It’s not hard to find a new bourbon on the shelf these days. What’s hard is finding one that’s not only tasty but excites you. There’s just so much and, let’s be honest, a lot of it is very mid. Obviously, it can’t all be Pappy Van Winkle 15-Year Bourbon or Michter’s 10-Year Bourbon but still, there’s still so much on the shelf that how do you even know where to start?
I feel that question in my bones. It’s my job to vet bourbons and even I find it to be… a lot. I’ve already tasted literally hundreds of bourbons for work this year (a ton of it was perfectly fine). And even still, there are always new bourbons arriving on my desk to sample. So to help you sift through all the static of non-stop bourbon releases, I’m conducting a new blind taste test.
There’s no real trick here besides that these are all new(ish) bourbons from the last six months to the last few weeks — days even — that are on shelves around the country now. Our lineup today features the following bottles of bourbon:
- Rattle & Snap Tennessee Straight Whiskey Aged 4 Years
- Jefferson’s Marian McLain Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys
- Kentucky Senator Bourbon Release #3 John C. Carlisle
- Rieger’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bottled In Bond
- Monk’s Road Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Tommyrotter Napa Valley Heritage Cask Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Traverse City Whiskey Co. Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Seasoned Sherry Casks
- Blood Oath Pact No. 9 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks
- Peg Leg Porker Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Nelson Bros. Whiskey A Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys Finished in Trubee Honey Casks
After tasting these bourbons blindly, I’ll rank them according to taste alone. It’s that easy. Hopefully, you’ll find a new bourbon that speaks to you (read those tasting notes!). If you do, click on the price link to see if you can find that bourbon in your neck of the woods. Let’s dive in!
Part 1 — The Bourbon Whiskey Tasting
Nose: There’s a sense of classic bourbon cherry on the nose with a hint of apricot jam over warm buttermilk biscuits with a hint of cinnamon and a faint whisper of Big League Chew gum.
Palate: An earthy vanilla vibe drives the palate toward cherry bark and light grassiness with a hint of apple cider just kissed with a floral vibe.
Finish: The end leans into an apple woodiness with a dry sense of cloves and old vanilla pods.
This was a pretty good standard whiskey overall. That earthiness leads me to think it’s a Tennessee whiskey but something unique.
Nose: The nose opens with a mix of old whiskey barrels wrapped in worn saddle leather with a sweet and creamy sense of honey, vanilla, and old cinnamon sticks dipped in hot apple cider.
Palate: The palate is fruity with a sense of mango chutney and rum raisin next to dark chocolate-covered espresso beans, salted toffee, and banana bread inside of a cedar box with a twinge of smoldering wild sage.
Finish: The end is lush and full of dark holiday cakes brimming with soft spices, roasted nuts, and dark dried fruits next to more of that creamy honey and silken vanilla.
This is pretty good too. It’s deep and classic with a nice nutty finish. I liked this overall.
Nose: The nose is deep and classic with a sense of roasted nuts, toffee, and vanilla cake next to subtle winter spices, apple cider sharpness, and a hint of oak-toasted marshmallows.
Palate: The spice melds with the nuttiness in a holiday cake with a can of cream soda on the side before orchard bark and porch wicker arrive with a sense of old gingerbread cookies dipped in dark chocolate.
Finish: Toffee tobacco and singed applewood drive the palate toward a big Kentucky hug (warmth) of winter spice barks and old cellar oak and rich marzipan just kissed with apple brandy.
This was really nice and deep and took me on a journey. It’s also just pretty freaking delicious.
Nose: The nose is old and leathery with a good layer of salted caramel over pecan waffles with buttercream and cinnamon syrup next to a hint of black peppercorn and woody orchards.
Palate: Maple syrup attaches to the pecan waffles with a sense of Christmas nut cake, dried cranberry, and vanilla cream with a touch of winter spice barks and burnt orange.
Finish: The end has a classic warmth derived from spiced wood notes next to a hint of winter cake tobacco with plenty of dark and spicy syrup and buttery caramel.
This is pretty damn good too. It’s on the nuttier side, but that’s not a knock.
Nose: This is a stone-cold classic bourbon nose of dark Cherry Coke, spiced winter cakes, and salted caramel with an old oak barrel sense.
Palate: The palate leans into the spiced dark cherry with a hint of root beer (maybe even Dr. Pepper) next to singed apple and cinnamon bark with this fleeting sense of peanut brittle underneath it all.
