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Our Staff Raves About Their Favorite Bourbons For Fall 2019

The quest for a great bourbon is an unending journey. There are well over 1,500 craft distilleries operating around America with 100 each in Washington, New York, and California. And just wait until you get to Kentucky and Tennessee — America’s de facto distillery home bases.

We dig the endless selection. The search is a hell of a lot of fun, after all. But as a result, we drink a lot of bourbon.

On the first day of autumn, we’re hyped to highlight some new-ish or lesser-known bourbon expressions to help you along on your own journey. These picks could be a little more esoteric, maybe a touch harder to find, or they might just be stone-cold favs that we’ve been meaning to stan for. Either way, let them inspire you the next time you hit the liquor store.

Because it’s bourbon season — time to get exploring.

Zach Johnston, Uproxx Writer-at-Large

LARCENY BOURBON

What To Talk About:

Larceny Bourbon is the next generation of Heaven Hill’s Old Fitzgerald line. The wheated bourbon is bottled from select barrels from the Pappy rickhouse. The whiskey is blended from six to 12-year-old barrels and bottled at a high proof of 92. The best part is the price. Expect to pay around $25 for a bottle.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a real sense of the aging on the opening of the sip. Oaky spice leads to a banana and brown sugar essence — sort of like boozy banana bread. Classic bourbon notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel come into play and lead towards a mildly wheat-spicy finish that stays mellow. – Zach Johnston

HENRY MCKENNA SINGLE BARREL

What To Talk About:

This is a big bourbon. The bottling comes from a single, ten-year-old barrel from the Heaven Hill’s barreling program. This one has a kick, clocking in at 50 percent ABV or 100 proof. And even though the expression was aged for a decade and comes from a single barrel, you can still score a bottle for around $40.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear sense of oak and alcohol on the opening of this sip. Spicy notes come into play alongside fresh mint and vanilla crackers. Rich toffee sits next to an almost cedar woodiness that leads to a rye-spice flourish with plenty of oaky vanilla and bourbon caramel present with a hint of citrus.

This is the perfect bourbon for an old fashioned. – Zach Johnston

PEERLESS BOURBON

What To Talk About:

Peerless has already crushed the rye game and now they have a bourbon that’s worth every penny of it’s $75 per bottle price tag. The sweet mash spirit is aged for four years and then bottled at a walloping 107 proof or 53.5 percent ABV.

Tasting Notes:

This is a classic bourbon that’ll need a small drop of water to open it up. There are clear notes of bourbon vanilla alongside oaky spice and caramel sweetness. Hints of bright cherries and whispers of citrus dance in the background as the warmth of the alcohol lead towards a dry and mildly sweet finish. – Zach Johnston

BUFFALO TRACE WILLIAM LAURIE WELLER

What To Talk About:

This is another powerhouse special-release bourbon. This year’s release went in the barrels back in 2007 and is hitting shelves right now. The bourbon is cut with wheat in the mash bill and is bottled at barrel proof, which clocks in around 132 proof or 66 percent ABV. Expect to pay around $25 for a bottle.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a lot going on here. The sip opens with a more classic note of oak and vanilla before veering off into cocoa, cedar, and cherry. There’s a fatty almond nature that helps counterpoint the wheat-forward spiciness. The finish is mildly sweet and warming on the tongue. – Zach Johnston

GARRISON BROTHERS BALMORHEA

What To Talk About:

Bourbon needs to be aged in new American oak barrels. Garrison’s Balmorhea doubles down on that by aging their bourbon for four years in new oak and then aging it another year in a second set of new oak barrels. This adds a depth to the Texas spirit that helps it stand out from the pack.

Though be warned, this is a spendy bottle at around $150.

