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White Whales from Islay

Welcome to Islay. This small grey, wet magical land is where all of our peated fantasies come true. With nine distilleries and two in planning, Islay is a veritable Disneyland for those hunters of smoke, seaweed, and other rich maritime characters.

Hailing much further south than the rest of the Scottish Isles, Islay enjoys a moderate climate that is the backbone of the region’s terroir. When you drink a classic dram of Lagavulin 16 or Bowmore Darkest, one cannot help but be instantly transported to rocky coasts spotted by lighthouses or walking amongst the green and grey, wellies and all!

Many distilleries like Ardbeg and Bunnahabhain are putting out limited releases sprinkled throughout the year. For those lucky enough to be within driving distance, the limited releases are attainable. But the rest of us can only hope for a few bottles to trickle our direction. 

Taste is subjective. Peat isn’t for everyone. Campfire, leather, and iodine will not bring world peace (well, maybe?). 

But whether you’ve just gotten your 4th Ardbeg tattoo or the thought of peat churns your stomach, some legendary and rare releases can’t be passed up if found in the wild! And really, no collection is complete without ample representation of perhaps the most beloved and hated of all whisky-producing regions!

Searching for Islay whales may cause one to transform into Captain Ahab, willing to risk it all. While attaining these whiskies may not require you to go down with the ship, they will take your hard-earned cash and patience for the long hunt.

Unlike some of its peers, Bowmore is known for smoky yet softer whiskies. This whisky was released in 2017 after 5 decades in a single ex-bourbon hogshead. Bottled at 41.5% ABV, and with only 74 bottles ever produced, it is, without doubt, one of the rarest Bowmore’s ever released.

This 1966 vintage celebrates a special milestone at the Bowmore distillery. It was in the same year that Bowmore bottled its first official single malt. This was the same year that distillery manager Eddie Macaffer joined Bowmore before retiring in 2016.

This collectible comes in an oak case with five hand-laid silver rings at its center. The rings represent each decade the spirit was aged and make for a stunning display of this refined whisky in any collection. 

Should you dare to kill this bottle off you will be in for a rollercoaster ride! Instead of smoke, you get a tropical fruit salad of lychee and pineapple with floral notes and baking spices. It goes down painfully smooth. Each guilty sip will make you feel personally responsible for world deforestation.

You can’t talk about rare Islay whiskies without including those from the legendary Port Ellen Distillery. It was shut down in 1983 but a treasure trove of stock has been stored in a warehouse since, with Diageo tantalizing followers with sporadic and rare releases. 

With each new iteration, the age of the whisky becomes older and the spirit reserves approach nil. Port Ellen 37 Year Old is the 16th release from the closed distillery and it is a massive dram of spice, smoke, leather, and notes of blackcurrant. Bottled at 55.2% ABV, the flavors explode on the palate with moreish notes of citrus and cinnamon and finish with woody, earthy notes and hints of dark chocolate. 

If you see it in your price range, click that buy now button with no remorse!

Another Port Ellen on this list should be no surprise! And while it’s true that in Diageo announced plans to refurbish and reopen the distillery in the future, those plans have already been delayed. Once again, whisky will be distilled at Port Ellen in the future. But why wait until the 2030s to get your hands on some?

Get used to seeing “product not available” while searching for Port Ellen 40 Year Old 9 Rogue Casks. True to its namesake, this bottling comes from 9 highly unusual and previously rejected casks at the distillery. 

This spirit was bottled at 50.9% ABV and the trademark Port Ellen oiliness is on steroids! A dram full of apricot, honey, and peach with notes of tobacco and leather. The campfire smoke is there, but only just more than a hint. These 9 rogue casks have come together to produce a delicate and refined drink that can be enjoyed by connoisseurs and amateurs alike. 

Hunting for Port Ellen will always reap rewards for those with the right constitution.

Laphroaig proclaims to be the “most richly flavored of all Scotch whiskies” and after sampling a few drams of the 10-year-old cask strength bottling, we are inclined to agree. The distillery practically sits on the sea itself and this maritime influence makes it into every dram produced. 

