The always-steady stream of bourbon whiskey drops is a full-on deluge this time of year. Over the past month or so, brands have been dropping bourbon expressions nonstop. Which begs the question, “which one should you actually try?”
I’m going to blind-taste a lot of freaking bourbon in an effort to answer exactly that. For this test, I grabbed 30 bourbon whiskeys from my shelves that have arrived over the last month or so (and some that arrived the day I started this tasting). I didn’t break this down by category, this is a down-and-dirty “what tastes best” ranking. ABV, barrel finishing, and whether it’s a single barrel or not isn’t a consideration.
This is purely about taste and these bottles are ranked according to what I think tastes top-notch. Simple. Straightforward. As someone who judges international spirits competitions and has tasted over 1,000 different whiskeys this year (so far), you can trust me when I say that flavor, finish, and other sensory elements trump everything else.
Anyway, our lineup today is:
- Nashtucky Special Release Aged 5 Years
- Woodford Reserve Batch Proof
- Redwood Empire Whiskey Grizzly Beast Bottled in Bond Batch #002
- Lost Lantern 2022 Single Cask #13 Cedar Ridge Iowa 5-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Penelope Private Select Bourbon
- Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau Laubade
- Kentucky Peerless Double Oak
- Chattanooga Whiskey Bottled In Bond Vintage Series Fall 2018
- Jefferson’s Ocean Wheated Bourbon Voyage 25
- Barrell Vantage
- Trader Joe’s Kentucky Bourbon
- Smooth Ambler 5-Year-Old “Founders’ Cask Strength Series Batch #1
- Henry McKenna Single Barrel Aged 10 Years Bottled in Bond
- Dragon’s Milk Beer Barrel Bourbon
- Starlight Distillery Single Barrel Huber’s Rickhouse Select Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- William Alan Small Batch
- Heaven’s Door Aged 10 Years
- Kirkland Signature Single Barrel Master Distillers Barton 1792
- Frank August
- Benchmark Small Batch
- Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch
- Kentucky Owl Confiscated
- Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
- Remus Reserve VI
- Larceny Barrel Proof C922
- Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C922
- Booker’s “The Lumberyard Batch”
- Bomberger’s Declaration
- Hirsch “The Bivouac”
- Knob Creek 18
Okay, that’s a lot of bourbon. For this tasting, I’m tasting three rounds of ten bourbons each and then ranking them all at the end based on my own tasting notes. Let’s get into it.
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months
- We Blind Tasted A Whole Bunch Of $30-60 Bourbons To See If Any Could Beat Weller
- We Put A Whole Bunch Of Bourbons To A Giant Blind Test And Discovered Some Absolute Gems
- We Blind Tasted Classic Bourbons And Were Shocked By The Winner
- The Best-Known Basic Bottles Of Bourbon, Blind Tasted And Ranked
- All The Double Gold-Winning Straight Bourbons From This Year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Part 1: The Tastings
This feels nostalgic on the nose with a nice dose of an old back porch with deck furniture, salted caramel candy, figs, prunes, and a hint of soft white pepper. The palate leans into the fig with a jammy vibe next to cinnamon bark and allspice berries with a touch of burnt white sugar that leads to spicy warmth on the mid-palate. The end leans into green sweetgrass, dried savory herbs, and a hint of pear candy with a whisper of strawberry soda.
This feels like drinking a knock-off strawberry soda on my grandparent’s back porch on a sunny summer day. It’s kind of great.
A hint of chocolate powder mingles with creamy vanilla ice cream, wintry spice, dry dark fruit leather, and a touch of cola. The palate leans into dried tart berries with apple tobacco cut with cinnamon and clove next to vanilla cut with dark chocolate. The end is almost like a chocolate malt with a hint of sour cherry and cinnamon bark wrapped up in old leather.
This is just nice.
Cherry pie and mulled wine lead on the nose with a sense of walnut and maybe some cranberry. The palate has a good sense of burnt orange with salted caramel, more cranberry, and cinnamon ice cream. The end is sweetened with brown sugar and vanilla next to wintery spice barks and dry cedar.
This felt pretty classic overall.
