Fall is upon us, and leaves aren’t the only things dropping. Fall is also bourbon drop season, with new and great bourbon whiskeys hitting shelves pretty much daily from now until the holidays. That means my desk is crowded and my shelves are sagging, which in turn means that it’s also time for yet another new bourbon whiskey blind taste test.
For this blind taste test, my selection was very straightforward. Is it new? Then it’s in. That means there’s a collection of special finishes, barrel-proof whiskeys, bottled in bond, and even single-barrel whiskeys. It’s a wide net. I’ve also included the new Little Book — which blends Kentucky single malts with a majority bourbon — to see where the beloved bottle lands as a blend amongst this crowd of hard-hitting bourbons.
Our lineup today is:
- Old Louisville Bourbon Batch #1
- Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau de Laubade II
- George Dickel Tennessee Bottled-in-Bond Whisky Fall 2008 Aged 13 Years
- Penelope Rosé Cask Finish
- Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C922
- Bomberger’s Declaration 2022 Release
- Little Book Chapter 6: To The Finish
- Nashtucky Special Release Aged 5 Years
- Cedar Ridge Port Cask Finished Bourbon
- Knob Creek Singel Barrel Reserve Aged 9 Years
Full disclosure, this was an extremely hard blind tasting to rank. These whiskeys are all pretty much great in their own way and very well-made. This wasn’t a blind tasting where a clear bottom, middle, and top were immediately obvious. So I had to go back and taste these again and again to find ways to rank them above each other (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it). For the most part, I focused on the depth of flavor and distinctness of that flavor profile — but basically, 10 through one on this ranking was me splitting minuscule hairs (which is what I do). This is how it shook out.
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 Tasting
The nose opens with a classic sense of bourbon vanilla and caramel with a hint of sour cherry and pancake batter next to a whisper of leather and old marshmallow. The palate has a sense of apple wood followed by black peppercorns, vanilla sauce, marzipan, and black cherries. It finishes a little warm with a hint of winter spice and more of that cherry wrapped up in tobacco.
This is a pretty nice place to start. This is a soft and inviting sip of whiskey.
The nose on his one is deep and meanders through cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and mace before hitting a sweet edge of toffee covered in crushed almond with a dash of leather, dry sage, and some old oak. The palate starts off lush with a vanilla cream base before layering in sultanas and dates with a hint of gingerbread sweetness and spice. The end hints at cherry bark and grape must with a thin line of winter spice and old cellars full of old wood and dirt floors.
This is just really f*cking good.
Another classic nose! Maple syrup on buttery pecan waffles leads toward apple chips, old leather, and a mix of winter spices and sour cherry vanilla wafers. The palate leans into an apple pie with plenty of nuts, spices, and raisins next to malted vanilla milkshakes, blueberry cotton candy, and a hint of dark chocolate milk powder. The end has a hint of dry anise mixed with cherry and brown sugar with a slight nuttiness leading toward a cherry-cinnamon tobacco finish.
This is another real winner. It’s just solid from top to bottom with serious depth.
The nose is soft and lightly floral (think orange blossoms) with a hint of vanilla cream, candied cherries, and a hint of dark chocolate. The palate opens with that lush vanilla and then layers fresh strawberries in cream, sweetgrass, and a hint of woody winter spice. The end has a soft sage vibe with a hint of red berries, fresh wicker, and soft vanilla with a light finish.
This was so easygoing. It’s nicely complex but still inviting. The finish was a little light though.
Leather and green chili greet you on the nose with dark chocolate powder, dried sour cherry, and a hint of sourdough. The palate hits on peach skins and cinnamon with a lot of mid-palate heat. A mix of spiced chocolate powder with a woody edge mixes with apple chips, root beer, and a clove-studded orange. The end has a hint of tart berry next to dry sweetgrass and cinnamon-orange tobacco leaves layered with soft cedar bark.
This was really good, but really hot on the mid-palate. It’s obviously barrel proof. But, wow, could have really used a rock.
Wow! This nose is subtle with echoes of sticky toffee pudding, black-tea-soaked dates, sharp cinnamon, salted toffee sauce, vanilla cream, and a twinge of cedar sticks wrapped in old leather. The palate is a lush and silky crème brûlée with dustings of allspice, nutmeg, orange zest, and dark cacao with just a flake of salt and a whisper of dry cedar bark. The end stays lush as prunes and figs mingle with marzipan with a fleeting hint of orange lingering on the senses.
Yeah, this is a winner right here. And yet another great whiskey on this panel.
There’s a sense of warm oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon, and brown sugar on the nose next to old leather and singed orchard wood before a sour cherry note arrives with tart apple, orange oil, and some smoked plum. The palate holds onto the grains with a soft oatmeal cookie dough/bran muffin vibe that leads to winter spices, cherry wood, and a hint of vanilla root beer. The end hits a rum-raisin note before slowly descending toward salted vanilla sauce, smoked apricot, and cherry/choco/cinnamon tobacco leaves braided with old cedar bark and sweetgrass.
This is a complex and grainy whiskey — it has to be the Little Book. It’s also freakin’ delicious.
This opens with a nice mix of old porch wicker (hardcore nostalgia really) next to supple caramel sauce, white pepper, and a sense of savory fruits like figs and maybe some starfruit. The palate holds onto that savory fruit before some ABVs kick in with a nice mix of woody spices and burnt sugars before the mid-palate leans into green sweetgrass, savory herbs, and a hint of sweet fruit candy that subtly morphs into strawberry soda on the very end.
This is both really good and interesting.
There’s a nice mix of stewed plums and apples next to tart berries, vanilla pods, and orange zest on the nose with hints of old wood and sweet raisins. The palate mixes cherry jam with dates and prunes next to brown sugars, winter spice, and more old oak. The end layers together Christmas spice cake with vanilla sauce and dried fruits with a light finish.
