It wasn’t that long ago that a lot of people considered “sourced” bourbon inferior. That was mostly due to huge distilleries having to sell off stock to bottlers to stay afloat. But those days are decades behind us. Sourced bourbon whiskey is everywhere on the shelves these days. It’s also among some of the most respected, sought-after, and awarded whiskey available anywhere.
But how does a great sourced bourbon stand up to an old-school unsourced bourbon? That’s what I’m here to answer today.
For this blind tasting, I’m pitting four very good sourced bourbons — in this case, a bourbon that’s made from finished barrels of whiskey by a non-distiller producer — against four very good standard bourbons put out by a distillery under one of their own brands. I purposefully kept this tasting very narrow. All eight bourbons are award-winning and highly respected. Moreover, all eight fall in the sweet spot price-wise between $50 and $70 (one bottle is $89). They aren’t cheap but these aren’t the crazy expensive bottles either. These are the bottles that sit at your eye-line as your walk through the liquor store, and will actually be next to each other on that shelf.
Our lineup today is:
- Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
- Redemption High-Rye Bourbon (sourced)
- Pursuit United (sourced)
- Kentucky Peerless Small Batch Bourbon
- Nashville Barrel Company Single Barrel Bourbon (sourced)
- High West American Prairie Bourbon (sourced)
- Knob Creek 12
- Four Roses Single Barrel
Let’s dive in and see if the sourced stuff can stand up to the old-school distillery releases.
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Part 1: The Tasting
This is damn near perfect on the nose, with a mix of subtle vanilla next to Christmas spices, soft cedar, and dark leathery fruit with a hint of tartness. The palate leans into the darkness of the fruit while old oak staves mix with lush marzipan, a hint of orange oils, and old boot leather. The finish leans into a warm winter spice with a hint of mulled wine and candied almonds. A layer of vanilla and cinnamon-spiced chewing tobacco comes in very late with a twinge of cherry wood.
Well, this is going to be hard to beat…
Tart berries and vanilla cookies lead to soft winter spices and a touch of orange zest on the nose. Dark chocolate and dark cherry open the palate toward a dusting of black pepper, clove nibs, and a bit more of that orange zest. But it’s brighter. The end is old and leathery with a lemon pepper vibe that eventually fades into that chocolate-cherry feel.
This was pretty nice overall. It didn’t jump out at me. Still, very solid all around.
Sour red wine with woody spices mix with fresh honey and a good dose of minced meat pie with plenty of cinnamon and white sugar. The palate takes on a chocolate vibe with a layer of honey cake next to a layer of dry tobacco and cedar. There’s a hint of orange dark chocolate near the end that leads back to the holiday spiciness with a warming edge that ends up a little thin on the back end.
This was nice but felt a little one-note — that note being “it’s Christmas!” — compared to the last two.
Blackberry pie dances with old glove leather, buttery toffee, expensive vanilla beans, and wet, almost sticky tobacco leaves on the nose. The palate leans into the butteriness and spicy tobacco has dry ropes of cedar bark leading to a bitter and oily espresso bean. The end goes deeper with a vanilla pipe tobacco which leads back to that blackberry pie filling with a hint of pie crust and white sugar frosting before the dry cedar kicks back in late.
This is a great pour. I can’t imagine this won’t be in the top three.
Salted kettle corn, cotton candy with a hint of cherry, salted caramel, worn leather, orange oils … this nose runs deep. The palate leans sharp winter spices with plenty of cinnamon, clove, ginger, and allspice with a hint of sassafras and anise before a creamy nutmeg and eggnog arrive to smooth things out. The end has a hint of Almond Joy next to dry sweetgrass with more of that buttery salted caramel before dry cedar and leather lead to a dark berry tobacco vibe.
This is another contender!
Caramel apples, fresh leather, vanilla pudding, and a touch of buttered popcorn open this one up. The taste is very nougat, counterpointed by creamed corn with a buttermilk biscuit in the background with a little honey. The finish smooths out with some vanilla next to dry cedar and some more of that caramel apple vibe.
This was pretty nice with a short but solid flavor profile.
Rum-soaked cherries and dark chocolate lead the way with winter spices and sourdough doughnuts supporting on the nose. There’s a touch of mint that leads to an old dark cherry profile that’s part sweet and juicy and part tart and dry before a fatty streusel takes over with plenty of spice and brown sugar. The mid-palate narrows that spice toward cinnamon and a dried chili feel while the dark chocolate circles back around. The cherry sweetens with a woody vibe at the very end as this one slowly fades out.
This is a hell of a cherry bomb. A delicious, delicious cherry bomb.
Woody maple syrup and cinnamon sticks lead to a hint of pear candy with a vanilla underbelly on the nose. The palate lets the pear shine as the spices lean into woody barks and berries next to dates and plums with a butteriness. A spicy tobacco chewiness leads the mid-palate toward a soft fruitiness and a hint of plum pudding at the end with a slight nuttiness and green herb.