This has a lush nose full of salted caramel, stewed apples, fatty walnuts, and cinnamon/nutmeg brown butter with a hint of old peach skins and old lawn chairs. The palate is like a stewed peach compote layered into an apple crumble with plenty of winter spice, vanilla, and brown sugar. The spice warms the mid-palate before the finish arrives with rich toffee, creamy eggnog, and cream soda vibe countered by old and dry cedar bark and cinnamon-apple tobacco packed into a leather pouch.
This is delicious and feels super “one-off.”
There’s a nice sense of dried apple chips next to cinnamon bark and cloves with a touch of mulled wine sourness, wet brown sugar, and some cedar. The palate leans toward brandy-soaked cherries, dark chocolate, and apple pie filling. The mid-palate warms slightly with the spice as toffee and cherry tobacco lead toward a woody finish with a hint of dry wicker and dark chocolate rounding things out.
This is very nice.
This has a hefty nose full of dark Siagon cinnamon, cardamon pods, full nutmeg bulbs, and ground mace next to sweet toffee candies, crushed almond, and a hint of dark cacao nibs next to a whisper of dry sage, old mint, and worn leather with this matrix of dried fruits that range from leathery to tart to meaty. The palate is silky and leans into vanilla cream cut with soft toffee next to sultanas, black-tea-soaked dates, leathery prunes, and fresh gingerbread with a dash of apple wood/bark next to lightly singed straw. The back end plays toward dark cherry bark, grape must, and winter spices next to a fine dirt cellar floor, old oak staves soaked in dry red wine, and a touch of wildflower honey.
This is fantastic whiskey. I wrote “perfect” in my notes.
Orange oils and salted butter mingle with soft leather, fresh vanilla, and toffee on the nose with a hint of nutshells. The palate leans into woody spices, dry cherry tobacco leaves, salted caramel, and a hint of soft boot leather. The end has this lovely mix of dried dark fruits, tart mulled wine, fresh honey, and a whisper of dark chocolate next to old lawn furniture, cellar funk, and a hint of dried mint.
This is another masterpiece whiskey.
This opens with a sense of oatmeal cookies cut with plenty of cinnamon, walnut, and raisin next to buckwheat pancakes, brown butter, and dried apple on the nose. There’s a sense of cherry and vanilla wafer on the palate with dried sage, orchard bark, dates, and allspice. There’s a hint of cumin and red chili pepper spice on the mid-palate that leads to a finish full of dark chocolate tobacco, old cedar planks, burnt orange, and lime leaves.
This is complex, interesting, and overall pretty great.
There’s a nice mix of fresh honey and milled wine on the nose with burnt orange, brown sugar, and white pepper. The palate starts off thin but eventually hits a nice cinnamon bark spiciness next to orchard fruit, old tobacco, and porch wicker with a hint of burnt sugar and vanilla cream. The end leans into the orchard vibes with a nice woodiness next to salted caramel, pear candy, and apple soda.
This is a tad thin but has a good depth overall.
There’s a sense of dark chocolate cut with dried chili peppers, toasted coconut, dried ginger, and maybe even some grilled pineapple next to cherry root beer on the nose. The palate is brimming with orchard wood and bitter espresso next to eggnog, green tea, and savory green herbs. The end leans into red peppercorn countered by plim cake with a nice winter spice edge and lush vanilla sauce next to powdered sugar icing.
This is very tasty.
Sour cherry and dried red chili lead on the nose with a sense of Hot Tamale candy. The palate is sweet and full of caramel and vanilla with a watery sense of wood. The end is woody and spicy but is very washed out.
Well, this is garbage.
There’s a nice sense of Graham Crackers dipped in dark chocolate with a hint of singed marshmallow next to orchard wood, dried cherry, and mild winter spice. The palate opens with soft brown sugar next to cherries dipped in dark chocolate, allspice berries, and eggnog creaminess. The end has a Cherry Coke vibe next to cinnamon bark, buttery gingerbread, and a hint of apple-cinnamon tobacco wrapped up in leather and cedar.
This is pretty solid.
