Matt's 2023 Highlights - Spirits of the Year

Matt's 2023 Highlights - Spirits of the Year

Dram Ram - Matt Trotta's Spirits of the Year 2023

I started this trying to prepare a top 10 list for the year, but I immediately found it difficult to rank spirits across categories. So I decided not to rank anything, but rather give you this article with what I feel were some pretty special pours this year. I broke them up into categories; Bourbon, Finished Bourbon, Rye, Finished Rye, Scotch, American Single Malt, and then Tequila, broken up between Blanco, Reposado, Anejo, and Extra Anejo. These were outstanding bottles in my opinion and would be worth a try if you come across them in the wild.

1. Bourbon – Weller 12 year

I hate to start off with a “tater” bottle, but this pour hit all the right notes for me. It’s a wheated mash bill, 90 proof, 12-year age statement. I had tried Weller Special Reserve in 2021 and really enjoyed it but when I tasted those cinnamon sugar cookie notes paired with the extra oak of the 12-year, with that velvety mouthfeel, I knew I had found my go to pour. It doesn’t pack the punch of the 107 or the full proof, but for me I enjoy the accessibility of a lower proof in a wheater, it’s a softer mash bill and deserves a softer proof. I did a semi blind of 4 Weller vertical, and was able to pick them out, only after identifying the 12-year for the extra oak and mouthfeel. If you can snag this at a good price, it won't disappoint.

2. Finished Bourbon – Bhakta 2013

Fellow Ram Fotios brought this bottle over for one of our meetups. Coming from scotch originally, I am very partial to finishes, especially Cognac and Armagnac. This is the brainchild of Raj Bhakta of Whistlepig fame. It is a 9-year sourced bourbon, very high corn mash bill (99%) finished for 5 months in Armagnac casks. It comes in at 100.6 proof. You get all the prototypical bourbon notes, vanilla, cornbread, tobacco, leather, but everything is balanced by the sweet/tart flavors of the Armagnac. It's like pairing fresh berries with your ice cream, so the sweetness is cut by the bright fruit flavors. 9 years is a good age for bourbon, I would be really curious to see if Raj comes out with a 12-year version, but for now this whiskey is a symphony. After I tried a dram from Fotios’ bottle, I had to have it and almost immediately ordered my own bottle. This is technically a limited release, so grab it while you can.

3. Rye – New Riff Balboa Rye

Balboa is an heirloom rye, this was the first whiskey I’ve had using the strain. It’s a
budget friendly offering, typically under $60. Overall, it is a great straight rye, with a good balance of earthy cereal notes, bright citrus fruits, and cinnamon rye spice. I’m not normally a huge fan of new riff offerings, but this one was extremely well done and deserves praise.

4. Finished Rye – Barrell Seagrass

This is one of the few bottles that I feel a high need to always have on hand. It’s rare to find a rye that’s suitable to drink on the beach, but that’s what seagrass is. It is Rye whiskey finished in Martinique rum, madeira and apricot brandy barrels. The sugars from the rum and madeira casks come through nicely, while the bright stone fruit flavors from the apricot brandy casks give a tropical infusion to Thia whiskey. This year I was fortunate enough to find a bottle of Seagrass 16 year “gray label” which boasts a 16 year age statement and ups the proof to 130.8.

5. Scotch – Glengoyne 21 year

2023 was a year full of bourbons and ryes for me, so I did not get to taste much scotch. That said, the Glengoyne 21 checks a few boxes for me in the scotch realm; it’s a high age statement at a reasonable price point, and its not a secondary aging, it is matured for 21 years in ex-sherry casks. That makes this whiskey a sherry bomb. Cherries, chocolate, and malt come through beautifully. If you are a Macallan fan, save your money and buy this bottle instead of Mac 18.


6. American Single Malt – Stranahans Anejo Cask

Just like scotch, I am new to the ASM world, but I am a fan at the onset. One pour that stood out for me was Stranahans Black Diamond, finished in Anejo cask. The cooked agave and citrus notes balance out the malt nicely. This is an exciting category and I can't wait to see how it grows.

7. Blanco Tequila – El Cimarron

Imagine if I told you the best tequila you could buy, whether for sipping or for
margaritas, was a $30 liter bottle? You get every traditional tequila note you’d expect; the smoothness you’re looking for, and the buttery mouthfeel to make you realize you’ve been drinking shitty tequila all this time.  I can't recommend this one enough.

8. Reposado Tequila – Fortaleza Reposado

Within the tequila category, Fortaleza is becoming one of the most hyped brands around. A simple numbers game, the distillery just doesn’t produce the amount of tequila to match the demand, so the market is adjusting, and the price is skyrocketing. But even at double its MSRP, I would not call it over hyped. Fortaleza backs up the hype with a clean, peppery, savory, bright citrus reposado. It's hard to avoid killing the bottle immediately after cracking it.

9. Añejo Tequila – Tapatio Anejo

Another outstanding and under hyped tequila bottle, Tapatio can usually be purchased under $50. Cooked agave, butter, and black pepper take center stage tasting this tequila. It's absolutely crushable, and it's not at such a high price point, so if you want to use an anejo in your margaritas, no problem using Tapatio.

10. Extra Añejo Tequila – Tears of Llorona

I mentioned a few tequilas that are a reasonable price point for good tequila, this one is something you'll have to pay up for, but in my opinion is worth every penny. This is a tequila made for bourbon drinkers. You get the cooked agave and black pepper, but instead of bright citrus you can expect oak, vanilla, and leather flavors to come through from the 3 years spent in ex-bourbon casks.

2023 was a great year, I was blessed to taste a ton of spirits. I hope 2024 brings you, the reader, good health and great sprits. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


-Matt Trotta

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