TOP BOURBONS TO DRINK THIS WINTER
The world of American whiskey is an incredibly exciting place right now. Every time I visit a distillery somewhere in the United States, I am regularly stunned not just by the variety and quality of the operations, but by the sheer vision and—often—chutzpah of the people who had the guts to bring their ideas to such delicious fruition.
This is embodied for me by Herman Mihalich and John Cooper of Dad's Hat (more on them in an upcoming piece on rye) and Christian Krogstad, founder of Portland’s House Spirits Distillery (they recently changed their name to Westward Whiskey Distillery in order to highlight the importance that that particular spirit will continue to play moving forward). He founded it in 2004, and by virtue of an obsessive focus on quality and a great product line-up, was able to grow it to a producer of spirits that can be found nationwide. For all of that variety, however, it’s the whiskey that has become a regular pour in my rotation at home.
Westward American Single Malt Whiskey is carefully crafted from two-row barley from the Pacific Northwest, American ale yeast is leveraged for its fermentation, and it's double pot distilled before reposing in American oak. The result is a whiskey of elegance pulsing through with subtle power, the kind that you can drink regularly and still find something new swirling around in the glass, depending on how you enjoy it—rocks, neat, cold, room temperature, and the thousand other options that brown-spirit lovers obsess over and argue about.
Interestingly, House Spirits’ Aviation Gin brand was purchased by Davos Brands in 2016, and the money from that transaction has allowed them tocontinue improving and expanding production of their already excellent whiskey in a sweeping new distillery in Portland. The quality, however, has remained as high as ever. (Because it’s not a bourbon, I didn’t include it in the round-up below, but I would happily include it in any barley-based whiskey piece I was writing.)
Which is all to say that this is simply a great time to be a fan of American whiskey. The only problem I can see, really, is figuring out what to drink: With so much out there in the way of options, shopping for American whiskey can be confusing at best…though in the best possible way.
Here, then, are 20 bourbons to consider right now, listed alphabetically. I’ll be running an entirely separate list of rye whiskies in a couple of weeks. Regardless of which style of whiskey you prefer, whether it’s barley-forward like Westward, corn-dominated like bourbon, or rye-centric like, well, rye, the opportunities to indulge in something great from right here in the United States are seemingly infinite right now. Any one of these—or all of them!—would make for a perfect addition to an epic home bar.
American Freedom Distillery Horse Soldier Reserve Select Barrel Strength Bourbon
From Columbus, Ohio, and produced by former Green Berets, this high-wheat-content bourbon is bottled at 112 proof and boasts generous waves of chocolate and dried tropical fruit on the nose that find a sweet, equally generous palate as a counterpart, with lemon drops, cinnamon, and candied orange peel. SRP: $79.99
Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2018
Remarkably subtle nose given its alcoholic strength, with flashes of raisins and red-berry fruit and a touch of kirsch-filled chocolate truffles, and then a palate almost impossibly generous and not the least bit hot, with marzipan, halvah, sultanas, peaches, and peanuts. SRP: $199.99
Basil Hayden’s 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Fresh-cut grass, vanilla pod, and carob aromas set the stage for incredibly elegant flavors milk chocolate, vanilla pastry creme, a hint of minty lift, and coffee oils, finishing with beautifully lingering notes of subtle smoke. SRP: $59.99
Booker’s 30th Anniversary Limited Edition
Nutty and deep on the nose with a subtle sense of earthiness, as well as peanuts, pecans, cooked honey, and baked apples. Generous, fascinating flavors of roasted pears, fenugreek, a hint of flamed orange peels, grilled nectarines, fresh-roasted coffee beans, cigar tobacco, and slightly smoky baking spices. Worth the money. SRP: $199
Clyde May’s Limited Release Cask Strength 10 Year Old Straight Bourbon
So refined for a 117-proof whiskey, with maple-covered waffle aromas—a bit of that good malt note, which I love here—and a palate beyond generous with a nice underlying sweetness, distinct maple notes, honeyed walnuts, pistachio paste, and caramelized white peaches and nectarines. Remarkable whiskey. SRP: $175
Chicken Cock Double Barrel Bourbon Aged 10 Years (Batch Number 2 of 6)
So smooth and creamy, with aromas of dulce de leche, vanilla pastry creme, and cobbler shell, as well as a hint of candied lemon peel, all preceding an assertively sweet palate up front that is immediately attenuated by a seam of spice, then cinnamon, clove, golden raisins, and the suggestions of butterscotch. SRP: $250
Douglas & Todd Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
From Minnesota, this gem is worth looking for. It’s driven by tropical fruit on the nose (generous dried and fresh pineapple here) as well as mashed hazelnuts. It really sings on the palate, with sweet maple-glazed hazelnuts, peanuts, grilled nectarines, and baked apples with cinnamon. SRP: $39.99
Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. TX Texas Straight Bourbon
There is a toastiness to this bourbon, a scent of pecans and fresh-baked multigrain bread right from the oven and spread with honey, that is intensely appealing. Flavors of gilled and dried stone fruit—nectarine, peach—dance with peppercorn spice, toasted fennel seed, pecans, and clover honey, all lifted with an herbal suggestion and anchored by a finishing note of more of that char. Balanced, elegant, and with wonderful underlying power. They also make a remarkable blended whiskey that I’ll be writing about in a future column on that particular category. SRP: $49.99