Orange zest, caramel, and vanilla lead on the nose with the support of fresh mint, woody winter spices, and wet cedar. The palate is all about soft vanilla and salted caramel with burnt orange and apple/pear tobacco. The mid-palate warms slightly with a hint of sour cherry and mulled wine spices before the finished fades toward cedar bark and old cellar beams.
This is another perfectly fine pour of whiskey.
Dark chocolate and vanilla latter lead on the nose with plenty of winter spice and Almond Joy vibes. The palate leans into creamy milk chocolate with a hint of sharp cinnamon and star anise next to a watery base. The end is fairly short and focuses on chocolate and cinnamon with a mild orchard bark woodiness.
This was fine but very thin.
Vanilla poundcake is countered by dried chili and dark chocolate with earthy leather, black dirt, and cedar bark before a whisper of orange creamsicle arrives on the top of the nose. The palate is heavy with Key Lime pie vibes and cream soda next to rich toffee and countered by red peppercorns. The finish is all about the woody spices and old leather gloves with a hint of a garden center next to big notes of orchard fruits and butter pies that finishes with a dash of vanilla malt with. a cherry on top.
This is deeply good. Great even.
Grains explode from the nose with very fresh gingerbread next to bran muffins made with molasses and maybe even some oatmeal cookie dough. The palate leans into the spices a bit before hitting on buttery grits, Cherry Coke, and pumpkin pie spice. The end leans into the savory squash before hitting on a mildly spicy black pepper vibe next to cinnamon bark and burnt orange.
This was very crafty (thanks to all that grain).
There’s a good sense of tannic oak on the nose with pecan waffles, maple syrup, and vanilla butter rounding things out next to dark cherry and apple pie filling. The palate opens with lush salted caramel, vanilla malt, and marzipan countered by salted black licorice and powdered dark chocolate. The mid-palate warms with winter spices before hitting a woody end full of old porch wicker, star anise, cinnamon bark, and woody pear tobacco wrapped up in old leather and cedar bark with a hint of potting soil.
This is deep and good.
Almond Joy and salted caramel lead the way on the nose with rich vanilla, sweet oak, and eggnog spices. The taste leans toward sour mulled wine with plenty of woody spice next to brown sugar, old corn husks, and more of that eggnog. The end has a cherry-chocolate tobacco vibe cut with dried ancho chili and salted caramel all wrapped up in orchard bark and soft dark fruit leather.
This is really goddamn nice.
Classic bourbon vibes on the nose with salted caramel, soft white corn grist, Cherry Coke, sour apple jam, and mulled wine. The palate has a sense of rum-raisin oatmeal cookies cut with plenty of winter spice, ginger, and brown sugar. The mid-palate was a subtle spicy warmth with plenty of sharp cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove next to soft vanilla cream and dark cherry tobacco layered with cedar and dry sweetgrass.
This is another winner.
Old vanilla beans and fresh leather lead on the nose with old porch furniture, black mold, and apple flowers with a hint of honey. The palate folds that apple and honey into a cake with caramel and nutmeg next to dark chocolate-covered espresso beans and dried corn husks. The end has a white corn grits vibe with maple syrup and raisins next to vanilla tobacco with a hint of cherry and cedar bark.
This is really nice. It’s not amazing but damn good.
Soft yellow grits with a hint of sweet cinnamon, maple syrup, and pecan vibe with cherry bark, old lawn furniture, and crunchy falling leaves round out the nose. The palate opens with buttery toffee and salted black licorice next to dark chocolate tobacco cut with dried ancho and cinnamon before a slice of huckleberry pie counters everything with woody berries and vanilla ice cream. The end leans into sweet cinnamon and salted caramel with dark cherry tobacco and a hint of sour mashed grains.
Look at that, another delicious whiskey.
Light notes of rye crust and star anise mingle on the nose with old oak, vanilla, and cherry. The palate warms with dark and woody winter spices next to more of that oak, raw leather, and some black licorice. The end warms with the spices before touching cherry tobacco wrapped up in dry sweetgrass and old leather with a hint of vanilla pudding and cinnamon bark.
This was nice enough.
