The Most Innovative American Whiskeys Of 2023

The most mind-blowing whiskeys bottled by pioneering distilleries this year.

(Left: Suntory, Middle: Jefferson’s, Right: Daniel Weller)

So far this week we’ve covered the best in rye, American single malts and double barrel expressions for 2023, crowning three best-in-category bottles along the way. 

Next up are our picks for the most innovative bottles of the year. Because American whiskey, and especially bourbon, has such strict codes of conduct, innovation requires true artisanal creativity and intellectual proficiency from whiskey makers. We applaud every master distiller and blender who spends the small hours of the night wide awake, imagining new ways to craft their alchemy so we can all enjoy a new dimension of whiskey we’ve never tasted before. Here’s to 13 who made us get lost in thought in 2023.

Most Innovative Whiskey Of 2023: Jefferson’s ‘Tropics Aged in Humidity’ Straight Bourbon


One could say that the folks at Jefferson’s are among the pioneers of dynamic aging—the concept of accelerating aging via artificially introduced movement and climate swings. One of their earliest experimentations, the Ocean series, was the result of co-founder Trey Zoeller stashing some barrels in a research ship that sailed to five continents, crossing the equator twice while it docked in 25 ports along the way. You can imagine what the sloshing, violent temperature fluctuations, and climate and humidity changes would do to the whiskey-wood interaction. 

A New York Voyage followed soon after—replicating the traditional voyage bourbon followed centuries ago, starting in barrels filled in Louisville, traveling down the Mississippi, around the tip of Florida and up the Eastern Seaboard until it docked in New York City. 

Let’s just say adventure, and whiskey, are in Jefferson’s and Zoeller’s blood. Trey’s dad (and co-founder) Chet even wrote the book on the subject. His Bourbon in Kentucky closely details the history of every single distillery in the Bluegrass State. And Trey’s eight-generation grandmother was even arrested for moonshining and bootlegging in the late 1700s. 

“That arrest record makes her the first documented woman in the American whiskey business,” Trey once told us with noticeable pride, noting how the bootlegging was born of necessity as she had to support her five kids after the Revolutionary War claimed the life of her husband.

For Jefferson’s new Climate series, Trey and Chet look to focus on how a destination’s particular weather can influence the aging of a Kentucky whiskey. For the inaugural expression they wanted a destination close to the equator, one boasting year-round intensity, so they selected Singapore—an admitted “bucket list travel destination” for the whiskey makers. 

So in July of 2019 nine containers brimming with 720 barrels of fully matured Kentucky straight bourbon—the youngest in the blend aged for eight years—sailed to Singapore. Upon arrival half the barrels were left to age an additional 18 months in a non-climate-controlled warehouse, and the other half aged in shipping containers out in the port. The results were gauged, and a new blend was born. 

“Amplified with the heat and humidity here,” Trey said before pouring us a dram in Singapore, “it’s just going to be on steroids.” 

And indeed Jefferson’s Tropics Aged in Humidity Straight Bourbon is. Explaining how the extreme heat essentially slow cooks and caramelizes the sugars in the wood, the resulting expression offered a mouthfeel both supple and thick, boasting rich molasses, toffee, ripe strawberry, black cherry and sea salt notes. Bottled at 52% ABV, Jefferson’s latest superb limited edition experiment sells for an SRP of $99

Westward x Ken’s Artisan Sourdough Whiskey 2023 Vintage Blend


Launched back in 2004, you can safely put Westward in the “League of Champions” for the American single malt category. Along with McCarthy’s and a bit later nearby Westland, Westward aims to explore the unique elements that make its Pacific Northwest home a singular distilling and aging environment. As with most ASMs, the idea is to explore, exploit and expand on the terroir of their unique environments. 

Westward Master Blender Miles Munroe lists such elements as the Pacific Northwest’s unique aging climate, the area’s fertile soil and the inimitable provenance of being book-ended from the west by the Pacific Ocean and a high-elevation desert from the east. And for 2023 you can also add the region’s rich culinary scene responsible for their most recent offering: a unique collaboration that taps the flour-dusted fingers of James Beard Award-winning baker Ken Forkish.

Westward’s newest and wildest offering is one of its most creative: made exactly like its flagship ASM, except instead of using their usual yeast to kickstart fermentation they swapped it for Forkish’s levain yeast used to make his world-renowned mouthwatering sourdough. 

The results are a whiskey that exponentially elevates Westward’s signature fruit notes. Think ripe peach, fresh apple and pear complementing tropical fruit and pineapple notes, adding to a rye-reminiscent minerality and spice that complements Westward’s better known toffee, chocolate and citrus flavors. Westward x Ken’s Artisan Sourdough was initially offered only as a member of the Westward Whiskey Club, but can still be found online for the right price.

