Generally speaking, bourbon hits a sweet spot around ten years old. It’s sort of a demarcation point between the cheaper, small-batch, bottled-in-bond stuff and the single barrels, unicorns, and super old stuff (think 20-plus years). Bourbon whiskeys around ten years old (or maybe a couple of years older) are a little more expensive, a little more refined, and a little more extra but they’re not always harder to find.
In fact, great ten, 12, and even 15-year expressions are readily available.
To that end, I’m tasting ten bourbon whiskeys blind that are at least ten years old. Then, I’m going to rank those bourbons based on taste alone. While ten years is the baseline, there are a couple of bourbons on this list that hit 12 to 16 years too, and I threw on one bourbon that’s a blend of 12 and 16-year-old barrels to see how it stands up.
Our lineup today includes:
- Knob Creek 12 Year
- Redemption High-Rye Bourbon 10 Year
- Blue Run 13 Year Winter Batch
- Copper Tongue 16 Year
- Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2021 (a blend of 12 to 16-yo bourbons)
- George Dickel 15 Year
- Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond 11 Year
- Widow Jane 10 Year
- Eagle Rare 10 Year
- Michter’s Single Barrel 10 Year
Let’s dive in!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of 2021
Part 1: The Tasting
This opens with clear notes of cherry, dark chocolate, winter spices, and a hint of menthol. The palate leans into a red berry crumble with a hint of chili flake spice, salted caramels covered in dark chocolate, and a spicy/sweet note that leads towards a wet cattail stem and soft brandied cherries dipped in silky dark chocolate sauce.
There are hints of soft vanilla and honey tempered by old toffee candies and a big leathery underbelly. The palate has notes of espresso bean oils, a hint of bacon fat, and a few cranks off of a black pepper mill that’s balanced by vanilla pudding topped with Cherries Jubilee with a hint of brandy and spice. The mid-palate leads towards a dry wicker chair next to a dusting of lemon pepper.
This is a straight-up classic on the nose with hints of rich vanilla next to buttery caramel, old yet soft oak, and a touch of orchard fruit. The taste is all about that vanilla with a creamy softness next to an old leather tobacco pouch stuffed into an old cedar box. There’s a nice wintry spice mildness near the finish that leads towards pure silk and a hint of savory green herbs.
The nose on this one has this mix of health food store bran and multivitamins (hello, Dickel) that leads towards raw sourdough pancake batter with a touch of butter cornbread, cinnamon-apple toast, and leather tobacco. The palate has a soft and creamy eggnog vibe and spice countered by a cellar full of cobwebs and bowing beams and sticky tobacco notes that lead back to the health food store and a vanilla protein powder.
This opens with a southern biscuit that’s just been popped out of a Pilsbury tube with a hint of honey and butter next to vanilla pods, red berries, and a mint by way of cedar on the nose. The taste is pure silk with a spicy plum jam next to orange oils, dark chocolate, and a wet reed-filled mid-palate. The finish dries out with some dried mint before clove and nutmeg-laced dark chocolate takes over.
Well, here’s the other Dickel. The nose on this is almost identical to taste 4 with that pancake batter and multivitamin most prominent but then there’s more a cherry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream vibe that has echos of apple tobacco. The palate has a Cherry Coke that turns into a red Flinstone’s Multivitamin before bourbon-soaked cedar planks, vanilla cream, and a cherry tobacco drive the taste towards the finish. A note of dry cedar and cellar funk round off the end.
Dark stone fruits mingle with vanilla beans, applewood, cinnamon and clove spiciness, and a good rush of worn leather on the nose. The palate is pure sticky toffee pudding with plenty of toffee sauce, dates, and spice next to candied orange peels and cherries with a hint of an old cedar tobacco box rounding everything out. There’s a Graham cracker vibe that leads almond shells, dry firewood, and a hint of apple fritters on the end.
There’s that raw pancake batter note again. This time it’s tempered by mulled red wine with plenty of spice and orange next to a vanilla pudding and light mint wax. The taste has a mix of marzipan next to dark chocolate and real maple syrup. The finish adds some cherry to that dark chocolate and layers in woody birch water on the end.
Dark yet soft cherry, worn leather, dried orange peels, rich toffee, cedar, and fresh sage mix on the nose. The palate has rich marzipan mingling with silky dark chocolate, candied almonds, fresh honey, more of that dark cherry, and a spicy holiday cake. A light cedar note kicks in and leads towards almost sticky cherry tobacco with more of that holiday cake and a light touch of dry reeds all countered by a velvety light touch that’s just … fantastic.
Soft wood and worn leather mix with dark berry compote, a touch of dark spice, and a hint of maple syrup on the nose. That maple syrup drives the palate towards soft and creamy eggnog spices, a hint of espresso, and a distant echo of cherry cotton candy. Berry brambles arrive (stems and all) with a spiced vanilla cream floating on a creamy espresso with a dry grass and dry marzipan-laced tobacco leaf end.
Part 2: The Ranking
9. Redemption 10 Year Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon — Taste 2
Average Price: $102
Redemption has a knack for sourcing some of the best barrels from MGP in Indiana. This multi-award-winning bourbon starts off with a base mash bill of 60 percent corn, 36 percent rye, and four percent barley. After ten years of maturation, the barrels are expertly vatted to make a highly sippable bourbon experience. That marriage of bourbons then goes into the bottle, uncut and unfiltered.
This is where things get hard … already. This was pretty freaking good. It was interesting. But something had to be last and there was a pretty big gap between this and number one, two, and three. However, the gap between this and numbers eight through four is pretty much paper-thin.