Four Roses 130th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch Barrel Strength
Unexpected whiffs of red berry on the nose, with a hint of more balsamic notes hovering above, this is beyond worthy to celebrate the big anniversary, the perfectly aged cigar tobacco joining eucalyptus, a hint of slightly floral peppercorn, and pears mingle with oak tannins that somehow, unexpectedly, demand food. This is a remarkable bourbon. SRP: $140
George Dickel Barrel Select
Even though this is technically a Tennessee Whisky—a category I absolutely love—I’m including it in this round-up of bourbons because of its mash bill, which contains 84% corn (bourbon, among other regulations, must contain at least 51% corn). Ten-to-12-year-old barrels are chosen for this particular bottling, and that careful selection has resulted in a whisky (in Tennessee, much like in Scotland, there is no ‘e’ in the word) of delicate aromas that lean in the cereal-grain direction with hints of dried corn, hay, and honey, and flavors linear, generous, and unexpectedly sweet, tending toward suggestions of honeyed toast, all spice, walnuts, tobacco, caramel, and roasted cacao nibs. SRP: $45.99
Heaven’s Door 10 Year Old Tennessee Bourbon
Smooth and subtle aromatics, with dried apricot and tobacco, turning to flavors of salted caramel, dried cherries, fresh-grated nutmeg, and ginger snap cookies. Forget the Bob Dylan connection: This is a solid whiskey in its own right. SRP: $129.99
Jim Beam Repeal Batch
An herbal lift on the nose reminiscent of mint and eucalyptus precedes a rich, concentrated palate with flavors of whole clove, peppercorn, praline, and honey drops. Powerful and balanced, and a great price. SRP: $17.99
Maker’s Mark Limited Release Seared BU 1-3
According to Maker’s Mark’s materials, this small-production bourbon was “developed within the Maker’s Mark wood lab as a potential second generation offering for the Maker’s Mark Private Select program” and is “derived from 10 experimental virgin seared and sous-vide French oak staves.” However they did it, it’s an ambrosially butterscotch-forward nose, with lots of white peaches and perfectly charred crème brûlée, and flavors of apple fritters dipped in buttered maple syrup, hints of toasted almonds, rich chocolate ganache, and warm honey, all carried on that classically Maker’s Mark tongue-coating texture. SRP: $39.99 for 375ml
Redemption 9 Year Old Barrel Proof Bourbon
Velvety smooth, with aromatics that immediately put me in mind of a cold winter night…with this in my glass. Honeyed pecans, caramel, and buttered almonds turn to a sweet-spicy palate (there’s 21% rye in the mash bill) with flashes of cherries, raisins, grilled orange slices, and a touch of flowers. Totally different style, and all the more interesting for it. SRP: $99.99
Smooth Ambler Big Level Wheated Bourbon
Interesting notes of hay on the nose of this collaborative project with Pernod Ricard USA, there is solid spice as well that follows through to the palate. It’s balanced, however, by honey, nougat, and a touch of peanut butter. Idiosyncratic in the best possible sense. SRP: $49.99
Traverse City Straight Bourbon XXX Whiskey
Beyond subtle on the nose, with a suggestion of fresh-baked rye bread, and flavors of sweet corn, graham crackers, and white peaches just off the grill. There are hints of spice at the finish, which is also flecked with caraway notes. The Port Barrel Finish bottling, also worth checking out, sees an additional four months of aging, which brings a sense of raisins to it, as well as a waxy honey flavor. SRP: $33 and $40, respectively.
Treaty Oak Distilling
Their Red Handed Bourbon is crafted from whiskies distilled in Kentucky and Virginia and then blended and aged in Dripping Springs, Texas, about half an hour west of Austin. It’s a spicy whiskey, with aromas of fennel seed and peppercorn, and very appealing flavors that suggest Halloween candy corn, spiced honey, distinct nuttiness, and rye bread, as well a hint of lemon pith. The Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon, on the other hand, a grain-to-glass bottling, is more effusive, with aromas of cherries and red plums and flavors of maple-forward praline, baking spice, and cooked vanilla-flecked honey against a touch of nougat and walnuts, all finishing with generous dried stone fruit. SRP: $39.99 and $49.99, respectively.
Woodford Reserve Barrel Finish Select Double Oaked
Notably dark color, almost a brooding mahogany. So much creamy vanilla on the nose, almost like a French vanilla ice cream but without all of that sweetness. This is complicated by maple and a hint of licorice, and sweet, honeyed flavors of praline, nougat, and mulling spices, whole cinnamon stick most prominent among them. Delicious bourbon and very good use of the second barrel. They are also producing an excellent Oat Grain bourbon, with decidedly spicy lemon and other citrus flavors in addition to a leather-like finish and more of a linear sense of savoriness, as well as an exuberantly chocolatey Select American Oak bottling, whose nougat and sweet spice round this spicy bourbon out nicely. SRP: $57, $129, and $129, respectively.
Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch
A savory nose suggesting ginger-snap cookies leads to a palate that shows excellent spice against cooked honey and black peppercorn. Definitely a spicier bourbon style…perhaps perfect for rye fans looking to get into bourbon, or vice versa. SRP: $39.99.
Written by Brian Freedman
For more information, visit TreatyOakDistilling.com.
Original article from Forbes.com