Tasting bourbon blind (or anything blind for that matter) is always more complicated than you or our LIFE editor (who loves assigning these) might think. Most of what we run here are “single-blind” tastings — meaning that the person trying something “blind” knows the guacamole brands or salsa brands or beer brands in the lineup (typically, that’s who went out and bought them). Even if you don’t know you’re tasting a Basil Hayden bourbon instead of, say, an Old Grand-Dad, you still know in the back of your head that those two whiskeys are in the day’s lineup somewhere.
But today, we’re going “double-blind.” Meaning, I don’t even know what’s in the mix. I had my wife pick ten bourbons at random from my whiskey shelves and pour them into Glencairns while I was out walking the dog. The only instructions I gave her were to not pull more than one bottle off a single shelf and don’t open anything that’s sealed. That cast a very wide net. She then wrote down which whiskeys were in each glass and put the bottles back where they’d been, so I wouldn’t see which had been moved.
From there, I sat down, took photos of each glass, and dove into the tasting with no other information besides the look of each whiskey. I’m not even going to list the whiskeys here — you’re going to stay as blind as me. Let’s just dive in and see if I can identify any of these blind (at all) and where they fall in my double-blind ranking.
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months
Part 1: The Tasting
This opens with a sense of soft leather and vanilla syrup with a slight pear or cherry pie vibe with some dark berries and maybe nutshells. The palate isn’t too far off that profile with plums, nuts, and warming, woody spice. The mid-palate has a slight plum pudding feel that moves towards woody spices and more nutshell but ends up more like dry orchard wood than anything else.
Woody fruit with a bit of spice? This feels like a single barrel and very Kentucky. The berries remind me of Elijah Craig or Four Roses. It’s something in that general direction.
Worn leather draws you in with notes of rich toffee, vanilla tobacco, blackberries, and a hint of dark potting soil. Toffee and vanilla drive the palate with a dry cedar bark next to dark and oily espresso beans. Dark berry fruit leans into more of that vanilla tobacco chewiness as that bark vibe lingers on the backend of the palate.
There’s zero “pie crust” or “biscuit” or “pancake batter” vibe so this has to be a sweet mash. That means it’s likely Peerless simply because I don’t think I have any other sweet mash bourbon on my shelves right now.
Leather and a berry cobbler with raw biscuits lead the way on the nose as winter spices and a hint of floral honey pop in. Clove and nutmeg dominate on the palate with a touch of anise leading towards fresh strawberries, dark chocolate-covered coffee beans, and a big piece of cinnamon bark. There’s a spiced chocolate tobacco vibe on the end that leads towards a spicy plum jamminess that’s very dark and deep.
The darkness of this with those bitter notes and heavy spices feels very crafty. On that overtly leathery nose and super dark look and overall deep vibe, it’d say this is Texas craft whiskey.
Garrison, Balcones, TX … one of those.
This starts with a big dose of caramel candies with a hint of honey next to toasted oak staves and soft suede on the nose. The palate holds into the caramel sweetness as subtle hints of stone fruit arrive with more oak, spicy apricot jam, peach pits, and a hint of perfumed soap (kind of like old-school Palmolive) and maybe fennel. The finish sticks with fennel and turns it into a candy with that caramel as the perfume lingers in your senses.
I have no f*cking clue what this is. It’s weirdly nostalgic with that Palmolive note though.
This draws you in with a nose full of stale popcorn next to pecan Sandies with a dose of cinnamon, a little bit of sweet grass, and a touch of leather. There’s a vanilla cream pie note on the palate that leads toward more leather, fresh floral notes, and choco-cherry tobacco. The mid-palate peaks with that tobacco spice and sweetness and then just sort of disappear into a watery grave.
This is something cheaper and/or cut way down in proof. That popcorn note makes this feel like an entry-point Dickel or maybe Evan Williams.
Sweet spice, stewed pears with saffron, and a chocolate cream pie nose greet you. The taste leans into vanilla hard candies with almond-encrusted toffees, soft cedar, and a hint of potting soil. Pears and soft apricot-laced tobacco leaves drive the mid-palate towards more pear and hint of that soil, tobacco, and nutty toffee.
I have no clue what this is but it’s really goddamn nice.
