There’s a near-constant flow of new bourbon whiskeys hitting the market these days. Between craft distillers and blenders popping up all over the country and the big names expanding their expression portfolios, whiskey drinkers are never left with a lack of choice. The issue is winnowing the endless options down and sorting out what’s worth keeping on your bar cart.
To help you keep up with it all, we’re constantly tasting new and exciting (and some not so exciting) bourbons and letting you know what we think. It’s a tough job, but trust us — we take it very seriously.
Today, we’re tasting eight bourbons that dropped in 2021. Some of these are brand-spanking-new expressions like Stellum and George Dickel’s new bourbon and some are just new batch releases from High West and Evan Williams. It’s a solid mix and we tried to keep the price point at or below $70.
Our lineup today is:
- Evan Williams Small Batch (2021 re-release)
- Boulder Spirits Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- George Dickel Aged 8 Years Bourbon
- Stellum Bourbon
- Pursuit United
- High West American Prairie Bourbon
- Five Brothers
- Still Austin The Musician
The beauty of this sort of blind tasting is that I’m going in without any preconceived notions. The ranking below is based purely on taste. Will my beloved Evan Williams Small Batch win the day? How will Nicole Austin’s foray into bourbon hold up? Where will the noobie craft juices fall in this line-up? Let’s find out!
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Part 1: The Taste
This is soft on the nose with a hint of vanilla next to new leather, cornmeal, and a touch of orchard fruit. The taste is all caramel apples, buttered cornbread, mild cherry, and a hint of eggnog spice. The end is sweet to the point of a honey candy with a touch more of that apple but fades really quickly.
This is fruity. It’s sweet at first with touches of apple and then mellows towards figs. The palate leans into pecan pie, soft leather, light spice, and a touch of malts. The end hits a honey-raisin note with a grainy, almost oatmeal cookie edge boosted by a touch of nutmeg.
This feels classic with notes of rich vanilla, old cedar boxes full of dry tobacco, and an apple cobbler vibe with plenty of butter and spice. The taste starts off with a leathery note leading towards creamy eggnog spiciness next to choco-oranges and a dry wicker mid-palate. The finish goes from dry apple tobacco to rich and creamy vanilla.
This is a dark holiday cake full of nuts and candied fruits supporting a tart berry brightness and a light touch of new leather. The palate meanders from dry raisins towards sugary apple candy to a fresh honeycomb. That fruit and honey dominate through the finish, leaving you with a dry chili-flake spicy warmth at the very end.
This has a really lush eggnog creaminess and spice mix next to a dry tannic red wine vibe with a hint of dry cedar on the nose. The taste is all dark chocolate-covered salted caramels with a spritz of orange oils and a mid-palate of dry cornmeal. The finish has a dry chocolate-tobacco feel with more orange and cedar, leaving you with a bold yet super soft end.
I don’t know what this is but paired with the last dram, we’re into the good stuff now. This opens with caramel apples next to new leather, vanilla pudding, and sweet buttered corn with a touch of salt. The palate has a nougat svelteness next to creamed corn and Southern biscuits dripping with butter and honey. The mid-palate to finish starts to dry out with vanilla husks and cedar bark but then veers into apple candy.
Again, damn this is a good run of drams! This draws you in with maple syrup, apple tobacco, resinous pine, and a touch of unpopped popcorn kernels. The palate is pecan-loaded waffles smothered in butter and syrup with vanilla ice cream, light brown spiciness, and maple-infused sweet tobacco on the end.
Hum. This is fake fruit kind of like a pineapple candy soda with notes of rummy spice and too raw leather. The palate has a nice vanilla creaminess with a hint more of that spice leading back towards that pineapple note with a touch of milk chocolate. There’s a hint of overly sweet marzipan on the backend with a choco-tobacco dry finish that disappears way too fast.
Part 2: The Ranking
Some fun surprises here — both with drams that went even higher than expected and a few that landed lower, though I love the brands they come from. As I said, it was a great lineup with no true losers by any stretch.
8. Still Austin The Musician — Taste 8
Average Price: $46
The folks at Still Austin have spent the last six years perfecting their grain-to-glass whiskey experience. The juice is rendered with grains from Texas and water from the ground beneath their feet, all imbued with a crafty Texas vibe in every sip. The actual whiskey is a two-year-old bourbon that’s batched to highlight the bright fruits of the new and crafty whiskey.