Tasting Notes:

Of course, oak is a prominent note on this one. There’s a real sense of Texas pecans, cinnamon rolls with icing, and citrusy Amaretto notes. Hints of chocolate come into play next to more standard nuances of oaky spice and caramel. – Zach Johnston

BALCONES TEXAS BLUE CORN BOURBON

What To Talk About:

This remains one of the more interesting expressions of bourbon on the market today. The locally grown Texas blue corn for this bourbon’s mash bill is a real treat, adding new horizon for bourbon in general. This bottle is only released once a year, so you may have to hunt this one down.

Still, at around $70 per bottle, it’ll be worth a little sleuthing.

Tasting Notes:

Corn comes through with a sweetness that leans into bourbon caramel notes. There’s a real sense of the wood at play alongside hints of smoke, vanilla cream, burnt sugar, and black tea. Spiciness warms up the end as the finish brings back those blue corn notes. – Zach Johnston

FISTFUL OF BOURBON

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👊🏻 Willam Grant and Sons – Fistful of Bourbon – Blends Five Straight Bourbon Whiskies 45% ABV 🇺🇸 (🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿) Touted as “Fistful of Bourbon: Scotland’s American Whiskey Gamble” by the dailybeast.com (suggested reading for a good read about this blend). All over the bottle, WG&S proudly proclaims to be a blend of no name sources. Blended whiskey deservedly got a bad reputation in USA, because USA law allows blenders to not tell and blend in up to 80% grain-neutral-spirit (i.e. vodka). I’m all in to see if the good blenders can overcome the sins of the bad and ugly blenders since the release of this whiskey began in Texas! 👊🏻 My wife tells me to “Drink Less, Drink Better,” and, at suggested retail of US$25 for a 750ml bottle, I wondered if this is “Better”. Nonetheless, I succumbed to the marketing, because my dad, in his time, took me too each new Clint Eastwood movie — and, this whisky was named akin to the first movie in the man-with-no-name’s spaghetti-western trilogy. 💵 A nearly transparent bourbon; the two colors of the bourbon shown in the bottle and the glass are real — the bourbon takes on the color behind it because it lacks its own. Depth of color is an indication of the charring of the new-oak casks used in aging. This is minimum char yielding a calm, none-intense bourbon with subtle flavors. It pleasantly has the familiar bourbon notes of cherry, vanilla and oak with wee spices. It may be good for those moving into bourbon from vodka, or for a wedding reception where it’s name is a talking point amongst no-name strangers. For those who like intensely flavorful bourbon it will not advance the lowly status of blends. Needs a sequel — “A Few Bourbons More”! 🥃 Cheers! 🥃 #whisky #whiskey #williamgrant #williamgrantandsons #fistfulofbourbon #afewbourbonsmore #bourbon #straightbourbon #blendedbourbon #bourbonlife #bourbonaged #kentuckybourbon #kentuckybourbontrail 🎯 #whiskytarget #bottlekillers ☠️

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What To Talk About:

Proving that you don’t need a historically known name to produce great bourbon, Fistful of Bourbon was released in 2018. The first American whiskey created by William Grant & Sons, this unique expression is made from five different straight American bourbons.

If you didn’t guess it already the “Fistful” is a reference to the five “fingers” of bourbon in this expression (and the classic Spaghetti Western “Fistful of Dollars.” Bourbon purists won’t like it because the different bourbons don’t all come from Kentucky. Instead, the whiskeys were sourced from New York, Tennessee, Indiana, and Kentucky, respectively.

Tasting Notes:

A very well-balanced bourbon, the juice has pleasurable sweet corn and spicy rye undercurrents with hints of tree nuts, toffee, caramel, and toasted oak on the palate. This 90-proof expression is perfect for mixing into your favorite cocktails like the old fashioned and mint julep or slow sipping on a back porch as you watch the sunset. – Christopher Osburn

REDWOOD EMPIRE PIPE DREAM BOURBON

What To Talk About:

Since it opened in 2017, California’s Redwood Empire Whiskey has been on a campaign to not just make great whiskey, but also make the world aware of the famous trees it’s named for. They care so much about the natural beauty that surrounds them that if you buy a bottle of whiskey, the distillery will actually plant a tree.

