There’s an obvious connection between bourbon whiskey and Kentucky. In fact, many believe that bourbon as we know it was invented in Georgetown, Kentucky in 1789 when a Baptist minister named Elijah Craig decided to open a distillery. Fast forward nearly 250 years and some estimates say that 95 percent of all bourbon is still made in the Bluegrass State. But while bourbon must be made up of 51 percent corn, aged in new American oak, and adhere to a few other strict rules, it doesn’t actually need to be produced in KY.
There are high-quality, award-winning, noteworthy bourbons produced all over the country, from St. Augustine to Seattle. Recently, my Uproxx colleague Zach Johnston ranked twenty of his favorite non-Kentucky bottles. This week, I decided to up the ante and blindly taste and rank fifteen of his top selections.
It should be noted that this is 100% based on my own personal tastes. I simply use my sense of smell to nose the bourbons and my sense of taste to sip them. So my picks might not align with yours (or even Zach’s). That said, I try to explain the flavors of each expression to help you find the flavor profile that suits you.
Our lineup today includes:
- 291 Small Batch Colorado Bourbon Whiskey (Colorado)
- Old Elk Wheated Bourbon (Colorado)
- Smooth Ambler Contradiction (West Virginia/Indiana)
- Woodinville PX Sherry Cask Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Washington)
- Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon (Texas)
- Garrison Brothers Balmorhea (Texas)
- Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey (Wyoming)
- Leopold Bros. Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon (Colorado)
- FEW Bourbon Whiskey (Illinois)
- Belle Meade Reserve Bourbon (Indiana)
- Bib & Tucker 10-Year-Old Small Batch Bourbon (Tennessee)
- Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Nevada)
- Hudson Whiskey Bright Lights, Big Bourbon (New York)
- Cedar Ridge Reserve Iowa Bourbon Whiskey (Iowa)
- Remus Repeal Reserve Series V Straight Bourbon (Indiana)
It’s a monster tasting with some serious heavy hitters. Let’s start the sampling!
Part 1: The Tasting
This whiskey has a very unique nose and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. First, I noticed a nutty sweetness that moved into clover honey, slight pipe tobacco, vanilla, and just a hint of peppery rye. The palate begins with a soft citrus zest that pairs with oaky wood, sweet corn, and butterscotch.
From my notebook: “It’s the kind of whiskey that needs multiple tasting to find everything.”
The nose of yellow cake, almond cookies, butterscotch, raisins, pipe tobacco, and slight, peppery spices let you know what you’re in for. On the palate, I found caramel corn, spicy cinnamon, oaky wood, more tobacco, and toasted vanilla beans. It ends with pecans, caramel, and more of those spices.
On the nose, I found a mix of sticky toffee pudding, toasted vanilla beans, oak, and a gentle, floral backbone. Tasting it revealed flavors like creamy caramel, cinnamon sugar, vanilla beans, and a dusting of holiday spices. The last few sips were warming and featured a great combination of cinnamon and butterscotch.
This whiskey smells like a classic bourbon with notes of fresh tobacco, maple syrup, sweet corn, and just a hint of cracked black pepper to tie everything together. Taking a sip revealed candied orange peels, toasted marshmallow, rich oak, and a slight herbal backbone. It ended with a nice mix of spice and cornbread.
You’re met with a hint of candied orange peels, cinnamon, and other wintry spices on first nosing. This is followed by a palate of apple pie crust, pipe tobacco, dried cherries, dark chocolate, oaky wood, and dried orange peel. The finish is medium in length, filled with warming heat, and delivers a nice mix of sweet cherries and chocolate.
If you enjoy vanilla, this is the bourbon for you. It’s very prevalent on the nose. I also found hints of caramel corn, dried fruit, and slight oaky wood. The palate is littered with flavors like dark chocolate, pipe tobacco, toasted vanilla beans, and a slight hint of cinnamon spice. The ending is sweet, lingering, and very warming.
Fruit is a notable presence on this whiskey’s nose. The first sniff revealed dried cherries and raisins and moved into caramel, pipe tobacco, and cinnamon sugar. A sip brought notes of caramel corn, Christmas spices, butterscotch, peppery rye. and wood char. The finish is a warming mix of dried fruit, brown sugar, and more oak.
Caramel and wintry spices dominate this whiskey’s nose. There are also hints of dried fruits and toasted vanilla beans. The palate is heavy on toasted vanilla beans pods, sticky toffee pudding, oaky wood, and a nice, pleasing kick of cinnamon at the finish.
From my notes: “Overall, a sweet, spicy, memorable sipper.”
The nose is classic bourbon with a good deal of oak that pairs well with butterscotch, raisins, and dried cherries. The flavor is sweet, soft, and filled with more dried fruits, slight cinnamon spice, fresh leather, and just a hint of peppery rye. It ends with a nice mix of sweetness and spice.
