Were there bottles in 2020 that you just couldn’t wait to get you hands on? I know there were a few for me. Most of them not even super allocated or expensive, just different. So within this list, I breakdown my biggest whiskey letdowns from 2020.
Like I stated in my honorable mention list, this list is really in no order. I hope that as everyone reads this list, that you notice something, most of these are allocated bottles, that I have paid or traded for. That being said, allocated or limited does not always mean it is good.
1: Elijah Craig Rye - First off, how is Heaven Hill going to burn Kentucky twice?! First by getting rid of HH 6yr BiB at $13 and reintroducing it as a 7yr BiB in a new bottle, but only in limited markets?! That is business 101 and it makes sense on why they killed it off for a rebrand. But not to not sell it in KY?! The new addition of EC Rye whiskey came as a surprise. HH already has Pikeville and Rittenhouse BiB, did they need another rye at a lower proof?Apprently so because in the spring of 2020, HH released EC Rye whiskey in select markets. I being the person I am, had to have it right away. A friend in North Carolina hooked me up with a bottle at cost plus shipping, making it a $52 bottle. This bottle retails at $35(ish) so I was okay with that, until I tried it. Bland, no finish, and flat. I wanted to like it, I tried really hard to, but it just is not as good as I had hoped. I am exited to see HH expanding an existing lineup, but I wish they had created a better product with a little more information than, ‘Hey, here is a new lower proof, NAS rye whiskey.’
2. Booker’s (All of them) - 2020 was a weird year for Booker’s and fans alike. This is the first year Beam canned a release and the first year they couldn’t make production schedule. Bit of a weird time when you look at someone like Beam and what they can do, and see that even they were having a bit of a rough time. There are 3 batches of Booker’s for 2020 (collectors, take note), Granny’s Batch, Boston Batch, and Pigskin Batch. I have always enjoyed Booker’s. It used to be a little gem for most people. What used to be 6 releases a year, then went down to 4. Beam started putting the warehouse information, barrel information, age statements, and more fun stuff on these bottles - while serving them up at batch strength. This years batches fell short. Boston was overly spicy, grain heavy; Granny’s was filled with that signature Beam ‘nut’ note, almost like liquid peanut butter and toffee -way to rich for me; and Pigskin was a meld of the two, to simply the profile. None of them blew me away and with the local distributor raising prices and charging the stores more, this brand from Beam will soon be falling into the “not worth it for the price” category for me.
3. Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edtion 2020 - The coveted Four Roses SBLE. Every year people clamour to this bottle in hopes they will actually be able to find one. Four Roses does not cut corners nor do they hold back on quality stock in their SBLE. The 2019 release was fantastic all around - having rich notes of brown butter, ripe red fruit, sweet spices, and heavy oak tannins with a touch of grass at the end. Where the 2019 was complex, well rounded, and deep with flavor, the 2020 was not. The 2020 release had plenty of old age stock in the blend which should have added nice textures an depth when combined with the other years blended in, but it not. The mouthfeel was surprisingly thin, with somewhat heavy earth and grass notes, followed up with only a splash of sweetness and spice. Even after letting it open up, the profile seemed like it was blended with more younger stock than what they had stated. For a bottle that cost $150 on average, I would have expected much more from the 2020 release. Compared to the Small Batch Select, which is an everyday expression from Four Roses now, at $56 nonetheless, is a way better bottle than the 2020 SBLE.
4: Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel - I bet it really seems like I do not like HH at this point in time, but rest assured, I love HH. I also love Elijah Craig, but this expression got lost on me. Another Spring/Summer release from HH that started in limited markets before going nationwide, I paid to get mine from people in those select markets. Paying retail plus shipping again, I invested about $50 in each bottle. Not bad considering by the time it hit Kentucky, the new retail price was $45, compared to the $38 in the test markets. This expression was lost on me 100%. I love toasted barrel offerings. Michter’s toasted is everyone’s favorite toasted bottle to hunt down, but I am a huge advocate for Old Forrester 1910. EC Toasted did not match either of those two in the profile. When you look at a toasted barrel, which is a barrel that is burned on low hat for a longer period of time to slowly extract the inner wood sugars, you would think it is a fairly straight forward process, no? Well somehow, HH decided they were going to do a proprietary toasted barrel and create something unlike all of the other Toasted barrel products already on the market. The bottles I have tried so far are not the toasted marshmallow, burnt caramel, toasted vanilla and mocha profile I know and love. Instead, it is heavy with cinnamon, brown sugar, and black pepper. I have been told to try to find other bottles because i am wrong, but I assure you that the two bottles I worked through, were not the sweet and dessert heavy profile I would have expected.
