Finding the best bottle of bourbon (or any whiskey for that matter) is a never-ending endeavor. It’s a fun journey with no destination in sight. Hundreds of new bottles are released every year — from big name brands to little craft distilleries and everything in-between. No one can try them all, but we sure do give it our best shot.
Today, we’re shouting out our ten favorite bourbon whiskeys of 2021… so far. Who knows if these will make our final Best Bourbons Of 2021 list, published just before the new year. With how many expressions are still to come, all ten of these might be usurped by year’s end. After all, the fall/holiday whiskey release season is just around the corner.
The ten bottles below are picked based on taste alone. Price and availability are not a factor and, frankly, we wish you the best in finding some of these expressions. Click on the prices to see if they’re available in your region. If you can ahold of them, you won’t be disappointed.
Average Price: $55
Stellum Bourbon is the new kid on the block. The bottle grabs your attention immediately by having a super low-key design in a classic wine bottle. The juice in that bottle is a cask-strength blend of whiskeys from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This whiskey is all about the blending process that Stellum employs to make this special and award-winning juice.
The nose of this one is holiday cake with fatty nuts next to woody spice barks — think anise, clove, and cinnamon — with a nice dose of dried red fruits and honey-dipped over-ripe Granny Smith apples. The palate edges away from the spice towards a powdered sugar sweetness with a hint of dry vanilla. Then a counterpoint bursts onto the scene with a hit of spicy, dried chili pepper flakes next to a hint of blackberry pie with a nice dose of cinnamon and nutmeg. The end lingers for just the right amount of time as the spice fades back towards the honeyed sweetness and a final touch of vanilla tobacco buzz lands in the back of the throat.
This is deceptively simple by design. The unpretentiousness of the bottle is enticing and maybe a little misleading given how deep the build of this bourbon is. It’s complex without being overdone. Each step of the nose, taste, and finish makes sense and compliments the others.
Overall, this is a winner that works wonders on a rock.
Blue Run 13.5 Year
Average Price: $230
Jim Rutledge’s new project after leaving Four Roses is one of the most sought-after new bourbons on the market (we’ll be doing a live tasting soon). The juice in the bottle is hand-selected by Rutledge and barreled as a single barrel at cask strength. That also makes each bottle unique… and fleeting.
Our tasting notes are based on Barrel #3, The Honey Barrel. You get a deep sense of buttery toffee on the nose that leads you down a rocky path through a cherry orchard as soft notes of vanilla, worn leather, and warm, spicy tobacco leaves gently settle in your senses. The taste leans into the cherry with a deeper dark berry underbelly that’s accentuated by heavily roasted cacao beans, singed vanilla husks, and a sticky toffee pudding made with rich dates. The end softens the leather as the dark chocolate lingers the longest on your senses with a final touch of almost peppery spice.
These pretty much sell out instantly. It’s really easy to see why when you taste this one. It’s really a masterclass of what great bourbon can be. If you can find a bottle out there, this will help take your palate up a notch.
Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond 8 Years Aged, Spring 2021
Average Price: $300
This year’s spring release is a marriage of eight-year-old whiskeys produced in the spring of 2013. That distilled juice rested in barrels spread throughout three warehouses on several different floors. In spring of this year, those barrels were vatted and whiskey was proofed down to 100 (per bottled-in-bond law).
Then the whiskey was later filled into Old Fitzgerald’s signature decanters and sent out into the world.
The nose draws you in with warming eggnog spice, creamy vanilla pudding, rich toffee, mild fruit, and a hint of wet cedar and very muted citrus. To say this is “smooth” would be an understatement. The silky taste dances around oven-hot pans of pecan and maple-glazed sticky buns with plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg next to caramelized orange peel vibes and lightness that’s almost hard to believe. The finish is long, effervescent, and leaves you with this soft sense of having just eaten the best oatmeal raisin cookie of your life with just the right amounts of oats, spice, raisins, brown sugar, and crumble.
A few months ago, we’d have said this was our favorite dram of the year. Now, well… it’s certainly still in the top ten. There’s just so much good whiskey out there, folks. That all being said, this is an excellent entry into Heaven Hill’s Old Fitz game.
Heaven’s Door Redbreast Master Blender’s Edition
Average Price: $130
This whiskey is a collaboration between Heaven’s Door Master Blender Ryan Perry and Redbreast’s legendary Master Blender Billy Leighton. The duo worked long and hard to create multiple whiskey expressions, which Bob Dylan taste-tested and granted final approval on.
The juice in the bottle is Heaven Door’s low-rye 10-year-old Tennessee bourbon. They take that whiskey and fill it into Redbreast whiskey casks that had previously aged Irish whiskey for 12 years. After 15 months of final maturation, those barrels are vatted and slightly proofed down with soft Tennessee spring water.
This opens with this medley of marzipan, soft leather, prunes and dates, Gala apples, a hint of cedar, and a whisper of ripe red cherry. There’s this body of nutmeg that leads towards a light vanilla pound cake full of candied and dried fruits with a soft Niederegger marzipan center. That then draws towards subtle pops of orange oils, floral honey, walnuts in buttery brown sugar syrup, and this mild touch of spiced apple tobacco leaf. It’s an incredible dance and a tough balancing act. The end lasts for just the right amount of time and leaves you with a walnut shell dryness, soft warmth, and slight tobacco chew buzz that all circles back towards a raisin sherry sweetness and a final morsel of that vanilla pound cake.
This is the sort of pour that sticks with you. You’ll find yourself thinking about it well after you’ve sampled it. It’s super easy to drink without sacrificing depth or flavor. It’s just … really freakin’ good.
