Bourbon & Beyond has become the whiskey festival to attend in Kentucky if you’re a music lover. The four-day fest draws massive crowds (over 100,000) for big-name international headliners. This year saw the Black Keys, Bruno Mars, Billy Strings, Blondie, and Black Crows lead the way — and that’s just the b’s. The fest is also a haven for all things bourbon (and the wider world of American whiskey).
26 brands were part of the festival this year with tons more making appearances on the Bourbon Stage for live talks with industry insiders and tastings of special release whiskeys for hardcore bourbon and music fans. That’s where I come in.
This year, I got to taste a lot of great bourbon at Bourbon & Beyond, and I’m going to tell you all about it below. One ripple here is that some of these bourbons were barrel picks specifically for the festival — picked by the great Chris Blandford who hosts the Bourbon Stage. So instead of price linking to bottles that were at bars at a festival that was last weekend, I’ve linked to the brand’s barrel picks that you can actually get. There will be some profile variation, but it won’t be that much. The point is that the bourbons listed below are all stellar and you should 100% check them out.
Let’s dive in!
McTavish Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $75
This brand-new whiskey brand from Graham McTavish (Outlander, House of the Dragon, etc.) is a lovely built batch of whiskey. The whiskey is made from a classic mash of 75/21/4 (corn/rye/barley) that’s left to rest for seven years. Those barrels were proofed down to bottled-in-bond standards and bottled as-is otherwise.
Nose: Caramel chocolate candies and vanilla cake with sprinkles drive the nose toward cinnamon and clove heavy nutcake, eggnog, and a soft layer of burnt orange zest.
Palate: The vanilla creates a lush buttercream on the palate as dark Black Forest Cake with spicy stewed cherry and very dark chocolate leads to more nutmeg and cinnamon with a fleeting sense of pipe tobacco and smoldering marshmallow.
Finish: The end leans into old oak and a light sense of fall orchard leaves, more stewed cherry, and creamy vanilla with a line of spiced winter bark warmth.
I’ve had this whiskey a few times over the last weeks and it gets better with every tasting. Moreover, if you’re a fan of McTavish’s vast resume of work, this is a no-brainer addition to your home bar.
Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Barrel Proof Bourbon & Beyond
Average Price: $399
Stagg is Buffalo Trace’s Mash Bill no. 1 (a low-rye mash) turned all the way up to MAX volume. The whiskey spends about a decade resting in the old Buffalo Trace warehouses before it’s batched and bottled (in this case in Spring 2023) 100% as-is.
Nose: This is rich on the nose with deep senses of dark chocolate brownies just kissed with stewed black cherry and old vanilla pods before a soft sense of red chili tobacco and wet brown sugar tobacco lead to a whisper of smoldering fall leaves.
Palate: That dark chocolate and chili-laced tobacco drives the taste toward a Christmas cake brimming with candied cherry, orange rind, rum raisin, clove, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and creamy vanilla icing with a dash of salt, marzipan, and brandy-soaked apple and pear orchards.
Finish: The rich and boozy holiday cake fades on the finish as deep earthiness — think firewood bark and smudging sage — drives the end toward a big Kentucky hug of warmth that’s just right.
I ended up pouring a few glasses of this on the first day of the fest while listening to Old Crow Medicine Show. Overall, this is a great sipper with incredible depth. Though, you might need a rock to cool it down a tad.
Peerless Double Oak Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bourbon & Beyond
Average Price: $114
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 new oak barrel for a final maturation to let 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.
Nose: This opens with a nose full of salted butter next to hints of very soft leather, light notes of vanilla bean, a touch of toffee sweetness, and freshly cracked walnuts with a dry edge.
Palate: The taste leans into that oak barrel with dashes of woody spices (think allspice berries, star anise, and cinnamon sticks), dry cherry tobacco leaves, salted caramel, and more of that super soft leather.
Finish: All of that leads towards a mid-palate of dark red fruits stewed in mulled wine spices and cut with a dollop of fresh honey before the (long) finish dries out towards an old wicker chair, a very distinct hint of a cellar funk, and a touch of dried mint.
This is just tasty and deep bourbon. I like it over a rock or two or in a cocktail, but you can sip this neat all day.
Brother’s Bond Straight Bourbon Whiskey Original Cask Strength
Average Price: $80
The newest release from Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley is an evolution of their brand. The whiskey in the bottle is a blend of three bourbons which create a four-grain bourbon. That blend was then bottled as-is.