This has some serious fruitiness that gives it away as a young, new bourbon. There’s a lot of promise in that juice but it’s just not there yet for me.
7. Evan Williams Small Batch — Taste 1
Average Price: $20
So this is a “small batch” in theory and name more than practice. The expression is a marrying of 200 barrels of bourbon from Heaven Hill’s warehouses. The new bottling also comes with a new proof of 90, bumping this up from the previous version.
This was just light today. The flavors were there but nothing jumped out.
6. Stellum Bourbon — Taste 4
Average Price: $55
Stellum Bourbon is the new kid on the block. The bottle grabs your attention immediately by having a super low-key design in a classic wine bottle. The juice in that bottle is a cask-strength blend of whiskeys from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This whiskey is all about the blending process that Stellum employs to make this special and award-winning juice.
This was nice. I feel bad ranking it sixth. I really dig this… maybe that’s more of a testament to some of the whiskeys on this list rather than taking anything away from this one.
5. Boulder Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 2
Average Price: $45
This is a fascinating and unique bourbon. It starts with the mash bill which has just enough corn to be considered a bourbon with 51 percent corn, 44 percent malted barley, and five percent rye. There are few bourbons out there with such a big dose of malted barley in the mash, edging this close to single malt territory. Beyond that, the juice is aged for four years high up in Colorado before it’s cut with Rocky Mountain water.
Ah-ha! That’s why this tasted more like a single malt than a bourbon! All that grain really shone through and confused me on where to put this one. It’s interesting and tasty. I definitely need to revisit it when I can really sit with the dram.
4. George Dickel Bourbon — Taste 3
Average Price: $30
This whisky was a special release from Nicole Austin and a new direction for the brand. The whisky is the same Dickel, simply pulled from barrels that leaned more into classic bourbon flavor notes instead of Dickel’s iconic Tennessee whisky notes. The barrels are a minimum of eight years old before they’re vatted. The juice is then cut down to a manageable 90 proof and bottled.
This was just a classic bourbon through and through. It was definitely more refined than Evan Williams but didn’t have that “wow factor” today. Given those classic notes, I really need to start using this in cocktails to see what’s buried in there.
3. High West American Prairie — Taste 6
Average Price: $50
American Prairie is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after sourced whiskeys. The whiskey in the bottle is a blend of two to 13-year-old barrels rendered from high-rye, low-rye, and undisclosed source mash bills. The release supports the American Prairie Reserve by highlighting the project and supporting it financially.
Finding out that this was High West made a certain sort of sense. The craft whiskey remains one of the most popular sourced whiskeys out there. It’s well-flavored and unique while staying very drinkable.
2. Five Brothers Bourbon — Taste 7
Average Price: $60
This brand new bourbon from Heaven Hill celebrates the five brothers who started the distillery back in 1935. The bottle was released to celebrate the brand-new visitor’s center at Heaven Hill and is largely only available there. The juice in this bottle is a blend of five bourbons of varying ages between five and nine years old made with Heaven Hill’s classic mash bill of 78 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and ten percent rye.
I went back and forth on this as numbers one and two. This felt a hair less refined and a hair sweeter. Still, I really dig this whiskey a lot. It’s going to be hard to keep this bottle on the shelf. (Or store shelves, if it ever hits them.)
1. Pursuit United — Taste 5
Average Price: $65
As mentioned above, this is a vatted from 40 total barrels from three different states. While the team at Pursuit United doesn’t release the Tennessee distillery name, we know the juices from Kentucky and New York are from Bardstown Bourbon Company and Finger Lakes Distilling, respectively. This final release of 2021 from Pursuit United put 9,342 bottles on the market in six states (Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, and Kentucky) and is available online via Seelbachs.com.
This just hit perfectly on my palate today. This was also the dram I wanted to return right away. This juice is just good all around and a wonderful example of why both sourcing and blending should be destigmatized.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
This was a pretty surprising list for me. I guess I need to buy a case of Pursuit United before it sells out.
In the end, I could have ranked these with Still Austin last, Evan Williams in third, and then the sixth, fifth, and fourth place tied for second place and third, second, and first place tied for the number one spot. But where’s the fun in that? My point is, these were some stellar bourbons and I was really splitting hairs with most of them. Still, that Pursuit United really rocks every time I try it — the fact that it came from some upstart bourbon podcasters is a wonderful story but it’s the juice in the bottle that truly shines.
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