The Best New Whiskeys Of 2020

Anyone who has walked the aisles of a liquor store recently knows that there are a lot of whiskeys out there. The spirit is made around the world, and drinkers are often loyal to their favorite brands and bottles. Still, there's always the draw to taste the unfamiliar, and it feels like there's always something new — even in 2020.

Despite all of the challenges that distilleries faced in 2020, producers from America to Scotland to Japan and beyond were able to put out exciting, innovative, and downright delicious whiskey. A good number of these new whiskeys have been in the works for years (a good whiskey takes time, after all). Plenty, including some of the below, were released in extremely limited quantities, while others were designed for the price conscious mass market. 

Regardless of your preferred whiskey style, there's a new bottle released in 2020 that's worth a try. This is far from an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of whiskeys out there released in other years that are just as, if not more, desirable. Still, if you want the newest of the new, you could do worse than starting with the following, ordered by price from low to high (prices are based on each brand's suggested retail price when available, and from Wine Searcher when not).

Pinhook Rye'd On Straight Kentucky Rye

Pinhook is a term more familiar to horse racing fans than whiskey fans. The word refers to the practice of purchasing a young horse, taking care of it and training it, and then selling it for a profit when it's ready. Pinhook the whiskey brand applies the practice to spirits by buying young barrels, aging and blending them, and then selling them.

Pinhook's Rye'd On Straight Kentucky Rye is a special one. Rather than go the traditional route of having a set whiskey that's the same every year, Pinhook releases a new bourbon and a new rye whiskey every year to highlight what the brand feels best represents the barrels of whiskey it owns at that time. This is the first year Pinhook used a proprietary mash bill that was distilled and aged at Castle & Key Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Yes, Pinhook's home state is more known for its bourbon than any other type of spirit, but this rye proves more than the bourbon is worth a try.

At 48.5 percent ABV, this is a mixing rye perfect for when you want to taste the whiskey in your cocktail — or if you're craving whiskey on ice on a hot day. It's made with 60 percent rye, 20 percent malted barley, and 20 percent corn. As far as flavors to expect, look for spearmint, cherry, toffee, cinnamon, and clove on the nose and palate.

Price: About $38.

Redemption Rye Rum Cask

The type of barrel that a whiskey ages in can greatly impact the final flavor. In the case of this Redemption Rye whiskey, the finishing cask (which are the barrels that a whiskey is put into for added flavor) isn't seen much in American whiskey, and it makes a big impact. Redemption Rye Rum Cask is finished in barrels from Plantation Rum that were previously used to age rum from Jamaica and Barbados.

The whiskey delivers a mix of rye whiskey spice and sweet rum flavors. Expect to pick up notes and aromas like clove and other baking spices along with molasses and honey. It's like taking a trip to somewhere tropical without having to leave the comfortable whiskey flavors you know and love. At 94 proof, the whiskey is an easy choice to swap in for your favorite rum cocktails if you're looking for something a little different that won't water down your drink, though it always works to simply enjoy the whiskey by itself if you're in the mood for something stronger.

Price: About $45

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

Fans of heavily peated, smoky Scotch whisky likely know Ardbeg and the island of Islay (pronounced eye-lah) where the distillery is located. Ardbeg started in 1815, closed in 1981, and then was revived a short time after only to have to close a second time in 1991. Since starting back up once again in 1997, Ardbeg has become a standard-setting peated single malt Scotch whisky with many (many) awards to its name since 1998.

Wee Beastie is Ardbeg's latest to join the lineup. The distillery describes the five-year-old whisky (the youngest ever released by Ardbeg) as "the rawest, smokiest Ardbeg ever." Which is fantastic news for smoke fans. It has aromas like black pepper, coffee, vanilla, and pine resin, and flavors like chocolate alongside a savory, salty quality. Without the mellowing that happens over time, expect a lot of flavor upfront, making it a good Scotch for smoky cocktails (though sipping it neat is perfectly acceptable as well).

Price: About $48.

Corn Trooper United Craft Bourbon 2020

This whiskey is a celebration of all things craft bourbon. Corn Trooper United Craft Bourbon was created by the spirits club Flaviar. Rather than coming from just one distillery, this blend comes from seven craft producers in seven different states during a year when nothing was easy — for bourbon distilleries or anyone else.

The brands involved in the Corn Trooper 2020 are Breckenridge Distillery from Colorado, OOLA Distillery from Washington, Balcones from Texas, Kings County from New York, New Holland Brewing from Michigan, High Wire Distilling from South Carolina, and Hartfield & Co. from Kentucky.

"When we first started this project we were simply looking for great quality juice but it developed into something much bigger than that," Grisa Soba, the co-founder of Flaviar and Corn Trooper's master blender, said in a release. "It's a pretty big deal for us to get craft producers to collaborate openly on a project like this, but in the current climate, where times are tougher than ever for craft distillers, it is even more important that the industry unites and we do what we can to shine a light on these incredible liquids and hero these smaller producers."

