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We Grabbed A Whole Bunch Of New Bourbons And Put Them To A Blind Taste Test

New bourbon whiskey drops constantly. No one can really keep up with it but… we try. One of the best ways for us to help you sort through the ever-growing bourbon aisle at your local liquor store is to do a blind taste test of some new expressions and tell you what we really think.

For this blind taste test, I grabbed ten new bourbons from the last year or so from my shelf. I didn’t rule anything out. There are bottles with wine cask finishings, 15-year-old rarities, and a bottle that hasn’t even come out yet. How’s that for “new”? I had them poured for me and numbered while I was out of the room and then I started tasting.

Not to spoil anything, but this set of whiskey really broke down into two groups. The bottom half of the ranking below are all good-not-amazing but still could have all been tied for second place. The top five were all killers and could have been tied for first place. It was a good group of whiskeys that all had their own unique nuances and attributes. That made ranking these especially hard.

Our lineup today is:

  • Thomas S. Moore Cabernet Cask Finish
  • Stellum Black Bourbon
  • Widow Jane The Vaults 15-Year
  • Old Elk Four Grain Bourbon
  • George Dickel Bourbon
  • Broken Barrel California Oak
  • Knob Creek 15
  • New Riff Red Turkey Wheated Bourbon
  • I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Finish
  • Barrell Craft Spirits 15-Year

Let’s dive in!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Blind Taste Test Posts Of The Last Six Months

Part 1: The Tasting

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Taste 1

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Stone fruit and vanilla lead on the nose with hints of sugar cookies, bright peach, and old-yet-soft oak. The palate leans into cherry bark with plum, mulled wine, vanilla, and sharp sassafras. The spice on the mid-palate leads to some old leather, more of that soft oak, and a hint of sweet potting soil with a plummy finish.

Taste 2

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Green pepper and green cedar counterpoint kettle corn, salted caramel, and almost floral vanilla with a creamsicle vibe. The orange lingers on the palate as soft suede leads to vanilla cream, winter spices, a touch of black pepper, and mocha espresso beans. The vanilla returns but feels more like vanilla tobacco on the finish as a pepper/leather/cedar vibe lingers at the end.

Taste 3

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Birch juice, vanilla bark, pipe tobacco, sassafras, and a light touch of mint mingle on the nose all inside an old leather pouch. The taste has a lemon meringue pie feel that leads to vanilla tobacco, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and a brown sugar forward mid-palate. The end leans into cherry bark tobacco with a hint of cinnamon rolls and a classic mix of caramel, vanilla, and oak on the finish.

Taste 4

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Marzipan and vanilla cookies lead the way with dark fruit leather, digestive biscuits, raisins, and caramel rounding out the rest of the nose. Nutmeg-heavy creamy eggnog leads the way in the taste with support from oatmeal cookies, sweetgrass, vanilla tobacco, wintry spices, and a hint of raw, grated carrot — a sweet one — on the very end.

Taste 5

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This opens pretty classically with vanilla, caramel, dried pine, and apple crumble with plenty of brown butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon spice on the nose. The palate leans into dry corn husks with a toffee sweetness touched by nutmeg as pear and orange zest mingle on the mid-palate. The finish teeters between dry sweetgrass and almost creamy vanilla/cherry spiced tobacco.

Taste 6

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with a pan of fresh cinnamon rolls next to tart berries, soft oak, and almost floral red wine with a hint of caramel. That tartness carries on with a Granny Smith apple vibe as peach, red wine staves, vanilla ice cream, and spicy mulled wine drive the taste. The finish has a soft vanilla pudding feel with an apple wine note and a hint of those red-wine-soaked oak staves.

Taste 7

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Saddle leather, cobwebs, cellar beams, dark fruit leather, vanilla husks, and salted caramel all lead to cherry tobacco on the nose. The dark fruit leather continues on the palate as cedar boxes full of sweet tobacco lead to apple cider on the mid-palate. The finish, on the other hand, is all about cherry tobacco oatmeal raisin cookies with nutmeg, and a hint of soft and silky vanilla cream that’s just touched with mint.