Nose: This opens with a balance of old leather boots and freshly cracked black pepper next to a hint of walnut shell, vanilla pod, and orange zest.
Palate: The palate leans into what feels like star fruit as orange marmalade, salted butter, and fresh honey drip over rye bread crusts.
Finish: The end comes with a good dose of peppery spice and old leather as those walnuts and orange combine with a handful of dried fruit and a dusting of winter spices on the finish.
This is another easy-going sipper that also makes a mean cocktail. You can’t go wrong here.
Starlight Distillery Carl T. Huber’s Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Spanish Brandy Barrels Bourbon & Beyond
Average Price: $69
This whiskey starts off with a blend of Starlight’s three-grain and four-grain bourbon mash bills. Those whiskeys are batched and after four years of rest and then that whiskey is re-barreled into Spanish brandy barrels for a final rest before cask strength bottling.
Nose: The nose opens with a deep dried apricot vibe next to salted mango strips, soft dates, and a moment of grilled peach next to vanilla cream and spiced oak staves.
Palate: The apricot gets jammy on the palate as a leathery sense of orange tobacco dipped in plum sauce drives the taste toward a creamy brandy pudding with deep winter spice barks.
Finish: Those spices mingle in a warm apple cider as lush vanilla and sticky toffee pudding bring the finish to a warm and lush end.
This is just really good. It’s luscious and deep. It does lean more toward the fruity end of bourbon, but it balances very well with the darker wood notes. Drink it neat, on the rocks, or in your favorite cocktail.
Old Forester Single Barrel 100 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bourbon & Beyond
Average Price: $100
This is classic Old Forester bourbon. The key difference is that these barrel picks are proofed down to 100 proof before bottling, allowing more of that Louisville bourbon character to shine through.
Nose: This has a subtle nose of cherry blossom next to a woody maple syrup that almost felt like it had some of the bark in there next to a nice dose of winter spice.
Palate: The taste compliments the nose with light florals and plummy fruit next to a touch of cherry syrup-soaked cedar planks and a bushel of dark spices, cherry cola, and rich dark chocolate with a creamy underbelly.
Finish: The mid-palate had a slight dark chocolate-covered espresso bean feel to it that led to a finish that was slightly bitter and full of dark fruit and warm spice attached to black cherry tobacco.
If you like Black Forest Cake, you’re going to love this.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof Tennessee Whiskey Bourbon & Beyond
Average Price: $67
Where Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select is cut with soft limestone water to bring it down to proof, this is the whiskey straight from the barrel. These barrels are all hand-selected from the vast Jack Daniel’s rickhouses. What’s left from the angel’s share then goes right into the bottle. That means the ABVs and tasting notes for this bottle will vary ever so slightly depending on which bottle you snag.
Nose: The nose is full of rich vanilla, salted caramel, and toasted oak next to a rush of cherry-spiked spice layered into fruity dark tobacco, soft Christmas cakes full of nuts, and a hint of mulled wine.
Palate: The sip opens with lush vanilla, old oak, and rich wintry spices with a nice dose of bright red fruits and a texture that’s more velvet than liquid.
Finish: The end really holds onto that vibe as the mild winter spice, cellared oak, more rich vanilla, and almost maple syrup sweetness slowly fade across your senses, leaving you with chewy cherry tobacco stuffed into an old cedar box.
This is a fantastic neat pour. If you can find these, buy two.
Seelbach’s Private Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Toasted French Oak And Maple Syrup Barrels
Average Price: $79
This special release from online retailer Seelbach’s is a Kentucky bourbon that’s bottled down in Jacksonville, FLA. The four-and-a-half-year-old bourbon is sent down to Florida where it spends a humid and hot summer in toasted French oak and ex-bourbon maple syrup barrels before batching and bottling as-is.
Nose: Pecan waffles dripping in salted butter and fresh maple syrup drive the nose toward cinnamon rolls, cedar kindling, and apple butter-infused tobacco.
Palate: The palate is full of peach and orange with a hint of clove leading to sharp winter spices and dark chocolate with a touch of smudging sage and rich pipe tobacco.
Finish: Banana’s Foster and cigar boxes drive the finish toward apple cider spiked with allspice and cinnamon and a soft sense of nutty cinnamon doughnuts wrapped in old leather.
