not be “good” whiskey, but the arrogant label slapped on a plastic bottle of $15 juice is worth celebrating.
Buffalo Trace’s standard grenade-shaped bourbon looks good, but the Gold Edition, coming to the US for the first time this summer, looks better. Instead of the skinny label, you get all that glorious Blanton’s detail etched into the bottle itself in gold leaf script — barrel number, dump date, rick number, proof, age and so on. It looks like a whiskey drinker’s whiskey, and is.
I.W. Harper 15
More popular abroad than in the US, I.W. Harper bottles drop the typical look of nice bourbon in favor of what looks like an Art Deco cologne bottle. The result is sick, and makes for a great base for your own infinity bottle.
Nikka From the Barrel
The most Japanese whisky bottle of all Japanese whiskies. It’s squat, minimal and sports a screwtop, despite being a fairly premium spirit. Let the booze do the talking.
One of the first premium bourbons to adopt the wine bottle shape, Booker’s does the handwritten look the right way by going all the way with it. Created by the late bourbon hero Booker Noe in the ’80s, the bottle is credited with kickstarting the premium American whiskey revolution, and its idiosyncratic look (a sample bottle from the era) played no small part.
Bottles that are popular with at-home infinity bottlers are a good bet to show up on this list, and Hibiki’s decanter-style bottle may be at the top of that pile. The bottle look in combination with an elegant label and drop-dead gorgeous limited editions earns a spot on any list of good-looking labels.
The Macallan Single Malts
Where Bruichladdich pushes the envelope of what the world’s favorite whisky could look like, The Macallan has established the standard. One look at the bottle and you know you’re drinking luxury.
Powers Gold Label
This is a designer’s whiskey bottle. A combination of raised lettering on the glass, type overlap on the label, small graphic detail, wicked color use and a unique bottle shape come together to make one good-looking bottle of Irish brown.
You can buy Old Tub at Jim Beam Distillery and no place else. The tiny bottle was a favorite of Booker Noe (likely the only reason it’s still around) and the label is a time capsule to whiskey days of yore.
There’s a confidence is releasing a bottle almost entirely free of graphics and color. Jefferson’s Reserve says a lot with a little.
Copper Sea Spirits
Excelsior, New York-based Copper Sea Spirits’ gorgeous combo of color, type and illustration stands out on any shelf.
Four Roses Black Label
A deep cut. Four Roses’ American line of bourbons are loved by the whiskey cognoscenti, but the packaging (save the Al Young 50th Anniversary bottle) isn’t too special. Its Japan-only Black Label is different, if only because the black label itself lets the red rose stand out more. Get it in Japan on the cheap — about $20.
Every bottle of Pinhook is embellished with the image of a prominent race horse, alluding to bourbon’s connection to the Kentucky Derby and mint juleps. It’s a valiant, neigh, successful attempt to bring horseracing to the forefront of our minds and evokes the southern charm of the liquor inside the bottle.
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