The Beverage Testing Institute (BTI) reviews thousands of spirits yearly. Here are the 25 top-rated, must-have spirits from BTI’s 2023 judging. If you are serious about stocking your home bar with the top spirits, BTI’s selection is an excellent place to start. The descriptions are from the BTI’s Judging Panel’s official tasting notes.
The top brandies were both Armagnacs from Bhakta Spirits. Armagnac is produced in France’s Gascony province and is considered the first brandy ever produced.
Bhakta, 1973 Single Vintage Armagnac, 50.3% ABV, $399.
Old honey, Cuban cigar smoke slowly seeped into rich Italian leather over decades, and duxelles with Herbs de Provence on the nose. The palate features similar flavors and touches of fruit cake, honey, and cavendish tobacco.
Bhakta, 1964 Single Vintage Armagnac, 50.1% ABV, $579.
Gingerbread, dry maple sap, and leather on the nose. The palate has similar aromas with notes of angelica root, sassafras tea, dried orange and walnut butter. With some extended aeration, this rich and complex spirit truly opens up to become something special.
The must have gin was Wikinger, Noorgaard Gin, 43.9% ABV, $35.
Aromas of lemon, orange peels, grains of paradise, and coriander. On the palate, juniper, ginger, and coriander. A lovely, savory, complex, and earthy gin that pops with mint and coriander.
For a more exotic variation on gin, consider Hooghoudt 23 YO, Cask Strength Barrel Aged Genever, 59.8% ABV, $229.
Basswood honey, candied orange, and cedar plank on the nose. Apple peach cobbler with shaved coconut and caramel chocolate sauce on the palate.
The top Mezcal was Del Maguey, San Pablo Ameyaltepec Single Village Blanco Mezcal, 47% ABV, $124.
Candied red berries, strawberry, watermelon, and spiced rhubarb on the nose. Similar notes with elements of red berries, apricots, and bleu cheese on the palate. Funky and fruity with light smoke and nice heat, this is exceptionally delicious.
Also recommended was Mezcal Vago, Mezcal Ensamble En Barro, 50.2% ABV, $69.
Mint, pine, and sweet corn on the nose. Similar aromas with accents of eucalyptus, rosemary, thyme, and sweet cream on the palate. Sweet and herbaceous and surprisingly subtle for the higher proof with a warming roasted nut sweetness on the palate.
The best rum is Kuleana Rum Works, Hokulei Aged Rum Batch No.07, 46% ABV, $80.
Pineapple, vanilla, and toffee on the nose. Caramel sauce on grilled pineapple, lime oil, and green banana on the palate. It is a supremely delightful rum that is grassy and fruity with a superb balance of barrel flavors to bring everything together.
Two overproof rums also made the must-have list.
Rest & Be Thankful 1998 23 YO Aged Longpond Single Cask #102, 57.6% ABV, $369.
Honeydew, pineapple cream, and vanilla bean on the nose. Notes of grilled pineapple upside-down cake, pralines, and banana bread on the palate. Intense and full of flavor.
Black Tot, 2022 Master’s Blender’s Reserve Limited Edition Rum, $54.5% ABV, $200.
Nutella, mocha, and leather on the nose. Strawberry syrup, maduro tobacco, and roasted hazelnuts in vanilla on the palate. This is just a stunning rum with complex layers of roasted fruit flavors.
One Blanco Tequila and two Extra Añejo Tequilas made the must-have list.
Cazcanes, No. 10, Blanco Tequila, 54% ABV, $99.99.
Heavy cream, papaya, and mango on the nose. The palate has similar flavors, with touches of salted bamboo shoots, grilled lime, and kiwi. Complex and refreshing, this is great straight up but would make fabulous cocktails.
Fuenteseca 2014, Reserva 7 YO Aged Extra Añejo Tequila, 41.7% ABV, $259.
On the nose, Chipotle peppers in mole, fresh-cut lemongrass, and ligero tobacco in an old humidor. There are similar flavors on the palate, with notes of spicy cigar box, figs, and mole on green apples. Somehow, it manages to be richly barrel-aged while expressing fresh green tones, perplexing, contemplative, well-executed, but most importantly, decadently delicious.
Alquimia Reserva De Oro XIV Cask Strength Extra Añejo Tequila, 50% ABV, $249.
Vanilla, milk chocolate, and cinnamon on the nose. Similar aromas on the palate with notes of ripe red, black cherries rolled in cinnamon dust, and candied chipotle. A rich and inviting barrel-aged spirit with a touch of warming agave spice and a powerful and delicious barrel character.
Two vodkas were rated as indispensable, both unflavored.
Jean-Marc XO Vodka, 40% ABV, $59.
Vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg sugar cookies on the nose. Flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and anise on the palate. This incredible vodka has a lot going on, with a delectable nose and a nice creamy mouth feel that gives way to a lightly fruity aftertaste.
Elit Vodka, 40% ABV, $40.
Lemon zest, almond paste, and honeycomb on the nose. Similar flavors on the palate with nuances of lemon pepper, vanilla, and honeysuckle. It is super clean and crisp with almost no flavor or aroma and virtually no alcohol burn. This is an impressive distillation—a benchmark example for the category.
Eleven whiskies, four Irish, five American, and two Asian, made the must-have list.
Blue Spot, 7 YO, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, 58.9%, $90.
Apricot preserves, pickled raspberry, and tart red cherry on the nose. Similar flavors on the palate with notes of maitake mushroom in an apricot bramble berry reduction, sesame, and plum sauce crispy salmon crack. Savory, almost meaty, layered with red berries, citrus, and flaky pastries with tropical fruit confections.
Red Breast, 27 YO Single Pot Still Whiskey, 53.6% ABV, $599.
Ripe and dry candied mango and papaya on the nose. Similar aromas on the palate with cinnamon, nutmeg, and five spice notes. Fresh and dried spiced mango with waves of coconut and a cocktail of fruits and spices.
Red Breast, 21 YO Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, 46% ABV, $230.
Caramelized fruits, nuts, and strawberry shortcake on the nose. Similar flavors on the palate with notes of sarsaparilla float, rich baking spices, and graham crackers.
Midleton Very Rare Barry Crockett Legacy Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, 46% ABV, $288.
Chocolate toffee, espresso beans, and candied dried apricot on the nose. Similar aromas on the palate with fruit custard tart, cinnamon, and nutmeg accents. An amazingly complex and multifaceted Irish Whiskey that tantalizes the senses with layers of fruit and spice.
There were three top bourbons on the ultimate bar list.
Larceny Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Batch No. B-523, 62.2% ABV, $59.
Aromas of dark roasted nuts, peaches, and yams. Similar flavors on the palate, with orange-mango chutney, rich baking spices, and crème brûlée. A powerfully delicious, world-class bourbon with dazzling depth, vitality, and length.
Doc Swinson’s, 5 YO Exploratory Cask Bossa Nova Cask Finish Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 56.4% ABV, $80.
Gingerbread, bison grass, and carrot on the nose. Similar aromas on the palate with notes of coconut caramel cream, tarragon baklava, and Bananas Foster with macadamia gelato. A wonderfully distinctive and exotic cask-finished bourbon that summons forth a cornucopia of tropical fruits, spices, and confections.
Elijah Craig, Barrel Proof, Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch No. B523, 62.1% ABV, $69.
Chocolate toffee, espresso bean, and caramelized maple wood on the nose. Similar flavors on the palate with notes of peanut brittle, flan with cinnamon, and honeyed raisin toast with mint jelly. It is an impressively balanced bourbon with massive, tightly meshed flavors and a nearly seamless integration of alcohol at barrel strength.
Bhakta, 1928 Blended Straight Rye Whiskey, Calvados, and Armagnac, 50% ABV, $69.
Baked apple, spices, and candied pepper on the nose. Similar aromas on the palate with apple, pecan butter, and cinnamon accents. Richly spiced apple flavor conjures memories of old Calvados and a full-bodied Nicaraguan cigar.
Wilderness Trail, Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, 50% ABV, $54.
Aromas of yeasty raisin soda bread, roasted black walnuts, and carob. Similar aromas on the palate with notes of frosted raisin bran, chocolate mint cookie, and orange blossom honey on buttered brioche. It is a delicious and complex rye with lovely layers of flavor that evolve in the glass as exceptional spirits do.
Two Asian whiskies also made the must-have list.
Kavalan, Solist Brandy Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, 57.1% ABV, $214.
Garlic plum sautéed in a hot pan with grapeseed oil and sesame candies on the nose—similar flavors on the palate with accents of bergamot tea, scorched cherry compote, and black licorice. Fruity and savory, this whisky is driven by umami, a fascinating and contemplative sipper.
Shin 10 YO Mizunara Oak-Finished Japanese Malt Whisky, 48% ABV, $130.
Chocolate-covered cherry, strawberry compote dusted with nutmeg, and Shinto shrine on the nose. Similar flavors on the palate with cherry, strawberry, and mahogany notes. It is a serious and contemplative whisky that is an exceptional sipper, revealing layer upon layer of sweet and spicy Mizunara complexity when given proper time for aeration.
The 2023 BTI judging produced a standout assortment of spirits. Their top picks make excellent additions to a home bar. Some selections are, not surprisingly, quite pricey; other spirits retail for less than $100/bottle. Not a bad price for a spirit that was judged among the best in the world.