This rare Laphroaig bottling is the oldest to ever come out of the distillery. A piece of history in itself, the spirit was distilled in 1960 before being bottled in 2000. Initially, 3300 bottles were released and now two decades later, the number of available bottles is surely much lower. 

Laphroaig 40 Year Old is bottled at a “natural cask strength” of 42.4% and gives drinkers a more refined experience than the distillery's young and aggressive 10-year-old variants. Smoke and peat phenols are balanced by green notes of fruit and a surprising mint character. The whisky holds a fat, creamy mouthfeel and finishes with trademark smoke, iodine, and fresh herbal notes. 

A delicious whisky that can be saved for the ultimate occasion, put away as a valuable investment, or the crown of your Laphroaig collection. Pick one of these up while you still can!

Ardbeg is known for putting out some of the most aggressive and in-your-face whiskies in the world, and the Islay distillery has garnered much hype for its highly evolving selection of limited and special releases. 

It was Ardbeg’s Manager’s Choice that vaulted the distillery to the heights of the whisky stratosphere. This is a bottling of whisky distilled in 1976 and 22 years later, distillery manager Stuart Thomson chose a single sherry butt for the exclusive run. The whisky was bottled at 56% ABV in a limited run of just 497 bottles and there are far fewer available today!

Other Ardbeg single cask bottlings would follow but none would garner the attention of the first sherry cask release. Polishing the rough edges of a typical Ardbeg dram, this first release of the Manager’s Choice marries the character of spirit and wood in a perfectly balanced expression. Expect the smoke and tobacco to be turned down while weighed against rich notes of dried fruit.

If you run into one of these highly sought bottles, it’s best to pick it up. Now whether you can resist opening it up right away or not is totally on you!

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Hunting Unicorns: The top 5 rarest Japanese Whiskies

Revered the world over for their tireless pursuit of quality and excellence when it comes to crafting outstanding Scottish-inspired whisky, Japan has a lengthy history of masterful whisky making with many of the world's best blended and single malt whiskies being produced by the powerhouses of Suntory and Nikka.

As with any whisky that gains such cult status and critical acclaim, certain limited edition bottles become increasingly popular due to their exceptional profiles, the hunger and demand within the market, and the resultant scarcity of availability.

When a bottle begins to move towards this trajectory, it can be said to achieve "unicorn" status, so rare and so sought-after that even seeing them becomes a mythical, otherworldly experience. Below are 5 of the rarest and most sought-after Japanese whiskies in the world, each with its own story and each with an allure and mystique that goes above and beyond the confines of a typical whiskey.

Truly formidable, aged gracefully and remarkably rare, Suntory’s Hibiki 30 year old is the cream of the crop. A recipient of “World’s Best Blended Whisky” (at the world whiskies awards in 2007 and 2008), this celebrated and highly coveted Japanese whisky is one of the most enigmatic and elusive drams in the world.

Composed of a mixture of grain and malt whiskies, aged for 30 years and over, this 86 proof Japanese whisky is a testament to the revered quality and peerless dedication to craftsmanship for which Suntory is renowned. A statement piece and collector’s item that will be the center of attention at any dinner party, for those with a penchant for rare, exceptional whisky, the Hibiki 30 is a must-have.

An iconic name in Japanese whisky, revered for its place in the foundations and beginnings of the single malt movement at early Suntory, the Yamazaki represents the height of Japanese whisky craftsmanship and is a testament to the company’s first-ever distillery. 

The 25 Year Old, winner of World's Best Single Malt at the World Whiskey Awards, is a delightful journey that traverses the planes between depth, character and charisma, inviting the taster to experience the true nature of Suntory whisky. Devilishly deep and seductively complex, the Yamazaki 25 year old is one of the rarest modern Japanese whiskies, and with hints of dried fruit, warm marmalade, coffee and almond - it boasts one of the most unique flavor profiles of any whisky, anywhere. 