This is nice but a little soft on the landing. I needed a little more oompf from the finish.
Big notes of leather, dark cherry, woody cinnamon bark and nutmeg bulbs, singed marshmallow, salted caramel, and whiskey heat all mix on the nose. The palate leans into candied pecan-filled gingerbread sheets next to warm maple syrup, brandy-soaked cherries, creamy yet very dark chocolate with a flake of salt, and a hint of espresso oil, all with a serious underlying heat. The end leans back into the cinnamon bark and layers it with dark cherry and chocolate tobacco packed into an old cedar box and wrapped up in leather.
This was intense but so good. It really, really needed a rock to calm it down though.
Part 2: The Ranking
10. Cedar Ridge Port Cask Finished Bourbon — Taste 9
Average Price: $55
This yearly (holiday) release from Cedar Ridge is beloved in Iowa. The juice is classic Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon that’s then finished in Port casks from the winery next to the distillery. Those barrels are then vatted and proofed with local water before bottling.
Look, something had to be last. This is a good whiskey, period. As I mentioned above, the only way to rank these great whiskeys was to look at the depth and this felt like it had the least. That’s not to say it was bad in any way. This just felt like more of a Manhattan whiskey than a sipper.
9. Penelope Rosé Cask Finish — Taste 4
Average Price: $52
This whiskey takes Penelope’s beloved and multi-award-winning four-grain bourbon blend — 76% corn, 14% wheat, 7% rye, and 3% malted barley — and re-barrels it in hand-selected French Grenache Rosé Wine Casks from the Southern Rhône of France. Once those barrels hit just the right flavor notes, they’re vatted, proofed, and bottled as-is.
I really like this, but it was very light all things considered. That wasn’t a bad thing but it did mean this didn’t quite stand out in this particular group of bourbons. Still, this on a rock or two is a great choice.
8. Old Louisville Bourbon Batch #1 — Taste 1
Average Price: $180
This is from a brand new (opened in August 2022) blending and bottling house in Louisville, Kentucky. The juice in the bottle is a small-batch blend of seven to 10-year-old rye mash bourbon from MGP of Indiana. Those barrels are married and bottled with no proofing or filtering.
MGP barrels are some of the most coveted right now. This is a great example of why. This is just an all-around solid sipper with real depth and nice character. I did want to add a rock, but it wasn’t necessary.
7. Little Book Chapter 6: To The Finish — Taste 7
Average Price: $125
This year’s Little Book is another masterpiece from Beam’s Master Distiller, Freddie Noe. The juice in the bottle is a blend of four-year-old straight malt whiskey finished with cherrywood staves, four-year-old straight malt whiskey finished in applewood smoked barrels, four-year-old straight malt whiskey finished in hickory-smoked barrels, four-year-old straight malt whiskey finished with maplewood staves, and Beam’s classic five-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, making this a Kentucky single malt/bourbon hybrid. The juice was bottled after blending with no filtering or proofing.
This was an outlier for sure, but a delicious one. There was a bit more graininess by way of that oatmeal and bran muffin vibe. Otherwise, this was a classic whiskey with a nice whisper of smoke. Just make sure to add a rock or a few drops of water to really let bloom in the glass.
6. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C922 — Taste 5
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% corn, 10% rye, and 12% 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.
Guess what? This was great. Yes, it needs a rock to calm it down a bit. Otherwise, this is a complex and rich whiskey.
5. Knob Creek Singel Barrel Reserve Aged 9 Years — Taste 10
Average Price: $52
I grabbed a bottle of this from the distillery. It’s so fresh that I actually watched it get bottled this month. The juice in this bottle is a single-barrel of nine-year Knob Creek that’s picked by the experts at Jim Beam. There’s no blending, no cutting with water, no hiding. Just good ol’ Knob Creek at its single-barrel best.
This was a classic Kentucky cherry bomb with some serious heat. A single rock will fix that hot Kentucky hug instantly while still allowing all that wonderful and deep flavor to shine.
4. George Dickel Tennessee Bottled in Bond Whisky Fall 2008 Aged 13 Years — Taste 3
Average Price: $43
Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This release is a whiskey that was warehoused in the fall of 2008. 13 years later, this juice was bottled at 100 proof (as per the bottled-in-bond law) and left to rest. This fall, new releases of that Tennessee juice were sent out to much acclaim.
I kept gravitating back to this one since the ABVs were in check and the palate was so dialed. This really is a great sipper that also makes one hell of Manhattan or Sazerac.
3. Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau de Laubade II — Taste 2
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 is just a beautiful whiskey. I wish you the best of luck finding one out there.
2. Nashtucky Special Release Aged 5 Years — Taste 8
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.
This was another one that had zero flaws, delivered an excellent flavor profile, and was super inviting. This was one that I wanted to come back to again and again. And, somehow, those ABVs didn’t blow out the mid-palate. It was warm but not overly so.
1. Bomberger’s Declaration 2022 Release — Taste 6
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 was the most nuanced sip of the flight. It was simply delicious.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
This is what happens when you put 10 really good bourbon whiskeys up against each other. The distance in quality between these bottles is so small. My only advice is to read through the tasting notes and figure out which flavor profile speaks to you the most. Then try that whiskey!
Otherwise, the easiest-to-source whiskey on this list is going to be the George Dickel Bottled in Bond, which can’t stop winning awards and is still very affordable for an amazing 13-year-old whiskey.
If you’re willing to wait a couple of days for delivery, then Nashtucky is the only way to go. And if you’re willing to hunt for your whiskey, then chase after that bottle of Bomberger’s Declaration or Bardstown Bourbon Company Armagnac finish. Happy hunting!