The Absolute Best Whiskey Of 2021

Despite slowdowns in many global industries, the whiskey world was alive and well in 2021. A plethora of new releases launched to great acclaim, and old favorites saw updates and restocks to please their loyal fans. Also, since it turns out whiskey might actually be good for you (in moderation, of course), what better time to become a liquor-aficionado than during a pandemic?

As the last couple of years have been plagued by monotony and sameness, we've never been so grateful for the complex and varied flavors of our favorite spirit. Whether it's annual limited releases, the continued rise of bourbon, trends in rum- and sherry-cask finishing, and the continued international success of Japanese varieties, there's a plethora of options to choose from. From sweet and viscous to thin and smoky, high-proof knockouts to low-proof easy sippers, these are the best whiskeys of 2021 for any palette or price range.

Koval Single Barrel Bourbon

The Koval Single Barrel Bourbon is a unique spirit with an interesting flavor profile. Koval is a relative newcomer to the whiskey game, and was only established in 2008. It is also Chicago's first legal distillery since prohibition times, making it a vanguard in the area. The flavor notes in this bourbon are fit for such a groundbreaking enterprise, with ethanol and tart tropical fruit on the nose, along with "subtle sweetness," pepper, and melted butter, per The Whiskey Watch. They describe the taste of this spirit as "remarkably like Smarties," featuring "a pleasant powdery taste on the palate after sipping" and a finish of "sulphered apricots."

Most reviewers attribute Koval's alternative and strong tastes to its "unusual" mash bill of 51% corn and 49% millet, as well as its use of only the "heart" of the distillate. It ranks a solid 89 points on Wine Enthusiast's matrix, and 31 Whiskey described it as, "something that I'd go back to time and time again for those nights when I want something a little unique and different to sip on." For a truly unique bourbon in 2021, look no further the Koval Single Barrel.

Ardberg Arrrrrrrdbeg! Comittee Release

Scotch whisky distillery Ardbeg may be owned by Louis Vuitton Möet Hennesy, but its fanbase receives treatment more akin to devotees of an indie company. The Ardbeg Committee, as they are called in the tradition of Scottish Parliament, is a free-to-join fan club which receives perks like early access to special bottlings, including the exclusive Ardbeg Committee Release. These special releases sell out incredibly quickly and fetch high prices on the resale market. For instance, although the suggested retail value of the 2021 release is $180, you'll more likely have to pay $300-500 to get your hands on a bottle. Some previous committee releases even fetch closer to $2,000, according to Whisky Advocate, and a mammoth 4.5 liter edition could cost you $4,330!

Suffice it to say, these whiskeys are coveted, and its not just because of their rarity. Arrrrrrrrdbeg!, the 2021 Committee Release, received a five-star rating from The Whiskey Wash, who described this scotch as such: "If I seem stumped by this whisky it's because I am ... There is a world of complexities within the spirit that emerge different with each tasting." Arrrrrrrdbeg! also received 9.5/10 from Drinkhacker, who writes, "the palate takes you on an adventure writ small, buttery on the tongue with notes of cinnamon, baked apples, and ripe banana, all filtered through some cigar smoke." This release is one of Ardbeg's most unique expressions yet, and surely one of the best whiskeys of 2021.

Uncle Nearest 1856

The Uncle Nearest whiskey label, founded by Fawn Weaver in 2016, is a recent addition to the whiskey scene. It is named after Nathan "Nearest" Green — the once enslaved man who was the first Black master distiller (and even taught Jack Daniel his craft) — as a way of recentering his role in American whiskey's history (via

Weaver got the idea for her label after interviewing Green's descendants for a book, which she ultimately ditched in favor of producing indie whiskeys to be blended by the family.  Along the way, she discovered the natural talent of Nearest's great-great-granddaughter Victoria Butler, whose first, second, and third batches all won a series of awards. From there, Weaver hired Butler as the brand's lead distiller, making her the first African-American woman to become a master blender and continuing her family's groundbreaking legacy.

And don't go thinking all this history makes up for lack of taste. There's a reason this brand is the fast-growing American indie whiskey on record, with an astounding 100% growth per each quarter it's been around. The brand's flagship blend, 1856, features a "deep copper" color and "subtle aromatics, floral top notes over caramel, vanilla and burnt toast" on the nose, per They also describe it as "full-bodied and chewy," with a short but "bracing" finish of "tobacco, oak, spice and vanilla." Although it's sold out at the distillery for the rest of this year, if you're lucky, it may still be in stock at your local liquor store. 

