A Whiskey Writer Shares His Favorite Bourbon Releases Of The Past Two Years

Christopher Osburn has spent the past fifteen years in search of “the best” — or at least his very favorite — sips of whisk(e)y on earth. In the process, he’s enjoyed more whisk(e)y drams than his doctor would dare feel comfortable with, traveled to over 20 countries testing local spirits, and visited more than fifty distilleries around the globe.

The most exciting aspect of being a bourbon fan in 2020 is that a new, intriguing, delicious bottle is always right around the corner. Sure, this refers to the bottles currently sitting on shelves that you haven’t had a chance to taste yet, but it also reminds us of the special releases dropping on a regular basis.

All over the country (but mostly in Kentucky), barrelhouses are loaded full of casks of aging bourbons, all just waiting to be bottled. A select few of these will turn into special releases, one-offs, or small-batch collaborations. And a select few of those will be absolutely spectacular.

With the end of the year coming up, I decided to crack open my tasting notebook again and share six of my favorite bourbon releases from the past two years. Check them out and try a few for yourself… if you can find them, that is.

Little Book Chapter 4: Lessons Honored

ABV: 61.4%

Price: $134.99

The Story:

The late Booker Noe gave Freddie Noe (8th generation Beam family member) the nickname “Little Book.” When it was time to make whiskey of his own, Freddie looked to his grandfather for inspiration. The four unfiltered and uncut bourbons are blended to pay tribute to the original Small Batch Bourbon Collection brands (Basil Hayden’s. Knob Creek, Booker’s, and Baker’s).

Tasting Notes:

Freddie worked hard on this, so give it the nosing it deserves. If you do, you’ll be met with aromas of sweet brown sugar, charred oak, subtle herbal hints, and sweet caramel. The first sip yields subtle cooking spices, rich cream, butterscotch, and sweet heat. The finish is long, warming, and filled with spicy pepper and pleasing cinnamon.

Bottom Line:

Since each Little Book offering is unique, they should be treated that way. Sip on this one slowly in a rocks glass over one solitary ice cube.

Heaven Hill 7-Year Bottled-in-Bond

ABV: 50%

Price: $38.99

The Story:

First released in October of 2019, this bottle replaces Heaven Hill’s 6-year-old bottled in bond bourbon. Who knows why they did it, but the old bottle is retired and this one was aged for one more year. Now officially the flagship bourbon of the distillery, it sports a high corn content (78%) and is exceedingly mellow, subtly spicy, and highly sippable.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, your nostrils will be filled with hints of charred oak, sweet caramel, and rich clover honey. The first sip is very dry and brings forth subtle cinnamon followed by smoky tobacco, toasted oak, velvety vanilla, and toasted marshmallows. The finish is long, warming, and filled with baking spices and ends with a final flourish of creamy caramel.

Bottom Line:

This bottle is a bargain at under $40. You can feel comfortable mixing with it, but it shines neat or on the rocks.

Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel

ABV: 47%

Price: Was $50, now $100

The Story:

Released in September 2020, this bourbon consists of fully matured Elijah Craig Small Batch that is matured for a second time in toasted new oak casks that were air-dried for 18 months before toasting and flash charring. The result is a unique bourbon with extra notes of charred oak, caramel, and vanilla.

Tasting Notes:

This bourbon was matured a second time to impart extra flavors. That alone should be enough for you to spend a few moments nosing it. You’ll be met with hints of charred oak, toasted caramel, spicy cinnamon, and dried cherries. The first sip delivers peppery spice followed by sticky toffee, creamy vanilla, and cocoa. The finish is medium in length, warming, and filled with peppercorn spice and mellow caramel.

Bottom Line:

While this isn’t the most expensive bourbon, it’s high quality enough to be sipped slowly on a cool fall evening.

Weller Full Proof

ABV: 57%

Price: was $50, now $475

The Story:

Back in June of 2019, Buffalo Trace dropped Weller Full Proof. A new addition to the Weller lineup that includes Antique 107, Special Reserve, 12 Year, Single Barrel, and C.Y.P.B, this offering was bottled at 114 proof, the same alcohol level the distilled whiskey was when it began aging. Like all of Weller’s offerings, this one is limited-edition and will likely be offered every summer.

The expression once carried a palatable price tag of $50, but due to its limited availability, the aftermarket price has soared.

Tasting Notes:

If you give this offering a nosing, you’ll be met with caramelized sugar, sweet vanilla, and fruit cake. The first sip yields toasted oak, mouth-watering caramel, subtle cinnamon, and just a hint of peppery spice. The finish is long, filled with pleasing heat, and ends in a final crescendo of cinnamon warmth.

Bottom Line:

If you can manage to get your hands on a bottle for a reasonable price, good for you. Don’t waste it by mixing it. You can use the brand’s flagship Buffalo Trace Bourbon for that. Sip this one slowly and discover the rich flavors.

Larceny Barrel Proof B520

ABV: 61.1%

Price: $51.99

The Story:

This high corn (68%), high wheat bourbon doesn’t carry an age statement, but it’s assumed they range in age from 6 to 8 years old. It’s non-chill filtered and bottled at cask strength. The most exciting aspect is that this barrel proof bourbon is released three times per year (January, May, and September) and each offering is different, using different small-batch bourbons.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll be treated to aromas of spicy cinnamon, charred oak, sweet vanilla, and the smell of the rickhouse itself. The first sip brings with it caramelized sugar, pleasing honey, cooking spices, and dried fruits. The finish is long, warming, and ends in a combination of spicy cinnamon and sticky toffee.

Bottom Line:

This high proof bourbon works well in your favorite cocktails, but if you’re going to spend over $50 for a bottle, we suggest you at least try it neat or on the rocks.

Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series 2020

ABV: 55.4%

Price: $59.99

The Story:

This limited-edition bourbon is something truly special. It’s wood finished, meaning that after maturation, the brand’s beloved Cask Strength Bourbon is added to barrels that contain Maker’s Mark’s specially designed wooden staves made from French oak and American oak. The bourbon is then rested with these wooden staves. The result is a complex whiskey that melds old and new aging techniques.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find the aromas of rich, salted caramel, toasted oak, and creamy, sweet vanilla. The first sip brings brown sugar, rich almonds, dried cherries, and toasted vanilla beans. The finish is long, warming, and loaded up with mellow caramel and faint cinnamon.

Bottom Line:

This limited-edition bourbon is well suited as a sipper on a chilly fall evening. Sip it over ice to let it bloom as you sit on a porch with a blanket on your lap, enjoying the crisp air.