The result is a taste drawn from influences around the country with hints of maple syrup, vanilla, cherry, ginger, and cinnamon.

Price: About $70.

Benriach The Smoky Twelve

For many, Scotch whisky is the pinnacle of quality spirits. The reputation is well deserved — the first documented production of Scotch whisky dates back to 1494, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, and Scottish distillers have been experimenting and improving ever since. Many Scotch whisky producers like Johnnie Walker, Macallan, and Lagavulin have become household names around the world, but there are more than a few distillers that you may not have heard of that are just as worthy of seeking out. Benriach is one of those distilleries.

Benriach was founded in 1898, and it closed for a period of time before reopening in the 1960s. Today, the distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland is going strong with standby classics and new releases. One of those new 2020 releases is The Smoky Twelve.

The Smoky Twelve is made with a combination of peated (which gives the smoky flavor) and unpeated malt. It's aged for at least twelve years in three different barrels: one that used to hold bourbon, one that used to hold Sherry, and one that used to hold Marsala wine. The resulting blend is fruity and smoky with notes of chocolate, orange, and vanilla.

Rachel Barrie, Benriach's master blender, described the whisky on Benriach's website: "Longer maturation brings more aromatic layers to our distinctive smoky style. For me it's baked orange in a wonderful cake, fired over an open fire, with dark chocolate flavor."

Price: About $73.

Laws Bonded 6 Year Rye

There's something special about bonded whiskey. A bonded whiskey (also sometimes called bottled-in-bond) is one that's aged for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof, or 50 percent ABV. It's also required to come from one distillery from a single distillery in a single season. The highly regulated bottled-in-bond designation started as a sort of consumer protection law in 1897 to make sure buyers were getting an untampered with whiskey, according to Serious Eats. Today, it's a sign of the extra steps a distillery is willing to take to make a quality spirit.

Laws Whiskey House in Denver, Colorado, released its 6 Year Bottled-in-Bond San Luis Valley Rye in 2020. Laws is known for making distinct whiskeys that showcase Colorado terroir, and this bottling is the first bottled-in-bond rye whiskey in Colorado history. The San Luis Valley Rye is made using an heirloom rye grown in the southern part of the state by the Cody Family Farm since the 1930s. Prior to its release in March, it won the American Rye Whiskey category for rye whiskeys 12 years and under at the World Whiskies Awards.

The aroma is all honey and herbs, while the taste has orange and salinity and just enough sweetness. The whiskey is heavy without being overwhelming. Don't let the higher alcohol percentage throw you off — this is a whiskey made for sipping neat or with just a touch of water.

Price: About $75.

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

Everyone loves a whiskey (and a whisky) with a backstory, and it's impossible to tell the story of Japanese whisky without touching on Nikka and Masataka Taketsuru. Taketsuru traveled to Scotland in 1918 to learn how to make whiskey. When he returned to Japan, he brought with him the information necessary to start making Scotch-style whisky in his home country. Taketsuru is now known as the father of Japanese whisky, and he started Nikka in 1940. The Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt released in 2020 is named after him.

This whisky is a blend of malts from Miyagikyo and Yoichi and is aged for about 10 years, according to The Whisky Exchange, though there's no age statement. It takes the place of the previous Taketsuru Pure Malt, as well as the now discontinued 17-Years-Old and the 21-Years-Old Taketsuru Pure Malt whiskies. The new whisky is in part aged in barrels that once held Sherry, and that's obvious from the aroma and flavors, which also include grain, pepper, vanilla, dried fruit, and coffee.

It's imported by Hotaling & Co., which gives it a wider distribution than some of the other whiskeys on this list and makes it a perfect grab when you're looking for something upscale to drink that won't break the bank.

Price: About $80.

Glenmorangie The Cadboll Estate

Glenmorangie is one of the stand-out names among the notable Scotch whisky distilleries. It started in 1843 in the Highlands region of Scotland. Today, the Glenmorangie distillery has Scotland's tallest stills and puts out whisky that's always worth a trip to the liquor store.

Glenmorangie's The Cadboll Estate released in 2020 is the first single estate whisky using only barley grown on the Cadboll Estate lands that surround the distillery. The single malt whisky is aged for 15 years in American oak barrels that used to hold bourbon. The taste has plenty of characteristics from the oak, and flavors and aromas reminiscent of peanut brittle, creme brulee, and orange, along with sweet honey, chocolate, and vanilla.

According to The Whiskey Wash, Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie's director of distilling, whisky creation, and whisky stocks, picked the barley strain himself, as well as decided how the barley was dried and malted. It was distilled in 2004, and then aged on-site at the warehouse for the duration of its time in barrel. The Cadboll Estate is a special single malt Scotch whisky with very specific qualifications to its production, so supplies are of course limited. The cost, however, isn't as high as some of the special releases of this sort that you see from notable brands.