Taste 8

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Red bread crusts, dry reeds, cherry pie filling, and citrus oils (orange and maybe grapefruit) mingle with soft leather and a touch of cedar on the nose. The palate leans into cherry cough syrup with a spicy edge next to old leather, eggnog spices, and a hint of cherry root beer with a sweetgrass edge. The finish is all about that cherry tied to spicy tobacco with a hint of grapefruit skins and maybe some wet granite.

Taste 9

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Buttery caramel, rich vanilla, sweet cherry, and dried red wine in the bottom of a wine glass mingle with a hint of dry porch wicker on the nose. The taste is more about tart cherries, soft oak, and plenty of spicy yet sweet mulled red wine. Nutmeg and vanilla cream mix on the backend as dark chocolate, a hint more of that sweetgrass, and a soft cherry bark end the sip a little short.

Taste 10

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Tobacco spice and cedar boxes lead the way on the nose with a sense of chewable vitamins, tart apple pie, saffron stewed pears, salted toffee, and something savory that’s kind of like pasta water. Creaminess drives the palate through notes of wet brown sugar, dried raspberry, dried roses, and the cream from the top of an espresso. The raspberry pops in near the end with a figgy pudding vibe, a little more cedar, minty tobacco, and the chalk from that vitamin C tablet on the nose.

Part 2: The Ranking

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

10. I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Finish — Taste 9

I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Finish
Diageo

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

This Diageo whiskey is a sourced Kentucky bourbon that’s aged at the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery for four years. The whiskey is then finished in red wine barrels from California before blending, proofing, and bottling.

Bottom Line:

This ended up last more by elimination than anything else. There just wasn’t anywhere else to put it. It was in no way any less drinkable than the other four in the bottom five, it just didn’t really spark anything on the palate. It’d be fine in cocktails though.

9. Thomas S. Moore Cabernet Cask Finish — Taste 1

Thomas S. Moore Cab Cask Bourbon
Sazerac Company

ABV: 95.3%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

This release from Sazerac’s other distillery, Barton 1792 Distillery, has become a yearly release. The juice in the bottle is generally kept under wraps. What we do know is that the bourbon is finished in a Cabernet Sauvignon for a spell before blending, proofing, and bottling.

Bottom Line:

Overall, this was a “Meh…” It was nice enough but never really grabbed my attention, much less kept it.

8. New Riff Red Turkey Wheated Bourbon — Taste 8

New Riff Red Turkey Wheated Bourbon
New Riff

ABV: 50%

Average Price: Limited Availability ($50 MSRP)

The Whiskey:

This release from craft whiskey darling, New Riff, is all about the heritage grains. The whiskey uses a 19th-century grain, Red Turkey Wheat, to create a unique whiskey. The juice is aged for five years at New Riff’s warehouse before it’s vatted, proofed ever so slightly, and bottled as-is.

Bottom Line:

This was fine. There wasn’t really anything that stood out though. It felt like a perfectly good cocktail bourbon and not much else on this panel.

7. Broken Barrel California Oak Finish — Taste 6

Broken Barrel California Cask
Broken Barrel

ABV: 44%

Average Price: $32

The Whiskey:

This Kentucky bourbon from Owensboro Distilling Co. married the Bluegrass state with California’s wine country. The whisky — made with a mash of 70 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and nine percent malted barley — spends a few years in new oak. The prime barrels are then transferred to steel tanks filled with 80 percent broken California cabernet cask staves and 20 percent broken new French oak staves. After a long rest with those staves, the whiskey is proofed and bottled.

Bottom Line:

This was, again, fine. Nothing really jumped out at me and the end was a little short. Seeing the price now, this seems perfectly suitable for $30 but won’t wow anyone. I’ll happily use it in highballs though.