The nose opens with blackberries and marzipan next to toffee and honey with a sense of pitchy firewood in the background. The palate adds Nutella to the mix with dried tart berries and apple cider next to burnt toffee and cinnamon bark. The end arrives with a sense of woody and spicy tobacco next to creamed honey and old nutshells.
This was yet another really nice whiskey.
There’s a sense of mint chocolate chip on the nose with caramel apples, old boot leather, spiced plum jam, and cedar bark. The palate leans into salted caramel and creamy eggnog with creamed honey and vanilla pound cake with yellow frosting. The end has a warm woodiness with candied fruits and citrus rinds next to old cedar bark braided with menthol tobacco leaves and stuffed into an old leather pouch.
Complex, deep, and damn tasty … you can’t ask for much more than this.
This opens with soft leather and rum-raisin next to sour mulled wine, sourdough apple fritters, Saigon cinnamon, and red currants. The taste has a pretty big ABV numbness before soft vanilla clams everything down with blackberry jam, cinnamon cookies, and buttermilk biscuits with honey. There’s a sense of dried chili and sweetgrass on the mid-palate that leads to dates and prunes next to tart currant tobacco with a hint of cardamon and vanilla pod.
That mid-palate is warm but very engaging.
Fresh green chilis and leatheriness are countered by sourdough doughnuts drizzled with salted dark chocolate next to dried sour cherries and maybe a little bit of old peach. The palate leans into that peach vibe and adds in layers of hot spices with a touch of dark chocolate-covered caramels next to apple chips and root beer. There’s a touch of burnt orange late which leads to chili-infused dark chocolate pudding with a hint of cinnamon bark and apple tobacco on the finish.
This is another hot pour that tastes pretty great if you can get past those high ABVs.
Dry pecans, sour mash, old cellar beans, and dark cherry tobacco mix with a vanilla cake covered in caramel icing on the nose. The palate opens with creamy eggnog with plenty of nutmeg and vanilla next to chocolate chip cookies with walnuts that are taken over by Red Hot cinnamon and dried red chili pepper heat. The warmth fades on the backend with hints of black pepper and burnt orange leading to apple cider and dark chocolate countered by broom bristles and old wicker braided into cherry tobacco and sweetgrass.
This is bold f*cking whiskey and I dig it.
Sweet mashed grains — thinks a bowl of Cream of Wheat — mix with sticky toffee pudding, old leather, old cellar beams, and sweet cinnamon with a hint of burnt orange and dark chocolate next to eggnog with a flake of salt. The palate is super creamy with a crème brûlée feel that leads to soft winter spices, dry cedar, and orange chocolates with a hint of marzipan in the background. The end has a creamed honey vibe next to figs and prunes with fresh chewing tobacco and salted dark chocolate.
This is delicious.
This opens with a sense of sweet vanilla next to apricot jam cut with nutmeg and allspice, a hint of apple pie, and some dry straw baled up with thick twine. The palate opens with sweet creamed honey inside dark chocolate bonbons with a dash of salt and sweet cinnamon next to a scone covered in that apricoty jam with a dollop of brandy butter. The end warms slightly with the cinnamon and allspice toward peach tobacco rolled with old cedar bark and loaded into an old leather pouch for safekeeping.
This is another winner.
This opens with a deep sense of brown sugar that’s more molasses than granular sugar next to pecan nutshells, brown butter, figs, dates, and salted caramel with a slight sense of singed cherry bark and burnt cedar lurking in the background of the nose. The palate leans into sweet and lush vanilla cream next to burnt cherry stems and dried apple chips with a sense of heavily roasted espresso beans covered in very dark chocolate that leads to a subtly warm spicy mid-palate. The end touched on orange blossoms and fresh honey with a sense of bruised peach and Bing cherry next to apple cider spiked with sharp cinnamon and allspice that eventually leads to a cinnamon/honey/cherry tobacco chewiness with a whisper of old pine pitch and lawn furniture on the very end.
Well, this is the winner clearly. This is f*cking amazing.
Part 2: The Full Ranking
30. Trader Joe’s Kentucky Bourbon — Taste B-1
Average Price: $15
This sourced whiskey is from an unknown Kentucky distillery (some say it comes from Barton 1792, like Costco’s whiskey but there’s no real proof backing that up). The juice is aged for five years before it’s blended, filtered, and proofed down for bottling.