It starts with a bang due to notes of caramel corn, dried cherries, ripe berries, raisins, and toasted vanilla beans. Sipping it only adds to the experience with notes of clover honey, sweet treacle, maple candy, spicy cinnamon sugar, and butterscotch frosting. The ending is warming and a good combination of corn sweetness and cinnamon spice.
This whiskey had a surprisingly fruity nose with hints of ripe berries and dried cherries paired with salted caramel, sweet corn, and rich, dark oak. On the palate, I found flavors of wintry spices, butterscotch, more woody oak, raisins, and just a touch of spice. It all ends with a dry, warming, slightly nutty finish.
When I nosed this whiskey, I found aromas of dried cherries, fresh leather, rich oak, cinnamon sugar, and candied pecans. The flavor is a little spicier than expected with hints of cinnamon and baking spices as well as a nutty sweetness, maple candy, dark chocolate, pipe tobacco, and light herbal quality. It finished with a lingering, warming, salted caramel flavor.
From my notes: “This whiskey smells very corny on the nose.”
There’s a slight hint of oak and maybe a wisp of vanilla as well. There really isn’t much else going on. The palate has slightly more going on with some dark chocolate, vanilla beans, and more caramel corn. It doesn’t taste like it’s been aged very long.
A lot is going on with this bourbon’s nose. First off is a wallop of caramel candy. It’s followed close behind with notes of buttercream frosting, candied almonds, and mint-like herbal aromas hiding in the background. The flavor continues to the trend set by the nose with a slew of flavors including vanilla beans, sticky toffee pudding, treacle, almond cookies, and slight wintry spices.
The nose is closer to a single malt Scotch whisky than a bourbon. I smell notable hints of vanilla, oaky wood, and sweet grains. The palate is filled with slight cracked black pepper, buttery caramel, vanilla beans, and treacle. It all ends with a mix of sweetness and spice.
From my note: “It felt like it was missing something.”
Part 2: The Ranking
Now comes the really fun part. If you’re reading this, that means you’ve already made your way through my tasting notes. You’re going to finally get what you came here for — the ranking. Again, my palate is different than Zach’s, that’s how palates work. The best thing for you to do is check our notes and see what resonates with you.
Keep scrolling to see how these fifteen non-Kentucky bourbons stacked up (for me!).
15. Hudson Whiskey Bright Lights, Big Bourbon (New York) — Taste 13
Average Price: $45
Not too long ago, Hudson Bourbon was rebranded and renamed. Formerly called Baby Bourbon, this 95 percent corn and five percent malted barley whiskey isn’t as infantile as its predecessor, as it’s aged a minimum of three years.
There’s nothing harsh or abrasive with this whiskey’s flavor. It just doesn’t taste as refined as I would hope — that corn note really dominated.
14. Leopold Bros. Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon (Colorado) — Taste 15
Average Price: $70
First released in 2020, this bottled in bond expression from Leopold Bros. has a mash bill of 64 percent corn, 21 percent malted barley, and 15 percent Abruzzi Heritage rye. It’s pot-distilled, unfiltered, and aged for five years in new, charred oak casks.
This isn’t a bad bourbon by any means. It’s just lacking in the sweet corn and butterscotch flavor notes I’d expect from a refined bourbon whiskey.
13. Bib & Tucker 10-Year-Old Small Batch Bourbon (Tennessee) — Taste 6
Average Price: $85
If you’re a whiskey fan, the odds are you don’t think of bourbon when you envision Tennessee whiskey. Bib & Tucker — with its ten-year-old small-batch bourbon — is trying to change that. This award-winning, non-chill filtered bourbon is a blend of ten-year-old sourced whiskeys that are aged in low-char casks to create a complex, well-balanced expression.
This bourbon is a true vanilla bomb. If that’s what you’re into, this is a perfect whiskey for you. Otherwise, try something different.
12. Cedar Ridge Reserve Iowa Bourbon Whiskey (Iowa) — Taste 1
Average Price: $60
Iowa is well-known for being home to a lot of cornfields. This is why it’s so surprising that there aren’t more bourbons coming out of the state. Iowa’s first distillery, Cedar Ridge, is trying to change that. This award-winning expression was aged a minimum of five years before bottling.
This is a surprising whiskey. It has a ton of flavors I don’t usually associate with bourbon — namely that honey and citrus. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I actually liked it a lot, it’s jut that there were some expressions I truly LOVED in this round.
11. Smooth Ambler Contradiction (West Virginia/Indiana) — Taste 9
Average Price: $60
Smooth Ambler Contradiction is a unique whiskey. Instead of simply sourcing bourbon or distilling their own, Smooth Ambler blended their own wheat bourbon with sourced high-rye bourbon from MGP. The result is a complex, non-chill filtered blended bourbon.
This is a very complex, multi-layered whiskey. It starts sweet and moves into spicy before finishing with a nice, classic caramel corn and vanilla finish.
10. Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey (Wyoming) — Taste 3
Average Price: $40
Carrying on the tradition that bourbon can come from unexpected places, Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch is made at a grain-to-glass distillery in Kirby, Wyoming. Made from locally sourced grains, this wheated, small-batch bourbon is matured for a minimum of four years.