This was handed to me by a distiller I know and love with a “you have to try this” vibe, and it really popped. This is the bottle I’m still thinking about days later. It’s that good.
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $1,799
This is basically Pappy at ten years old but not “technically” Pappy (this is still a “Van Winkle” expression, which is the minor end of the line). Semantics aside, this is the same wheated juice as the rest that hits its prime at ten years old instead of 12 or 15 or 20. The main difference here — besides the younger age — is the proof. This goes into the bottle with only a touch of water, keeping it far closer to barrel-proof at 107 proof.
Nose: The nose opens with a sense of rum-raisin folded into a honey-nut creamy fudge cluster with pecans and walnuts and dusted with powdered sugar, sweet cinnamon, and orange zest.
Palate: The palate leans into salted caramel with vanilla cream next to stewed apples with maple doughnut frosting and a twinge of old dates soaked in black tea.
Finish: The end has a moment of black pepperiness before heading toward woody winter spices, old piles of orchard wood with a hint of black mold, and soft leaves of chewy tobacco laced with dark chocolate, salted caramel, and marzipan.
There’s always a bottle of Old Rip somewhere backstage at the Bourbon Stage and it’s always a delight.
This is how it all ended for us that fateful day backstage:
Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Japanese Mizunara Oak Casks
Average Price: $350
This new ultra-premium expression from Angel’s Envy is a 50/50 blend of their four and nine-year-old bourbons that are batched and then re-barreled into Japanese Mizunara casks. Two (!) years later, those casks were batched and bottled with a hint of water.
Nose: Nutty banana bread with a smear of salted butter leads to a bowl of fall orchard fruit — apples, pears, soft melons — before sharp winter spice barks and old leathery vanilla beans arrive on the nose.
Palate: Lush vanilla buttercream and cinnamon-spiked apple cider lead on the palate as black pepper just sneaks in next to floral honey and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans.
Finish: That nutty banana bread pops in again on the finish with plenty of vanilla buttercream, old leather boots, fall fruit orchards, and a light sense of smoldering smudging sage next to old tobacco.
Angel’s Envy has a massive presence at Bourbon & Beyond (their VIP tent is the tent to get into) and that means some amazing pours sneak in. This is one of those amazing pours. Drink it however you like to drink your whiskey.
Copper & Kings Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in American Apple Brandy Barrels
Average Price: $65
Copper & Kings have spent years perfecting their Kentucky brandy in Louisville. Now, they’re perfecting brandy-finished Kentucky bourbon. The whiskey in the bottle is a sourced blend of five-, 10-, and 15-year-old bourbons that once batched were re-barreled into Copper & Kings’ own apple brandy barrels. After a year of resting in those brandy barrels, the whiskey was barely touched with water and bottled as-is.
Nose: Cranberry sauce and caramel candies drive the nose toward old tobacco rolled up with cedar and sage and packed into an old cedar box next to hints of fall leaves and fallow apple orchards.
Palate: The palate opens with a lush and leathery dried apricot next to a moment of grapefruit pith, more cranberry sauce, and plenty of winter spice before honey and chocolate arrive with a dark cherry fruit leatheriness.
Finish: Toffee-dipped tart apples lead to warm and spiced apple cider on the finish with a nice sense of dark chocolate-covered caramels and soft vanilla cream.
This is an excellent sipper. It’s also one that I can’t wait to go back to in a more controlled setting to really dive into what’s in that profile.
Blackened X Rabbit Hole A Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys Distilled in Tennessee & Kentucky Finished in Calvados Casks Cask Strength
Average Price: $149
This brand-new collaboration between Metallica’s Blackened and Rabbit Hole is masterful whiskey. The blend is a 13-year-old Tennessee high-rye bourbon batched with Rabbit Hole Heigold High-Rye Double Malt Bourbon (with malted rye and malted barley). Once batched, the whiskey was re-barreled into Calvados casks (an apple brandy) for a final rest before 100% as-is bottling.
Nose: There’s a nice sense of chili pepper warmth on the nose with a hint of macadamia cookie nuttiness, honey Graham Crackers, light summer florals, and a whisper of darkly stewed apple.
Palate: Cinnamon-infused pear brandy sparks on the palate with a sense of clover honey, walnut loaf, and this thin line of smoked applewood with a good sense of barrel warmth.
Finish: The honey and walnut drive the finish toward a soft warmth that leaves the gentlest of numbness on the senses.
