I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we are living through a golden age of whisky.

New distilleries are sprouting up – not just across Scotland, but the entire world. Both established brands and renegade startups are now offering an incredible(/overwhelming) array of bottles. Whether you have a penchant for peat, a taste for Tuscan red wine casks or make a beeline for B-Corp-certified companies only, there are bottles seemingly able to cater to every taste, to every Christmas present.

So putting together a list of the best whiskies of the year comes with a philosophical challenge: how can any single person decide what tastes good?

Back in the glory days of university studenthood, I would save up and – on special occasions – splash out on a bottle of Grant’s Sherry Cask. In a world normally filled with Sainsbury’s Blended Whisky and scarily cheap and suspiciously-labelled bottles of Chekov Vodka, the £22 spent on a slightly more complex whisky was a slice of sublime luxury. Not anymore…

Taste is subjective, influenced by factors far beyond the flavour of the liquid itself.

I may have just undermined the entire point of this article but the reality is that no whisky suits everybody. What can be guaranteed is that all of the whiskies on this list have merit. They are some of the most flavourful, complex, boundary pushing new bottles out there. In my opinion. In early December 2022. On a wet and miserable Thursday night.

Caveat out of the way, here is the About Time Guide to the Best Whiskies of 2022:

1. Waterford ‘Gaia 2.1’, £77 Waterford

There’s been a lot of hype about Waterford… and it’s fully justified. Waterford is so hyped that, to my surprise, I saw one of its soon-to-be-iconic blue bottles gracing the shelf of a tiny village bar in rural Italy. The village, which is literally a single castle, has a population of 7. Yet, the bartender had read about the Irish distillery online and was molto impressionato by its dedication to terroir.

Normally a concept associated with the world of winemaking, Waterford focuses heavily on the barley that goes into the whisky. All 100% Irish, all traceable back to the farms it was grown on. Gaia goes a step further, being made with sustainably-grown organic barley. Complex, moreish notes of lemon, sweet spices and baked bread show dedication to getting the very best barley pays dividends in the bottle.

2. Copper Rivet Distillery ‘Masthouse (Single Malt – Single Cask #137)’, £47 Master of Malt

With distilleries from London to the Lake District, English whisky is no longer a novelty. It’s also rarely anything to write home about. But time to get your pen and paper! This single-cask offering, from Kent’s first distillery is initially unconvincing: like many English whiskies, it is pretty young and pretty fiery.

However, a few days after opening, something magical happens… it settles and develops the most surprising, unique and addictive butterscotch flavour. It’s brilliant and completely unexpected, making it the kind of whisky you can’t wait to show off to friends. Only available from Master of Malt.

3. Elements of Islay ‘Bourbon Cask’, £59 Master of Malt

Along with a rebrand, the well-respected Elements of Islay range now features three new core whiskies. As the name suggests, Islay and its smoky-peaty whiskies are the focus here. The independent bottlers (rather than a distillery) have blended fresher, peaty whisky from the north of the island with a richer, smokier whisky from the south and then aged them in different casks. The Bourbon Cask Edit is beautifully balanced: yes there’s more than a puff of peat and smoke but it’s tempered by waves of fruit and vanilla.

4. Aberfeldy ‘18 year-old Tuscan Red Wine Cask’, £95 Dewar’s Aberfeldy

At the top end of their range, Aberfeldy keeps on delivering the hits. Every year, they release a limited edition 18-year-old whisky aged in different red wine casks. What’s impressive is how much of an impact each specific type of red wine has on the final product.

This year its casks are from the Bolgheri region in Italy, the birthplace of Super Tuscan wines. And it might be their best yet. The flavours from both whisky and cask have melded perfectly. There’s the soft honey notes that Aberfeldy are known for alongside restrained red fruits and a hint of chocolate from the wine. This easily beats 18-year-old bottles from more famous distilleries. You can even get it engraved.

5. Old Pulteney ‘Pineau des Charentes Cask’, £75 Old Pulteney

As a whisky reviewer, you think you’ve seen it all. From vermouth to rhum agricole – and even Hungarian Tokaji dessert wine – every brand seems to want to offer a cask finish as unusual as possible to help them stand out from the crowd.

But Pineau des Charentes? Pineau des Charentes?! They’ve actually managed to find an alcohol that most people have never even heard of, let alone tasted. Apparently, it’s an aperitif from western France, made by blending unfermented grape juice with cognac. Is this just a marketing gimmick, choosing the most obscure cask possible? If it is, they’ve been spectacularly lucky because this bottle is absolutely delicious. It’s easygoing and warming with a prominent apricot note, alongside honey, gentle spice and a bit of coastal saltiness. What cask finish will they come up with next year? Answers on a postcard…

6. Bruichladdich ‘Islay Barley 2013’, £52 Whisky Kingdom

This is another whisky that pays close attention to terroir. Bruichladdich is one of the most forward-thinking Scottish distilleries, focusing on sustainability (it’s B-Corp certified) and challenging traditional rules in whisky-making.

The bottle even shows you which parts of Islay the barley comes from – all of it from within a ten-mile radius. The cereal flavour of the barley shines through and it’s accompanied by a complex floral, honeyed sweetness. The layers of flavour that have developed after just 8 years of ageing is impressive, as is the excellent thick mouthfeel.

7. A Good Old-Fashioned Christmas Whisky, £85 The Whisky Exchange

There are some things you can guarantee each holiday season. ‘Home Alone’, family squabbles and indigestion. But you can add a fourth to that list: the whisky exchange releasing an outrageously decadent Christmas Malt. This year’s excellent version is a five-whisky blend including Linkwood and Blair Athol. It is everything you’d expect in a festive whisky – boozy, rich, and sherried.

8. Glenmorangie ‘A Tale of the Forest’, £75 The Whisky Exchange

First came a whisky that tasted like cake. Then one evoking the feeling of a Christmas jumper. Now Glenmorangie has tried to recreate aromas of a forest. Every incarnation of their annual festive release has got progressively weirder, which makes them some of the most interesting and divisive bottles out there.

Here they’ve actually kilned the barley with botanicals including juniper and birch, making it taste something like the umami offspring of a whisky-gin wedding. There are definite dank and herbal woodland notes of mushroom, peat and pine  – the flavour is similar-ish to pu’erh tea. It will certainly split the crowd. A wild whisky in every sense.

9. Ferg and Harris ‘Speyside 12 year-old’, £70 Ferg and Harris

A ‘sherry bomb’ as they say in the industry. Six months spent in Pedro Ximenez casks has given lovely sweet-nutty toffee and raisin notes to this fruity Speyside whisky. It’s strong but a splash of water makes this limited-run whisky from independent bottlers Ferg and Harris an absolute pleasure to drink. There are less than 100 bottles left.

10. Ardgowan ‘Clydebuilt Shipwright’, £49 Independent Wine

Like everything in this post-trussonomics turmoil we now live in, the cost of whisky seems to have skyrocketed. So it has proved difficult to find a tasty limited-edition bottle released for £50 or under. This award-winning blend of four single malts, aged in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks, is smooth, has lovely chocolate notes and (perhaps most importantly) is well-priced.

Notable Mentions:

Jack Daniel’s Triple Mash (£41) – A huge jump from the standard offering. Rich honey and oak.

Torabhaig Allt Gleann (£51) – Super peaty second release from a distillery to watch out for.

Uncle Nearest 1854 (£52) – Tennessee whisky named after the former slave who taught Jack Daniel how to distill