Finish: The end leans into the smoldering woody spices and orchard barks with a hint of marzipan and burnt orange rounding things out.
I like this a lot too. It was classic but deep.
Nose: This has a pretty light nose full of dark red fruits, leather, and caramel with a hint of vanilla oils.
Palate: The palate is a mix of roasted nuts and winter spice barks with a hint of that sweet dark fruit and caramel.
Finish: The end plays on those classic bourbon themes with a light finish.
This tasted like a good but very standard bourbon.
Nose: The nose is lighter but leans into rum raisin and caramel with a hint of Cherry Dr. Pepper and cinnamon toast.
Palate: There’s a good amount of cinnamon and vanilla on the palate with a touch of walnut bread with plenty of butteriness, clove, and anise.
Finish: The end hints at apple cinnamon tobacco and vanilla beans but ends very lightly.
This was nice but didn’t have the oompf it needed.
Nose: The nose runs deep with a sense of red fruit leather, dark yet sharp woody spice barks, salted toffee rolled in toasted almond, and a fleeting whisper of dark chocolate sauce cut with salt, lavender, and red chili.
Palate: The palate opens with juicy pears and grilled peaches next to stewed plums and leathery prunes over rum raisin dipped in that dark and spicy chocolate with a hint of creamy cherry butteriness.
Finish: The woody chili spice and creamy dark fruit kicks up on the end with a sense of sticky toffee pudding tobacco, old cedar humidors, and a bushel of dried vanilla pods layered with smudging sage.
Well, this is outstanding whiskey.
Nose: This is pretty standard on the nose with caramel, oak, spice, and cherry.
Palate: The palate is largely the same with a bourbon-y Cherry Coke vibe overall.
Finish: The end is short and sweet but clearly hits nice bourbon notes.
This was pretty standard stuff. It was well-built but very much feels like a cocktail bourbon that you use to build with.
Nose: The nose opens with a sense of a fruit orchard on a sunny day with subtle spice barks and floral honey next to a moment of leather, caramel tobacco, and almond.
Palate: Those almonds take on some toast on the palate as vanilla cake cut with buttercream and floral honey leads to a sense of honey sesame crackers and sharply spice oak staves.
Finish: A bright pepperiness drives the finish into spiced honey with a touch of toasted oats, marzipan, and burnt orange with a whisper of chamomile tea.
This is another excellent whiskey. It’s got a clear honeyed vibe which just works with the spice, wood, and nuttiness.
Part 2 — The Bourbon Whiskey Ranking
10. Peg Leg Porker Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 9
Average Price: $47
This is a sourced whiskey created by BBQ pitmaster Carey Bringle. The whiskey is made with a mash of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley and aged for at least four years. Those barrels are then blended to be the perfect backyard barbecue pairing bourbon.
This is a very standard bourbon. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’d use it for batching a cocktail at my next backyard barbecue party. I’d be surprised if anyone on the Peg Leg team wasn’t thinking exactly that with this release.
9. Tommyrotter Napa Valley Heritage Cask Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 6
Average Price: $47
This bourbon is a four-grain mash bill by virtue of the sourced barrels involved in the blend. The whiskey is made from a high-corn, high-wheat, and high-rye trio of bourbon barrels. Once batched, that whiskey is re-barreled into Taub Family Selections’ Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon French oak barrels from Rutherford in Napa Valley. After three months, those barrels are batched and bottled
This was nice but very standard bourbon. Again, there are no faults here and this feels like a simple crowd-pleaser. I’d mix cocktails with it.
8. Traverse City Whiskey Co. Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Seasoned Sherry Casks — Taste 7
Average Price: $59
This is classic award-winning Traverse City high-rye bourbon that’s re-barrelled in sherry casks for a final rest. Those sherry casks were then blended, proofed with local Michigan water, and bottled.
This was nice too but a little better than standard for sure. Still, this felt more like a whiskey that you build a killer cocktail with than sip neat.
7. Rattle & Snap Tennessee Straight Whiskey Aged 4 Years — Taste 1
Average Price: $37
This whiskey is sourced from Tennessee. The four-year-old barrels are sent up to Kentucky where they’re batched, proofed, and bottled by the famed Dant family (icons in Kentucky whiskey-making going back to the early 1800s).