So far, over 10,000 trees have already been planted. That’s a cause worth supporting.

Tasting Notes:

Named for a massive Redwood tree called “Pipe Dream” which stands over 367 feet tall (making it the 14th tallest tree in the world), this bourbon was made using barrels between four and twelve years old. The result is an easy to sip, complex bourbon with hints of honey, sweet cream, corn, roasted pecans, and charred oak. – Christopher Osburn

CATHEAD OLD SOUL BOURBON

What To Talk About:

For many states, prohibition ended in 1933 when the 21st Amendment was officially passed. But not every state was aboard the booze train right away. In fact, Mississippi didn’t end its prohibition until 1966, making it the last state in the union to do so. To say the state is a little behind the rest of the alcohol world is a bit of an understatement. But there are still a handful of distilleries making high-quality spirits. This includes Cathead. Known for its vodkas and gins, the brand recently released its first bourbon, Old Soul.

Tasting Notes:

This high-rye bourbon was made by blending whiskeys from Indiana and Mississippi. The result is an unconventional bourbon with hints of dried fruits, caramel, toasted oak, a strong kick of vanilla. The finish has a pleasurable hit of spice to put you on notice that this sip isn’t all about smoothness. – Christopher Osburn

HEAVEN’S DOOR TENNESSEE BOURBON

What To Talk About: This is Bob Dylan’s brand and that raises a lot of red flags for bourbon aficionados and writers. So often in the spirits world, a celebrity saying “I have an alcohol company” means that there’s a celebrity markup on a bottle that was produced at a major distiller.

Dylan’s expressions do seem to be products of other distilleries (his brand is only four years old) — most notably George Dickel — but this one has confounded internet sleuths and bourbon reviewers. Regardless, in a sea of celebrity cash grabs, this bottle actually feels like a great value in the $50 range.

Tasting Notes:

I actually led a tasting that included this bottle recently and it proved the perfect intro for beginners who wanted to level up their bourbon knowledge.

The nose has clearly recognizable stone fruit, vanilla, and honey notes. The honey is more prominent than the brown sugar, which is certainly something that anyone putting in a little effort will pick up. On the palate, it’s got some baking spices and oakiness, while the stone fruit virtually disappears. The finish is simple and straightforward — brown sugar, oak, and corn. It finishes quick and without much bite, which is quite nice for people used to Maker’s Mark or a similar bottle. — Steve Bramucci

2019 FOUR ROSES LIMITED EDITION SMALL BATCH

Steve Bramucci

What To Talk About:

The yearly Four Roses Small Batch launch is as close to an “event release” as you’re going to find in the world of bourbon. These launches win awards, sell out in a hurry, and are added to collections around the globe. There are no re-releases either — this ain’t Yeezy. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

This year’s expression just came out on Saturday and already has Gear Patrol calling it the bourbon of the year. It’s certainly a fascinating dram and one that will be in that conversation, which Master Distiller Brent Elliot achieved by blending 21, 15, 15, and 11-year expressions. It should be mentioned, this comes in at a whopping 112.6 proof. That’s something you’re going to notice, even as a novice.

As for price, the MSRP is around $150 — which is not insignificant but is also very reasonable for a bottle you’ll be talking about every single time you take a sip.

Tasting Notes:

You need to “double nose” this because the alcohol content is high and you want your senses to adjust. After that, look for browned-butter-bundt cake and everything that implies (buttercream, baking spices, toasted vanilla). There’s also a certain distant note of raspberries or, more specifically, raspberry cream.

On the palate, this is complex and punchy at once. You get the booziness of it all, but there’s no chemical-y ethanol bite, it’s far smoother than that. There’s the continuation of the fresh creamed fruit… even a hint of fresh plum perhaps. Plus baking spices and more buttery notes. But above all things, it’s the finish that makes this bottle. There is a strong “hug” — pure warmth, distilled. It’s not even the slightest bit unpleasant. Just a deeply enjoyable piece of punctuation at the end of this extraordinary dram.

— Steve Bramucci

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