Bourbon makers, like music, fashion, and tech, always want to get ahead of the next big thing. Fortunately, a drink that takes literal years to reach its selling point gives us ample time to prepare. Call it a slow burn.
What will the hot and exciting whiskeys of this year be? Which new releases stand a chance of becoming collectibles? Who should whiskey drinkers have their eye on? We make our best predictions for the distilleries that are likely to make significant moves in 2022.
Opened in 2016, this Western Kentucky distillery was originally called O.Z. Tyler. Some of its private-client products employ TerrePURE, a method of “finishing” that uses sound waves to smooth out the rough edges in young whiskey, which has often been met with skepticism by whiskey enthusiasts. But a recent rebrand of the distillery that resurrected the historic Green River name, and reassurance that its own whiskeys use only traditional maturation, bode well for the future — as do early releases like Wheel Horse and Bradshaw bourbon, which at 2-3 years old already show tremendous promise. We won’t have to wait long to taste older bourbon either: The first one under the Green River name, aged over five years, is coming out next month.
Wilderness Trail owes much of its success to the unparalleled expertise of co-founders Shane Baker and Pat Heist, who came by their knowledge in a truly boss manner: fixing the problems at other distilleries through their first business, Ferm Solutions. Wilderness Trail’s bourbons and rye are already popular among whiskey fans in the know, and are about to become even more in demand as they hit older ages in 2022 — 6 years old for the rye, and 8 for both the wheated and rye bourbon. A packaging change is also on the way, potentially making earlier releases—especially private selections and single barrels — more valuable on the secondary market.
A relative newcomer in production terms — the Bardstown, Kentucky distillery opened four years ago this month — Lux Row’s stable of brands nearly all have much older roots: Think Ezra Brooks, Rebel (formerly Rebel Yell), Blood Oath, and Yellowstone, its 50-50 partnership with Limestone Branch. With the first of its own distillates reaching maturity now, Lux Row has a lot to prove. Luckily, it has plenty of resources and a new expansion to help with that, thanks to the fact that its parent company, Luxco, was acquired by mega-supplier MGP last year. But Lux Row will benefit from its new ownership, too: MGP’s own whiskeys, like George Remus and Rossville Union, stand to gain wider availability through the more established brands’ robust distribution network.
The straight bourbon and rye from this grain-to-glass distillery seemingly came out of nowhere in the last couple of years and have captivated whiskey fans lucky enough to get their hands on a bottle (especially one of the flavor bomb single barrels). Until recently, doing so required a trip to Nevada, as the Frey Ranch only had enough mature whiskey to offer in its home state. That’s changing as more of its whiskeys come of age, with sales now available via Speakeasy to more than 30 states, and plans to release some truly unique stuff down the road, courtesy of fifth-generation farmer and distillery co-founder Colby Frey. Malted four-grain bourbon, anyone?
Ever since Nicole Austin took over as head distiller in 2018, this staid Tennessee distillery has been on a tear, releasing a slew of new whiskeys that have met with near-universal enthusiasm: the shockingly affordable, always well-aged Bottled-in-Bond; 15-year-old Single Barrel; 8-Year-Old bourbon — yes, that’s different from the Tennessee whiskey — and the ever-evolving Cascade Moon series. Austin’s background in craft distilling and penchant for oddball experiments have also yielded unique offerings like the George Dickel x Leopold Bros. Collaboration Blend rye, a mix of Dickel’s unreleased rye and Leopold’s historic Three-Chamber rye. Look for more imaginative — and delicious — stuff to come this year.