New bourbons are hitting shelves pretty much constantly these days. That makes picking a good one an unnecessarily hard task — just take a stroll down the bourbon aisle at your local liquor store and you’ll see what I mean. There are just so manyto pick from and, no, they’re not all good. Most are fine. Some break through the static and are great. Some stink.
That all means it’s time to blind taste test some new bourbon whiskies. For this blind taste test, I’ve grabbed bourbons that have dropped in the last month or two. I’m either talking about completely new expressions, the latest editions of limited releases, or the latest versions of standard releases.
That makes our lineup today the following bottles:
- Cooper’s Craft Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 100 Proof
- Frank August Case Study: 01 Mizunara Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch No. A123 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Old Elk Cognac Cask Finish Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- The Left Cross Puncher’s Chance Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Jamaican Dark Rum Casks Aged 14 Years
- Wyoming Whiskey The Ten Anniversary Edition
- Larceny Barrel Proof Batch No. A123 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Freeland Spirits Bourbon Whiskey
When it comes to ranking these bourbons, I’m going on taste alone. That’s not a monolith though. I’m looking at the depth of the palate and what sort of journey the flavor profile takes me on. In the end, we all just want a whiskey that actually tastes good and makes you feel something. Let’s dive in!
Part 1: The Tasting
Nose: There’s a sense of old oak and almost smoldering cinnamon bark on the nose with a hint of apple/pear cider cut with orange oils and a whisper of vanilla-nougat wafers.
Palate: That apple/pear cider vibe dominated the start of the palate with a Martinelli’s cider sweetness next to clove buds and more cinnamon bark, a light sense of vanilla cake, and burnt orange.
Finish: The cinnamon really attaches to the apple/pear cider on the finish with a fleeting sense of sweet oak and old evergreen pitch and an echo of orange tobacco.
This has a really nice nose and feels like a very bourbon-y bourbon. It’s a classic from top to bottom.
Nose: There’s a rich sense of butterscotch candy on the nose with freshly fried sourdough doughnuts dusted in brown sugar, cinnamon, and maybe some spearmint next dusting of white pepper.
Palate: The taste starts off creamy and full of toffee as apple pie filling with plenty of cloves and cinnamon leads to peppery mint chocolate and salted caramel drizzle with a twinge of pine resin.
Finish: The end is lush and spicy with a hint of caraway-encrusted rye next to cinnamon bark and clove buds next to warm menthol tobacco dipped in dark chocolate and wrapped with cedar bark and wild sage.
This is leathery and deep with a spicy sense of sweet bourbon. It’s a damn nice sip.
Nose: This has a classic nose that leans towards toasted chocolate beans, dried chili pepper flakes (and maybe even some fresh green chili), burnt vanilla pods, singed cherry bark, and old leather dipped in caramel.
Palate: Bold! The palate opens with a sense of sweet stick toffee pudding (dates, cinnamon, nutmeg, salted caramel sauce) before hitting a high note on the ABVs with a spicy heat that’s immediately countered by a rich cherry syrup and caramel sauce.
Finish: Another wave of heat arrives late and ushers in a light sense of old oak staves and cinnamon bark with a mild sense of apple tobacco and maybe some cedar kindling with a fleeting sense of leather and cherry stems.
This is a little hot but still a classic bourbon with a nice depth. Still, I could have used an ice cube to calm it down.
Nose: The nose is full of dried fruit — dried apricot, prunes, and raisins — with a sense of mulled wine and leathery dark Fruit Roll-ups next to a mild note of cinnamon toast.
Palate: There’s a sense of apricot jam that leads to a soft and sweet porridge (very crafty) with a plummy dark vibe leading to cinnamon bark, brioche, and some vanilla pods.
Finish: The end leans into the dried fruit a bit more with a sense of salted mango spears, orange marmalade, and some more of that porridge.
This was fine. It had a crafty edge (that sweet graininess) that was countered by a lot of fruit.
Nose: The nose has a classic sense of old oak, dark vanilla, black cherry, and woody spices with a hint of spearmint-spiked molasses.
Palate: The palate has a mild hogo funk with bananas foster cut with brandy, old raisin boxes, winter spices, and a soft vanilla cake frosted with rum-raisin and dark cacao.
Finish: Soft brown sugar gives way to a warming mulled wine vibe with plenty of anise, clove, and cinnamon next to plummy rum sweetness and Cherry Coke spiced tobacco.
This is a wild and fun journey. It’s clearly a rum finish on a sweet and old bourbon (all that woodiness). I dig it. It’s deep and interesting.
Nose: This leans into classic bourbon notes of black cherry, sticky toffee pudding, pecan pie, and marmalade before veering toward dried ancho chili powder and a touch of pistachio and honey.
Palate: That dark cherry turns syrupy before maple sap kicks in with a sense of toasted marshmallow, creamed honey, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and blueberry pie with a big dollop of bourbon vanilla ice cream.
Finish: The end has a sense of sweet potato pie covered in candied pecans next to toasted oak that’s been dipped in cherry tobacco.
This is a pretty good but sweet bourbon. It feels like a dessert course on the senses. That’s not a bad thing.
Nose: Chili pepper spice and almost damp masa come through on the nose with a hint of mustiness next to nut loaf cut with a twinge of apple cider juice and some orchard tree branches with a hint of apple caramel candy lurking underneath.
