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Bourbons We Love That Aren’t Affiliated With Big Distilleries

Bourbon is a big business. And just like many big businesses, the scene has come to be dominated by a handful of giant companies. These include the likes of Sazerac (makers of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Blanton’s, George T. Stagg, Pappy, and many more), Heaven Hill (makers of Larceny, Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, Henry McKenna, and others), Beam Suntory (makers of Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Bookers, Maker’s Mark, and more), Campari Group (makers of Wild Turkey)… the list of titans goes on, but not too much further. And while many of the offerings are rightfully beloved, it’s clear that the industry is top-heavy.

Sometimes you have to give a little shine to the smaller guys. The upstarts. The underdogs.

This isn’t a chore, by any means. Some of the best bottles out there are currently coming from the independent whiskey brands. Today, we’re highlighting 14 of our favorites in the bourbon world. Check them all out below if you’re willing to take a break from your go-to bottle of Old Forester 100, Old Grand-Dad, or Four Roses Small Batch.

Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon

Laws

ABV: 47.5%

Average Price: $46.99

The Story:

Denver’s Laws Whiskey House is made from four different grains, including wheat, barley, rye, and, of course, corn. It’s aged for three years in new, 53-gallon, charred, American oak casks. The distillers believe that the high elevation helps with the whiskey’s maturation and overall flavor.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll be met with hints of candied orange peels, charred oak, sweet vanilla, and just a hint of peppery spice. The palate is filled with dried orange peels, creamy caramel, spicy cinnamon, and sweet cream. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a final flourish of cracked black pepper.

Bottom Line:

This is a highly complex bourbon that should appeal to even the most ardent Kentucky bourbon fans and should be enjoyed slowly in a rocks glass, with a single ice cube.

Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond

Wilderness Trail

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $50

The Story:

Released in April 2019, this was the third whiskey ever released by Wilderness Trail. It’s a small-batch bourbon made from between 10 to 12 barrels and is made with corn, barley, and rye (instead of wheat). The result is a more complex, spicier bourbon.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose are hints of caramel apples, molasses, and cooking spices. The sip is filled with flavors of charred oak, spicy cinnamon, sweet vanilla, and a lingering nutty sweetness. The finish is long, dry, and ends with a final hint of subtle white pepper spice.

Bottom Line:

This is a reasonably new bourbon, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t stand up against some of its bottled in bond rivals.

Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon

Garrison Brothers

ABV: 66.9%

Average Price: $214.99

The Story:

This award-winning whiskey prides itself on being a true Texas classic. It’s bold, uncut, unfiltered, and very high in alcohol. Specifically chosen barrels are set aside and take on extra maturation to make this highly-coveted turbo-charged bourbon.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll be treated to hints of nutty sweetness, espresso, rich vanilla, and clover honey. The first sip yields dried fruits, rich brown sugar, spicy cinnamon, toasted marshmallows, and butterscotch. The finish is long, very warming, and ends with an extra hit of milk chocolate and vanilla sweetness.

Bottom Line:

This is a big, bold bourbon. It should be enjoyed with a solitary ice cube and be allowed to open up while it’s sipped slowly, in order to allow you to enjoy all of the various flavors.

Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon

Hillrock Estate

ABV: 46.3%

Average Price: $89.99

The Story:

This is the first-ever American whiskey to be aged using the Solera maturation method. This involves a pyramid of barrels in which lower-level whiskey is removed and more whiskey is added to the top layer. The result is a highly complex, nuanced liquid that is unlike any other bourbon on the market.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of dried cherries, sweet vanilla, and rich sherry. On the palate, you’ll find flavors of raisins, caramelized sugar, clover honey, toasted oak, and more Oloroso sherry. The finish is medium in length, subtle in heat, and ends with a nice, charred oak finish.

Bottom Line:

This complex, delicate bourbon was painstakingly crafted and should be given the respect it deserves. Sip it slowly and enjoy all the various flavors.

Kings County Peated Bourbon

Kings County

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $38.49

The Story:

When drinkers think of peat, they usually think about Scotch. Islay whiskies are known for their peated single malts. Kings County Peated Bourbon is for fans of those expressions as well as lovers of American whiskey. It was made using peat-smoked malted barley. The result is a sweet, smoky bourbon that unites drinkers on both sides of the pond.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of salted caramel, sweet vanilla, and a nice kiss of peat smoke. The palate is filled with brown sugar, creamy chocolate, rich vanilla, and more smoke. The finish is long, lingering, and ends with a final hint of woodsmoke.

Bottom Line:

When it comes to bourbon, there is no better expression for fans of smoky, peaty Scotch whisky. This should be enjoyed like a well-made Scotch, sipped from a Glencairn glass.

Leopold Bros. Bottled in Bond

Leopold Bros.

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $60.99

The Story:

One of Leopold Bros. newest expressions, its unfiltered Bottled in Bond Straight Bourbon, is a high corn whiskey that also has a mash bill that contains malted barley and rye. It’s pot distilled and matured for five years in new, charred American oak barrels.

Tasting Notes:

The aromas that greet your nose are filled with sweet cereal notes as well as caramel apples and sweet vanilla. The palate is loaded up with sticky toffee pudding, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a subtle hint of peppery spice. The finish is long, warm, and ends with a final kick of pepper.

Bottom Line:

This high barley bourbon is perfect for fans of unpeated Scotch whisky. In fact, it might be one of the best gateway bourbons for Highland Scotch fans.

