Life

The Best Sour Mash Whiskeys To Chase Down Right Now

“Sour mash” is a term you hear and see a lot when dealing with whiskey. But what does sour mash mean, exactly? In a broad sense, sour mash is a genetic link between the first batch of grains and yeasts fermented by a certain distiller to the most recent batch. In essence, when you’re drinking a sour mash whiskey, there can be a bit of the mash from maybe 100 or more years in that single bottle. Wild to think about, right?

It’s best to think of a sour mash like a sourdough starter for bread. Yeast ferments grains by eating their sugars, which in turn produces alcohol in the mash which manifests as funk and bubbles. At that point, the fermented grain-jacked liquid can turn into anything from beer to vodka to whiskey. Since we’re talking whiskey, the “spent mash” is removed and the remaining liquid is distilled. When the spent mash is drawn off, part of it goes back into the fermenters with freshly milled grains, yeast, and water to start a new batch — again, just like a sourdough starter. This spent mash helps control bacterias and gives the new yeast something to start eating, jump-starting the new batch.

This doesn’t always happen in distilling (or brewing for that matter). Sweet mashing is the opposite of sour mash — meaning a brand new set of yeasts, milled grains, and water is used at the beginning of each new batch. But that’s another whiskey for another day. For now, let’s dive into some of the best sour mash whiskeys on the market to get a handle on the style.

MICHTER’S US*1 TOASTED BARREL FINISH SOUR MASH WHISKEY

Story:

This bottle just dropped in September of 2019 and already won a “whiskey of the year” award. Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Sour Mash carries the sour mash of their standard sour mash whiskey expression. This one, however, goes into hand-made toasted barrels that were first air-dried for 18 months. The whiskey is then bottled in very small batches for you to fall in love with.

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted with notes of toffee, fresh honey, rich milk chocolate, vanilla pods, and hints of orange peel. Crackling campfire wood, slight hints of cedar bark, ripe cherries, and rye spice kick in on the tongue and draw you in. A remembrance of the malt comes in late with a little more rye spice, oak, and cherry sweetness to bring this sip home.

BALCONES DISTILLING TRUE BLUE CASK STRENGTH

Story:

This unique whiskey is bottled straight from the barrel. Before it gets there, the whiskey starts with a mash of blue corn from the western reaches of Texas. True Blue’s mash is passed down year by year as new batches of this expression are released. The corn whiskey is handmade with great care to assure that every step of the process produces a corn whiskey that’ll draw you into the style.

Tasting Notes:

Candied pecans, mossy forest floors, grapefruit pith, cinnamon, and oak open this sip up. Freshly milled masa comes in with a nice dousing of maple syrup. Pralines and dried apricots sit next to chili spice and floral jasmine. Those chilis drive the sip towards a finish that balances coffee cake and raw honey.

GEORGE DICKEL BARREL SELECT TENNESSEE WHISKY

Story:

This premiere expression from George Dickel starts with a mash bill of 84-percent corn, eight percent rye, and eight percent malted barley that’s passed down batch to batch. The juice then goes into the barrel between ten and 12 years. Finally, the master distiller selects ten barrels that are just right and blends them into this small batch bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Maple charcoal (from the filtration) is lurking in the sip with a hint of banana. Rye spice kicks up with notes of cherry, vanilla, and oak char. Hints of caramel and juicy ripe fruits come into play as the spice carries on towards a dry and warm finish.

BELLE MEADE SOUR MASH STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY

Story:

This was the first bourbon the Nelson brothers made after they discovered their family’s old distillery in Tennessee (which had been shuttered during Prohibition). The high rye mash bill (30 percent rye) uses proprietary yeast strains and the historic recipe from the distillery’s old days. The sour mash is barreled to focus on small batches, making this a high-quality spirit from the get-go.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a distinct maple syrup edge to the opening of this sip. Florals and citrus bounce around as the caramel and vanilla come to play in the taste. The rye spice kicks the door down and bolsters the sweetness via a rich dried apricot chewiness. As the finish arrives, the spice starts to fade towards cinnamon with hints of ripe plums and cherries.