This just gets better with each tasting. If you’re a Metallica fan, then this is a must-have. Hell, if you’re a good bourbon fan, this is a must-have.
Russell’s Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Single Barrel Bourbon & Beyond
Average Price: $84
Jimmy and Eddie Russell — Wild Turkey’s Master Distillers — hand-select these barrels from their vast warehouses for just the right bourbon flavor. The bourbon is bottled with a touch of water added to highlight the beauty of Wild Turkey’s multi-generational whiskey-making prowess.
Nose: You’re met with creamy depths of vanilla next to pound cake, spicy tobacco, sweet oak, and a clear hit of orange oil.
Palate: That vanilla really amps up as hints of rose water-forward marzipan lead towards cedar, more vanilla, and a dash of Christmas spices.
Finish: On the finish, a really deep dark chocolate smoothness arrives with a more nutty almond that’s reminiscent of an Almond Joy straight from a special candy shop.
These never miss. Buy a case.
Rabbit Hole Heigold Singel Barrel Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: Distillery Only
This is a four-year-old single-barrel version of Rabbit Hole’s beloved Heigold expression. That’s the brand’s double malt (malted rye and malted barley) that has a high-rye bourbon mash bill (70/25/5 corn/malted rye/malted barley).
Nose: The nose is lush with deep layers of maple syrup over pecan waffles with a good hit of salted butter (really good butter) next to dark chocolate chips, old boot leather, smudging sage that’s just smoldering, and a fleeting sense of old rickhouses on a crisp fall day.
Palate: The palate follows the nose’s path with caramelized pecans finished with floral honey and dusted with candied orange peels, ground pear chips, and very dark chocolate with a pinch of salt and apple blossom before the sharp and woody winter spice kicks in.
Finish: The end leans into the dryness of the winter spice mix before silky marzipan and maple syrup creamed with butter create a luscious finish that slowly fades from warm to comforting.
This is another single-barrel product that just doesn’t miss. I’d buy two and sip at them until 2024 dawns.
Mary Dowling Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Tequila Barrels
Average Price: $74
This brand-new whiskey celebrates Mary Dowling, who helped create and then save the whiskey industry in Kentucky back in the early 20th century. The whiskey in the bottle is a three-year-old bourbon from Rabbit Hole. Those barrels are batched and the whiskey is rested again, this time in reposado tequila barrels, until just right.
Nose: Floral honey and soft black licorice lean toward fresh and real root beer on the nose with a light moment of white pepper and roasted agave that’s accented by bold winter spice barks and berries with a whisper of orange rind.
Palate: That orange drives the bright palate toward a moment of smoked winter spices (smoldering barks if you will) before creamy eggnog and vanilla buttercream drive the palate back toward warming winter spice and a fleeting note of pepper.
Finish: That pepper builds towards sharp black peppercorns on the finish with sharp winter spice, a hint of buttermilk, and softly spoken notes of roasted agave attached to candied orange and vanilla paste.
This is a hell of a unique pour. If you’re looking to bridge the world of aged tequila with soft bourbon, this is for you. It also makes a killer cocktail.
Three Chord “Goodbye June” A Blend of Straight & Cherry Bounce Barrel-Finished Bourbon Whiskeys
Average Price: $69
This new limited edition “Backstage” expression from Three Chors is a blend of four bourbons. One Tennessee bourbon is blended with two Indiana bourbons and one Kentucky bourbon — all five years old. One of the Indiana bourbons was finished in cherry bounce barrels to add a little extra depth to the final product for the band, Goodbye Jane.
Nose: The nose opens with a clear sense of Cherry Dr. Pepper with plenty of spice, vanilla, and sasparilla that leads to soft cedar and roasting sage next to hints of wicker wrapped with old leather and tobacco.
Palate: The cherry really pops on the palate with a rich Black Forest cake vibe giving way to cherry cola, nutty mulled wine, and a sharp sense of winter spices with dried orange and peach sneaking in.
Finish: The end is all cherry all day with spiced cherry syrup leading to cherry cobbler with a tart yet buttery edge, plenty of wet brown sugar, and tons of winter spice to make things nice.
This is a cherry bomb but a damn good one. I’d make old fashioneds all day with this.