With only 13 sets ever produced, the Japanese Trees Collection from Karuizawa is perhaps the most exclusive ‘set’ of whiskies anywhere in the world. The set itself presents 3 individual bottles that represent 3 National Treasures of Japan, while the whiskies are undoubtedly treasures that deserve credit beyond recognition for their remarkable craftsmanship and the elegance of their composition. Beautifully appointed and inspired by the nature for which Japan is renowned, for whiskyphiles and lovers of all things Japan, the Karuizawa Japanese Trees Limited Edition Collection is the zenith of sophistication. 

Botted in 2012, the Taketsuru 25 is nothing short of a work of art, combining the outrageously sophisticated aesthetics of Nikka whisky with the unadulterated dedication and propensity for quality for which the Japanese distiller has become renowned. Named after the iconic distiller, Masataka Taketsuru, who holds one of the most revered positions in Japanese whisky-making history - due to his status as a chief component of both Suntory and Nikka - the Taketsuru 25 year old is ingrained in Japanese whisky folklore. Distilled in 1987, this single malt is an apparition for most collectors and connoisseurs, more myth and mystery than an attainable bottle. 

A breathtaking single malt whisky that personifies Masataka Taketsuru’s unique approach to crafting whisky with the meticulous precision of his home, Japan, with the tradition, history, and heritage of Scottish whisky methodology, the Yoichi 20-year-old single malt is one of the rarest and most celebrated Japanese whiskies in circulation. The profile itself is an unfathomable success that blends honey, vanilla, cream, and caramel with rich, spiced fruits, herbal notes, and anise. A complex and considered single malt that requires an experienced palate, for collectors and connoisseurs, the Yoichi 20 is the pinnacle of refined Japanese whisky under 25 years old.

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Rye Til I Die: Go Big or Go Home

Often overlooked as the ugly sibling of bourbon and American whiskey, Rye once held the hearts of North Americans everywhere, and while Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey are still the kings, Rye is making waves across not just the country, but in whisky circles all around the globe!

Many of the most widely available ryes on the shelves of speakeasies and prohibition-style cocktail bars will feature brands like Rittenhouse or Wild Turkey. Great for mixing or drinking neat, these Kentucky-style rye whiskies are known for their drier, spicier complexion and slightly more peppery profile when compared to many corn-based whiskies. 

Kentucky Rye just about meets the minimum legal requirements of having at least 51% rye in the mash bill, the rest of which can be made up of corn, barley or other grains. However, for the more adventurous, we have classifications for regions and their typical mash bills. There are styles of rye like Monongahela from Pennsylvania (70-100% rye) and Indiana Rye (95%) among others. This is a good thing! Many of us simply cannot get enough rye! 

Rye enthusiasts like ourselves are not satisfied with a Rye whiskey that is nearly half other grains! We want full cinnamon, clove, cardamom, white pepper and a refreshing dryness. We expect that aggressiveness on the palate to be backed up with a massive body and the taste of alcohol on the finish. 

To appease the discerning Rye drinker, many producers of long ago and those today continue to put out these high-rye ryes. These refined libations are from another time. They have turned back the clock on whisky lovers and collectors everywhere.

Because of their aggressive nature, these ryes can be found in limited quantities and typically are not more than seasonal releases or one-offs. Of course, there are always exceptions, producers like the High West Distillery in Park City, Utah have made it their modus operandi to put out big ryes.

Speaking of big ryes, we’re getting thirsty!

According to Redemption’s Master Blender Dave Carpenter, “Rye is the past and future of American whiskey.” Putting those words into action, Redemption has released the ultimate expression of pre-prohibition Rye whiskey for modern times.

Redemption 18 Year Old Rye was distilled in 1998 when the distillery first started production. The 95% rye mash bill was laid to barrel to mature and 18 years later, this dream of rye was packaged at a cask strength of 109 proof with only 600 bottles released!

This whiskey is described as having notes of cedar, dark chocolate, and all the hallmarks of a big rye. Expect a beast on the palate brimming with baking spice, baked apple, peaches, rich caramel, and maple. Let this resurrection of early twentieth-century American rye transport to you back to simpler times. 

Adding this bottle to your collection is a tribute to the American Dream!

