Super expensive bourbon like this is an odd category. The bourbon hype machine is real and inflates prices to points of pure absurdity. Where ultra rare and old Scotch whisky reaches these price points thanks to spending three or four decades in tiny warehouses, bourbon often reaches these price points because demand outsizes supply and media/awards-circuit love create mass hysteria.
Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill, in particular, have benefitted from this level of hype. A bottle of Pappy 15, for instance, has an MSRP (suggested retail price) of $119. That bottle is selling for $3,000 on Drizly right now. Arguably, there are bottles of $100 bourbon that still actually cost $100 that are just as good as, if not better, than Pappy 15.
The point of all of this is to say that the below bottles are, yes, very very expensive. They’re also all very good, unique, and special. Are they $1000 special? That’s on you to decide. If you do want to drop a house payment on one of these bottles, click on the price links!
George T. Stagg Bourbon
Average Price: $550 ($99 MSRP)
This juice is distilled from Kentucky corn, Minnesota rye, and a touch of malted barley from North Dakota. The whiskey then spent 15 years and four months in oak in three different warehouses on three different floors at Buffalo Trace’s old campus. Over that time, 59 percent of the whiskey is lost to the angels.
Spicy cinnamon and oakiness dominate on the nose. The sip leans into the oak with a smoky edge as the spice really warms your senses. This is an eye-opener of a sip with an underbelly of rich and creamy vanilla to mellow the dram out. A little water reveals light cherry and a note of bitterness. The sip lingers. The fade is warming, soft, and long.
This is a bold bourbon. Too bold, for this whiskey writer. That doesn’t mean I don’t get why people love this dram. It’s for the whiskey drinkers who need that punch in the face to feel something.
Pour it over a couple of deep-frozen rocks for the best experience.
Old Rip Van Winkle 10
Average Price: $600 ($69.99 MSRP)
This is basically Pappy at ten years old but not “technically” Pappy. Semantics aside, this is the same juice as the 15, 20, and 23-yo expressions. The main difference here is the age, of course, and the proof. This goes into the bottle with only a touch of limestone water, keeping it close to barrel proof.
This expression has those spicy and nutty apple pie filling notes with a hint of vanilla and oak that are subtly sweet. There’s a bit of honey on the tongue that counters a mild peppery spice with more caramel, vanilla, apples, and dark spices. There’s a warmth that’s welcoming and holds as the sip fades back, replaying those flavor notes.
If you’re a collector, then this is your entry point bottle into the Pappy line. The juice is great. But what you’re really paying for here is an investment for your vault.
W.L. Weller Single Barrel
Average Price: $750 ($49.99 MSRP)
This bottle from the famed wheated bourbon Weller line is a look into the beauty of that brand. The single barrels are hand-picked from the Buffalo Trace warehouses for their deep flavor and texture. Then that soft Kentucky limestone water is added to help make this an incredibly accessible sip of whiskey.
You’re drawn in with this mix of ripe cherry and dark chocolate with an almost brandied center next to a hint of booze-soaked mint leaves. A mild note of discarded vanilla husks pops up that leads towards a dark chocolate thin mint with a touch of cappuccino dusted with cinnamon. The end is long and warming as it leans into the spice.
This is the sort of expression you only really spend this much money on if you’re looking to complete your Weller collection. It’s a damn fine wheated bourbon, for sure, but really functions mostly as a collectible now.
William Larue Weller
Average Price: $800 ($99 MSRP)
This wheated whiskey from 2008 eschews the more common rye and adds in North Dakota wheat. The juice is then barreled and stored in two warehouses where 73 percent of the whiskey is lost to the air and elements. The juice is then bottled untouched and unfiltered.
There’s soft bourbon vanilla that leads towards almond-encrusted toffees inside a pine box with a dark chocolate bonbon hidden somewhere inside all that nutty toffee. The sip leans into a cherry and dark chocolate bespeckled ice cream with a solid vanilla bean base and a dusting of crushed-up walnuts and maybe even peanut. The end is slightly dry and leans more towards cedar and straw with spicy cherry tobacco buzz.
This is one of those bourbons that’d be at the top of every single $100 bourbon list. It really is just a wonderful dram that someone how pulls off being both one of the tastiest and easiest-drinking bourbons while also being one of the highest proof whiskeys on the shelf.
John E. Fitzgerald Very Special 20 Year Old
Average Price: $800 (half bottle, $300 MSRP)
This Heaven Hill release is an orphan barrel from Old Fitzgerald’s nearly extinct stocks. The juice is a blend of 12 barrels (from the old Stitzel-Weller distillery) that Heaven Hill inherited when they bought Old Fitz. They aged the whiskey for 20 years, vatted the barrels, cut the juice down to proof, and then bottled it in a unique decanter. Only 3,000 bottles were made.