5: 1792 Sweet Wheat - This one probably hurt me the most. I had hunting this bottle at retail for a few years. At $32 retail, I didn’t think I could be disappointed. This had been a unicorn of mine for sometime. I wanted it so I could continue hunting down the rest of the 1792 lineup and have the complete collection. Flash forward three years and that lineup still isn’t complete, but I did acquire a 2020 release of Sweet Wheat. For those who do not know, Sweet Wheat is a wheaten bourbon, meaning it uses wheat as the flavoring grain instead of rye. Wheat is sweeter, hence the name, but also takes longer to age. Very few brands can get away with a younger wheated bourbon since wheated bourbon needs more time to age in the barrel to really hit its prime. Sweet Wheat comes off as young, thin, overly sweet, and just overall a huge letdown for the pedestal that I had placed it on. This is not a bottle worth hunting, but instead worth trying at a bar just to say you have had it.
6: Penelope Bourbon - Of the two iterations I have tried from them, neither were anything to write home about, let alone spend my money on. I bought both the Rose finished bourbon and the Barrel Strength, the age on those are at least 2 years and at least 3 years respectively. I get wanting to put out your product early so you can gain some attention and money, but sometimes waiting is better. You see, Penelope bourbon is a four grain blend of 3 different recipes of bourbon. Sounds fun right? It is not. They have beautiful packaging, a wonderful style, and a nice little ‘niche’ to them. But, does any of that matter when you’re selling a $70 Barrel Strength at 3 years old? It does not. I am glad I learned my lesson on this, because, I did ZERO research on them. I got caught up in the hype created by fellow instagram users who raved about the juice, so I got burned. But that teaches you a lesson of never go all in when you do not actually have the real information yourself.
7: Peerless Small Batch - Now I know this is somewhat of a touchy issue for some, but I don’t ever feel like I should hold back my thoughts pertaining to s certain brand. Peerless doesn’t make bad juice or a bad product, but their entry level strategy was bad in my opinion. They came in with high prices; $75 for their 4 year small batch bourbon and $100 for their 2 year old rye whiskey. Those prices have sense gone down, but that is a lot to ask from a customer when you are brand new to the market. I purchased both the bourbon and the rye early 2020 and was not upset with their quality, hell the rye was really damn good - but i paid $85 for it on sale and scooped up the bourbon or sale at $65. I was still not satisfied with the liquid to price ratio. I feel the bourbon should be no higher than $50 and the rye no higher than $40. The entire reason behind being priced so high? Because they can. “Charge $100 for a two year rye whiskey and customers will think it has to be good.” Those are literally the words out of the owners mouth. They crafted a beautiful bottle, a weapon of a cork topper, and some delicious juice - but it is all twice the price it should be.
8: Basil Hayden’s 10 year - Now this may be a stretch, because I got it in 2019, but I didn’t open it until early 2020. If you are a follower of mine on instagram, you know I rip on BH quite ofte, especially this 10 year. Why? Because it is 80 proof 10 year old bourbon. Several of my friends ranted and raved about how good this was and how they couldn’t believe there wasn’t more hype around it... Well for starters, regular BH is around 7-8 years old for about $30, give or take a few bucks, but the 10 year? $80... Eighty Dollars... for 80 proof! Sure it has some nice rich butterscotch and caramel notes, with a good touch of baking spice - but think of what a 10 year Old Grand Dad 114 would taste like?! OGD and BH are the same recipe but different ages and proofs. BH will never not be 80 proof or disappear, but as an avid Jim Beam fan, they need to invest more into the OGD lineup and customers would buy it hand over fist.