This is a nice pour. It’s more than just a cocktail whiskey, though I’m sure it’d make a killer old fashioned. That aside, I can see this working nicely over some ice when you’re looking for a good yet easy-going mid-week pour.
6. Jefferson’s Marian McLain Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys — Taste 2
Average Price: $299
This whiskey pays tribute to Jefferson’s founder Trey Zoeller’s grandmother — Marian McLain — who was an 8th-generation moonshiner and bootlegger back in the day (she’s one of the earliest documented women in American whiskey to boot). The whiskey Zoeller made to honor McLain is a blend of five whiskeys. 40% of the blend is an 11-year-old Kentucky bourbon, 21% is a 14-year-old Tennessee bourbon, 17% is a rum-cask finished bourbon, 14% is a wheated double-barreled bourbon, and 8% is an eight-year-old Kentucky bourbon.
This is damn fine whiskey. I think it’d work best in a simple whiskey-forward cocktail but I can see sipping this neat (with a drop of water) any ol’ time.
5. Monk’s Road Small Batch Wheated Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 5
Average Price: $42
This wheated whiskey from Log Still is all about highlighting that grain. The bourbon is sourced (for now) and aged and bottled by the Dant Family in Gethsemane, Kentucky.
This is a very easy-going on the rocks bourbon that’ll work wonders in a cocktail. It’s pretty much classic through and through. And that’s it.
4. Rieger’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bottled In Bond — Taste 4
Average Price: $59
This small craft whiskey is made with a mash of 56% corn, 30% rye, and 14% malted barley. The whiskey was left to age for six years before batching, proofing, and bottling.
This is nice stuff. It still feels very much in the classics column but that’s not a knock. This is simple, straightforward, easy-sipping bourbon that’ll also make a good, deep cocktail. You can’t beat that. And of the standard/classic stuff on the list today, this was the most interesting and deeply hewn.
3. Nelson Bros. Whiskey A Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys Finished in Trubee Honey Casks — Taste 10
Average Price: $199
This whiskey starts off by seasoning used whiskey barrels (from Nelson’s Green Brier’s warehouse) with honey. The distillery sends its barrels to TruBee Honey Farm in Arrington, Tennessee where the barrels are filled with wildflower honey. After the honey has finished its rest, the barrels are emptied and sent back to Nashville. Once they arrive at Nelson’s, they’re filled with Belle Meade’s award-winning bourbon for a six to eight-month rest where the honey makes its mark on the whiskey.
Once you get a taste of this, it’s really easy to see why so many folks clamor for it. It’s clearly bourbon that’s just touched with real honey that accents and builds instead of takes over with an overly saccharine idea of honey. It’s delicious, subtle, and very drinkable.
2. Blood Oath Pact No. 9 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks — Taste 8
Average Price: $139
This is a classic and very high-end luxe blend of bourbons from Lux Row. The whiskey is made with one 16-year-old bourbon barrel married to two 12-year-old barrels. That batched whiskey was then blended with three seven-year-old bourbons that were finished in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks, all sourced from the Sherry Triangle region in Southwest Spain. Once batched, the whiskey is bottled as-is with no proofing.
This is just great bourbon. Get one if you can find it. It’s a killer whiskey that’ll truly take you on a journey.
1. Kentucky Senator Bourbon Release #3 John C. Carlisle — Taste 3
Average Price: $120
This old-school Kentucky whiskey is made from sourced juice from Kentucky. In this case, it’s made with seven-year-old barrels of Kentucky bourbon with a classic mash bill of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley. The bourbon was made in honor of late 1800s Kentucky Senator John G. Carlisle who was one of the last “Bourbon Democrats” — a now-dead wing of the Democratic party that traded in classical liberalism with a deep sense of fiscal conservatism.
This just inched out the Blood Oath today thanks to a profile that went beyond classic and into that something extra. There was a nice earthiness with a hint of funk that really deepened the overall experience. This is a great Kentucky bourbon pour.
But this is going to be harder to find at retail. But you can get a pour Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C. if you want to give it a try before you start the hunt.
Part 3 — Final Thoughts on the Bourbon Whiskey
Hard to find or not, the top three pours really are the good stuff, folks. I’d focus mostly on those if you’re looking for something new.
That all said, numbers eight through four are all perfectly good and very drinkable bourbons worth checking out. They won’t blow your socks off but they’ll get the job done. Sometimes that’s enough. Just depends on what the goal is!