Another relative newcomer to whiskey production, WhistlePig Pig was founded in 2007 with the dream to bring back the 10-year-aged rye whiskey. They paired with Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, formerly of Maker’s Mark, and procured some 10-year-old Monogahela style (100% rye) whiskey and the rest is history. 

Continuing their success, they opened the doors to their distillery in Shoreham, Vermont in 2015. Based on a 150-year old dairy farm, there is nothing barnyard in the house flavors of WhistlePig’s rye!

The Boss Hog represents an evolving string of highly limited releases from this elite rye producer. The first of these, Spice Dancer, is a release of “pure barrel strength” straight rye whiskey from 24 of WhistlePig’s oldest and most unique barrels.

This bold rye weighs in at 130 proof. According to the distillery, “nowhere available, is a barrel strength aged rye of the highest-rated rye whiskey around.” 

Expect vanilla and fruit on the nose with musty and funky wood-aged notes. On the palate, you will get the bright character of Whistlepig’s high-rye. It’s almost like biting into cinnamon bark and cloves with a delicious oaky finish of red pepper and dark chocolate. It’s a whiskey and desert in the same glass!

Good luck finding one of these rare initial releases! But if you acquire one and are tempted to get it into your decanter, opening this beautiful rye is a special occasion in itself!

Utah might be one of the last places on earth that one would expect to find high-end whiskey. But being the first legally licensed distillery in the state since the end of American Prohibition, High West has been at the forefront of the resurrection of American rye.

Beginning in 2007, biochemist David Perkins sourced 6-year old rye from MGP and 16-year-old Barton rye for blending in what would become the distillery’s flagship, Rendezvous Rye. More than a decade later High West now puts out core offerings with their own distillate.  

But in 2012, they released the Rock Mountain Rye 16 Year Old. The distillery states that the whiskey was found “quietly aging in a Kentucky warehouse” and that these “incredible whiskeys were destined for blending into Canadian Whiskey… until we sipped them.” 

High West was only able to procure a small number of barrels of this beautiful rye but we are all the better for it. Weighing in at 80% rye with an ABV of 46%, this whiskey explodes with a big rye character but is subdued with a soft finish. The drinker is greeted with fiery cinnamon and baking spices and lifted up with a slightly sweet, vanilla finish. 

Unlike most high-ryes, the Rocky Mountain Rye is more approachable. It’s a sheep in wolf's clothing. Any High West limited release is worth grabbing for any collector or as an investment. But High West released only 1300 bottles of this beast into the wild! This bottle is a must-buy for any lover of rare American whiskey!

Booker Noe was the grandson of Jim Beam and a master distiller for more than 40 years. He is also renowned among connoisseurs for the Beam group’s releases of small-batch bourbons under his namesake. 

Many of these bottlings are beloved by collectors and can be difficult to procure. However, none may be more important than the sole release of Noe’s small-batch rye. Unfortunately, Booker himself would not live to see the day, but the “Big Time Batch '' was released posthumously by the distillery. 

Breaking the bonds of Kentucky traditions at nearly 80% rye, this limited batch has reached mythical status. All sentimentality cast aside, this whisky says “f**k your feelings”. Its alcohol content of 68.1% laughs at all that stands in its way.

Those who dare to try this monster will have their senses assaulted by complex layers of freshly kilned baking spices. It’s Christmas, pepper, wood, citrus and so much more! Dark chocolate and plums and sweet teas on the palate. It finishes with satisfying oak vanillins and mouth-drying tannins before the alcohol warmth takes you to church on Saturday. Only, you actually wanna be there!

But with high-quality rye, it isn’t just about who can make the most noise. In 2017, The Whisky Bible crowned this as the best whiskey in the world. And since then, it became that much harder to get one’s hands on a bottle! Thanks, Jim!