BUFFALO TRACE EXPERIMENTAL COLLECTION OLD-FASHIONED SOUR MASH BOURBON

Story:

This is a fascinating bottle of whiskey. Buffalo Trace’s Experimental Collection is a true one-of-a-kind experience where the distillers play fast and loose with all the rules. In this case, the Old-Fashioned Sour Mash denotes a mash that is pre-soured before it goes into the tank to start the fermentation. So, it’s kind of like a double soured mash, if you will. The juice then spends 13 years hanging out in barrels. There’s really nothing else like this bottle out there.

Tasting Notes:

Toffee, rye spice, and oak hit you right away. Vanilla and maple hang with the caramel with whispers of wildflowers swaying in the background. The finish carries the spice and vanilla through a stave of oak, giving this a woody feel. It’s bold and a little brash but 100-percent interesting.

TIGER SNAKE SOUR MASH WHISKEY

Story:

If this whiskey was being made in the United States, we’d call it bourbon. But, since Tiger Snake is made Down Under, it has to stick with the Sour Mash Whiskey moniker. The mash is a classic bill of corn, rye, and malted barley with spent mash linking batches. The juice is then aged to perfection in new oak. The result is a game-changer for Australian whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

Hazelnuts laced in vanilla sit next to bright florals. Green grass, tart citrus, and more vanilla carry on through the sip as the fat from the hazelnut builds body. The fruit, florals, vanilla, and grass all come to head as the finish drops a velvet bomb on your tongue.

COLONEL E. H. TAYLOR, JR. OLD FASHIONED SOUR MASH BOTTLED IN BOND BOURBON

Story:

This is another “old-fashioned sour mash.” The idea came around when distillers at Buffalo Trace looked back at old journals from distillers in the 1800s and discovered that pre-souring their mash was a common phenomenon. This is a natural and wild process that amps up fermentation, giving a bit of a kickstart to the mash. The mentality was that “if it worked back then, it’ll work now.” So, they went for it and created a unique bourbon that’s a bit of a time machine.

Tasting Notes:

This is a bourbon that builds upon itself. It opens with vivid wildflowers and grassiness that leads to a loaf of freshly baked sourdough bread. You can almost feel the warmth of the loaf in the sip. The sweetness leans into freshly harvested honey that’s cut with rich butter and drizzled on that warm sourdough loaf. There’s a hint of spice that leads towards a leathery nature on the finish as the warmth fills your body.

JACK DANIEL’S SINGLE BARREL SELECT TENNESSEE WHISKEY

Story:

All Jack Daniel’s is a sour mash Tennessee whiskey. So, if you’re going to indulge in the classic brand, go big. Their Single Barrel Select is a great example of a Tennessee whiskey from a single barrel that’ll give you a clear view of why Jack Daniel’s has been such a beloved brand for so, so many years.

Tasting Notes:

Cinnamon and toasted oak open this sip. There’s a nice floral edge that bounces around the entire taste with notes of banana, vanilla, and caramel. The spice comes in late and draws the vanilla and banana back towards the oaky wood as the sip ends sweet and surprisingly soft.

WILLETT FAMILY ESTATE 4-YEAR-OLD SMALL BATCH STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY

Story:

This small-batch sour mashed rye is the rye that you’ll judge all other ryes by once you take a sip. The 70 plus percent rye mash is a powerhouse in the world of rye whiskeys with a stellar aging program carried out by the Willett family to this day.

Tasting Notes:

Smoky char and cinnamon-dusted candied cherries greet you as you approach this sip. The dark cherry carries through with rich vanilla and sharp rye spices. It’s reminiscent of a boozy and spicy Black Forest cake made to the highest standards. The spices and cherry comingle and bring about a big finish that fills your senses with warmth and satisfaction.

NELSON’S GREEN BRIER TENNESSEE WHISKEY HAND-MADE SOUR MASH

Story:

The Nelson brothers, who brought back Belle Meade, also brought back the classic Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey just this year. The heritage whiskey is a throwback to one of the most famous whiskeys from the pre-Prohibition era and follows the recipes, sour mashing a wheated mash bill, distilling, sugar maple charcoal filtering, and barreling of that historical whiskey to the letter.

Tasting Notes:

Apples rolled in cinnamon, vanilla, and rich caramel open this sip. Notes of freshly baked cinnamon rolls dripping with sugary icing and caramel apples fresh from the fairgrounds mingle together on the palate as hints of that cinnamon spice peak and bring about a shy moment of bitter cacao. A flourish of black cherry arrives, beckoning a sweet and spicy finish that’ll leave you reaching for another pour immediately.

Around The Web

×