Larceny Barrel Proof B521
Average Price: $77
These barrel blends from Heaven Hill are meant to highlight the precise quality of the distillery’s prowess from grain to bottle. This small batch of wheated bourbon is derived from barrels between six and eight years old. The juice then goes right into the bottle with no cutting or filtering, allowing the masterful craft to shine through in every sip.
This has a mellow nose that ebbs and flows between soft maple syrup cut with cinnamon sticks, a light touch of brioche, new leather gloves, and bruised apples. The palate offers a warm rollercoaster ride through figgy puddings touched with burnt sugars, dried fruits and nuts, holiday spices, and a brandy butter silkiness. The taste has a hint of almond or walnut shell on the end that marries to a dry mouthfeel, vanilla notes, and a touch of tobacco chewiness.
The warmth lingers pretty long but never overpowers and almost becomes something halfway between fizzy and buzzy as it fades, leaving you with a woody, bourbon vibe and a very late wet straw note.
While I don’t personally like this as a sipper, I find it a world-class cocktail base. Everyone needs a great cocktail bourbon with a nice and high proof and this is the one for 2021.
Woodinville PX Sherry Cask Finish Bourbon
Average Price: $70
This whiskey takes Woodinville’s signature (and much-lauded) five-year-old straight bourbon and gives it a new finishing touch. The juice is finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, making a sort of sibling to our favorite bourbon of 2020, the Port Cask Finish. But while there are similarities between the two, this feels like a step up in many small, tough to define ways.
Point being: It’s very special.
The nose is a bouquet of dark spices next to dried orange rinds, soft Christmas cake, and a slight floral underpinning that’s more damp than dried out. The taste embraces the holiday spice matrix with a creamy veneer of dark chocolate oranges, eggnog spice, and a velvety mouthfeel with a hint of orchard fruit and toffee drizzle. The finish is long but doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s a sense of the woody spices that’s more akin to cinnamon sticks once stirred in hot apple cider, leaving you with a dry note of spicy tobacco.
This was love at first nose (and sip). Unfortunately, this is only available at the distillery for now. Still, this is a great next step on anyone’s Woodinville bourbon journey while being a wonderful sipper all around.
Still Austin “The Musician” Bourbon
Average Price: $46
The folks at Still Austin have spent the last six years perfecting their grain-to-glass whiskey experience. The juice is rendered with grains from Texas and water from the ground beneath their feet, all imbued with a crafty Texas vibe in every sip. The actual whiskey is a two-year-old bourbon that’s batched to highlight the bright fruits of the new and crafty whiskey.
This is really fruity. Think a tropical, hazy IPA with clear notes of pineapple, lemon-lime, and maybe a slight hint of savory papaya next to more a-typical bourbon notes of vanilla, holiday spices, and caramel. There’s a clear sense of those spices on the palate with a hint of dark chocolate leading back to all that fruit, a touch of marzipan, and a dash of vanilla cream pie. The end warms a bit with the fruitiness waning towards a spicy, choco-tobacco end.
This is very very fruity. Still, it works since the fruits mostly stay on the nose to entice you into the sip. All of that being said, this really shines best as a cocktail or highball base.
Cascade Moon Edition No. 2
Average Price: $250
Cascade Moon Edition No. 2 was created by Dickel’s master distiller, Nicole Austin, to highlight the depths that Cascade Hollow can reach. The juice in the bottle is a small batch of 20 barrels that were laid down back in 2003. Austin used those barrels to highlight the 150-year history of Dickel in each sip with a unique and classic Tennessee whiskey (remember: all Tennessee whiskey is, by its very nature, bourbon).
Classic is the best way to describe this one. There’s a clear balance of toasted wood next to oily vanilla pods with a counterpoint of red berry brambles and a very bespoke Almond Joy. The palate delivers on those berries and choco-coconut vibes while layering in dry moss and a soft Tennessee mineral water mouthfeel next to cinnamon sticks steeped in maple syrup. The finish sweetens a bit with a touch of coffee bitterness all leading back to a pile of dry firewood and woody spice.
This is one of those bottles you’re never going to see again. That makes it a special one to snag just to hold onto. Better yet, crack it open and try what’s in the bottle to get a handle on how deeply Austin is shaking things up over at Dickel these days.
Redemption 10 Year Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon
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.
There’s a woody vanilla and floral honey vibe on the nose with a touch of almost burnt toffee and worn leather. Espresso beans mix with a dab of smoky bacon fat that leads towards a slightly bitter black peppercorn. Slight creamy vanilla leads towards a hint of soft cherry sweetness as the pepperiness edges towards lemon pepper soaked in honey, with a slight note of green reeds at the end. The finish dries out and amps up the spiciness as a hint of dark chocolate lingers on the final note.
This is just a really easy sipper. There’s really not much more to say besides, well… “give it a try and see how fast this becomes a part of your everyday rotation.”
Average Price: $80
Barrell puts out a lot of whiskeys every year. We forgive you if you can’t keep up (we barely can!). This edition is a mix of whiskeys finished in pear brandy, Jamaican rum, and Sicilian Amaro casks that are then batched. The juice then goes into the bottle uncut to help highlight the disparate yet similarly cozy flavors given by each of the barrels.
Pear drives the nose with a pear compote or pear butter made with plenty of dark spice and just a hint of dark chocolate and tobacco. The taste is warm but slightly rummy with a clear eggnog note acting as a driving force, leading towards hints of black licorice next to creamy toffee next to hefty chocolate bars filled with nougat and walnuts. A slight black tea bitterness takes over on the end as the nuttiness, spiciness, and sweetness all come together for a big finish with plenty of warmth and boldness.
This might be a little off-putting for some — it’s a big swing of a dram. Still, there’s nothing in the nose or taste that feels out of place or unnecessary. It’s more like a big ol’ punch of bourbon that’ll widen your eyes while enriching your taste buds with something new.
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