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A nip from Loch Ness: The top 10 rarest Scotch whiskies (part 1)

In the rarified atmosphere that is limited edition Scotch, sometimes one might find themselves in the echelons beyond the metaphysical, encountering a bottle so enigmatic that it makes Loch Ness and Stonehenge look commonplace. Few will ever encounter these beasts, and fewer will ever have the chance to purchase them, but should you - they are destined to become more than just whiskies in your prized collection. They represent the finest craftsmanship in Scotland, true pieces of cultural and spiritual engineering that resonate with whiskyphiles - enchanting and ensnaring the soul. Read below to learn about some of the rarest Scotch whiskies in circulation, and stay tuned for part 2 where we explore some even rarer, once-in-a-lifetime Scotch whiskies.

An annual limited edition release that typifies the class and charisma of Scotland's finest whisky producer, The Macallan Editions are a stunning collection of collaborative and uniquely inspired Scotch whiskies that have captured the hearts of collectors across the world. From the Edition No. 1, a luxuriously appointed Scotch whisky, made in collaboration with master whiskey maker Bob Dalgarno, aged in 8 different styles of European and American oak casks, to the Edition No. 5, an inspired collaboration with the Pantone Color Institute that accentuates and illustrates the natural colors and flavors of the Speyside distillery, the Editions showcase the best of the Macallan distillery and have become the height of collectible Scotch since the first release in 2015.

The Macallan x Sir Peter Blake "An Estate, A Community and A Distillery" 750ml combines one of the finest single malt Scotch whiskies in the world with artwork from one of the most iconic pop artists in history. Magnificently crafted and highly collectible, this 95.4 proof single malt Scotch is one of the most coveted bottles ever released by The Macallan, and comes beautifully presented with an artwork by Blake printed on a scroll and included with the bottle. Complex, balanced, and with a bouquet of flavors that spans from rich dried fruits and spice to subtle black pepper, vanilla and treacle, don't miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure one of the rarest single malt Scotch whiskies ever produced by Macallan.

An elegant and decadent Scotch that’s testament to the Balvenie’s remarkable reputation for crafting quality whisky, the Balvenie 50 year old is a masterful statement piece that blends a marriage of four different fifty-year-old casks. Produced by Balavenie’s Master Whisky Maker David Stewart, there are only 110 bottles of this remarkable Scotch whisky in circulation globally, making it one of the most revered, celebrated and coveted bottles on the face of the earth. The historical bottling is carefully crafted and presented with a bespoke wooden tube, adding to the allure and illustrious nature of this iconic piece. A deep and mature Scotch that resounds with oaky, syrupy flavor which is complemented by nuanced hints of orange, toffee and brown sugar, for collectors and connoisseurs, there is no finer Scotch.

Glenfiddich 1937

Cask number 843, a whisky nurtured by generations of Glenfiddich’s Malt Masters - it was considered to be one of the finest and oldest whiskies that the world would ever see. After 64 years, this nectar was distilled in one of the smallest releases of all time - just 61 bottles. While many speculated that the quality and strength of the whisky would have depleted over 6 decades of maturation, the 1937 Rare Collection Single Malt would retain an incredible potency that boasted a huge aroma and one of the most intricately complex palate experiences - one that Glenfiddich could only dream of. Coming around once every few years, if you’re able to find one of these occasions, don’t hesitate as the bottle will be gone in the blink of an eye.

Dalmore 62

A record-breaking Scotch whisky, the Dalmore 62 is considered to be the world’s most expensive whisky - and is undoubtedly one of the world’s rarest ever. A historical release, reduced to only 12 bottles globally, this collector’s item is one of the Scotch world’s most elusive and coveted bottles. For connoisseur’s and whisky buffs, this bottle is the Holy Grail, and a bottle that will only continue to become more and more elusive given the state of the market. In 2002, a bottle sold at auction for £22,000, in 2011 a bottle sold for £125,000, and today, it would fetch an eye-watering amount. Perhaps the most elegant, sophisticated and luxurious expression of Scotch in history, the Dalmore 62 is an enigma that few will be lucky to encounter in their lifetime.