WhistlePig ‘Boss Hog X: The Commandments’ Rye Whiskey


Every year WhistlePig’s The Boss Hog expression looks to seek new lands in the world of whiskey, exploring unchartered territories in crafting and aging. For their 10th Edition the Vermont distillery went Biblical. Its Boss Hog X: The Commandments takes inspiration from the New Testament, specifically from the birth of Christ and the legend of the Three Wise Men. 

The whiskey starts with WhistlePig’s traditional Straight Rye aged in new American oak, but then gets weird via two additional finishes. The first finish is in barrels seasoned with an experimental rye and whey spirit WhistlePig created, which was infused with Frankincense and Myrrh resins—two of the three gifts the Wise Men brought for Little Baby Jesus (the third being gold). 

After gaining notes of crème brûlée, lemongrass and rosemary from the unique wood, the rye is then transferred to casks that held craft mead, adding notes of red berries and freshly crushed black pepper, as well as rounding out the body. 

Understandably the legend of WhistlePig’s halo Boss Hog line only grows, as this latest batch sold out in only two hours. WhistlePig ‘Boss Hog X: The Commandments’ comes bottled at proof, between 52.6-53.5% ABV (105.3-107 proof), with an SRP of $600

Maker’s Mark ‘Cellar Aged’ Bourbon

(Maker’s Mark)

We’re big fans of Maker’s Mark, as the Kentucky artisans excel in quality control, crafting one of the finest large-volume whiskeys in the world with stunning consistency from their Star Hill Farm distillery in Loretto. 

This is accomplished via indulging in a number of processes that may be inefficient, but lead to a better liquid. Consider that Maker’s is the only major whiskey maker to regularly shift barrels around in the rick house (i.e. from ceiling to floor, central to wall, etc.). While highly labor intensive, the process ostensibly allows all barrels to experience a similar aging environment, creating more consistent barrels across the woody campus.

Now the Samuels family is releasing the label’s oldest and most premium expression to date: Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged. What makes Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged special is that after the barrel-shifting in the rick houses (or “rack houses” in Maker’s Mark parlance) for a long six years, the whiskey was then moved to Star Hill Farm’s cool cellars for an additional five-to-six years of maturation.  

What happens in these dank limestone cellars is time slows. Barrel-influenced tannins are reduced from the cooler aging, and more complex flavor notes are allowed to embellish from their famed wheated bourbon mash bill (70% corn / 16% soft red winter wheat / 14% malted barley). In the end the blend uses barrels aged a total of 11 years (13%) and 12 years (87%)—but the ages aren’t really what’s important to Maker’s Mark. Rather, they only bottled the results when the Samuels clan decides it’s ready (as with all Maker’s Mark expressions, Cellar Aged is also aged-to-taste). Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged Bourbon comes bottled at ABV 57.85% ABV (115.7 Proof) with a $150 SRP.

Lost Lantern Single Cask #6: McCarthy’s 6 Year Old Oregon Peated ASM

(Lost Lantern)

Lost Lantern Co-Founders Nora Ganley-Roper and Adam Polonski launched their endeavor to shine a light on smaller American distilleries, collaborating with them on limited-run and single-cask releases. It shouldn’t surprise that their project with McCarthy’s, the Godfathers of American single malt, would be such a stunner. Nora and Adam walked Clear Creek Distillery’s rickhouses with McCarthy’s Master Distiller Joe O’Sullivan and Head Distiller Caitlin Bartlemay searching for the perfect cask for their collab and decided upon a McCarthy’s 6 Year Old Oregon Peated American Single Malt, distilled in Clear Creek’s Portland distillery, aged in third-fill Oregon oak in Portland and Hood River. 

However using Scottish malted barley and Islay peat, the finished product—one of the oldest whiskeys ever released by McCarthy’s—is like a quintessential Islay whiskey filtered through a Pacific Northwest lens. The oils are thick, coating your mouth with a slippery smoky sheen, and layering your palate with waves of tobacco, bright pear and campfire memories. Tip of the dram to the Lost Lantern project and their ethos of illuminating ambitious, handcrafted independent distilleries—a fantastic project to support. $140.

Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye 2023


Yesterday we spoke of Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Sour Mash Bourbon, and today we look at the treasured Kentucky label’s foray into toasted barrel-finished rye. Michter’s Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson and Master Distiller Dan McKee hand-picked fully matured barrels of their beloved US*1 Rye, then poured them into barrels similar to the aforementioned Toasted Barrel Finish Sour Mash. These were naturally air-dried outdoors for two years, then toasted to Wilson and McKee’s exact specifications—but never charred.