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

A shortage in older stocks of Japanese whisky, coupled with an increased demand amongst international consumers, has led to Nikka's bottles being in short supply. The company's Taketsuru Pure Malt can be somewhat difficult to find because of this, however, it is well worth the hunt. This interesting Japanese blend retails somewhere around the $80 mark, although high shipping costs and taxes can drive the price up into triple figures.

The latest expression, released at the very end of 2020, provides a welcome update to their original Taketsuru Pure Malt. The retained 100% pure malt formula and sherry cask finish brings the classic Taketsuru smokiness, but this time with "even greater depth and balance," per The Whiskey Wash. The nose this time is fresher, with notes of stone fruits and citrus, according to More Drams Less Drama. The taste begins with citrus and smoke, then transitions into a gingery spiciness, a fruity sweetness, and, finally, dark chocolate and sherry notes with a creamy mouthfeel. The finish is long, spicy, and smoky, with a chocolate taste that lasts.

Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey

Retailing at just $26.99 at time of writing, Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey is an affordable favorite. But don't let its price tag fool you: This brand has been around for over 200 years and is one of the top-selling whiskeys in Ireland. The Gold Label has only four- and five-star reviews on Total Wine, and is highly-rated by even the pickiest of whiskey connoisseurs. So, what makes the whiskey so great? Powers points to the absence of distillate tops and tails, as well as its time spent in American oak casks as key factors.

As far as the flavor, this whiskey starts out with burnt sugar, malted barley, and warm spice. There is honey, woodiness, and nuttiness on the palate, and a long finish of oak, spice, and caramel (via The Whiskey Jug). Total Wine also includes pears on the nose and orchard fruits in the body, as well as pot still oils on the finish. All in all, this whiskey is a great pick for the price, and a worthy addition to any year's round-up.

Buffalo Trace 2021 Antique Collection

Buffalo Trace issues a special release series every fall: the Antique Collection. This set typically features five different bottles (George T. Stagg, Eagle Rare, William Larue Weller, Thomas H. Handy Rye, and an 18-year-old Sazerac) which are extra-special editions of their year-round varieties. Although the suggested retail price is $99 each, these bottles sell out in a flash and can fetch thousands on the whiskey black market. They are one of the hottest commodities in the whiskey world every year and garner a slew of awards with each release.

The 2021 release was noticeably different from its predecessors due to the absence of one bottle, the George T. Stagg, which is typically the most or second-most prized in the whole collection, per Gear Patrol. According to Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlan Wheatley, this year's bottling "did not meet the Stagg profile today," and as such, the company "could not release a bourbon that we did not feel was up to par with the flavor profile expected of George T. Stagg," hence its absence. 

Despite its missing bottle, the 2021 Antique Collection is sure to impress even the pickiest drinker. Each bottle has won a handful of awards over the past several years of releases, and this year's collection also received great reviews. Drinkhacker reports that both the Eagle Rare and the William Laure Weller provide "plenty to love," and Fred Minnick called the Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old an "elegant, elegant whiskey."

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old

This scotch has been out for a number of years but remains a top player in the rum-finished whisky category. The Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old isn't finished in just any rum barrels — malt master David C. Stewart used casks from his own specialty rum, allowing him to maintain maximum control over all aspects of this scotch. All of The Balvenie's whiskys also use a traditional floor malting technique, in which the barley is soaked in water, spread on the floor, and malted by hand. The attention to detail here provides for an incredibly complex single malt which is well balanced in its sweetness and warmth.

Tasting notes for this scotch include tropical fruits and toffee or caramel on the nose, a sweet, creamy, and fruity taste, and a finish that is long, soft, and warm (via The Whiskey Watch and Master of Malt). There is also plenty of vanilla, as is typical of rum-finished whiskeys, as well as floral and toasty notes. At around $80 a bottle, it isn't the cheapest whisky, but it also won't break the bank. The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old is a great choice for those looking for a premium experience at a reasonable splurge price.

The Macallan Harmony Rich Cacao

Best-selling Scottish distillery The Macallan produced an uber-chocolatey limited edition whisky for late 2021. Harmony Rich Cacao was created in collaboration with multi-Michelin star pastry chef and famed chocolatier Jordi Roca. This whiskey is interesting because it is not a chocolate liquor, but rather "An exceptionally rich single malt whisky characterised by its deep, dark chocolate profile" which "pairs in perfect harmony with fine chocolates for an elevated tasting experience," per The Macallan's website. It's perfect for those who appreciate the finer things in life, and who want to enjoy those things in tandem — The Macalllan even developed a "pairing ritual" for enjoying specific chocolates with their specialty whisky.