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Top-shelf Treasures: The whiskeys you must have in your collection (part 1)

For most new collectors, 'hype' whiskeys represent the best bourbons in 2021 and are the top priority when it comes to filling out the top shelf. Everyone wants the latest and greatest bottle from Buffalo Trace, or that bottle that was just featured on the front page of your favorite bourbon blog. But are these hype trains really the best bourbons of 2021, and what happens if you can't seem to successfully hunt down that elusive Pappy 23 or a BTAC unicorn? Where do you turn to next? If this sounds like you or someone you know, then it's time to take a look at some of bourbon's better-hidden gems. Here are some classic bourbon and rye whiskeys that you simply have to consider when building out your collection. These are the bourbon and rye whiskeys that are truly top-shelf, bottles that do more than just "talk".

Kentucky's most iconic bottled-in-bond bourbon, Heaven Hill's Old Fitzgerald has one of the most revered, rollercoaster histories in the bourbon state. Building a reputation in the late 19th century for its exceptional distilling pedigree and peerless manufacturing standards, Old Fitz was purchased by Pappy Van Winkle himself during the prohibition era - a perfect storm, that would combine Old Fitz's character and charisma with the hunger and zeal of an inspired innovative whiskey maker. Resurrected in 2018 by Heaven Hill Distillery, the Old Fitzgerald bi-annual release is one of the most anticipated and widely acclaimed in bourbon whiskey circles, and securing a Decanter should be on the list of every keen collector and connoisseur.

With 9 releases hitting shelves since the renaissance of this powerhouse bourbon, Old Fitzgerald's Bottled in Bond Decanter series has become one of the finest expressions of Kentucky whiskey available to the public. The Spring 2021 Release, aged for 8 years (the youngest bottling in the entire series thus far) and bottled at the requisite 100 proof, is the latest in this storied lineage and brings forth a vibrant and robust flavor profile with the familiar silky smooth mouthfeel and quintessential Old Fitz character. Dark auburn, full of subtle oak and sweet brown sugar which give way to toasted cereal notes, oatmeal and pecan with subtle hints of clove and delicate spice on the palate, beautifully accentuated by a long, warming finish - Old Fitzgerald's Bottled in Bond is a must-have for anyone looking to add a bottle that does more than just carry hype to their collection.

Personifying Sazerac's seemingly faultless ability to produce exceptional whiskeys, 1792's Full Proof is proof that sometimes venturing outside of the typical Buffalo Trace prototype can pay dividends. A distillery with a significant amount of history, surprisingly, it only produces two major bourbons, those being 1792 and Very Old Barton, both of which are shaped by the distillery's traditional distilling processes - outside fermenters, coal-heated boilers, and column stills to name but a few.

There are numerous iterations of 1792 that have garnered widespread critical acclaim, with the 1792 Single Barrel winning 2021's Best Single Barrel Bourbon at this year's 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. You may ask why then, have we selected the Full Proof variety as our must-have bourbon whiskey on this list? The answer is simple enough, the 1792 Full Proof was awarded World Whisky of the Year in Murray's 2020 Whisky Bible, and has received two Gold Medals (2021, 2020) and one Double Gold Medal (2019) at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which make it one of the best, most-consistent barrel proof whiskeys in the world. Bottled at 125 proof, balancing sweet vanilla, caramel, alongside subtle smoke, and imbued with a depth of character that is unsurpassed at its price range, the 1792 Full Proof is an essential addition for whiskyphiles across the globe.

We previously wrote a short piece called 'Beyond Kentucky', which explored a handful of the best and brightest distilleries outside of the bourbon state. WhistePig Distillery was one of those listed, a dedicated rye distiller from Vermont that produces some of the finest and fiercest rye whiskeys in America, and the world. Though WhistlePig may not have the history that many Kentucky based distillers possess, it has experienced a rapid rise to fame since its inception in 2015, it makes up for this with the sheer inspiration and audacity of its products, along with the experience of Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, previously of Maker's Mark.