Cedar Ridge Bottled in Bond

Cedar Ridge

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $49.99

The Story:

This high corn bourbon is made at Cedar Ridge, a farm-to-glass distillery in Iowa. This 100-proof whiskey is matured for four years in bonded warehouses. It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s bringing attention to a state not normally associated with whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

Released to celebrate the distillery’s 10th anniversary, this bottled in bond bourbon has a nose of charred oak, sweet vanilla bean, and rich almonds. The palate is full of creamy caramel, nutty sweetness, spicy cinnamon, and toasted marshmallows. The finish is long, full of pleasing heat, and ends with a final hint of sweet, spicy cinnamon.

Bottom Line:

If you’re an Old Grand-Dad BIB drinker or lover of one of the other well-known brands, this is the perfect change of pace. It’s so good, you might never go back.

Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon

Balcones

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $29.99

The Story:

Over the past few years, Texas has changed from the wild west of whiskey to the new frontier. Balcones has led the way with offerings like its Texas Pot Still Bourbon. It’s made from blue corn, wheat, rye, and barley, before aging for two years in charred, American oak barrels.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of butter cookies, charred oak, caramel apples, and cinnamon. The palate is bursting with rich almonds, sweet honey, brown sugar, and leather. The finish is long, warm, and ends with a final hint of rich caramel.

Bottom Line:

If you’re taking a break from the larger brands, you can’t do much better than Balcones. We suggest trying all of this Texas brand’s lineup.

Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon

Frey Ranch

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $37.99

The Story:

The most unique thing about Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon is that all four grains (non-GMO corn, winter cereal rye, winter wheat, and two-row barley) are farmed and sourced from the on-site farm. This truly farm-to-bottle bourbon is born on the 2,000-acre farm in Nevada. It’s bold, aged for five years and non-chill filtered.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is filled with hints of candied orange peels, creamy vanilla, and brown butter. The palate is well-rounded with buttery vanilla cookies, sweet corn, cracked black pepper, and dried cherries. The finish is medium in length, warming, and ends with a final peppery flourish.

Bottom Line:

To truly celebrate this Nevada-born whiskey, it should be paired with a nice game of cards or a socially distant game of solitaire.

Breckenridge Bourbon

Breckenridge

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $44.99

The Story:

This award-winning whiskey hails from Colorado, not a place commonly associated with bourbon (but no slacker in the whiskey world). This 86-proof blended bourbon has a mash bill of 56% corn, 38% rye, and 6% unmalted barley. While there’s no proof that it changes the flavor at all, the brand touts the water they use as being from “pure snowmelt” from the Rocky Mountains.

A pretty idea, at the very least.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll be treated to espresso, charred oak, and brown sugar. The first sip is filled with creamy vanilla, peppery rye, sticky toffee, and sweet corn. The finish is long, spicy, and ends with a final hit of toasted oak.

Bottom Line:

There’s no better bourbon to enjoy after a long day spent outside skiing or, at the very least, shoveling the snow in your driveway.

FEW Bourbon

FEW

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $47.99

The Story:

While FEW could have simply made a classic bourbon and called it a day. The Illinois-based distillery wanted to create something truly unique. That’s why forgoing traditional methods, it added a special, Saison yeast into the recipe.

This is a true game-changer.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find aromas of nutmeg, cinnamon, charred oak, and sweet vanilla beans. The palate is a symphony of buttery caramel, sweet cream, spicy cinnamon, and more oak. The finish is long, medium in heat, and ends with more caramelized sugar.

Bottom Line:

Since it was made using beer yeast, we suggest pairing this extraordinary whiskey with a pint of peppery, yeasty Saison beer.

Berkshire Bourbon

Berkshire

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $46.99

The Story:

Berkshire Mountain Distillers of Massachusetts is the first legal distillery in the area since prohibition. Its Berkshire Bourbon is made from locally sourced corn and aged in new, charred American oak barrels.

Tasting Notes:

A proper nosing will reveal hints of sweet corn, charred sugar, rich almonds, and just a touch of cinnamon. On the palate, drinkers are treated to the flavors of caramel apples, candied orange peels, butter cookies, and rich caramel. The finish is lingering, warm, and ends with a final kiss of spice.

Bottom Line:

This is a special whiskey. It’s just as well suited for slow sipping as it is mixing into your favorite whiskey-based cocktails.

Koval Single Barrel Bourbon

Koval

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $39.99

The Story:

This small-batch, single barrel bourbon is made from a unique mash bill of 51% corn and 49% millet. It’s aged in new, heavily charred American oak barrels sourced from nearby Minnesota.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find subtle charred oak, creamy vanilla, and spicy cinnamon. The first sip yields hints of treacle, more toasted oak, rich caramel, and a nice kick of peppery spice. The finish is medium in length, warming, and ends with a final crescendo of sweet cinnamon.

Bottom Line:

Find a nice easy chair or recliner, pour yourself a glass, and forget about all the strangeness that’s already seeped into 2021.

Woodinville Bourbon

Woodinville

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $37.99

The Story:

This award-winning whiskey brand took our top spot in 2020 for “best bourbons.” That’s overall — including the big brands.

The company prides itself on being a small-batch bourbon. All of the corn, rye, and malted barley are grown at Omlin Family Farm in nearby Quincy, Washington. The whiskey is distilled and barreled at the Woodinville Distillery before being shipped over the Cascade Mountains to be matured in the brand’s barrel houses where the extreme weather conditions impact the whiskey’s flavor profile.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of caramelized sugar, cinnamon, and toasted oak. The palate is filled with hints of creamy vanilla, buttery caramel, bitter, dark chocolate, and cooking spices. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a final hint of caramel.

Bottom Line:

This is one of the most reasonably priced bourbons on the list. Let’s not let the folks at Woodinville know that they could charge way more for this whiskey just yet.

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