This is garbage. Skip it.
29. William Alan Small Batch — Taste B-6
Average Price: Distillery Only
This South Carolina bourbon is all about small batching and farm-to-glass experiences. The corn-fueled spirit with a very high malted barley component is aged for four years before it’s re-barreled in new toasted oak barrels for a final three-month rest. Those barrels and then vatted and the whiskey is proofed with local water for bottling.
This is very crafty with all that graininess. It’s still good but very outside of the standard bourbon vibes. That said, this grainy feel is what a lot of next-generation distillers and blenders are moving toward right now.
28. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked — Taste C-3
Average Price: $57
This expression takes the standard bourbon above and gives it a finishing touch. The bourbon is blended and moved into new barrels that have been double-toasted but only lightly charred. The juice spends a final nine months resting in those barrels before proofing and bottling.
This wasn’t supposed to be in this blind taste test. My wife seemingly grabbed it by accident when setting up this massive tasting. It happens.
All of that said, this is pretty good and indicative that all the whiskey from here until about the top ten are worth giving a shot, even if only as a pour at your favorite whiskey bar.
27. Dragon’s Milk Beer Barrel Bourbon — Taste B-4
Average Price: $30
This is New Holland’s big swing at the stout barrel-aged bourbon market. The juice is made with a high barley mash bill. After maturation, the whiskey is vatted and re-barreled in New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk Stout barrels for a final rest. Finally, those barrels are blended, the whiskey is proofed way down, and it’s bottled.
This was distinct (you could feel that stout chocolate vibe) but wasn’t that memorable.
26. Kentucky Owl Confiscated — Taste C-2
Average Price: $129
Kentucky Owl is another resurrection brand by Master Blender Dixon Dedman, the great-great-grandson of the shingle’s original founder. This is contract-distilled and sourced juice from the famed Bardstown Bourbon Company, meaning the fidelity is very high here.
This was very much in the “fine” category of this tasting. I’d probably use it for cocktails.
25. Jefferson’s Ocean Wheated Bourbon Voyage 25 — Taste A-9
Average Price: $83
This expression is Jefferson’s sourced wheated bourbon from Indiana. The barrels were loaded onto an Ocearch vessel in Savannah, Georgia, and then sailed through the Caribbean, Panama Canal, around the Pacific, into the Indian Ocean, and back along the Pacific Coast, through the Panama Canal again, and back to Savannah — all that rocking around the ocean means more extraction of sugars into the spirit.
Once the barrels were back in Kentucky, they were vatted, proofed, and bottled in very small batches.
If this was barrel-proof or just a little higher proof, I’d probably have it ranked way higher since there’s so much good going on under that proofing water.
24. Redwood Empire Whiskey Grizzly Beast Bottled in Bond Batch #002 — Taste A-3
Average Price: $79
The latest batch of Redwood Empire’s Grizzly Beast is a four-grain bourbon. The California whiskey was made with 69 percent corn 22 percent rye, five percent malted barley, and a mere four percent wheat. After five years of maturation, 26 barrels were picked for this batch. Those barrels were vatted and the juice was just kissed with pure water from a local Russian River Valley aquifer.
This was another really nice whiskey that I think feels like a solid cocktail base.
23. Benchmark Small Batch — Taste B-10
Average Price: $19
This is a one-step-up “small batch” from Buffalo Trace’s budget brand, Benchmark. There’s not a whole lot of information on what this is exactly when it comes to the mash bill or aging. The “batch” could be 20 barrels or 200. We do know that the bourbon is cut down to 90-proof before bottling.
This is one of the better “cheap bourbons” on the market. That said when tasted against some of the best of the best, it’s just really good (not great). So, use it to make good cocktails.
22. Penelope Private Select Bourbon — Taste A-5
Average Price: $60
This whiskey from Penelope really helps solidify the brand as a powerhouse in blending. The whiskey in the bottle is a blend of three bourbon mash bills (one is 21 percent rye, another 90 percent corn, and a 45 percent wheated bourbon — all from MGP), which create a four-grain (corn, wheat, rye, and barley) bourbon. All of this is to say that this is a masterful blend of four to five-year-old barrels into something bigger than the individual parts.