There’s an almost sherry vibe to the sip, with stewed plums swimming in dark holiday spices next to a slight salted caramel with a creamy vanilla base. The taste leans into the dried fruit and eggnog spices as a touch of bitter dark chocolate arrives with a hint of almost smoked plums nestled in cedar boxes full of brittle, dried tobacco. The end is long yet very silky with a mild dry nuttiness and a slight return to the stewed plums and savory caramel.
If you’re lucky enough to come across this bottle, then you’re in for a treat. This is a real gem and a real bourbon rarity. There aren’t going to be any more of these.
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12
Average Price: $840 ($79.99 MSRP)
This is an interesting wheated bourbon. The “Lot B” moniker on the label denotes that these barrels hit their mark at 12 years and weren’t going to hit the right taste marks for the 15, 20, and 23-year-old expressions. So instead of aging further, they were cut with that soft Kentucky limestone water to bring them down to a manageable 90.4 proof, then bottled.
There’s an orchard fruit sweetness on the nose not unlike a spiced apple pie filling, laden with brown sugar. The palate builds on that by adding in walnuts, dried fruits, and a hint of salted caramel by way of vanilla pudding. The end is medium-length with a hint of oak next to the spices, fruit, and sweet vanilla.
This is another bourbon that lives up to the hype in the flavor department. It’s really goddamn tasty. But that price means it’s almost always relegated to the vaults of collectors and not home bars. That’s a shame for a bottle this tasty.
Eagle Rare 17
Average Price: $850 ($99 MSRP)
Eagle Rare is largely the same juice as George T. Stagg. Except these barrels spend 18 years and three months in Warehouse P on the first floor, where the juice loses 59 percent of its volume. The bourbon is then blended, filtered, and bottled at a very accessible 101 proof.
There’s a matrix of cherries, vanilla, and oak up front. The sip delivers on those promises with the addition of caramel sweetness, oaky spice, and a touch of espresso bean bitterness with the application of a few drops of water. A slight pepper warmth arrives late as the oak lingers on the slow and gentle fade, leaving you with a mix of spicy cherry pie filling, fresh tobacco leaf buzz, and a hint of green straw.
Parker’s Heritage Collection: Promise Of Hope Bourbon
Average Price: $900 ($90 MSRP)
This yearly release from Heaven Hill is, indeed, rare. The edition from 2013 was a personal mission for Parker Beam. He selected 100 barrels of high-rye bourbons that are at least ten years old for this expression. Those barrels were married and then proofed down to a very accessible 96 proof.
Imagine a still-warm apple pie full of spices, brown sugar, buttery crust, walnuts, and maybe even a raisin or two topped with the richest vanilla ice cream scoop you’ve ever had and you’ll be on the right track. This smells and tastes like home on a summer day with that perfect apple pie vibe that mellows towards a stack of pancakes smothered in browned butter and maple syrup as a note of tobacco chew warms up the back of your throat. The end is very long and full of a sweet maple syrup tobacco buzz.
These are getting pretty far and few between these days. If you’re collecting all the Parker’s Heritage bottles, this is a centerpiece expression.
Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Amaranth “Grain of the Gods” Bourbon
Average Price: $908 ($70 MSRP)
E.H. Taylor, Jr. whiskeys are where Buffalo Trace really plays around with the format of bourbon and rye. In this case, they’ve replaced the rye in the mash with Mexican amaranth grains, which bring a unique foundation of flavors to the bourbon.
There’s an almost green cherry fruitiness next to a strong mint tea cut with floral honey on the nose. That mint tea starts to lean into a black tea bitterness as rich vanilla oils from the barrel arrive with a soft edge while a hint of red berries, more honey, and a touch of cedar linger on the tongue. The end is pretty short all things considered, with the floral notes leading towards a minty tobacco chew.
This is a pretty special dram thanks to that amaranth in the mash. Does that make it worth nearly $1,000? Probably not. Still, this is very unique and particularly well crafted.
Kentucky Owl Dry State
Average Price: $999.99 ($999 MSRP)
This release from Dixon Dedman “celebrated” the 100th anniversary of the Volstead Act that outlawed alcohol in America. The juice was painstakingly hand-selected from sourced barrels by Dedman. The barrels were between 12 and 17 years old and only yielded 2,000 bottles.
The nose on this bourbon dances between candied orange peels, salted caramel drizzle, brittle toffees encrusted with roasted almonds, a dash of vanilla, and a hint of soft cherry wood. The palate is so well-rounded, it’ll leave you kind of speechless. The subtle eggnog spices mingle with the rich creamy nature of the vanilla custard while the orange reminds you it’s there in the background with a plush, almost cashmere-feel to the whole sip. The end leans into the spices and citrus and leaves you with the warmest of Kentucky hugs.
This is dialed bourbon to its core. While this is very rare and very collectible, it’d almost be a shame not to crack it open and spend the next few years celebrating birthdays, holidays, and big events with it. Don’t let it get dusty on the shelf. Enjoy it!
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