This spirit is also The Macallan's first foray into sustainable packaging. Harmony Rich Cacao comes in a box which is both recyclable and biodegradable, thanks to its utilization of byproducts from the chocolate-making process rather than traditional cardboard. The Macallan even has a full breakdown of packaging materials for the labels, box wrap, and ribbon on their website, a rare show of transparency in our greenwashed world.

Retailing at a suggested $160, this is not the most budget-friendly bottle. However, its unique flavor profile and sustainable footprint makes it a worthwhile purchase. Featuring a color of "toasted cacao beans" (very clever, Macallan), "chocolate fondant, honey, oak, zesty lime and ginger" on the nose, a palate of "dark chocolate, honey, dates, vanilla and cinnamon," and a long, rich, chocolatey finish, this whisky is a chocolate lover's dream.

Suntory Whisky Toki

Although Suntory Whisky Toki was released in 2016, it was somewhat hard to find for a while, and is only recently being appreciated. So, we decided to include it on our list. Toki is a unique Japanese whiskey that's herbaceous and softly fruity, with "bitter herbs, toasted almonds and vanilla oak" on the palate and a spicy finish of ginger and white pepper (via Master of Malt). It's bright, clear golden color and punchy springtime flavors make for vivid and distinctive experience. Additionally, Suntory blends are made with three important characteristics in mind — "exquisite balance, harmony and oneness" — making this spirit incredibly well-rounded and balanced.

Reviewing Toki, 31 Whiskey described this spirit's taste as "​​light and cheerful, heavily tilted towards the honey and lemon zest aspects of the flavors." But lightness here does not equate to weak-tasting. Toki was also noted to have "a long long taste," by one Flaviar reviewer, who awarded it 9 out of 10 stars.

Arran 18 Year Old

The new packaging on this 18 Year Old Scotch makes its 2021 expression as aesthetically pleasing as it is delicious. According to the Arran distillery, this special whiskey is aged in "a luxurious mix of our finest sherry casks," making for a deep and complex sherry influence. With notes of syrup, toasted oak, caramelized orange, dark chocolate, and spice throughout, this single malt scotch is truly one of a kind.

Reviewers on The Whiskey Exchange unanimously gave the Arran 18 Year Old five stars. One user reports, "Long story short, this is outstanding ... It has all the character of Arrans younger expressions, but it comes with so many more stories to tell." Another mentioned how the most recent expression "surpasses the previous 18 years," which is quite a feat in the ever-changing world of whisky. However, there are only four reviews on the website, likely because a bottle costs around $170 at time of writing. It's certainly a splurge, but rest assured that you are leaving the store with one of the most delicious whiskys available.

Willett Family Estated Bottled Rye 4 Year

This rye whiskey is a mid-priced fan favorite with a unique character. It certainly packs a punch at 56.6% ABV, but with a velvety mouthfeel and balanced flavors, the alcohol does not overpower the experience as a whole. Reviewers also note how its deep and varied flavors are uncommon in a whiskey so young, and how they appreciate its price point – $64.99 at time of writing. According to, "This bottle looks, smells and drinks like a whiskey 3 times the price," making it a true bargain.

Flaviar tasters report notes of toasted oak and toffee on the nose — after, of course, the potent hit of alcohol. Its taste contains vanilla, cherry, stone fruits, and baking spices. The Whiskey Shelf (who gave this rye a "Top Shelf" rating, mind you) also notes licorice, fennel, caraway seed, lemon, and mint, describing its earthy palate and herbal finish.

Four Roses 2021 Limited Edition Small Batch

Another annual limited release, the Four Roses 2021 Limited Edition Small Batch received rave reviews. The annual Four Roses blend is comprised of a number of whiskeys (four, this year, to be exact) from the brand's 10 recipes. These chosen few are painstakingly combined, resulting in the most interesting and unique flavor profiles year after year. According to Men's Journal, all that hard work pays off: "This is a Four Roses lover's treat — it has all of the energy you tend to expect from its popular single barrels, just with some additional gravitas and polish from the blending."

Notes of plum, caramel, and fresh paper make up the nose, per The Whiskey Wash, while Paste Magazine caught dark chocolate, caramel, mustiness, and nuttiness. Various reviewers reported different things on the palate, from brown sugar, honey, and apples to tobacco and mint or even blondies and pancakes once iced. The mouthfeel is supposedly full and rich with a finish that "stretches out for ages." Clearly, this spirit is quite complex, with a variety of flavors packed into each bottling.