6. Old Elk Four Grain — Taste 4

Old Elk Four Grain Bourbon
Old Elk

ABV: 52.95%

Average Price: $99

The Whiskey:

This whiskey from out in Colorado combines two whiskeys from Indiana (MGP) with Colorado’s Rocky Mountain vibe. The whiskeys are a corn/rye/barley mash bill combined with a corn/wheat/barley mash to create a four-grain experience from blending instead of scratch. That whiskey then spends six to seven years aging in the Rocky Mountain state before it’s bottled as-is.

Bottom Line:

This was the best of the first half of the bottles ranked on this list. This is a damn fine bourbon with some nice depth. That said, I think I want to try this in a cocktail next as opposed to a sipper.

5. Barrell Craft Spirits Bourbon 15-Year — Taste 10

Barrell Craft Spirits

ABV: 52.5%

Average Price: $270

The Whiskey:

Barrell Craft Spirits is another craft blendery that’s sourcing some of the best barrels in the game and expertly marrying those barrels. This expression blends 15-year-old bourbon from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennesse into a final product that reaches new heights for blended bourbon.

Bottom Line:

This was the biggest surprise. I would have put money on this winning today. But there was something about the chalky end that didn’t do it for me. Still, the whole rest of the sip was pretty unique and delicious.

4. George Dickel Bourbon — Taste 5

Diageo

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $30

The Whisky:

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.

Bottom Line:

This hit some serious classic bourbon notes today. It’s so easy drinking while still offering some serious depth. Though I think this might lean more towards a cocktail base, it’s a really good one that works as a sipper on the rocks too.

3. Widow Jane The Vaults 15-Year — Taste 3

Widow Jane The Vaults 15 Year
Widow Jane

ABV: 49.5%

Average Price: $300

The Whiskey:

The 2021 release of Widow Jane’s much-lauded The Vaults is a mix of big, old bourbons. The whiskeys in the blend are 15 to 17-year-old barrels that are re-barreled in New York in Adirondack Oak casks for a final rest. Those whiskeys are then blended and bottled as-is with a touch of New York springwater.

Bottom Line:

This was another great whiskey. This could easily have been number one but felt a little smaller than the two bourbons on the list.

2. Stellum Black — Taste 2

Stellum Black Bourbon
Barrell Craft Spirits

ABV: 54.67%

Average Price: $99

The Whiskey:

Stellum Bourbon was one of our favorite bourbons for 2021. Just as the year ended, we got another version of Stellum that’s sure to dominate lists this year. Stellum Black Bourbon basically takes the recipe from Stellum Bourbon and uses the reserve barrels (sourced from Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky) from the series to create this heightened blend. The whiskey is batched and bottled at cask strength to let those barrels shine through in every sip.

Bottom Line:

There was a lot going on here and it all made sense on the palate. It was bold and unique but still felt easy to drink and understandable. Moreover, this felt fresh and kind of new while maintaining a touch of classic bourbon feel.

1. Knob Creek 15 — Taste 7

Beam Suntory

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $149

The Whiskey:

Knob Creek is what Jim Beam becomes with a little massaging, the right aging locations in warehouses, and some luck from the whiskey angels. The juice is made from Beam’s standard 77 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and 10 percent malted barley mash. Then it’s left alone for 15 years in the Beam warehouses on specific floors in specific locations. The best barrels are then small batched and proofed down to 100 proof.

Bottom Line:

This was just so goddamn easy yet deep. It felt like listening to your dad tell a story on the porch you’ve heard a million times but still laugh at every time. The flavor profile was very classic but hit all those notes perfectly without overdoing the oak/age. This was just a great sipper.

Part 3: Final Thoughts

New Bourbon Blind Taste Test
Zach Johnston

It’s hard to argue with Knob Creek 15. It’s just a stellar whiskey all around. Fred Noe, Beam’s Master Distiller, really hit gold with that expression. It’s just so goddamn easy-going but rewarding.

Overall, I stand by what I said up top, this really broke into two categories. The bottom five are all “fine” but not that engaging. The top five could have been tied for number one due to each having its own little nuances that stood out. In the end, Knob Creek won out, but I’d happily pour numbers two through five again anytime.

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