The most acclaimed and celebrated series from WhistlePig's extensively popular catalog is none other than the Boss Hog Collection, a (so far) 7 part series that explores the distillery's pursuit of the most interesting, innovative and inspired rye whiskey in the world. The latest installment, the Magellan Atlantic 7th Edition, is a testament to this ethos - paying homage to the first recorded circumnavigation of the globe by mirroring the native wood finishes of Magellan's journey. A single barrel, full-proof rye, the Boss Hog VII is aged for 17 years in American Oak, and then finished, first in Spanish stave casks and then in South American teakwood. Producing a rare balance of spice, smoothness and sophistication, expect potent power, creamy vanilla and caramel which intertwine with charred oak, baking spice and woody warmth - a must-have for collectors and connoisseurs of fine rye.

So there you have it, a few of the finer whiskeys available today that you simply must have in your collection. This list is by no means exhaustive and only scrapes the surface of the essential additions to any connoisseur's collection. Join us next week for part 2 of this list where we take a look at a few of the less talked about, non-hype whiskeys that should feature on your top-shelf. Cheers

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Hunting Unicorns: The top 10 rarest American whiskeys in the world (part 1)

Exclusive, elusive, evasive, enigmatic. There are some bottles that, no matter how far and wide your search, you just cannot seem to find. They may be hyper-limited edition, circulated in unbelievably short supply, and almost impossible to spot in the wild, which is what makes them the rarest and most coveted bottles in the world.

So what are the rarest bourbon whiskeys in the world? Whatever your penchant, taste, or preference, here is our unofficial list of the rarest American bourbons and whiskeys in the world, and potentially, where you might find them.

Needing no introduction, Pappy 23 is without doubt the most coveted and popular bourbon in contemporary collector circles. The community possesses an insurmountable appetite for this particular drop, and its exceptional age and limited production numbers make it one of the hardest bottles to come by - even sighting this golden elixir is uncommon.

As with all Pappy iterations, the allure and enigmatic nature of the bottle is a huge reason why its popularity has soared so dramatically in recent years, with a true ‘unicorn’ status and eye-watering cult following making it near impossible to find. While it exists as a folk tale for many, for those that have tried it or been lucky enough to secure a bottle for their collection, Pappy van Winkle bourbon is generally accepted as one of the finest and most remarkable sipping digestif bourbons in circulation, with its character and charisma adds to the incredible stature of the brand as a historical tour de force in Kentucky.

It’s rumored that a mere 84,000 bottles of the acclaimed wheated bourbon are produced and allocated annually, many of which are locked to State ballots in the USA and distributed via a lottery. For many, finding a bottle would be as good as winning the lottery, such is its scarcity amidst a mind-boggling level of demand.

Originally made using Stitzel-Weller barrels, today Pappy is produced using Buffalo Trace’s ‘wheated’ mashbill, and produces a silky, velvet-like mouthfeel and a sumptuously smooth flavor profile. Aged for 23 years and possessing a striking, deep amber color, Pappy van Winkle 23 year old bourbon is a scintillating and complex sipping whiskey that combines aromatic undertones (syrup, stone fruits), sweet subtlety (vanilla, toffee, creamy textures) and mellow hints of oak and spice.

: 10/10

Where to find?

A bourbon that by all rights shouldn’t even exist, Colonel E. H. Taylor’s Tornado Surviving Barrel is the extremely fortunate result of an ‘act of god’, a miraculous bourbon whiskey shaped by mother nature’s harshest elements amidst Kentucky’s 2006 tornado outbreak.

Between the 1st and 2nd of January 2006, 20 tornadoes wreaked havoc across the Central and Southern states of America, with Kentucky the epicenter of the damage. Two of Buffalo Traces warehouses were damaged, including the revered Warehouse C, built by Taylor in 1881. With Warehouse C’s infrastructure compromised, a small group of barrels aging in the canopy near the roof were exposed to harsh winds and a large amount of sunlight. 

The result was truly remarkable, a breathtakingly sumptuous, decadent bourbon whiskey unlike anything else the distillery had produced before, and only discovered years later upon tasting. While it dealt enormous damage to the building, the tornado imparted a small gift unto the BT distillery in the form of a unique and decadent bourbon whiskey - swimming with aromatic fig and clove, beautifully balancing oaky dryness and spice with lashings of jam, fruit and vanilla and underlying smoke and tobacco.

