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The Best New Bourbons For When The Leaves Start Falling

It’s only a matter of time before we’re layered up in flannels and fleeces, sipping on hot toddies while munching cider doughnuts. Halloween is in two weeks, then Thanksgiving is around the corner, and after that… well, you know where this is headed. In fact, you’ve probably already seen one of the biggest signs of autumn: leaves slowly changing colors and falling to the ground.

Don’t be too sad. All those leaves crunching beneath your feet means its bourbon season, and that’s something to celebrate.

To truly enjoy this aged whiskey native to Kentucky (though not exclusive to the state), you need to sip it on a cool evening. There’s nothing like the warming sensation of a well-made bourbon while you’re sitting by a crackling fire. It’s just about as pleasurable and foundationally “American” as a slice of warm apple pie this time of year.

We think the second week of October is the prime time for a list of the best bourbons when the leaves are falling — sipping whiskeys to savor as you watch the seasons change. Here are some of our favorites.

BOOKER’S COUNTRY HAM

WHAT TO TALK ABOUT:

If you’re a fan of bourbon, you’re already well-aware of Booker’s. This offering from Jim Beam, made in honor of Booker Noe (current master distiller Fred Noe’s father), is well known for its uncut and unfiltered whiskeys. Country Ham is the third release from the 2019 collection (the others are “Shiny Barrel Batch” and “Teresa’s Batch”).

This high-octane bourbon is bottled at 124.7 proof after aging for exactly 6 years, 4 months, and 2 days.

TASTING NOTES:

It’s called ‘Country Ham’ for a reason. This limited release has the smooth, complex flavor-profile Booker’s fans have grown to expect in each offering. But it also has flavors of sweet corn, aromatic vanilla, and caramelized brown sugar. Best enjoyed neat with a single ice cube or a few drops of water, this is definitely a bourbon to savor all autumn long (or as long as the bottle lasts).

KNOB CREEK QUARTER OAK

WHAT TO TALK ABOUT:

Knob Creek is the king of small batch bourbon. It almost feels like they release a new, limited-edition offering every month. The brand’s newest bottling, Knob Creek Quarter Oak, was aged for a minimum of four years in American oak quarter casks (get it?). Some of the whiskey is then married with traditional Knob Creek bourbon — creating a unique flavor profile you won’t soon forget.

TASTING NOTES:

If you’re a fan of Knob Creek’s pre-prohibition-style of bourbon making, you’re going to fall in love with this 100-proof whiskey. The result of the combination of regular bourbon and quarter cask-aged bourbon is a mix of rich oak and intense caramel sweetness. The extra aging also gives the spirit an added toasted oak flavor as well as dried fruits and subtle Christmas spices.

HIGH WEST BOURYE 2019

WHAT TO TALK ABOUT:

This one is kind of cheating since this offering from High West is a combination of bourbon and rye whiskeys, but we’re still counting it. It helps that this is a pretty delicious, easy-drinking whiskey — one of the most highly sought-after releases from Utah’s High West. This year’s version is a blend of two MGP bourbon mashbills and High West’s 95 percent rye whiskey. Every whiskey in the blend is at least 10 years old.

TASTING NOTES:

This truly unique whiskey appeals to both bourbon and rye whiskey fans. But if you’re truly going to enjoy it, you’d better like a little subtle pepper — it’s definitely there due to the high rye whiskey included. This taste starts with vanilla, dark chocolate, and honey before finishing with sweet corn, caramel, and a hint of rye spiciness.

FEW ALL SECRETS KNOWN

WHAT TO TALK ABOUT:

FEW Spirits has made a name for itself over the last decade, thanks to a long line of award-winning spirits. Its newest, All Secrets Known Bourbon, is a collaboration between the distillery and famed Seattle grunge band Alice In Chains. The bottle itself is a thing of beauty with a label created by artist Huston Helton. The spirit inside is just as unique as the generation-defining band that inspired it. It’s the FEW bourbon fans of the brand know, finished for an additional six months in tequila barrels before being bottled at 101-proof.

TASTING NOTES:

Finishing bourbon is tequila barrels is definitely a different technique than most bourbon fans are used to. The result is a bourbon that holds the roasted corn sweetness bourbon is known for, along with caramel, toffee, coffee beans, and honeyed vanilla with a vegetal agave finish.

WILD TURKEY MASTER’S KEEP REVIVAL

WHAT TO TALK ABOUT:

If you like bourbon, you can’t go wrong with anything made by Wild Turkey. The potent Wild Turkey 101 is a bartender’s favorite and everything from Russell’s Reserve is memorable. But it’s the Master’s Keep series where you’ll find the real “can’t miss” offerings.

One of Wild Turkey’s newest releases is Master’s Keep Revival — a blend of bourbons aged between 12 and 15 years before being finished in 20-year old Oloroso Sherry casks.

TASTING NOTES:

This 101-proof bourbon is perfectly suited for slow sipping by a fall bonfire. It’s complex and full of flavors like dried fruits, cherries, dried orange peel, tree nuts, and rich toasted oak. On top of that, it’s creamy and has hints of sweet honey with a pleasing spicy, peppery finish that will make you come back to this bottle again and again all fall long.

DISTILLERY 291 BAD GUY COLORADO BOURBON

WHAT TO TALK ABOUT:

Distillery 291 is a small batch whiskey distillery located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The brand’s goal is to make whiskeys that pay tribute to the stories and legends of the Wild West days gone by. One of its newest releases is its Bad Buy Colorado Bourbon, a wheated four-grain whiskey distilled using malted wheat, corn, rye, and beech-smoked barley mash.

TASTING NOTES:

The result of the high wheat content is a very soft, smooth, almost silky whiskey with a pleasurable, robust hint of smoke at the end. Flavors of tobacco, vanilla, caramel, and leather also make an appearance on your palate. While Kentucky is known for its bourbon, you’ll feel just as comfortable sipping this ‘Colorado’ bourbon as you would its Bluegrass cousins.

EDITOR’S PICK: OAK & EDEN: BOURBON & VINE

WHAT TO TALK ABOUT:

If you knew bourbon “just enough” but not thoroughly, you’d be tempted to call Oak & Eden’s technique of including toasted, spiraled barrel pieces in their bottles a gimmick. It seems gimmicky at first glance. But the truth is that Oak & Eden has a clear commitment to doing things right and the bottled-with-a-stave trick makes logical sense. You can’t act like barrelling a bourbon makes all the difference in the world and adding oak to the bottle is somehow meaningless.

The Bourbon & Vine expression is Oak & Eden’s first small batch offering and won a gold medal at the Texas Whiskey Festival. It’s aged for two years in American oak before a cabernet-soaked French oak stave is added to the bottle. The effect is clear — or rather, purple, in that the whole bottle takes on the color of port wine.

TASTING NOTES:

This taste is more united than many of its bourbon counterparts. While many bourbons — even very good bourbons — seem to have clear stages, this taste flows naturally from the nose to the palate to the finish.

With your nose in the glass, you’re going to get browned butter pancakes with dried cherry syrup. The vinous element comes off less “grapey” and more like aged stone fruit. The classic bourbon sweet notes are robust, fatty, and earthy (hence the browned butter). Once you taste the expression, expect a little more wine-lean plus a whole lot of oak before a warm, spicy bite comes through loud and clear at the finish. This isn’t just the “Kentucky hug” we’re talking about, this is a little rye-oak-alcohol bite that’s noteworthy but not at all distracting.

It’s a hell of a sip and tons of fun to chat through with pals.

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