Vanilla pudding meets orange zest and kiwi as a hint of marshmallow drives the nose. Spicy tobacco leads the way on the palate as fresh mint lightens things up and dried roses counterpoint. The mid-palate is all about sweet spices with savory fruits leaning into figs and maybe even a touch of raw pumpkin flesh. Those figs take over on the end and create a sweet/savory fruity finish with a touch of kiwi skin.
This is a real outlier. It has to be some random finishing that no one else does. That savory fruit feels like something Woodford does in their limited runs but that’s not quite it though. I can’t quite put my finger on this but it’s something completely different.
There’s a mix of chocolate powder, apricots, and orange that’s tempered by five spice and a hint of wet reeds. Sweet and floral honey opens the palate up to Almond Roca (gotcha!) and peach pits. Ripe plums with more of those wet reeds drive the finish towards soft leather, more stone fruit, and a slightly spicy tobacco chew.
This is a Woodinville bourbon. It’s finished, maybe the PX cask? But that Almond Roca flavor note is very Seattle and gives it away instantly.
This smells like Special K with a supporting lineup of summer flowers, mocha lattes, soft cedar, and a hint of vanilla extract. Winter spices warm on the palate as biscuits with Nutella dive the sweet and sour mash mid-palate. The backend has a vanilla tobacco feel with a hint more of those spices but fades out pretty quickly.
It’s definitely wheated. It’s not Maker’s, Weller/Pappy, or Larceny — it’s not as dialed as those. My guess is it’s an MGP wheatie like Old Elk. Redemption maybe?
Leather and berry brambles — the fruit, stems, leaves, and even dirt — pop on the nose with a hint of orange oil, mossy bark, and sweet oak. I already know this is Elijah Craig Barrel Proof by that berry bramble nose. The taste confirms it with more of those red and dark berry brambles, buttery toffee, cobbles from a cobbler, and a very creamy vanilla presence. A soft berry tobacco drives the finish towards a vanilla bark and a dusting of warming winter spices.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. No question.
Part 2: The Ranking
10. Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch — Taste 5
Average Price: $45
This whiskey is built from a batch of barrels that are a minimum of seven years old. Nearest’s Master Blender, Victoria Eady-Butler, creates the blend according to classic flavor notes first put into Tennessee whiskey by her ancestor, Nearest Green, back in the 1800s.
This just disappeared at the end today when I wanted it to hit a grand slam on the finish. It’s a shame because the first half of the sip is really good. I really can’t see using this outside of big cocktails.
I guess I was on the Tennessee scent in that I thought it was an “entry-point” Dickel but, nah, I didn’t come close to getting this one correct.
9. Redemption Wheated Bourbon — Taste 9
Average Price: $50
This release from Redemption is their take on MGP’s 45 percent winter wheat bourbon. Redemption’s team brings four-year-old barrels in-house and then masterfully blends them in small batches until they get just the right notes.
This started off really strong but ended a little thin. There was still a finish, don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, this felt like a solid cocktail bourbon more than anything else.
As for my guess, I nailed it at first. It’s an MGP wheated bourbon. But then I thought it was Old Elk and it’s not that.
8. Blood Oath Pact No. 7 — Taste 4
Average Price: $230
This blend from Lux Row starts off with 14-year-old high rye bourbon. That’s cut with two different eight-year-old high-rye bourbons before that vatted juice goes into a French Sauternes casks for a final maturation. That whiskey then goes into the bottle as-is.
This was so out of leftfield. That perfume/Palmolive note reminded me of my grandmother but, like, after she’d had a whiskey or two. So there was a clear nostalgia play that drew me back and there was real depth to this whiskey. It, at least, had a clear beginning, middle, and end.
7. Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Voyage 8 — Taste 7
Average Price: $69
Jefferson’s Ocean is an experiment in finishing that’s pretty unique. The blenders pull in six to eight-year-old whiskeys sourced from four Kentucky distilleries. They marry those barrels and then re-barrel the whiskey, load them onto a ship, and sail those barrels around the world for almost a year. The best of those barrels are married again and bottled with a little Kentucky limestone water added.
This is where we get into the splitting hairs section. This was really good, unique, and something I want to go back to.
I guess because I couldn’t quite place it, it fell a little in the rankings. It felt like it should have stood out more somehow. Still, this difference between this and the next three entries is very small.
6. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch A121 — Taste 10
Average Price: $85
This Heaven Hill expression is released three times a year and has been winning award after award. The whiskey in the bottle is generally at least 12 years old and bottled with no cutting down to proof or filtration whatsoever. This expression is all about finding the best barrels in the Heaven Hill warehouses and letting that whiskey shine on its own.
