The Bourbon boom continues apace, and the range of what’s available continues to widen and delight. It seems there’s something for everyone. Flavor profiles can span from rich toffee and caramel, like in the Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond, to lighter honey and spice-driven examples like that of the Broken Top Bourbon.
That expanse is aided by innovative mash bills. In addition to the minimum 51% corn component required for Bourbon, distillers are adding unusual grains to the mix. Buckwheat adds dark fruit to Cardinal Spirits’ Perry’s Secret Stock Buckwheat Bourbon, while a mix of steel-cut oats and barley malted/roasted in the style of pale ale and chocolate malt create a warming chocolate oatmeal stout character to New Riff’s Winter Whiskey.
Additionally, while the process isn’t new, cask finishes continue to provide some thought-provoking surprises. Among these selections, a rest in French Grenache rosé wine casks adds interest to a four-grain Bourbon from Penelope, while a turn in smoked barrels adds savory, smoky mesquite notes to Sipes’ Double Oaked Smoked Barrel Bourbon.
On the higher end, a limited edition to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Angel’s Envy finished its Bourbon in rare Japanese Mizunara casks, to exquisite effect. It’s not all smooth sailing for the Bourbon industry these days. In February, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) announced that exports of Kentucky Bourbon dropped 35% in 2020. Separately, the KDA announced that visits to its member distilleries plunged by 66% in 2020, as the pandemic curtailed travel and tourism.
However, as the bottling innovations above demonstrate, Bourbon-makers are endlessly resourceful. In recent months, many producers have issued special releases or auctioned rare bottles to raise funds for pandemic-related relief efforts, including New Riff, Garrison Brothers and Weller (Buffalo Trace).
Barrell Private Release A01A Bourbon; $110, 96 points. Concentrated toffee aromas entice on the nose. While this cask-strength beast opens fiery, adding just enough water brings out a bright and fruity side: dried cherry, orange and lemon peel slide into vanilla and caramel. The spicy finish is tinged with fleeting espresso and campfire smoke, too. This is a limited-edition micro blend of Bourbons aged 5 to 15 years, with 70% of the blend 15 years old.
Angel’s Envy Finished in Japanese Mizunara Oak Casks Bourbon; $350, 95 points. This was released in September 2020 to celebrate the brand’s 10th anniversary. Look for a copper penny hue and rich caramel and toffee aromas. The bold palate opens with espresso, clove and a drying hint of plum skin. Adding water softens the heat and brings more oak forward, along with accents of mocha and vanilla, finishing long with black pepper heat. Available only at distillery.
Larceny Barrel Proof Bourbon C920; $50, 94 points. Third in a series of barrel-proof bottlings from Larceny, look for aromas of vanilla bean and sarsaparilla. The palate sizzles with fiery cinnamon and cayenne. Adding a fair measure of water pays off with concentrated caramel enlivened by cinnamon and hints of cocoa, espresso and vanilla. It’s a blend of Bourbons aged 6 to 8 years.
Blue Note Juke Joint Bourbon; $30, 93 points. Butterscotch and maple aromas meet with candied orange peel on the nose. The palate is similarly bold and rich, with creamy caramel and a smoky hint winding into ginger and lemon peel on the exit. Sip or mix. Distilled in Kentucky, bottled in Tennessee. Aged a minimum of three years. Best Buy.
Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon; $50, 93 points. This needs a few minutes to open up to reveal a rich caramel aroma. The palate is markedly sweet and spicy, showing vanilla, caramel and a mix of cinnamon and cayenne. Adding water tones down the heat and brings a flavor or cinnamon red-hot candies wrapped in caramel squares. A vanilla accent smooths over the long exit. It’s a small-batch Bourbon finished in toasted new oak.
Longbranch Bourbon; $40, 92 points. Mellow aromas of maple, vanilla and a hint of dried cherry entice. The palate echoes those flavors, bringing in a light flurry of clove and cinnamon spice. Adding water softens the profile to vanilla cookie dough flavor, sprinkled with ginger and allspice. It was filtered through Texas mesquite charcoal.
Penelope Rosé Cask Finish Bourbon; $65, 91 points. This is a limited release four-grain Bourbon, aged 24 months, then finished in French Grenache rosé wine casks. The end result is pleasant, though don’t expect it to drink like a glass of rosé. Mild vanilla and almond lead the nose and palate, layered with a hint of bitter espresso. The drying finish shows cinnamon, ginger and black pepper.
New Riff Winter Whiskey; $50, 90 points. Inspired by chocolate oatmeal stout, this Bourbon is made with a base of corn as well as malted oat, pale ale malt, steel-cut raw oats and chocolate malt, aged at least four years and bottled in bond. It’s definitely beer-like, warming and substantial. Look for a dark amber hue and chocolaty aroma. The robust palate shows cocoa and cookie dough, finishing with a hoppy edge and flicker of cinnamon spice.
Perry’s Secret Stock Buckwheat Bourbon; $200, 88 points. This non-traditional Bourbon is named for Perry Ford, who worked at the distillery for 43 years. The remarkably drying palate rotates through dark berry, toasted grain and juicy orange, finishing with cinnamon and ginger glow. Made with a mash bill of 75% corn, 21% buckwheat, and 4% malted barley.
Sipes’ Double Oaked Smoked Barrel Bourbon; $60, 87 points. This Bourbon is for fans of the smoked Old Fashioned trend. It features savory, smoky mesquite notes on nose and palate. Liquid smoke and bacon overshadow a core of vanilla and maple, finishing with plenty of black pepper. Overall, this reads like peppered maple bacon. This is a four-year-old Bourbon finished in a smoked barrel.