Uncle Nearest Master Blend Edition Single Barrel Whiskey
Average Price: $150
While Uncle Nearest is distilling their own juice these days, this is still the work of Master Blender Victoria Eady Butler with carefully sourced Tennessee whiskey barrels. In this case, Eady Bulter hand-selected the best-of-the-best from their inventory to create the perfect whiskey to exemplify the brand and Tennessee whiskey traditions.
Nose: The nose leans into sticky toffee pudding with a sense of black licorice that’s almost absinth adjacent as soft caramel and winter spice round things out.
Palate: Gingerbread cookies and stewed pears mingle with sharp chili spice, red peppercorns, and a hint more of that dark licorice on the palate with this mild sense of creamy vanilla oils and maybe some maple syrup fresh from the tap.
Finish: The pepperiness really drives the finish toward a creamy vanilla cake end with a nice balance of woody winter spices and a hint of soft leather.
If you see an Uncle Nearest single barrel pick, you should buy two. It’s a great all-around whiskey that works as wonderfully over some rocks as it does in a whiskey-forward cocktail.
Starlight Distillery Single Barrel Huber’s Cigar Batch Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Brazilian Amburana Barrels
Average Price: $79
This bourbon from craft distiller Starlight Distillery — part of the Huber Farm and Winery in Southern Indiana — is all about that finish. The four and five-year-old bourbon whiskey is re-loaded into Brazilian Amburana barrels and left to rest until just right. Finally, the best barrels are batched and then bottled completely as-is.
Nose: There’s a clear nuttiness on the nose that mixes Brazil nuts with creamy almond and pecan waffles next to soft leather and a mild sense of white pepper and chili powder.
Palate: The palate has a creaminess that’s kind of like mochi or chai mocha latte with a tobacco spiciness, cedar bark, and more of that creamy nuttiness with a hint of pear and maybe some more white pepper.
Finish: The end leans into the white pepper and mochi with a rush of apple cider and clove tobacco packed into a cedar box with a hint of resin and macadamia nut dipped in dark chocolate sauce.
This is the most unique bourbon on the list. It’s an acquired taste, sure. But it’s a taste that you should acquire along your bourbon journey. In short, this is the bourbon you pour when you want something completely different.
Old Forester The 117 Series Bottled in Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $59
This new edition of the much sought-after The 117 Series is a throwback to old-school bottled-in-bond bottlings. The whiskey in the bottle was distilled in Louisville back in the spring of 2014 and filled into new oak in the same distilling season — as per bottled-in-bond law. That whiskey spent nine years mellowing before select barrels were chosen, batched, and proofed down with local water.
The focus was to take a one-time look at Old Forester bourbon that shines the brightest when proofed to bottled-in-bond levels.
Nose: Blackberry hand pies iced in powdered sugar dance with a sense of vanilla buttercream, nutmeg-heavy eggnog, apricot brandy-infused marzipan, and a slight sense of an old cellar floor deep in the background.
Palate: The palate leans toward stewed pear and rich marmalade with a dark sense of cherry fruit leather, old dates, and figs before a rush of winter spice barks dipped in caramelized apple cider leads to sticky spearmint syrup-soaked tobacco.
Finish: That vanilla buttercream creates a luscious end with vibrant notes of stewed apricot, more marmalade, blackberry pie, and this whisper of mint tea cut with piney honey.
Goddamn, this is good bourbon. This is another favorite. Drink it slow and enjoy the ride.
Pursuit United Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished with Toasted American and French Oak
Average Price: $75
The 2023 release from the Bourbon Pursuit team is a blend of four to six-year-old bourbons. The three bourbons involved are a Finger Lakes whiskey (70/20/10 corn/rye/malted barley), an MGP bourbon (60/36/4 corn/rye/malted barley), and an undisclosed Tennessee whiskey (80/10/10 corn/rye/malted barley). Those whiskeys were finished in both American and French toasted oak barrels before batching and bottling with a touch of Kentucky water.
Nose: Dark chocolate nut clusters (pecan and walnut heavy) mix with burnt orange, a hint of mulled wine, and rum-raising with an echo of fresh cedar on the nose.
Palate: The palate has a sense of Nutella over scones with a Cherry Coke on the side while singed cedar and cherry bark mingle with clove-studded oranges and a hint of freshly cracked black pepper.
Finish: The end has a nice spicy warmth and a touch more of that singed wood next to spicy cherry tobacco.
This is just good. It’s lovingly made, great neat, makes a killer cocktail, and just rocks. Get some while you still can!