This is where things get very “splitting hairs” to rank these. This is a solid sipper that makes a great cocktail.
21. Remus Repeal Reserve VI — Taste 4c
Average Price: $99 (available in September)
This year’s Remus Reserve is a mix of six to 14-year-old bourbons. Buckle in. The blend is made from two percent of a 2008 bourbon with a 21 percent rye mash, 27 percent from a 2012 bourbon with a 21 percent rye mash, 29 percent from a 2014 bourbon with a 21 percent rye mash, 17 percent from a 2012 bourbon with a 36 percent rye mash bill, and 25 percent from a 2014 bourbon with that same very high rye mash bill. Once vatted, the whiskey is just touched with water for proofing and bottled as-is.
This is a solid sipper that makes a hell of a cocktail. It’s definitely worth seeking out but don’t kill yourself doing so.
20. Kirkland Signature Single Barrel Master Distillers Barton 1792 — Taste B-8
Average Price: $32
This Costco release is sourced from Sazerac’s other Kentucky distillery, Barton 1792 Distillery down in Bardstown, Kentucky. The whiskey in the bottle is very likely the same distillate/barrels as 1792 Full Proof. However, this is proofed down a tiny bit below that at 120 proof instead of 125 proof, adding some nuance to this release.
This is great and stands up with the best of them. If we were talking about “best value,” this would be number one. Alas, this is all about taste and this bottle is in the “very good” section for good to great when tasted next to these whiskeys.
19. Henry McKenna Single Barrel Aged 10 Years Bottled in Bond — Taste B-3
Average Price: $75
This very affordable offering from Heaven Hill is hard to beat. The juice utilizes a touch of rye in the mash bill and is then aged for ten long years in a bonded rickhouse. The best barrels are chosen by hand and the juice is bottled with just a touch of water to bring it down to bottled-in-bond proof.
I wrote “very nice” in my notes for this one and I stand by that.
18. Woodford Reserve Batch Proof — Taste A-2
Average Price: $299
This year’s new Batch Proof from Woodford Reserve’s Master’s Collection leans into high ABVs straight from the barrel. The whiskey is hewn from a few barrels that worked wonders at their barrel proof. Those barrels were batched and then bottled at the ABVs they evened out to meet.
This was another whiskey that was perfectly made and really nice. It was a tad hot on the palate, so add some ice or water to really dig into it.
17. Smooth Ambler 5-Year-Old “Founders’ Cask Strength Series Batch #1 — Taste B-2
Average Price: $55
This whiskey is made from a high-rye mash of 71 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and eight percent malted barley. That whiskey is then left alone for five years before it’s batched and bottled without filtering or proofing.
This was nice but I wanted something more. That could be that it just got lost in the mix and would be great on its own outside of a tasting like this. That said, there’s a lot to like here so I need to revisit it in a different context.
16. Nashtucky Special Release Aged 5 Years — Taste A-1
Average Price: $95
This new whiskey from Nashville Barrel Company is a marriage of Kentucky spirit and Tennessee ingenuity. The juice is made and preliminary aged in Kentucky before the barrels are sent to Nashville to continue the maturation process in a different climate. After five years, the barrels are bottled one at a time at cask strength with no filtering or fussing.
I really liked this. It was well-rounded and went down easily. It does need a rock to calm those ABVs down a little, so I ranked it a little lower today.
15. Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch — Taste C-1
Average Price: $129
Buffalo Trace’s Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch is an entry point to the other 12 expressions released under the E.H. Taylor, Jr. label. The whiskey is a blend of barrels that meet the exact right flavor profiles Buffalo Trace’s blenders are looking for in a classic bottled-in-bond bourbon for Taylor.
This is really good. Shocking, I know. That said, this ranked a little lower in that I wanted to make a Manhattan with it more than just sip it neat.