“The Toasted Barrel Finish Rye is designed to showcase the beautiful extractives from a toasted-only finish barrel that impart remarkable character and contribute to an exceptional experience,” Wilson explains. Think a bit of maple syrup, toasted walnut and marshmallow. As with their Toasted Barrel Sour Mash Bourbon, Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye pleasured us in ways that should not be mentioned in mixed company. Bottled at 54.45% ABV with a $120 SRP

Suntory ‘Ao’ World Whisky


One of the benefits of being a Monozukuri octopus like Suntory Whisky is your spirits tentacles reach across the globe, touching distilleries in nearly every corner of the globe. To craft their latest opus, Ao, the famed Japanese label and conglomerate taps its distilleries in the most important soils of whiskey production. 

“Ao” Is Suntory’s first-ever world whisky, meaning it blends juice from the world’s five most renowned whisky-making regions: Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Japan and America. Fifth-generation Suntory Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo taps their “Monozukuri” ethos—as they say, “a relentless pursuit of perfection, meticulous attention to detail and commitment to quality”—to carefully select the browns that make up Ao. And since Beam Suntory owns the likes of  Maker’s Mark, Bowmore, Yamazaki, Laphroaig, Hakushu, Jim Beam and Canadian Club, they have plenty of quality whisky barrels to choose from. $55.

Hardin’s Creek The Kentucky Series: Boston 

(Hardin’s Creek)

On Monday we shared Pinhook Vertical Series Rye 7-Year, an experiment in aging that isolates the same rye (mash bill, barrels and fill dates) and changes only how long the whiskey ages for. The Vertical Series tracks the same juice through its maturation journey from four to 12 years, noting how it slowly develops new branches of flavor, while seeing others fade. 

The 2023 outing of Hardin’s Creek is doing a similar experiment. Sort of. They too are isolating the effects of aging, but with their new “Kentucky Series” they’re observing and sharing the effect that location has on a whiskey’s flavor profile. The three expressions available—Creek Clermont, Frankfort and Boston—are all named after different Jim Beam rick houses. 

Each of the Kentucky Series trio began life exactly the same as bourbon 17 years ago, poured into barrels on the same day with the same exact mash bill, and what you’ll discern between them is solely the influence of the three campuses at which they aged.

The first, Clermont, dropped June 1, with the other two expressions coming later in summer. Although highly personal, our favorite was the Boston edition which featured just slightly more hazelnut. Quite interesting what the James B. Beam Distilling Co are doing with their nascent luxury line Hardin’s Creek, only launched last year. $150.

Four Roses ‘Ten Recipe Tasting Experience Kit’ Bourbon

(Four Roses)

Celebrating its 135th birthday this year, the legendary Four Roses distillery will soon be unraveling an entire aesthetic makeover. The branding refresh looks to modernize the Kentucky maestros with distinguished touches like new corks with engraved rose clusters, brighter labels with gilded borders, and an entirely new typeface to match the iconic four rose bouquet. 

To mark the occasion they have also developed a Ten Recipe Tasting Experience Kit, the type of educational tool normally reserved for journalists to clearly and concisely illuminate the various recipes of the brand. But the braintrust at Four Roses smartly released this one to the public for the first time ever, allowing serious #bourbonheads and #whiskeyfreaks to taste each of the 10 proprietary recipes Four Roses uses to blend its various expressions. 

The Four Roses Ten Recipe Tasting Experience Kit includes 10 50ml bottles each containing one of the 10 non-chill filtered recipes derived from both Mashbill B and Mashbill E, further broken out by each yeast strain. If you want a guided tasting with Master Distiller Brent Elliott, they’ve included a QR code which will send you on the video quest. 

Currently available at the Four Roses Visitor Centers in Lawrenceburg and Coxs Creek, Kentucky, the Four Roses Ten Recipe Tasting Experience Kit will also rolled out to Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky and Cali. While the booze volume is small, the Experience is Kentucky Big for a price tag of $130.

Daniel Weller ‘Emmer Wheat’ Bourbon

(Buffalo Trace/Daniel Weller)

The mere suggestion that Buffalo Trace might drop a new Weller bottle is enough to normally cause shuddering heart fibrillations across whiskey nation. The news hitting that an entire new line of their famed wheated bourbon dubbed Daniel Weller hit shelves in 2023 probably caused widespread nocturnal emissions from Kentucky to the Pacific Northwest. 