(tie) 8. Orphan Barrel Copper Tongue Aged 16 Years — Taste 4
Average Price: $212
This release from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel program is from Cascade Hollow Distilling Co., better known as George Dickel. The juice is a marrying of two 16-year-old bourbon barrels that were hand-selected by Dickel Master Distiller Nicole Austin. The ABV is very low for a “barrel-proof” bourbon, which is what makes this an interesting bottle.
I really didn’t know where to put these Dickels on the list. I really dig that they are so damn unique. But I think that uniqueness wasn’t quite enough to stand up to the deeper notes in some of the other bottles in the blind taste today.
(tie) 8. George Dickel Single Barrel 15 — Taste 6
Average Price: $70
The juice in this bottle is from single barrels, aged 15 years or more, and the proof varies accordingly (sometimes it’s cut with water, too). The whiskey showcases Dickel’s vast warehouses and the gems they have hidden deep on those ricks.
Since these two Dickels are so, so similar (in profile and age), I really couldn’t see not having them ranked as a tie. They’re both unique and, well, new tasting, which I really dig.
On another day, I could see one of these winning for those one-of-a-kind notes.
7. Widow Jane Aged 10 Years — Taste 8
Average Price: $77
This is sourced from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee bourbons. The hand-selected barrels are sent to New York where they’re blended in small batches (no more than five barrels), proofed with New York limestone mine water, and bottled. What you’re paying for here is the exactness of a whiskey blender finding great barrels and knowing how to marry them to make something bigger and better.
This ranked a little lower mostly because it sort of petered out late in the taste. Otherwise, it’s a solid pour that I 100 percent want to go back to as an on the rocks sipper.
6. Blue Run 13-Year-Old Winter Batch –Taste 3
Average Price: $220
This sourced juice (from an undisclosed Kentucky distillery) was hand-picked by Jim Rutledge and the Blue Run team for its brilliance. Rutledge, who brought Four Roses back into the mainstream, really dug in to find some of the best barrels still available in this higher age range to create this bourbon.
This, again, was pretty great. The only reason it’s slightly lower today is that it was only classic and not that little bit extra like the next few on the list.
5. 2021 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch — Taste 5
Average Price: $150 (Lottery Only)
This year’s LE Small Batch is a blend of four bourbons. Four Roses is renowned for its ten distinct recipes with two mash bills and five yeast strains. This whiskey marries four of those recipes with two from Mash B (very high rye) and two from Mash Bill E (high rye). The yeasts at play are “delicate fruit,” “spice essence,” and “floral essence.” The barrels ranged from 12 to 16 years old, making this a fairly old bourbon, all things considered.
This was another one that could have been anywhere from eighth to first on this list. There’s not a single fault in this juice.
4. Knob Creek 12 — Taste 1
Average Price: $71
This is classic Beam whiskey with a low-ish rye mash bill of 77 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and ten percent malted barley. The juice is then left alone in the Beam warehouses for 12 long years. The barrels are chosen according to a specific taste and married to create this higher-proof expression.
This was so easy and straightforward. This was another of the drams I truly wanted to go back to. Not because it was overly complex or challenging, but becasue it was exactly the opposite while still being very well built and damn tasty.
3. Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond 11 Year — Taste 7
Average Price: $635
The juice in this decanter is an eleven-year-old bourbon pulled from barrels in Warehouse EE. The wheated bourbon was loaded into the rickhouse back in the spring of 2010 and left alone until 2021. The whiskey was then vatted and proofed down to the bottled-in-bond proof of 50 percent or 100 proof, as per federal law.
This is just so damn tasty. Honestly, this could have been tied for second or first had the first place dram not hit so damn hard today.
2. Michter’s Single Barrel 10-Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon — Taste 10
Average Price: $208
The juice in this bottle is a little under wraps. Michter’s is currently distilling and aging their own whiskey, but this is still sourced. The actual barrels sourced for these single barrel expressions tend to be at least ten years old with some rumored to be closer to 15 years old (depending on the barrel’s quality, naturally). Either way, the juice goes through Michter’s bespoke filtration process before a touch of Kentucky’s iconic soft limestone water is added, bringing the bourbon down to a very crushable 94.4 proof.
This is the bottle I would have put money on me picking as my number one. In fact, I told myself that what did hit number one must be this. I was mistaken.
All of that aside, this was pretty much perfection.
1. Eagle Rare Aged 10 Years — Taste 9
Average Price: $45
This might be one of the most beloved (and still accessible) bottles from Buffalo Trace. This juice is made from their very low rye mash bill. The whiskey is then matured for at least ten years in various parts of the warehouse. The final mix comes down to barrels that hit just the right notes to make them “Eagle Rare.” Finally, this one is proofed down to a fairly low 90 proof.
Nothing came close to this today. It was like a safe port in a tumultuous storm.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
It’s probably not a surprise, if you follow my whiskey writing, that I picked Michter’s and Eagle Rare in the top slots in this blind taste test. I do drink a lot of those brands’ whiskeys and go on and on about them. But you know what? That’s because they’re some of the best out there right now. If you can find any of the three bottles at the top of this list, you’ll be in good hands.
As for the rest, there was so little distance between them quality-wise. Another day, another lineup, and any one of these bottles could have ended up on top. But not today.
I think the big outlier today was the two Dickel expressions (Dickel 15 Year and Copper Tongue). They’re so damn unique and tasty while really offering something different and new. I’m struggling with where to place those entries in the grand scheme of things. One thing I can say is that they’re really starting to grow on me and I’m starting to look for flavor profiles that aren’t afraid of breaking the mold, just like those two do.