This is a testament to the powerhouse whiskeys in this blind taste test. I knew this was Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and it still slotted in at sixth. But as I said with the Jefferson’s above, I’m super-duper splitting hairs with the awesome quality of this middle group of bourbons.
5. Yellowstone Hand Picked Collection Single Barrel — Taste 6
Average Price: $70
These bottles are part of an exclusive run of bourbon barrels that are “hand picked” by Steve Beam out at Limestone Branch Distillery (from sourced barrels). Beam pulls these exceptional barrels in and releases them for special retailers, bar accounts, and collections. Each release is around 200 bottles and they tend to be rare finds.
This was really nice overall. There was nothing that really blew my mind but it didn’t disappoint in any way either. I had no idea what it was but that’s sort of besides the point when the whiskey is this easy-going.
4. Four Roses Single Barrel, Barrel No. 66-2G — Taste 1
Average Price: $38
Four Rose’s standard single barrel expression is an interesting one. This is their “number one” recipe, meaning it’s a high-rye (35 percent) mash bill that’s fermented with a yeast that highlights “delicate fruit.” The juice is then bottled at 100 proof, meaning you’re getting a good sense of that single barrel in every bottle.
This was pretty damn tasty today. I can definitely see going back to this bottle for a nice end-of-the-day pour over a rock or two.
And, hey, I wasn’t that far off on guessing what it was!
3. Woodinville Bourbon Moscatel Finish — Taste 8
Average Price: $70
This whiskey starts as Woodinville’s award-winning five-year-old bourbon. That juice is then re-barreled into Moscatel wine casks for a finish maturation period. After nearly a year, the whiskey goes into the bottle having just been touched by water but otherwise as-is.
That Almond Roca note is a dead giveaway. Though, I did call the wrong cask finishing. All of that aside, this is really pretty delicious. It’s such an easy and rewarding sipper. This is definitely where we get into the big leagues in this ranking, taste-wise.
2. Garrison Brothers Guadalupe — Taste 3
Average Price: $148
This whiskey is hewn from 90 30-gallon barrels of four-year-old bourbon that were transferred into 26 59-gallon Tawny Port casks for a final maturation of nearly two years. That juice was then bottled as-is after a touch of water was added.
This is another one that was just delicious. I didn’t want it to end. That being said it wasn’t quite as nuanced and subtle as the next entry. This needed that rock to calm it down a bit (but only barely).
That need to be calmed is what gave it away as a big ol’ Texas palate buster whiskey. Though, I didn’t pinpoint the brand.
1. Kentucky Peerless Small Batch Bourbon — Taste 2
ABV: 55.55% (varies)
Average Price: $70
Kentucky Peerless Distilling takes its time for a true grain-to-glass experience. Their small batch is crafted with a fairly low-rye mash bill and fermented with a sweet mash as opposed to a sour mash (that means they use 100 percent new grains, water, and yeast with each new batch instead of holding some of the mash over to start the next one like a sourdough starter, hence the name). The barrels are then hand-selected for their taste and bottled completely as-is.
This was the most refined sip of the day by far. It was clean and distinct while still having an enticing feel to it. It’s also the one I wanted to go back to immediately.
Lastly, I think I called this one even though it was an educated guess (based on me forgetting I have Wilderness Trail on my shelf — another sweet mash whiskey).
Part 3: Final Thoughts
Even though I didn’t know any of these bottles from the jump, it all still shook out pretty close to what I might have anticipated. A few sank straight to the bottom, the middle was full of really good / very close bourbons, and the top two or three were undeniable. Not knowing what the labels were in advance had no bearing on the results.
That aside, I only really got three (maybe four) out of ten right when trying to call out what these are. In all honesty, part of that is that there are hundreds of whiskeys on my shelf and it was a bit overwhelming trying to narrow it down. Some of these could have been anything — a bottle I haven’t tried in a while, something I simply forgot about, something I haven’t tried yet … anything.
In the end, I’m glad Kentucky Peerless Bourbon won. I like that brand, the people behind it, and I truly adore their whiskeys. But even looking at the top three (which was all pretty much a tie), all of them are from small craft distillery operations that really, really care about the product they make themselves and put out into the world. All of the sourced stuff (with Elijah Craig and Four Roses being the exceptions) was below that.
Is that saying something? Perhaps.