SpiritsThe Collection

Fine and rare whiskies: The best of 2023

In 2023, whisky lovers were treated to some truly unique bottlings, as well as releases of substantial age. Colin Hampden-White selects some highlights

Words by Colin Hampden-White

Photography by Xavier Young

rare whiskies
The Collection
Colin Hampden-White tastes through the best rare whiskies of 2023, including bottlings from Regent Street and House of Hazelwood

Every year it seems more and more old and rare whiskies are released on to the market, with many coming from an ever-expanding array of independent bottlers. There are also the incredibly unique expressions: I’m talking about items under the hammer at the recent Distillers One of One auction, a charity event in partnership with Sotheby’s that now takes place biennially in Scotland. Lots in this auction included a 55-year-old Bowmore and a 50-year-old Brora, the oldest-ever bottling from the revived distillery with a cult following.

While one-off items like these come with extraordinary guide prices, there are plenty of great bottles that more of us might be able to acquire – although still in very limited numbers. With so many releases to choose from, however, and with the rising tide of super-aged whisky, it is difficult to know which are the really good ones that are worth investing in.

rare whisky
2023 has been the year of the independent bottler, according to Hampden-White

I’m sharing notes for the new-release whiskies I’ve found to be superlative based on the samples I’ve been lucky enough to taste this year. For peated whisky, the standout of the year was a bottle by Gordon & MacPhail in its second wave of releases in the Recollection Series: a 42-year-old Port Ellen from 1981 matured in ex-Sherry casks. It is big and boisterous, with huge complexity and many layers. For sweet and complex Speyside, a 1948 Glen Grant – also from Gordon & MacPhail and bottled for the coronation of King Charles III – had everything I would look for in a stunning example of an old whisky.

It has certainly been the year of the independent bottler

It has certainly been the year of the independent bottler. There have been some notable releases from new independents, such as Spiritfilled, with its Mystical Beasts series, and two great grain whiskies: a 30-year-old North British from Fruitful Spirits and a 32-year-old Cambus from Regent Street Cask Bottlers. Grain whisky is being understood to a much greater extent these days, and very good examples are no longer being blended away but instead are bottled and enjoyed, with the added benefit that grain isn’t quite as expensive as malt whisky.

rare whisky
While most expressions hail from Scotland this year, an Irish bottling from Bushmills and three Japanese whiskies made the cut

Mostly here I’m offering tasting notes from Scotland this year, but three expressions from Japan stood out, including two from Suntory, which had its 100th birthday earlier this year and released whiskies fit to celebrate this milestone. And proving how Ireland is also excelling in the ageing game, an exceptional offering from Bushmills also made it on to my list.