The Bourbon boom clearly continues apace. Just a few years ago, distillers worried that rising demand for the category would deplete stocks of America’s native corn-based whiskey and hustled to set new reserves aside to age. Today, we’re reaping the benefit of that foresight.
For those not familiar with the term, bottled-in-bond is a government designation reaching as far back as the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, which was enacted to ensure the quality of whiskey during an era when adulteration was rampant with neutral grain spirit, iodine or worse. The Bottled-in-Bond Act stipulated that the whiskey must be the product of one distilling season from one distillery (a vintage, if you will), aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof.
Today, that designation is no longer needed, but recently it’s been embraced by a growing number of Bourbon-makers as a retro “mark of quality,” signifying that it’s been made in-house, not sourced and blended. It also signals a higher-proof Bourbon, which many bartenders have embraced for making cocktails.
While some Bourbon producers are looking at history for inspiration, some are looking ahead. This includes Bourbon diluted with cold-brew coffee instead of water (FEW Cold Cut); Bourbon finished in ex-beer barrels for a hoppy hint (New Holland) and even an Islay Scotch-finished Bourbon (Oppidan Smoke & Sea) that’s a dead ringer for peated Scotch.
Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Spring 2019 Edition; $130, 98 points. The third release in the series is a 100-proof Bourbon. Toasty aromas suggest croissant and dulce de leche. The palate opens spicy, with cayenne and cinnamon heat. Adding water unlocks the confectionary promise of the aromas, unfurling rounded vanilla and coconut, finishing with the right amount of assertive spice. Bottled in an ornate decanter, composed of liquid from barrels produced in September 2005 and bottled in February 2019.
Four Roses Small Batch Select; $60, 95 points. Created by master distiller Brent Elliott to mark the distillery’s grand reopening, this Bourbon is the first permanent addition to the portfolio since 2006. This is a concentrated sip—even with plenty of water—showing warm, toasty vanilla, sugar cookies and buttery brioche, finishing extra-long and drying, accented by plenty of baking spice. It’s a real lip-smacker.
Bernheim Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey; $30, 94 points. This seven-year-old small batch whiskey is a powerhouse. Oak and vanilla aromas skew sweet. The palate is deep and dark, silky and spicy, showing cocoa and espresso. Adding water doubles down on the espresso notes, bringing clove and black pepper forward into a big, grippy finish that sings with spice.
Dry Fly Straight Wheat Whiskey Port Barrel Finish Aged 3 Years; $45, 94 points. Pleasing vanilla and espresso show up on nose and plush palate. A splash of water is all that’s needed to bring out a faint hint of red fruit on the finish, alongside clove and allspice. Complex and dessert-worthy.
Hotel Tango American Straight Bourbon; $35, 94 points. An easy-drinking, versatile crowd-pleaser right for a wide range of cocktails. The bright, fresh aroma balances oak and vanilla. The palate is smooth and light from first sip, with plenty of concentrated vanilla bean. Adding water coaxes a bit more spice into the finish, along with a fleeting butterscotch note. Aged two years. Best Buy.
Benjamin Chapman 7-Year Whiskey; $39, 92 points. This wheated whiskey is a blend of 51% 10-year-old Canadian rye and 49% 7-year-old Canadian wheat. Look for a sweet vanilla bean aroma, echoed on the palate that ups the ante with sugar cookie and honey, finishing with an addictive cinnamon sizzle. Sip or mix. Best Buy.
Heaven Hill 7-Year-Old Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; $40, 92 points. Developed to pay homage to the distillery’s history—Heaven Hill first released a bottled-in-bond in 1939. While this 100-proofer presents as citrusy and spicy at first sip, adding water changes the game: it pulls back the alcohol and allows vanilla, caramel and a fleeting mocha hint to emerge. Launched in October 2019.
Huber’s Single Barrel Bottled-in-Bond; $60, 91 points. The notably dark hue of this Bourbon matches the deep toffee aroma. Distinct coffee notes persist from start to notably long finish, with the middle filled in by bold toffee, fudge, a red fruit hint and peppery spice. Sherry barrel finished.