It’s fall, and that means many whiskey brands are rolling out their new releases. Some of these will be widely available as they become permanent members of their catalogs. But others are limited-edition bottles that are catnip to collectors based on their uniqueness and, most of all, their scarcity.
Like collecting anything else, the hunt is part of the thrill, and it can be fierce. People line up outside of liquor stores hours before opening, befriend the owners to sweeten them up for first dibs, and often end up buying bottles on the secondary market for inflated prices that soar way above retail.
So is it all worth it? Well, that depends on your tenacity and how well funded you are. Some of these collections are easier to procure than others. But if you have the time and the money to spend hunting down these collections, you usually won’t be disappointed with the results as many of these are truly delicious whiskeys.
Of course, that is if you are planning on actually drinking them and not keeping them as trophies to show off to your friends.
Here are ten highly coveted whiskey collections to hunt for right now.
1. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection
Every year, the Buffalo Trace distillery releases its Antique Collection of limited edition bourbon and rye. And every year, whiskey fans go completely apeshit for this set, scouring liquor stores and websites to snap these bottles up before they land on the secondary market.
This year’s collection is a strong one, featuring the heady 129.2 proof George T. Stagg bourbon, the excellent wheated William Larue Weller bourbon, the bold Thomas H. Handy Rye and softer Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old, and Eagle Rare 17 Year Old, which is an improvement on an already excellent bourbon.
Go directly to the source to find out where to buy these elusive bottles.
2. Diageo Special Releases 2017
Since 2001, Diageo has released a set of rare single malts in very limited quantities. Prices range from about $100 (Caol Ila 18 year old) to $3,500 (Port Ellen 37-year-old).
What makes this collection notable is that it is comprised of whisky from shuttered distilleries like Port Ellen and Brora (though it was recently announced that Diageo will reopen these by 2020), and special releases from beloved whisky makers like Lagavulin and Caol Ila.
This year also includes the Collectivum XXVIII, the first blended malt whisky in the Special Releases set, comprised of juice from all 28 of Diageo’s active distilleries. Purchase these bottles here.
3. Orphan Barrel Archive Collection
Diageo introduced Orphan Barrel whiskey in 2013, and has since released one expression per year. The story goes that long forgotten barrels of whiskey were discovered in the dark corners of warehouses, misplaced and doomed to a life of dusty repose… until one day, lo and behold, someone discovered them.
Surely there are some holes to be poked in that story, but the whiskey is usually of pretty decent quality. This set, initially only available in Kentucky, gathers them all together--Barterhouse, Old Blowhard, Lost Prophet, Forged Oak, Rhetoric 21-Year-Old, and Whoop & Holler--into a custom-made wood crate for $1,500 (though websites seem to be jacking up that price).
4. Blood Oath Bourbon Pacts 1 – 3
Blood Oath Bourbon is the creation of John E. Rempe, a certified food scientist who has been blending spirits for two decades, most recently for Luxco. He won’t reveal where the whiskey comes from, but he sources from a variety of Kentucky distilleries, and perhaps from other states as well.
There have been three Blood Oath Pacts released thus far, the latest just this past year. Pact 3 a blend of bourbons, one finished in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, giving it some spicy notes along with sweet fruit and vanilla. Hunt down all three to complete your set here.
5. Jameson Whiskey Maker Series
No doubt you are well acquainted with Jameson--you might have even had a shot along with your beer at your local watering hole last night. But this series isn’t your typical Irish whiskey.
The idea here is to highlight different elements of the whiskey making process, so each bottle is named after a different tool – Cooper’s Croze (showcasing the influence of wood), Distiller’s Safe (highlighting the influence of the Irish pot still), and Blender’s Dog (focusing on the art of blending whiskey).
You can buy them directly from Jameson and set up your very own whiskey flight at home.
6. The Dalmore Constellation Collection
The Dalmore likes to posit itself as a luxury single malt, and that case can certainly be made with its Constellation Collection. This is a set of 21 releases distilled between 1964 and 1992, so we’re talking about some pretty old whisky here.
Each expression comes in a hand-blown crystal decanter and in very limited numbers. As you may have guessed, the Constellation Collection usually demands astronomical prices-- but serious whisky hunters with the means can try to snatch them all up online.
7. Macallan Edition Series
The Macallan is well known as a sherry-forward single malt scotch due to the abundance of sherry casks used to mature the whisky. The three entries of the Edition Series play around with a wider array of barrels.
Edition 1 used eight different European and American oak cask styles and sizes, highlighting the wood flavor. Edition 2 was a collaboration between the master whisky maker and the chefs behind the three Michelin-starred restaurant El Cellar de Can Roca in Spain.
This whisky comes from seven cask types from four sherry bodegas. And Edition 3, the latest release, is a collaboration with master perfumer Roja Dove who nosed casks to help select the whisky that was married together.
All three editions are still available online.
8. Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection
There are many entries in this excellent bourbon collection that dates back to 2005. It was created as a tribute to owner Oscar Pepper and master distiller James Crow, who ran the distillery and led innovation there in the early 1800s.
The newest and 12th release is the Cherry Wood Smoked Barley, made with smoked malted barley that counterbalances the sweet brown sugar and cherry flavors. Other releases in the collection include the Brandy Cask Finish, 1838 Style White Corn, and Double Malt Selection.
Each differs from the next in ways that can be either big or subtle, so the avid collector might want to hunt them all down to try.
9. Collaboration Bourbon American Brandy Finish and Mistelle Finish
This pair of bourbons is an interesting mash-up between The Bardstown Bourbon Company and Louisville’s Copper & Kings. The two distilleries got together to select 10-year-old bourbon from MGP in Indiana, brought it back to Louisville and finished it in American brandy and Mistelle wine barrels.
The results are interesting and a little polarizing. The brandy finish is soft and sweet and definitely recognizable, while the Mistelle finish is slightly funky and may not be for everyone. Regardless, it’s an interesting take on the whiskey business from some newer players in the distilling world.
You can find this at the Copper & Kings gift shop or select retailers around the country.
10. Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Bourbon Collection
The Signature Craft Harvest Collection finds Beam in an experimental mood, working with a unique mash bill for each expression that highlights a different flavor profile, from sweet to spicy to toasty. These include Soft Red Wheat, Brown Rice, High Rye, Whole Rolled Oat, Six Row Barley, and Triticale (a hybrid wheat-rye grain).
These are worth collecting for any bourbon fan to see what different grains bring to the mix. You can find these at the distillery, or buy the entire collection here.