Few things resonate with the red, white, and blue more than the distillation of bourbon whiskey. Quintessentially American, and pridefully southern, bourbon whiskey is a spirit that’s been around for centuries but in the past few decades witnessed a resurgence in popularity thanks to its easy mixing and masking capabilities within the craft cocktail scene. Unlike its agreed-upon representation of the states, the word’s origin remains in depute where some claim it’s derived from Bourbon County in Kentucky while others claim Bourbon Street in NoLa inspired the whiskey’s name. Whatever the case, one thing’s for sure: there’s nothing like a strong, smooth and sweet bourbon to take the edge off after a long day, no matter where you reside. That’s because great American bourbon doesn’t discriminate.
The use of the term bourbon is traced back to the 1820s, however, it wasn’t until 1964 that Congress established the federal regulations for producing the drink. These regulations stated at all American bourbons must be distilled from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, aged in charred oak barrels, distilled to no more than 160 proof, entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof, and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof (40% ABV).
It was with these regulations that the United States government officially recognized bourbon whiskey as a distinctly American product. In this light, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to suggest that enjoying a glass of bourbon is fulfilling your civic duty in the name of patriotism. So pour yourself a dram, light up your favorite cigar, and relax knowing you’re acting in accordance with our forefathers with every sip. And if you’re looking for some of the best, look no further than our Bourbon Bucketlist, honoring the timeless tradition of American bourbon consumption. Cheers.
Nothing like an original. With all the variants Buffalo Trace tends to release on a yearly basis sometimes it’s reassuring to the resort back to the flagship product that started it all. Buffalo Trace Straight is a no frills bourbon that consistently wins awards across the globe. It boasts a deep amber hue with rich and complex notes of the vanilla, toffee and the candied fruit that finishes as smooth as you’ll be feeling after a couple drabs.
Four Roses Small Batch
For the price point, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal. Earning five stars by the Spirit Journal and a Silver Medal in the same year at the International Spirits Challenge, Four Roses is about a smooth and subtle nature. Each sip brings forth notes of spices, honey, and toasted oak. It’s a blended bourbon comprised from four select batches that all marry together to produce an enjoyable tasting experience.
Rowan’s Creek Bourbon
Named after the creek that runs through the Kentucky distillery, Rowan’s Creek first utilized limestone spring water for their bourbon. The result? A rich and sweet flavor to the bourbon that resembles maple syrup on the nose. But not to worry, true bourbon drinkers can rejoice in knowing that all the necessary bourbon flavors still reside in each bottle. Sometimes it’s the balancing act that makes all the difference.
Eagle Rare 10 Year
No secrets here. Each batch of Eagle Rare is aged for no less than 10 years and features a complex aroma and a taste that lingers nicely on the palate. With a name like Eagle Rare, it’s a bourbon that as American as the soaring bird itself, lightly sweetened with notes of candied almonds and rich cocoa.
John J Bowman Single Barrel
There something to be said when America’s first region distils a timeless bourbon in a simple yet enjoyable single barrel batch. Each batch of John J. Bowman single barrel whiskey is aged in the oldest barrels in their warehouse while Virginia’s moderate climate mellows the whiskey while pulling complex flavors from the wood that produces a smooth and well-rounded palate featuring notes of figs, almonds, and a dry finish.
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve
Nothing like a smooth single barrel bourbon to keep things simple. It’s a way for distillers to create a unique product with each and every batch. It’s aged for nine years in hand-selected barrels and boasts deep and complex flavors of vanilla, nuts and oak. Knob Creek fans will notice a darker hue with the variant, lending itself more to a deeper amber color, and a higher proof to boot though it remains just as smooth and complex as the original.
High West American Prairie Reserve
What better name to evoke the spirit of the American pioneer than the American Prairie Reserve. Almost makes you want to quit your day job and start sporting a Stetson while you herd cattle atop a purebred horse. The bourbon itself boasts smooth flavor complimented with sweet vermouth, cocoa, and espresso. High West is passionate about the culture of the frontier and with each pour you’ll feel yourself slowly slipping back in time.
This small batch bourbon features whiskeys aged between 4 and 20 years resulting in a complex flavor palate that’s tannic as it is rich and smooth. Boasting a profile of sweet molasses with spices and dark fruit, it’s a bourbon that mixes extraordinarily well and holds its own by itself as well.
Black Dirt Single Barrel
Possibly the grittiest of the bourbons listed here, at least in its name, Black Dirt is distilled in the Black Dirt region of New York (no surprises there), an area known for its extremely fertile soil from an ancient glacial lake bottom. Each batch is crafted from distinct grain ratios and aged in charred oak barrels, tasted over the course of the aging process, and only bottled when the time is just right.
Willett’s Pot Still Reserve
Here’s another small batch bourbon from Kentucky that’s sold in one of the odder looking bottles around. Shaped in the form of a pot still, notably used for making moonshine, it’s clear that Willet’s is honoring the American tradition of backcountry moonshining with this bourbon. Their spirit is much more on the subtle side though with notes of honey, caramel, nutmeg, and hazelnut that rounds out this smooth sipper.
Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel
Considered one of the founding fathers of bourbon, Col. Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. first purchased what is now called known as the Buffalo Trace Distillery. And in his honor, Buffalo Trace released this tribute to his prowess in the industry and innovation in his methods. Featuring a well-balanced flavor of sweet butterscotch with dark spices and tobacco, this single barrel bourbon keeps you coming back for more. Time to taste history.
