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The 2020 Bourbon Releases We’re Most Looking Forward To

With 2019’s bourbon behind us, it’s time to look forward to 2020’s bourbon releases. Hundreds-of-thousands of barrels of bourbon are aging in rickhouses across America — especially in Kentucky — right now. And each year, some of it hits just the right spot with distillers and blenders and they decide to release it to the masses.

That makes every year – hell, every month these days — a chance to try something new. Bourbon drops are the next sneaker drops.

But why get excited for all these releases, you ask? It’s a fair question. There are hundreds and hundreds of perfectly good standard bottles of bourbon out there that’ll get the job done (and taste perfectly fine). The nuances and uniqueness of a special release are more than that though. They offer the drinker a chance to taste the best any given rickhouse has to offer that year. It also offers a chance to taste something that’s wholly unique the year it is released. No other expression will ever live through the same growing season, distillation, and climate during aging. That makes this stuff worth seeking out, in our humble opinion.

The ten bottles below are not, in any way, meant to be comprehensive of all the bottles of bourbon dropping this year. In fact, we’re going to be running lots of “drop”-based bourbon pieces in 2020. But this is a great starter list — aiming to highlight some bright spots in the world of bourbon that we think it’ll be worth keeping an eye out for.

FREY RANCH STRAIGHT BOURBON (NV)

The Story:

Okay, we’re cheating a little bit on this first one. Frey Ranch out in Nevada dropped their straight bourbon late last year. But, it hasn’t been available outside of Nevada until this year. This is a true grain-to-bottle experience. The mash bill of 66.6 percent corn, 11.4 percent rye, 12 percent malted barley, and ten percent wheat is grown, malted, and milled on the farm where it’s also distilled, aged, and bottled. This is a whiskey that’s 100 percent unique to a time, place, and the folks painstakingly crafting the spirit.

What To Expect:

Oak, charred orange peel, lemon citrus, and fresh honey come forward. Classic notes of bourbon vanilla and caramel mingle with hints of mint, baled straw, dried bananas, caramel kettle corn, cedar bark, and cracked black pepper. Wisps of florals and smoke build from the spice and treacle sweetness towards a bold, warming finish.

TOMMY BAHAMA STRAIGHT BOURBON (WA)

The Story:

Normally, we wouldn’t call out a corporate whiskey branding like this. But the distillery behind the juice is worth paying attention to. Blue Spirits — located in the Bavarian village of Leavenworth in the Cascades of Washington state — is a small operation distillery that you’d typically have to travel to try. In this case, you can try their juice without making the trip — that’s a win. The whiskey they used to make this expression is a blend of their four and seven-year-old barrels, bringing a nice depth to the sip.

What To Expect:

Expect sweet corn mixed with rye spices and nut-laden barley crackers shows up first. Notes of caramel and vanilla sit side-by-side with library leather and more rye spice and a hint of florals. A whisper of oak lurks in the background as the spice leads to a warm end.

BENCHMARK HANDPICKED SINGLE BARREL (KY)

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The Story:

Benchmark from Buffalo Trace Distillery is putting out around five new expressions this year. The one we’re most excited about is single barrel expression based on their very tasty standard Benchmark Old No. 8 Bourbon. It’ll be great to see how deep this whiskey can go with a single barrel sip.

What To Expect:

We can only base this off of the current Benchmark, but expect distinct bourbon notes of caramel with a stonefruit backing. Big oak notes with billows of dry tobacco and dusty leather along with dried cherries will arrive next. This is a big, old classic bourbon that’ll end with that famed, warming “Kentucky hug.”

HEAVEN HILL SELECT STOCK COFFEE BARREL FINISHED (KY)

The Story:

This is a fascinating ripple in the bourbon world: Bourbon finished in old coffee barrels used for cold brew. This expression from Kentucky powerhouse Heaven Hill is aged for six years, according to standard bourbon specifications. Then the juice is transferred to Good Folks Coffee Company coffee barrels, which were also ex-bourbon barrels. It’s like bourbon inception with coffee as a conduit.

What To Expect:

Expect a meeting of vanilla, caramel, oak, and bitter hints that lean towards dark chocolate and roasted coffee.

JIM BEAM LOUISVILLE SELECT (KY)

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Barrels for days.(📷:@brenden.jpeg)

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The Story:

Jim Beam’s Urban Stillhouse in downtown Louisville is getting a new, in-house Jim Beam this year. Their new expression “Louisville Select” will be available from that site’s small distillery and location only, making it a unique version of the extremely popular bourbon. The bourbon will also be a celebration of the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail with a map of the stops on the back of the bottle.

What To Expect:

The non-chill filtering and 100 proof give this Jim Beam depth. Caramel, crème brûlée, toasted oak, and dark cherries all come through. That cherry carries through with a nice dose of vanilla, cinnamon, and wet brown sugar. The caramel comes back as an accompaniment to the sugar with the cinnamon on a warming and slow end.

OLD FORESTER 150 ANNIVERSARY (KY)

The Story:

Not much is known about this expression from Old Forester yet — besides that it’s a celebration of the founding of the distillery in 1870. Old Forester tends to knock their specialty bottles out of the park, and that’s what makes us excited for this bourbon.

What To Expect:

We do know this is going to be a 126.4 proof bottle of booze, meaning it’ll have some serious kick. Expect a hefty dose of rye in the mash bill, bringing about a fair amount of spice to mingle with warm alcohol notes and classic bourbon hits.

WILD TURKEY MASTER’S KEEP BOTTLED-IN-BOND (KY)

The Story:

Wild Turkey’s Master’s Keep 17 Year Old is a must-have for Kentucky bourbon lovers. This year’s drop is no different. The juice is the longest aged whiskey Wild Turkey releases and each barrel is hand-selected by master distiller Eddie Russell from both brick and wood-walled rickhouses.

What To Expect:

Each year is going to be unique. This year, expect toasted oak and dark cherries to lead to vanilla velvet and buttery toffee. Wisps of smoke tend to mingle with sharp spice as the sip fades into more oak and caramel.

BOOKER’S GRANNY’S BATCH (KY)

The Story:

Booker’s Batch program tends to be one of the best bourbon release programs of any given year. Their first drop this year is “Granny’s Batch.” All we know so far is that the expression will have been aged exactly six years, six months, and 19 days, and was barreled at 126.1 proof.

What To Expect:

Expect a classic bourbon that feels like winter. Christmas spices, rich caramel, vanilla, oak will all be lurking in there along with a few surprises.

ANGEL’S ENVY CELLAR COLLECTION TAWNY PORT FINISH

The Story:

Angel’s Envy has one of the best “finishing” programs in the bourbon game. This year, they’re releasing a version of their ten-year-old bourbon with a Tawny Port Wine Barrel finish. Tawny port is basically a more refined version of port that leans into nut and caramel notes with more depth. This, of course, is only going to add more nuance to this already stellar bourbon.

What To Expect:

Usually, you’ll find notes of vanilla next to maple syrup and dried fruits. That leads towards bitter chocolate, more vanilla and maple, and dark red fruits. Finally, expect the Twany port to shine through with that nuttiness and rich texture.

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