Price: About $91.

Woodford Reserve Very Fine Rare Bourbon

If you're a bourbon drinker, there's a good chance you already know Woodford Reserve. It's been the presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby since 2017, and has built a reputation for quality since the brand started in 1996 (though the distillery itself is much, much older, according to Spirits Business).

In December of 2020, Woodford Reserve released Woodford Reserve Very Fine Rare Bourbon. It's the oldest bourbon ever released from the brand, and in part uses whiskey dating back to 2003. That year is an important one, as it's the year Chris Morris was named master distiller. Very Fine Rare Bourbon is the 15th release in Woodford Reserve's Master's Collection, and it was created by Morris and assistant master distiller Elizabeth McCall.

"The name Very Fine Rare Bourbon is a nod to the descriptors used by our ancestors to auction highly-aged Bourbon barrel lots," Morris said about the bourbon on the brand's website. "While Woodford Reserve will always honor the past, this Master's Collection is about the present and future." The whiskey smells like oak, vanilla, and caramel, with tasting notes like honey, apple peel, clove, and citrus. For help decoding all that's in the bottle as you're tasting it, take a look at Woodford Reserve's whiskey flavor wheels.

Price: About $130.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2020

Few distilleries are as transparent as Four Roses. For whiskey geeks, transparency means the ability to soak up more distilling knowledge than your average non-distiller needs to know. For others, it means a whiskey that is so good it's not afraid to hide behind savvy marketing.

Four Roses released its 2020 Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon in September. It's a 111.4 proof whiskey made from a blend of four batches that have aged between 12 and 19 years. And this is where the transparency comes in. The whiskeys in the 2020 release are from four different recipes. Those recipes are designated OBSV, OESV, OESK, and OBSK — and you can find the exact meaning behind each of those letters (and how that impacts the flavor) on the Four Roses recipe explanation page that describes everything you need to know about the two mashbills and five proprietary yeast strains. The important thing to know about this unique blend is that the recipe brings flavors of rye and baking spice, rich fruit, and vanilla.

"Each batch in this year's limited edition bottling is an exceptional whiskey that could have stood on its own as a single barrel offering, but in this case the sum is even greater than the parts," master distiller Brent Elliott said in a release.

Just note that limited is in the name for a reason: only 14,040 bottles were made, according to The Whiskey Wash.

Price: About $150.

Westland Garryana Edition 5 American Single Malt Whiskey

There are many recognized and well-loved styles of whiskey out there. In America there's bourbon, rye whiskey, and wheat whiskey, to name a few. One rising category is American single malt, which is a 100 percent malted barley whiskey. It's not a legally recognized category yet, but distilleries and organizations like the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) have been working on changing that since 2016.

Westland Distillery, which is based in Seattle, Washington, is one of the founding members of the ASMWC. The distillery started in 2010 and has grown to become one of the foremost producers of American single malt whiskey.

2020's Garryana Edition 5 is similar to the previous editions in that it bases its identity on barrels made from Garry Oak (scientific name Quercus garryana, which is where the name for the whiskey comes from). The white oak species is native to the Pacific Northwest, and it's rarely used for commercially aging spirits. Westland has planted hundreds of the trees to sustain the plant's population into the future, and provides much information about the trees and how they're important to the local ecosystem on its website.

Edition 5 uses a mix of Garry Oak casks and barrels that previously held bourbon. The whiskey is peated, so there's a smoky characteristic to it along with flavor notes like red apple, pear, and pepper. It's a taste of the Pacific Northwest that you won't find elsewhere.

Price: About $180.

The Boss Hog VII: Magellan's Atlantic

Some of the most expensive whiskeys are left on shelves to be admired rather than drunk. Others are made to be admired but are too delicious not to drink. The Boss Hog VII from Vermont's WhistlePig Whiskey is the latter.

The seven in the name comes from the fact that this is the seventh edition of The Boss Hog, a collection of specialty rye whiskeys. It gets the second part of its name, Magellan's Atlantic, from how it's aged. The whiskey spent 17 years in American Oak barrels, and then moved to Spanish Oak barrels from Northern Spain. Spanish Oak is a porous and knotty wood that creates leaky barrels, so distillers lose a good chunk of what they put in there. Then, the Boss Hog VII was aged in South American Teak wood casks from Brazil. So just like how Ferdinand Magellan went from Spain to what is now Brazil, so too did this whiskey (at least in the form of aging in wood from those countries).

Both types of barrels are rare in American whiskey, according to WhistlePig. Discerning drinkers will be able to pick up baking spices, nuttiness, vanilla, and maple, among other flavors. It's aging makes it unlike anything else on the market. That said, this is very much for the most die-hard of whiskey fans. The price alone says as much, but it has the taste to justify the indulgence for the right drinker.

Price: About $500.