1792 Small Batch
1792 distils an elegant bourbon from a special “high rye” recipe in conjunction with barrels that are specifically chosen by their Master Distiller. The flavor profile expresses the care taken with every small batch with a notable spice character blending with sweeter caramel and vanilla from the oak to produce a bold bourbon that’s unapologetic yet smooth with every sip. This small batch is celebrated by bourbon enthusiasts the world over.
For those interested in tasting history, Basil Hayden’s Straight Bourbon is the ticket. In 1796, Basil Hayden was one of the first to add rye into the traditional all-corn mash bill. Now, his legacy continues with this highly sought golden amber bourbon that boasts a spicy, and peppery palate with a light-bodied, honey bite that finishes clean and brief. It’s a great example of a classic twist on traditional American bourbon that’s sure to please.
Widow Jane 10 Year
Aged for 10 years in charred oak barrels, many believe, myself included, that this bourbon, with its deep cherry notes and light tannins, drinks more like a 20 year. They distil each bottle from sweet water which gives the spirit a buttery, and toffee aroma followed up by a palate filled with cherry wood, orange, spices and a bit of olive oil that doesn’t quit after the sip. Widow Jane really is a spectacle to behold, even if she leaves you feeling a bit guilty the next morning.
Hillrock Solera-Aged Bourbon
Solera aging is typically reserved or cognac, ports, and sherries where the spirits are filled in different casks over the aging process. In this case, as the oldest whiskey gets bottled, the next oldest batch is moved from its cask into the newly vacant one. This process is repeated, increasing the level of complexity with every cask transfer. On the palate, Hillrock boasts a velvet smoothness, complimented with cinnamon, caramel, and rye.
Blanton’s Gold Edition
Distilled from corn, rye, and malted barley, Blanton’s Gold Edition boasts complex and enjoyable oaky notes, with dark stone fruits, a strong, spiced character, and rich finish. And since it’s Blanton’s, each bottle is hand-filled, sealed, labeled and individually numbered so you know it’s one of a kind from each batch. Certainly worth getting your hands on a bottle whenever it comes around.
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel
While some make shake their heads at bourbons named after old dead guys, Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel is nothing the shrug off. It’s brilliantly balanced and rich, named after its namesake who happened to be a master distiller. The palate brings forth fruit, honey, and vanilla with easy spices that combine to bring forth a long and warm finish for the whiskey snob in all of us.
Currently recognized as one of the only bourbons bottled straight from the barrel, uncut, and unfiltered, Bookers was first distilled as a holiday gift for founder Booker Noe’s close friends and family. Today, they’re aged in the center of the rackhouse where both the temperature and humidity combine to create the smoothest bourbon around. The palate features a strong combination of tobacco, tannin, dark fruit, and smoke.
Jefferson’s Reserve Groth Cask Finish
The fellas over at Jefferson’s Bourbon like to experiment a bit with their small batch products. This Groth Cask, in particular, takes their Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and ages it for six years in charred oak casks before finishing it off in for nine months in Napa’s Groth Winery Cabernet Sauvignon casks. The bourbon features a full and chewy palate with an underlying nuttiness and whole grain bread, creating a substantial but overall light flavor profile.
Black Maple Hill 16 Year
Of course, we had to include a location-specific bourbon in this list. Available only in California, Black Maple Hill Small Batch maintains all the spice and flavor associated with other Black Maple Hill batches while upping the ante with a dose of richness fueled with brown sugar and maple syrup undertones. And despite its 95-proof strength, you can enjoy it neat without worrying about the burn.
George T. Stagg
Mr. Stagg doesn’t mess around. Aged in new charred oak barrels for 15 years, straight out of the barrel produces a taste that’s extremely powerful and intense. George T. Stagg is uncut and unfiltered, ironically leaving you feeling the same way after a few glasses. It features a toffee sweetness with dark chocolate and hints of vanilla and molasses. We suggest opening it up with a few drops of water because feeling the burn isn’t just a bumper sticker anymore.
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection
Nothing exhumes class like a special edition bourbon. Woodford Reserve, by itself, already represents a style unto its own. Take that reputable bourbon and age it in Sonoma-Cutrer casks and you’ll find a Woodford Reserve that is warm and heavily fruit-forward with additional notes of berries and sweetness. Additionally, with an amber color, it’s sure to keep you warm and content on the coolest of nights or after the longest of days.
Elijah Craig 18 Year Single Barrel
Named after the legend himself, Rev. Elijah Craig, who discovered the method of aging bourbon in barrels charred in a fire, each batch of this 18 year bourbon is bottled from one hand-selected barrel making them some of the oldest single barrel bourbons in the world since only a handful of barrels are allowed to age this long in Kentucky. It hosts a smooth and silky palate with a combination of molasses, vanilla, oak, pepper and dark fruit. Just the way the old reverend liked it himself.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon
Nothing like a little bourbon to celebrate a birthday, even if it doesn’t happen to be your birthday. Doesn’t matter. It’s the thought that counts anyway right? Old Forester thought hard about how to honor their founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday. So each year on September 2nd, Old Forester releases this small batch bourbon that features warm spice and nutty notes on the palate, married with the subtleness of sweet honey.
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Year
Aged for an unheard-of 20 years, it’s not out of line to suggest that Pappy Van Wrinkle is the pinnacle of bourbon distillation. Consecutively rated 99 out of 100 by the World Spirits Championship, it’s wonderfully smooth and rich with a sweet oak and silky smooth mouthfeel. Functioning as a digestif bourbon, fans liken it more to a cognac, finishing with hints of honeycomb, spices and dark fruit. It’s truly a beauty to behold.