14. Larceny Barrel Proof C922 — Taste C-5
Average Price: $102
This is the last (of three) Larceny Barrel Proof releases of 2022. The juice is a classic wheated bourbon — 68 percent corn, 20 percent wheat, and 12 percent malted barley. This bourbon was aged for six to eight years before small-batch vatting and bottling as-is, creating 2022’s highest ABV release from the brand.
This was nice but had a hell of a hot mid-palate. Once you get past that, there’s a lot to love here. It’s deep and fun. But yeah, add a rock when you try it.
13. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C922 — Taste C-6
Average Price: $120
The last Elijah Craigh of 2022 is also the highest-proof release this year. The whiskey is made from a very low rye bourbon mash bill of 78 percent corn, ten percent rye, and 12 percent malted barley. That juice then ages for at least 12 years before the barrels are vatted in very small batches and bottled without proofing or filtration.
These two (the Larceny above) are basically tied and the same applies: Add a rock when you try it.
12. Hirsch “The Bivouac” — Taste C-9
Average Price: $40
Pronounced “be-voo-ak,” this whiskey celebrates the take-it-easy and travel-light ideal of many travelers in Northern California and the wider Pacific Northwest. The actual juice is sourced from Bardstown, Kentucky, and blended from two bourbons. 95 percent of the blend is a pretty standard 74 percent corn, 18 percent rye, and eight percent malted barley whiskey. The other five percent of the blend is a high-malt bourbon that’s aged for eight years.
This was really good and another win from Hirsch. Overall, I’d probably drink this on the rocks or in an old fashioned.
11. Frank August — Taste B-9
Average Price: $70
The whiskey is a sourced bourbon. The juice is made in Kentucky, where it’s also aged. The team at Frank August then takes roughly ten to 15 barrels per batch and builds this bourbon painstakingly to fit their desired flavor profile. The whiskey is then lightly proofed down to 100 proof before bottling.
This was a solid pour that works on its own (neat) but also feels like it’d make a killer Sazerac. So, win-win.
10. Lost Lantern 2022 Single Cask #13 Cedar Ridge Iowa 5-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste A-4
Average Price: $100
This single barrel from Lost Lantern’s latest 2022 barrel release is a special one. The juice is from Iowa’s famed Cedar Ridge and is made with 74 percent corn against 14 percent rye and 12 percent malted barley. The barrel they picked was aged for five years before they found it. It turned out to be a “short cask,” meaning that the standard 53-gallon oak barrel only yielded 100 bottles (a little less than half of what’s normal at that age). What was left from the angel’s share was bottled as-is.
This is just delicious. In fact, all these top ten picks are great. This works wonders neat but I think it’d really bloom with a little water, revealing serious depth.
9. Chattanooga Whiskey Bottled In Bond Vintage Series Fall 2018 — Taste A-8
Average Price: $53
The latest seasonal drop from Tennessee’s Chattanooga Whiskey is another winner. The juice is a blend of four of their mash bills. 30 percent comes from mash bill SB091, which is a mix of yellow corn, malted rye, caramel malted barley, and honey malted barley. Another 30 percent comes from mash bill B002, which has yellow corn, hardwood smoked malted barley (smoked with beech, mesquite, apple, or cherry), caramel malted barley, caramel malted, and honey malted barley. The next 20 percent is mash bill B005, which is yellow corn, malted wheat, oak smoked malted wheat, and caramel malted wheat. And the last 20 percent is from mash bill R18098, which is yellow corn, pale malted barley, naked malted oats, double roasted caramel malted barley, peated malted barley, cherrywood smoked malted barley, chocolate malt, and de-husked chocolate malt.
This is complex whiskey that delivers a great flavor profile. It’s also a bit of a hidden gem from Tennessee. But take your time with it, you’ll need to add a little water or a rock to really dig deep on this one.
8. Barrell Vantage — Taste A-10
Average Price: $80
This brand-new release from Barrell Craft Spirits really leans into unique and rare finishings. The blend is a mix of Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky bourbons that were finished in three different oaks separately before blending. In this case, that’s Japanese Mizunara casks, French, and American oak. Different toast and char levels were used for the barrels to achieve a unique palate that builds on the heritage of Barrell’s other triple cask-finished whiskeys (Dovetail, Seagrass, and Armida).
