America's favorite boozer, Anthony Bourdain, pretty much ruined Pappy Van Winkle for the rest of us with his televised slurp-fest at Stateside, which has rendered it even more difficult to get. But there are other extraordinary luxury bourbons to discover in Philly's best whiskey bars, and this cask-strength William Larue Weller is one of my favorites. Exceedingly rare, this "wheated" bourbon from Sazerac's "Antique Series" is a quiet powerhouse, notably smooth and butterscotchy on first sip given the high proof (123!) A swelling wave, though, of vanilla, cinnamon and even a hot puff of lingering char make the finish on this deep amber elixir truly profound. The brand's entry-level label, W.L. Weller Reserve, is a very restrained reflection of that profile – so smooth, ice or water is hardly required. But still, it is easily one of the best sub-$20 bourbon quality values on the market.
- Craig LaBan