It’s a common misconception that Bourbon must be produced in Kentucky to be called Bourbon. But of all the regulations that govern the spirit, being distilled in Kentucky is not one of them.
Bourbon must be distilled in the United States, contain 51% corn in the mash, aged in new charred oak barrels, distilled to no more than 160 proof and bottled at 80 proof or higher. The corn-based mash gives a richer sweeter tasting whisky making it great for sipping but it is also great for cocktails. While the vast majority of Bourbon comes from Kentucky, stand-out offerings are being made across the U.S.
From Texas to Kansas, and even an Indiana Bourbon cut with water from the Pacific, here are some of our favorites.
18th Street Distillery Spirit Thief Selection Bourbon; $100, 95 points. Complex aromas include dried fig, dried cherry and vanilla. The palate opens with spice and dark fruit, similar to Port or PX Sherry. Adding water melds everything together into rich fruitcake studded with raisin, dried cherry and candied orange peel, finishing long with nutmeg and cinnamon accents. Each sip warms all the way down. Single Barrel #17-0037. —Kara Newman
Remus Repeal Reserve Series IV Bourbon; $85, 93 points. A blend of two high-rye Bourbons distilled in 2008, this annual release commemorates the repeal of Prohibition. The aroma teases dried figs and dates alongside toffee richness. The palate echoes those dark notes, showing toffee, clove and allspice that lead to tingly cayenne and ginger heat on the tip of the tongue. The final impression is drying and spiced, with a satisfying vanilla fade. —K.N.
Sipes’ Straight Bourbon Whiskey; $50, 93 points. This is a four-year-old Bourbon finished in rum casks. Overall, it’s a relatively dry sipper, opening with oak, dusty cocoa and leather, expanding into a big, spiced finale that’s a flurry of ginger and nutmeg. —K.N.
Milam & Greene The Castle Hill Series Bourbon; $130, 91 points. This is a 13-year-old Bourbon batched from a lot of just 20 barrels. The caramel aroma takes a minute to open up and shrug off a medicinal hint. The palate has a similar flavor profile, though adding water adjusts it to cocoa powder and clove, drying into an espresso and unsweetened chocolate finish accented with allspice. —K.N.
Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills Bourbon; $40, 91 points. A particularly light and mellow take on Bourbon, the liquid is distilled in Indiana, aged two years and cut with water from the Pacific to add some California flair. Look for a honeyed hue and pungent aromas that suggest grilled pineapple, dried apricot and cut grass. The drying, slightly viscous palate shows golden raisin, dried apricot and a butterscotch tinge, fading into clove and brisk lemon peel on the exit. —K.N.
Broken Top Bourbon; $40, 90 points. Look for mild dried apricot, cedar and honey aromas. The palate incorporates ginger, honey and lemon peel. Adding water coaxes out a gentle chamomile note. Overall, it suggests chamomile tea with honey and lemon, with a light flick of ginger at the end. Take advantage by mixing into hot toddies. —K.N.
Gunnar’s Wheated Bourbon; $30, 90 points. A “wheater” from the Wheat State, this brings a pleasing vanilla aroma and mellow palate. Adding water transforms toffee and oak into smooth caramel and crème brûlée sprinkled with cracked black pepper. Best Buy. —K.N.
Paddleford Creek Bourbon; $23, 90 points. Vanilla and oak aromas light the way. The palate opens with oak and fleeting cherry sweetness. Adding water brings more vanilla and cookie dough forward. The finish sizzles with clove and nutmeg. Best Buy.