This was another solid whiskey.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Pursuit United (Sourced) — Taste 3
Average Price: $65
This whiskey 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. Once those barrels are vatted, they’re slightly touched with water before bottling.
I usually dig this! That said, on this lineup, it just didn’t quite hit the same. That’s easy to square as this is a blended bourbon. It’s not quite as succinct as the rest of the whiskeys on this list (single barrels, etc.), and that’s not this whiskey’s fault at all.
7. Redemption High-Rye Bourbon (Sourced) — Taste 2
Average Price: $50
These bottles are the masterwork of chef-turned-master-blender David Carpenter. The juice is hand-selected MGP single barrels that provide a classic bourbon base that then leans a little softer on the palate.
This was complex and very tasty. Again, this just didn’t quite stand up today to the other heavy-hitting bourbons on the list. That all said, this is a pretty easy pour that feels like it would be great in a cocktail.
6. High West American Prairie Bourbon (Sourced) — Taste 6
Average Price: $60
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, from undisclosed sources. The release supports the American Prairie Reserve by highlighting the project and supporting it financially.
This was where things get interesting. I liked this but it feels a little short today for not having the same insane depth as the next few whiskeys on this list. Otherwise, this is a pretty easy sipper, especially on a rock or two.
5. Four Roses Single Barrel (Unsourced) — Taste 8
Average Price: $50
Four Rose’s standard single barrel expression is an interesting one. This is their “number one” recipe, meaning it’s a high-rye (35%) mash bill that’s fermented with a yeast that highlights “delicate fruit.” The juice is then bottled at 100 proof, meaning you’re getting a good sense of that single barrel in every bottle.
This has a really nice pear note to it with a hint of savory green herbs. I like that. Today, it helped this bottle stand out but not above. This felt like the perfect middle-of-the-road whiskey for this tasting. Everything that comes next is a certified killer. Everything that came before really depends on what mood you’re in or the profile you’re looking for.
4. Knob Creek 12 (Unsourced) — Taste 7
Average Price: $67
This is the classic Beam whiskey. The juice is left alone in the Beam warehouses in Clermont, Kentucky, for 12 long years. The barrels are chosen according to a specific taste and mingled to create this aged expression with a drop or two of that soft Kentucky limestone water.
While this was a cherry bomb!, it still had some serious depth and was not a “one-note” whiskey by any stretch. It’s also one of the easier whiskeys to drink in general thanks to that lush cherry profile. Still, it falls a little lower today because it might be hard to get past that big cherry note for some.
3. Nashville Barrel Company Single Barrel Bourbon (Sourced) — Taste 5
Average Price: $90
Nashville Barrel Co. is sourcing incredible barrels (a lot from MGP) and bottling them as-is without any cutting, filtering, or fussing — they let the whiskey speak for itself and it’s kind of magical. This expression tends to be five to eight-year-old barrels that will vary slightly in the flavor profile while always leaning into bold and distinct flavors.
I’ve had a lot of these single barrels from NBC, and not one has been bad. They’re almost always above average. Had this had a single rock in it, it might have hit number one today since it was a little hot compared to the rest of the list. That aside, this juice is fire.
2. Kentucky Peerless Small Batch Bourbon (Unsourced) — Taste 4
Average Price: $70
Kentucky Peerless Distilling takes its time for a true grain-to-glass experience. Their Small Batch Bourbon is crafted with a fairly low-rye mash bill and fermented with a sweet mash as opposed to a sour mash (that means they use 100% new grains, water, and yeast with each new batch instead of holding some of the mash over to start the next one like a sourdough starter). The barrels are then hand-selected for their taste and bottled completely un-messed with.
This was the boldest whiskey on the list. That said, the heat of the proof never overpowered the depth of the flavor profile. This was nuanced, enjoyable, and memorable. It was balanced but didn’t have quite the same subtleness as the next entry.
1. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit (Unsourced) — Taste 1
Average Price: $60
Jimmy and Eddie Russell (Wild Turkey’s father-son team) hand-selects eight to nine-year-old barrels from their warehouses for each barrel’s individual taste and quality. Those barrels are then cut down ever-so-slightly to 101 proof and bottled as-is with no other fussing.
This was just perfection today. It’s balanced and deep while still being 100% approachable, bright, and almost refreshing. This was a great pour neat. A little water and those would have exploded into something spectacular.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
So, the sourced juice didn’t quite hit the heights of the distillery-made-and-released product today. That said, they weren’t really that far off. Not a single one of these bourbons was bad. They were all some level of good to great.
Nashville Barrel Company easily walked into the top three without a single question. As for the other three “sourced” whiskeys, they all have their place. Still, if there’s a Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit on the shelf right next to any of these (sourced or not), I’m buying that without hesitation.