The Bourbon boom is real. For this month’s reviews, we focused on bottlings released within the prior 24 months. While there’s no shortage of old favorites on the shelves, Bourbon producers are clearly doing their share to meet continuing strong demand for America’s home-grown whiskey, bringing a veritable amber-hued flood of new bottlings to market.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that Bourbon is made all over the country, and that’s helped drive an increase in whiskeys made from hyper-local grains. For example, Wisconsin’s Border Bourbon is made with grain sourced eight miles from the distillery; Brooklyn’s Breuckelen Distilling uses a measure of malted barley grown on New York farms in its Project No. 1 Bourbon; Virginia’s KO Bare Knuckle Bourbon and Vermont’s Burnt Rock Bourbon both use grains sourced in their respective states; and Philly’s New Liberty Bloody Butcher Bourbon is distilled from Pennsylvania’s own red-hued Bloody Butcher corn, an heirloom variety.
Finally, wine lovers may take particular interest in Bourbon right now, as a growing number of producers are finishing their Bourbons in casks that previously held wine—and they’re more successful than some previous attempts. For example, Hillrock’s Solera Aged Bourbon is finished in former Pinot Noir barrels from Napa. Meanwhile, Tommyrotter Distillery has released a Bourbon that sees time in “freshly emptied” barrels used to make Heritance George III Cabernet Sauvignon.
These and other innovations in the whiskey space are sure to propel the Bourbon boom even further ahead. Keep that branchwater at the ready.
Bottles to Try
Mic.Drop Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA; PM Spirits, Brooklyn, NY); $100, 96 points. This is a flavor bomb of a Bourbon. Concentrated caramel coats the palate from the first sip right into the finish accented with mouthwatering hints of espresso, clove and orange peel. This is a custom blend commissioned by spirits maverick Nicolas Palazzi of PM spirits. He’s defiantly transparent about where the whiskey is sourced— Indiana’s MGP— a blend of 20 casks, the cask number even appears on the back label. Limited edition, 3,358 bottles total. abv: 56%
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Revival (USA; Campari America, San Francisco, CA); $150, 96 points. Aged 12 to 15 years in American oak, then finished in oloroso sherry barrels, this starts with a big, spicy kick, rounding into a long vanilla and caramel finish. Adding water reveals delicious, concentrated layers of spiced caramel, finishing with hints of mocha, hazelnut, lemon peel and dazzling candied ginger heat. abv: 50.5%
Barton 1792 Bottled in Bond Bourbon (USA; Sazerac Company, Frankfort, KY); $36, 95 points. Bright topaz in the glass, this displays a mellow vanilla aroma and a light palate that integrates sweet vanilla and oak, before drying to attractive cocoa, leather and grapefruit peel. abv: 50%
Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA; Conecuh Ridge Distillery, Auburndale, FL); $40, 94 points. Rich vanilla and caramel aromas are enlivened by a hint of fresh pear carrying over to the palate, where rich caramel is underpinned by a perky fruit note. Adding water brings out a silkier texture and tames the alcohol heat, finishing rounded and spiced. abv: 46%
Border Bourbon (USA; 45th Parallel Spirits, New Richmond, WI); $45, 93 points. Enticing oak and vanilla aromas are joined by a hint of black cherry. The palate is deep and complex, opening with plenty of oak integrated with vanilla, drying espresso and cayenne heat. Adding water tames the fire, bringing out more vanilla and black cherry. Sip or mix. This should make for a fierce Old Fashioned. abv: 46.4%
Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon Pinot Noir Finished (USA; Hillrock Estate Distillery, Ancram, NY); $100, 93 points. This wine cask-finished Bourbon entices with a mellow caramel aroma. The drying palate opens relatively woody, with cedar and spice, and a hint of raisin. It takes quite a lot of water to adjust, but it’s worth tinkering with, finding the balance pulls out cocoa powder, vanilla and almond tones and rounds out the oaky edges, finishing with a flurry of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. abv: 46.3%
Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon Napa Cabernet Finished (USA; Hillrock Estate Distillery, Ancram, NY); $100, 90 points. This wine cask-finished Bourbon offers a big, raucously oaked palate. Tamed with water, dusty cocoa segues effortlessly into warming, nutty tones, finishing with a distinct black cherry note on the tingly, cinnamon-spiked finish. abv: 46.3%
KO Bare Knuckle Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA; KO Distilling, Manassas, VA); $40, 89 points. Overall, this is a light, mellow whiskey. Creamy vanilla, coconut and oak combined with a faint baked banana and nutmeg evoke a banana bread-like quality. Made with local grains, corn, wheat and barley sourced from a Virginia farm. abv: 45%
Project No. 1 Bourbon (USA; Breuckelen Distilling, Brooklyn, NY); $79, 89 points. This wheated Bourbon is made using New York-grown malted barley. It opens with caramel and cedar, finishing long and warm with cinnamon and black pepper heat. Adding water coaxes forward a juicy orange peel note. abv: 50%
Burnt Rock Bourbon (USA; Mad River Distillers, Warren, VT); $60, 88 points. Made with 70% Vermont grown corn, the first impressions are intriguingly spicy and earthy, followed by a smoky note that suggests mesquite and a hint of burnt orange peel on the finish. The smoke integrates nicely without losing the bold flavor with water, and nudges the fruitiness forward. Sip or mix. abv: 46%
Tommyrotter Distillery Straight Bourbon Whiskey Napa Valley Heritage Cask (USA; Tommyrotter Distillery, Buffalo, NY); $70, 87 points. Get ready to mix Manhattans with this limited release whiskey, distilled in Indiana and finished in Buffalo, NY in “freshly emptied” barrels used to make Heritance George III Cabernet Sauvignon. The overall impact is subtle, with a drying core that shows leather and oak accented with hints of cinnamon and clove. A rounded brandied cherry note emerges on the finish. abv: 47.5%