If you’re looking for a whiskey with a nice combination of spicy cinnamon and sweet caramel, this is the bourbon for you. It has a nice bite to temper the sweetness.
9. Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Nevada) — Taste 7
Average Price: $55
There’s a lot more to Nevada than Las Vegas. We’re talking about Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon. This is a true farm-to-bottle whiskey. All of the grains (corn, wheat, rye, and barley) are grown on-site and the whiskey is fermented, distilled, matured, and bottled at Frey Ranch.
This complex whiskey is so filled with flavors, I might need to try it neat again, on the rocks, and mixed into a cocktail before I find them all.
8. FEW Bourbon Whiskey (Illinois) — Taste 8
Average Price: $40
Evanston, Illinois’ FEW has made a name for itself in the spirits world in the last decade. One of its best offerings is its award-winning FEW Bourbon. It’s a high-rye, small-batch bourbon that’s matured for slightly less than four years in American oak casks.
This is a classic bourbon that would stand up against many of your Kentucky favorites. It ticks all of the bourbon boxes with its sweetness, slight spice, and warming finish.
7. Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon (Texas) — Taste 4
Average Price: $55
In the past few years, Texas has become a popular destination for bourbon fans. Brands like Garrison Brothers and Balcones are leading the way and the latter’s Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon is one of the best. Made from a mash bill of 100 percent Texas blue corn, this cask strength bourbon is as big and bold as the state it’s produced in.
Tobacco, corn, butterscotch, and spices, this whiskey has it all. Sweet corn whiskey fans should definitely grab a bottle of this delicious expression — it’s a bottle Zach and I BOTH adore.
6. Garrison Brothers Balmorhea (Texas) — Taste 12
Average Price: $190
Balcones might be more well-known, but Hye, Texas’ Garrison Brothers was actually the first. Also, while you can’t go wrong with the brand’s iconic Cowboy Bourbon, its limited-edition expressions aren’t to be missed. This includes Garrison Brothers Balmorhea. This 115-proof whiskey is matured in Ozark white oak for four years before finishing in Minnesota oak for one more year.
This is complex, with a whole cornucopia of flavors, but somehow still mellow and easy to sip. It’s an all-around great sipping whiskey.
5. Belle Meade Reserve Bourbon (Indiana) — Taste 2
Average Price: $75
You might be confused that Belle Meade is listed as an Indian brand when it’s made in Tennessee. This is because this is a sourced and blended whiskey from Indiana’s MGP. It also should be noted that doesn’t make it a bad whiskey. This blend of high-rye whiskeys ranging in age from seven to eleven-years old is bold, flavorful, and highly memorable.
It will be hard to beat this whiskey. It has everything a bourbon fan could want. It’s so multi-dimensional and complex that it begs to be sipped slowly and savored.
4. Old Elk Wheated Bourbon (Colorado) — Taste 14
Average Price: $66
We all know that to be considered a bourbon, the mash bill must consist of at least 51 percent corn. This wheated bourbon from Colorado’s Old Elk really pushes the limits with a mash bill of 51 percent corn and 45 percent wheat. The result is a sublimely soft, easy-to-drink sipper.
This soft, sipping whiskey is carried by a nice nutty sweetness and sweet caramel and vanilla flavors that make it a borderline dessert dram.
3. Remus Repeal Reserve Series V Straight Bourbon (Indiana) — Taste 11
Average Price: $175
If you haven’t yet tried one of the Remus Repeal Reserve expressions, you’re doing yourself a disservice. MGP’s signature bourbon is as complicated in flavor as it was in its creation. Made up of five different bourbons, all with a high-rye content, it’s known for its complex, slightly spicy, fruity flavor.
This subtly spicy, fruity, nutty whiskey deserves to be sipped slowly neat or on the rocks while you sit under a warm blanket, slowly watching the snow fall outside of your window.
2. 291 Small Batch Colorado Bourbon Whiskey (Colorado) — Taste 10
Average Price: $79
You might be surprised to learn that this isn’t a straight whiskey because it was only aged for one year. How did the folks at 291 get away with that and still make a flavorful whiskey? They made it taste older with the addition of Aspen wood staves in the barrel while it aged.
This might not be the most complex whiskey on this list and that’s not such a bad thing. Sometimes less is more and this whiskey proves it. Clearly it really resonated with me — sneaking into a very competitive #2 spot!
1. Woodinville PX Sherry Cask Bourbon Whiskey (Washington) — Taste 5
Average Price: $50
If you haven’t joined the Woodinville bandwagon yet, what are you waiting for? This Washington State distillery pretty much makes nothing but bangers at this point. Woodinville PX Sherry Cask Straight Bourbon Whiskey is no different. To make this sublime expression, they start with their flagship five-year-old straight bourbon and finish it in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks.
This is a warming, sweet, and memorable whiskey. It’s also a perfect spicy, sweet warmer for the colder winter months.