The new experimental line of wheated bourbons is named after the grandfather of William Larue Weller, namesake to Buffalo Trace’s beloved W.L. Weller collection. Credited as a trailblazer in the Weller family, the concept behind Daniel Weller is to “explore the impact of different strains of wheat on our storied bourbons.”

Honoring this forefather of American whiskey, Buffalo Trace plans to release a Daniel Weller every other year or so as long as each experiment is up to snuff. For the debut expression BT opted to use an ancient Egyptian grain called Emmer wheat. Thought to be one of the first wheats used by man, it’s a fitting grain to launch this new Daniel Weller collection. The Emmer wheat-distilled bourbon aged for almost 12 years—brushing complex layers of oak atop traditional wheated bourbon notes of cinnamon, sweet honey, apple and leather. Daniel Weller Emmer Wheat comes bottled at 94 proof, with a SRP of $500.

Milam and Greene ‘Very Small Batch Bourbon’ Batch 1

A collaboration of Master Blender Heather Greene and Master Distiller Marlene Holmes, the aptly named  Milam and Greene is a truly interstate affair. Their Milam and Greene Triple Cask is a blend of three straight bourbon whiskeys from a trinity of states: Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee. While they distill their own whiskey in Blanco, Texas in copper stills and Bardstown, Kentucky in column stills (both 70% corn / 22% malted rye / 8% barley mash bill), the label sources the Tennessee bourbon. Each juice ages in its own state until its shipped to Texas for final aging, batching, proofing and bottling. 

Our favorite of their offerings goes to their Milam and Greene Very Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey Batch 1. While the term “small batch” can be misleading, in this case it’s very true as Milam and Greene’s version only used 75 bourbon barrels to create the inaugural batch: 20% Kentucky (70% corn / 22% malted rye / 8% malted barley) barrels and 80% Tennessee (80% corn / 10% rye / 10% malted barley), aged in both Kentucky and Texas for just under four years.

A unique final stage of the process involves Milam And Greene steeping their Very Small Batch Bourbon Batch 1 with unique French oak staves for a couple weeks. These come from barrels that held tawny port wine and then Milam and Greene’s own rye whiskey, which are dismantled and left to bake in the torrid Texan summer sun before being charred on the outside only. This unique wood instills hints of both rye and oak to the finished bourbon. $70.

Proof and Wood ‘The Cabinet’  

(Proof and Wood)

The second offering on 2023’s Best of New American Whiskey from Dave Schmier’s ambitious Proof and Wood is bonkers delicious. Its first vintage introduced in 2022, The Cabinet is part of the cheekily named DC Collection, which also counts amongst its constituency The Senator—awarded Best American Rye at the 2022 World Whiskies Awards—The Representative—named World’s Best Bourbon at the 2023 World Whiskies Awards—and The Justice.

The Cabinet blends four ryes (all 95% rye / 5% barley) aged between 6 to 9 years, with twin bourbons (one 99% corn / 1% barley, the other 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley) aged five and six years. Where Schmier excels is in the proportions and blending (unsurprising as Proof and Wood’s Head Blender and Founder), finding a way to make these normally disparate whiskeys swirl dynamically on the tongue like tango dancers in a thrall. Fittingly, the texture matches the sensuality of the flavor palate.

“The Cabinet  showcases some intense rye flavors; spices and floral notes waft out of the glass with flavors of dried fruits, nutmeg and mint, complemented by sweetness and full bourbon flavors of vanilla and tobacco,” Schmier explains of his latest Cabinet offering. “While The Cabinet, a blend of bourbon and rye, is geared for the rye drinker, it pairs well with a cigar and contemplative thoughts.” Only 3,600 bottles available for $125

Buffalo Trace ‘Peated Bourbon’ Experimental Collection

(Buffalo Trace)

For Buffalo Trace’s 26th Experimental Collection, the beloved Frankfort distillery took its Kentucky straight bourbon recipe and substituted peated malted barley in for traditional barley. The result is simply dubbed Buffalo Trace “Peated Bourbon” Experimental Collection. 

“The Experimental Collection is not about breaking the rules of bourbon; in fact, 95% of our experiments stay within the confines of traditional methods of making whiskey,” Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley told us. “We conduct this research to better understand the variables that affect our final flavor profiles.” 

The end result is Buffalo Trace’s world-renowned rye bourbon mashbill, only with a light wisp of smoke—as if you took a sip of Blanton’s while sitting by a campfire. Needless to say, it’s a delicious twist. Due to the limited nature of the Experimental Collection they all come packaged in 375ml bottles in extremely limited quantities. Suggested retail pricing is $47.

Follow Deputy Editor Nicolas Stecher on Instagram at @nickstecher and @boozeoftheday.