Today, Taylor’s Warehouse C Tornado Surviving possesses nothing short of cult status, and while there were purportedly 24,000 barrels in Warehouse C at the time of the tornado, today there are extremely few available for purchase.

: 9/10

Where to find it? 

Based on a recipe that has since been taken to the grave following the late passing of Master Distiller Booker Noe, Booker’s Rye may never be produced again, and certainly not to the meticulous standards with which it was crafted under the vision of the whiskey’s namesake. 

Having been met with hesitation prior to its release, in large part due to Booker’s never venturing into the world of rye previously, Booker’s Straight Rye was named Whisky of the Year by Whisky Bible in 2016, and the limited edition release has been incredibly hard to come by ever since.

Bottled at over 130 proof and imbued with the classic rye grain smell of pepper, oak and leather, Booker’s Rye is a rich and remarkably deep whiskey that delivers nuanced complexity and exceptional balance for such a punchy, heavy hitter. Bold spice and citrus are prominent, while cinnamon and heat are discernible but not overpowering. The finish is symptomatic of all great rye whiskeys, spicy and lingering with an almost chewy oakiness - the quintessential rye finish. It is all of these things and more that make it such a popular, aspirational bottle.

With fewer than 10,000 bottles released and the highly collectible nature of the bottle given its cult-status and the late passing of Booker Noe, the 2016 LE Straight Rye holds a status beyond that of your typical collector's item - it is legend, and for any connoisseur with a penchant for smoke and spice, this rye represents nothing short of a holy grail.

: 9/10

Where to find it? 

While Blanton’s is a household name for many bourbon whiskey enthusiasts, those who have started collecting more recently may be unaware of the Buffalo Trace Distillery brand’s most enigmatic and elusive bourbon, the Silver Edition. 

Once a prominent ornamental feature in airport Duty-Free liquor departments, today the Silver Edition is discontinued and will, in all probability, never be produced again. Unlike many of Blanton’s most exclusive, limited-edition releases - such as Paris’ La Maison du Whisky Single Barrel, the M&P Festival Editions created specifically for Poland and the Black, Red and Gold Japanese Takara exclusives, the Silver Edition was never limited to a single, specific market - it was widely accessible as a travel retail release - however, most collectors and connoisseurs will never lay eyes on it, that’s how rare it is.

With the wider availability and popularity of the SFTB and Gold Editions, largely due to their higher proof and more robust, full-bodied nature, you may be excused for questioning why anyone would even consider hunting the Silver Edition. A valid point in theory, however, the Silver Edition possesses another degree of complexity, bottled at 98 proof and delicately balancing both bouquet and flavor in a symphonic manner.

: 9/10

Where to find it? 

Fans of the BTAC Collection will no doubt be familiar with William Larue Weller, and anyone who has followed ‘hype’ whiskey in the last couple of years will be familiar with the acclaimed W. L. Weller silo from Buffalo Trace Distillery. What they mightn’t know is that the current crop of Weller 12 is actually a different beast to the one that was discontinued following a rebranding in 2017.

The older style bottling may be antiquated, however, collectors and connoisseurs will appreciate these pre-2017 vintages for the history and heritage, as well as for the more unique qualities they possess - less ubiquity across Buffalo Trace’s mash bills being one of the primary differences of this discontinued iteration.

Crafted with Weller’s original wheated bourbon recipe, which was conceived in 1849 and stood the test of time, the older style Weller 12 is heavy on rich caramel and vanilla with an almost thick, molasses-like mouthfeel that oozes luxurious sophistication and quality. Though the current Weller 12 retains most of these fantastic attributes, and to some extent is a more ‘modern’ new age whiskey, for those that appreciate the icons of Kentucky bourbon, the vintage 12-year-old Weller is unable to be surpassed.

Frequently cropping up on auction sites when a lone bottle is uncovered, this is one of the rarest and most hard-to-find bourbon whiskeys in the world, and will certainly cost you a pretty penny given its ‘antique’ collector's item status.

: 9/10

Where to find?