Is the Best Bourbon Really From Kentucky? Maybe Not

Graphic treatment with bottles of bourbon.
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We know this is going to generate controversy, so let’s just lean right in: the top-scoring bourbon this month isn’t from Kentucky—it’s a single cask made in Boulder, Colorado.

In many ways, this signifies how the bourbon boom has broadened, particularly over the last decade. Bourbon’s made in seemingly every corner of the country, though some wondered when upstart craft distilleries across the country would master bourbon. In the early days, too many rushed out whiskey aged in small barrels, whether an attempt to speed up the aging process or just lack of experience. There was even a running industry joke that any “craft whiskey” was doomed to be overoaked, “like sucking on a stave.”

Happily, that’s no longer true. In addition to that Colorado barrel, look to carefully-crafted bourbons from Kentucky’s New Riff, for example, using a measure of heirloom wheat to create a bourbon tinged with toasted gingerbread tones, or New York state’s Coppersea, which has built a 100% NY-sourced bourbon, from grain to Hudson Valley oak barrels, that would be perfectly at home mixed into a Manhattan.

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The rise of independent bottlers and blenders in America also merits attention. In Scotland, there’s a long tradition of independent bottlers, who purchase barrels from single-malt distilleries, then blend them and/or bottle them under their own labels. But in the U.S., this is new territory—and it’s yielding some excellent bourbons under the auspices of Barrell, Lost Lantern and others. Of note: Lost Lantern is the entity that hand-picked the barrel of Colorado bourbon that scored so well.

Of course, there are also some legacy names on the shortlist of great new bourbons: look to Heaven Hill’s Old Fitzgerald and Elijah Craig for new limited editions worth snapping up, or Dickel’s eight-year-old, a value-priced workhorse from a producer better known for Tennessee whiskey.

Here are 11 Bourbons to Try Now!

Barrell Armida
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Barrell Armida; $80. Buy at Wine.com. This is a blend of three straight bourbons finished separately in pear brandy, Jamaican rum… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW 

BG Barrell Bourbon Batch 31
Photo Courtesy of Barrell Bourbon

Barrell Bourbon Batch 031 Cask Strength; $90. Buy at Wine.com. Nuanced vanilla and tropical fruit aromas introduce this blend of straight bourbons, aged… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW 

Lost Lantern 2021 Single Cask #3
Photo Courtesy of Lost Lantern

Lost Lantern 2021 Single Cask #3 Boulder Distillery Colorado Straight Bourbon; $105. Buy at Lost Lantern. This limited-edition, single-cask bottling has a deep coppery hue and a creamy caramel aroma… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW 

Coppersea Bottled in Bond Bourbon
Photo Courtesy of Coppersea

Coppersea Bottled in Bond Bourbon; $120. Find at Wine-Searcher. A 100% New York state bourbon, from the grain to the barrels coopered from… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW 

Dickel Bourbon Aged 8 Years
Photo Courtesy of Drizly

Dickel Bourbon Aged 8 Years; $33. Buy at Drizly. Maple sugar aromas are accented by a rootsy, sarsaparillalike hint. Add a splash of water… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW 

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon
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Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon, Batch A122; $60. Buy at Wine.com. Each year Elijah Craig releases three or four barrel proof bottlings—this, the first release of 2022… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW 

Freeland Spirits Bourbon
Photo Courtesy Total Wine & More

Freeland Spirits Bourbon; $49. Buy at Total Wine & More. Finished in Pinot Noir barrels from Oregon’s Elk Cove, this bourbon shimmers with dark fruit and… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW 

Hinterhaus Calaveras Cask Finish Bourbon
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Hinterhaus Calaveras Cask Finish Bourbon; $39. Buy at Hinterhaus Distilling. The concept: a blend of bourbons finished in four California wine barrels, intended to replicate a popular… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW 

BG New Riff Bourbon
Photo Courtesy of New Riff

New Riff Distilling Red Turkey Wheated Bourbon; $50. Buy at New Riff Distilling. Look for rich toffee and mocha on the nose and palate, edged with clove and black pepper heat… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW 

Old Fitzgerald 11 Years Old Bourbon
Photo Courtesy of Heaven Hill Distillery

Old Fitzgerald 11 Years Old Bourbon; $110. Find at Wine-Searcher. Concentrated caramel tinged with toffee and espresso leads the nose. The bold palate… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW 

Bottle photo of Watershed Distillery Aged 4 Years Finished in Apple Brandy Barrels
Photo Courtesy of Watershed

Watershed Distillery Aged 4 Years Finished in Apple Brandy Barrels; $40. Buy at Watershed Distillery. Vanilla and caramel aromas are echoed on the palate, leading to additional flavors of cinnamon, clove… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW  

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Published on May 11, 2022
Topics: Buying Guide