This is a fun and fresh whiskey. It’s definitely among my favorites of the year mostly thanks to finding new and interesting notes in it every time I go back to it.
7. Heaven’s Door Aged 10 Years — Taste B-7
Average Price: $95
This is the first release in the new series from Bob Dylan’s Heaven’s Door Tennessee whiskeys. The juice is a ten-year-old straight bourbon that was made in Tennessee but wasn’t charcoal filtered before or after aging. The sourced barrels were blended and just proofed down before bottling without any other fussing.
This is quite good. Get it if you can.
6. Booker’s “The Lumberyard Batch” — Taste C-7
Average Price: $200
The second Booker’s release of 2022 is a masterful blend of barrels from seven locations around Jim Beam’s rickhouses. Those barrels are mostly from the seventh floor of those rickhouses, with one coming from the ninth floor. All of them averaged out to this whiskey being seven years, one month, and seven days old before it was batched and bottled as-is.
This has a great body with a warm AF mid-point. It’s bold and delicious. Though, you may want to get it on a single rock.
5. Kentucky Peerless Double Oak — Taste A-7
Average Price: $134
This whiskey from Kentucky Peerless is around five to six years old and comes from one barrel that lets the grains shine through before it goes into another barrel that lets the oak shine through. That final barrel is bottled at cask strength, as-is, allowing all that beautiful bourbon and oak aging to shine brightly.
This is one of my favorite pours of 2021 and this year’s version is right up there. This is definitely worth the hunt if you’re not in Kentucky.
4. Bomberger’s Declaration — Taste C-8
Average Price: $150
This whiskey heralds back to Michter’s historical roots in the 19th century before the brand was even called “Michter’s.” The juice on the bottle is rendered from a very small batch of bourbons that were aged in Chinquapin oak which was air-dried for three years before charring and filling. The Kentucky bourbon was then bottled in an extremely small batch that only yielded 2005 bottles this year.
This is always a delight. I love it neat but it also makes a killer Manhattan.
3. Starlight Distillery Single Barrel Huber’s Rickhouse Select Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste B-5
Average Price: $55
These single-barrel releases from Huber Winery’s Starlight Distillery are starting to light up the craft bourbon scene. The Indiana juice is real craft from a family tradition going back to the mid-1800s on the same farm (this isn’t MGP). Depending on the barrel, the mash here is a unique one with 58 percent corn, 27 percent rye, and 15 percent malted barley. That whiskey is aged for at least four years before it’s considered ready for single-barrel bottling as-is.
This is another one that’s just so good. It’s perfect neat but can be used for really good cocktails or on the rocks with a dash of bitters.
2. Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau Laubade — Taste A-6
Average Price: $160
This bourbon is a blend of 12-year-old, low-rye bourbon from Kentucky and 10-year-old, very-low-rye bourbon from Tennessee. The whiskeys were re-barreled into Armagnac casks from the famed Chateau de Laubade. One set spent two years mellowing on the bottom floor of the rickhouse while another set spent 16 months mellowing on the top floor. After that, the barrels were vatted and bottled as-is.
This may as well be tied for number one. It’s phenomenal.
1. Knob Creek 18 — Taste C-10
Average Price: $170
This limited-edition release celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Knob Creek, which started back in 1992 during the darkest days of bourbon. The juice is Beam’s standard mash bill that’s distilled at a slightly different temperature and treated with a little more care during aging by placing barrels in very specific locations throughout their vast warehouses. After 18 long years, the best of the best barrels are small batched, and just proofed before bottling.
This was truly great. It was deep and smooth and fresh and nostalgic. It contained multitudes. It was also clearly a top-tier whiskey from the nose to the finish. This is definitely a top whiskey of 2022.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
This was a journey. Overall, I think there are some amazing whiskeys on the shelf right now. You really cannot go wrong with any of the top ten. So simply hit “control+F” and search those taste numbers (A-6, etc) to find the flavor profile that speaks to you. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Still, Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau Laubade and Knob Creek 18 are far and away the best pours of the day with Starlight’s Single Barrel coming in very close.