Palate: Sweet vanilla cake leads to a hint of cinnamon bark and creamy eggnog with plenty of nutmeg before a light ABV heat rises and leads to apple cores and soft leather.
Finish: A sharp winter spice dominates the end with a sense of old apple bushels, broken-down used bourbon barrels, and a hint of caramel vanilla creaminess.
This is another big and bold bourbon with a lot of heat. I like this one but it also needed an ice cube to calm it down a tad.
Nose: This is a lot thinner on the nose with hints of toffee, almond, orange zest, and maybe some clove that leads back to an overall citrus tone.
Palate: That citrus drives the palate toward marmalade and maybe some ripe yet tart red berries with a sense of vanilla and chocolate backing things up.
Finish: A hint of spiciness arrives late with more orange oil and a touch of chocolate and builds towards deep vanilla, marmalade, and some roasted pecans cut with maple syrup.
This was pretty thin and monotone but built towards a pretty solid end.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Freeland Spirits Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 8
Average Price: $49
This whiskey from Portland, Oregon is a stepping stone toward bigger ideas. The whiskey in the bottles is an MGP of Indiana bourbon made with 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malted barley. That whiskey is sent to Oregon where it’s re-barreled in local Elk Cove Pinot Noir barrels for a final rest to add some of that misty Pacific Northwest terroir.
This had a great mid-palate to finish but a really rocky nose and front palate. I’m looking forward to their next bourbon build but this isn’t quite there yet.
7. Old Elk Cognac Cask Finish Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 4
Average Price: $99
This five-year-old whiskey is made with 51/34/15 (corn/barley/rye) high-malt bourbon. That whiskey is filled into cognac casks for a final 10-month rest before batching and bottling as-is
That malt really comes through with a crafty (sweet grain porridge) vibe. It’s not out of place but doesn’t quite sync with the cohesiveness of the dried fruit and spice vibes of the rest of the pour. That said, if you like oatmeal raisin cookies, then this is your pour.
6. Larceny Barrel Proof Batch No. A123 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 7
Average Price: $69
This year’s first Larceny Barrel Proof is made with Heaven Hill’s standard wheated bourbon mash bill of 68% corn, 20% wheat, and 12% malted barley. The batch is made from a combination of six to eight-year-old barrels from Heaven Hill’s rickhouses. The final blend is bottled as-is.
This was tasty but hot. Really hot. Still, there’s enough going on on the flavor profile to enjoy, you’ll just need some ice or water to get there.
5. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch No. A123 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $69
This year’s first Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is hewn from Heaven Hill’s classic bourbon mash bill of 78% corn, 12% malted barley, and 10% rye. That hot juice is loaded into charred American oak barrels and left to rest for 12 long years before batching and bottling as-is.
This was pretty classic bourbon but, again, a little hot. Add a big rock or some water to access the deeper flavors of this one.
4. Wyoming Whiskey The Ten Anniversary Edition — Taste 6
Average Price: $259
This is a low-corn bourbon made with a mash of 68% corn, 20% rye, and 12% malted barley that’s left to rest for 10 long years. The barrels were hand-selected by Master Distiller and legend Steve Nally and Master Blender and Master Distiller Nancy Fraley, giving the final product some serious pedigree for the whiskey nerds.
This was a good classic bourbon. That’s all.
3. Frank August Case Study: 01 Mizunara Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 2
Average Price: $165
For this first “case study,” the team at Frank August picked five bourbon barrels to finish in Japanese Mizunara casks. While those barrels were finishing the elixir within, the team checked the whiskey every 30 days to assure they batched and bottled the whiskey at just the right moment.
This had a nice depth that felt both fresh and classic. It’s a nice balance with a good journey for the palate.
2. The Left Cross Puncher’s Chance Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Jamaican Dark Rum Casks Aged 14 Years — Taste 5
Average Price: $149
This sourced bourbon from Bruce Buffer (of UFC fame) is an old whiskey. The bourbon in the bottle is a 14-year-old whiskey made with 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley. After around 14 years, that whiskey is re-filled into freshly dumped Jamaican rum casks that held rum for 12 years. Those barrels are then batched after two to six months of additional maturation before proofing and bottling.
This was funky, fresh, and fun. It was different in all the right ways and had a clear sense of the finishing barrel in balance with the aged bourbon underneath. It’s nice stuff.
1. Cooper’s Craft Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 100 Proof — Taste 1
Average Price: $31
This whiskey is from Brown-Forman (which also makes Jack Daniels, Old Forester, King of Kentucky, and Woodford Reserve in the U.S.). The Kentucky-distilled juice is aged in special oak barrels that are chiseled before charring to create more surface space for carbon filtering and aging in the barrel. The best barrels and then batched, slightly proofed with that Kentucky limestone water, and bottled.
This hit those classic bourbon notes so well that it jolted it to the top of the tasting. This is just good goddamn bourbon from top to bottom.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
How about that? The cheapest bourbon on this panel won — and clearly so. It kind of wasn’t even close. That Cooper’s Craft 100 Proof just hit every note right and deeply with a clear sense of good bourbon. It’s tasty, clear, and good. Sometimes not f*cking around and just making good juice is all you need to do. The best part is that you can also probably find that bottle pretty easily. You really can’t ask for more.
That said, I’d say the top six are all good bourbons that are worth tracking down, depending on which flavor profile speaks to you. When pressed on something unique to try, I’d say try the Left Cross and Frank August first and then go from there.