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A Whiskey Writer Reveals His Favorite Warming Bourbons For Chilly Days

Christopher Osburn has spent the past fifteen years in search of “the best” — or at least his very favorite — sips of whisk(e)y on earth. He’s traveled to over 20 countries testing local spirits, visited more than 50 distilleries around the globe, and amassed a collection of bottles that occupies his entire basement (and infuriates his wife).
In this series, he cracks open his worn “tasting diary” and shares its contents with the masses.

What exactly is a “warming whiskey?” That’s a tricky question. Ultimately, the answer depends on your particular taste. To me, a warming whiskey is a higher proof spirit with the ability to “warm my bones” on a cool fall (or frigid winter) night. But for my palate, high proof alone doesn’t totally cut it. I wouldn’t really enjoy a 120 proof bottom-shelf bottle of swill that tastes more like it belongs in a lawnmower than in my glass.

There needs to be a nice ratio between high proof, warming ability (that famous “Kentucky hug“), and quality juice. A little bit hot, but… with nuance.

Today, I dug into my tasting notebook and selected eight bourbons known for their proof, warming nature, and overall quality. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re expensive (although some are). Also — and this should be very obvious — drinking high proof won’t actually warm you up. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. A nice tipple of corn-based whiskey might make you feel warmer inside and out, but it’s not a replacement for a knitted sweater, cozy jacket, or winter hat.

Okay, let’s dive in. As always, you can click on the prices to try these yourself!

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Wild Turkey

ABV: 56.4%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

Ask 10 bartenders for their favorite warming, high-proof bourbon and at least a few will say Wild Turkey Rare Breed. This cask strength, 112.8 proof bourbon touts itself as the “original small batch” barrel proof bourbon. It’s a blend of six, eight, and 12-year-old bourbons.

Tasting Notes:

For a high-proof whiskey, this bourbon’s nose is surprisingly sweet with hints of clover honey, vanilla beans, and rich toffee. The palate is loaded with caramel corn, cereal grains, sweet cream, and gentle, peppery spice. It all ends with a nice mix of heat and sweetness with a final note of cracked black pepper.

Bottom Line:

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better price-to-quality ratio on this list. For around $50 you can enjoy this gently spicy, vanilla sweet sipper.

Remus Repeal Reserve Series V

Remus Repeal

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $82

The Whiskey:

MGP of Indiana is a massive distillery known for making whiskey for a ton of other brands, but Remus Repeal is one of its own expressions. The 2021 version is a blend of high-rye bourbons barreled between 2005 and 2008.

Tasting Notes:

A complex nose of caramel apples, sweet, corn, dried cherries, charred oak, and vanilla beans greets you. Then it’s time to dive into the flavors of oaky wood, butterscotch, clover honey, dried fruits, and just a hint of peppery rye. It all ends in a great deal of warmth and nutty, caramel sweetness.

Bottom Line:

There’s a good chance you’ve enjoyed MGP’s whiskeys before under different labels. The time is right to try one of its own brands. I promise, it’s totally worth it.

Wyoming Whiskey Double Cask

Wyoming Whiskey

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $65

The Whiskey:

Over the past few years, a small-batch distillery in rural Wyoming has caught the attention of the whiskey world. While you can’t go wrong with Wyoming Whiskey’s small batch bourbon, if you really want to feel the warmth of a great whiskey, you’ll pick up a bottle of its Double Cask Bourbon.

First released in 2017, Wyoming Whiskey took its flagship five-year-old bourbon and finished it in Pedro Ximénez sherry butts.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find aromas of ripe berries, wood char, and butterscotch. The palate is highlighted by notes of fudge, toasted vanilla beans, dried cherries, more oaky wood, and gentle, peppery spices. The warming finish ends with notes of dried fruits, oak, and vanilla.

Bottom Line:

This limited-edition bottle isn’t always easy to find. But if you can get your hands on a bottle you’ll be pretty happy you did. It’s warming, sweet, and complex.

Larceny Barrel Proof

Larceny

ABV: 60-65%

Average Price: $80

The Whiskey:

Drinkers love Larceny Barrel Proof because they know each bottle will be a new-ish flavor adventure. This is because, depending on the batch, the proof and flavor will be subtly different, based on the selected barrels. This a small-batch, wheated, blend of six to eight-year-old high-proof bourbons — released three times throughout the year.

Tasting Notes:

Aromas of maple syrup, cooking spices, caramel corn, and buttercream frosting are prevalent on the nose. Taking a sip reveals notes of dried fruits, butterscotch, vanilla beans, and candied pecans. It’s warming, mellow, and complex.

Bottom Line:

The high amount of wheat makes this high-proof bourbon surprisingly soft, mellow, and easy to drink. It’s helped by myriad sweet, complementary flavors.

TX Straight Bourbon Barrel Proof

Firestone & Robertson

ABV: 63.7%

Average Price: $75

The Whiskey:

Texas is becoming a go-to state for whiskey drinkers with the likes of Balcones and Garrison Brothers leading the charge. But definitely don’t sleep on Firestone & Robertsons’s TX, specifically its Straight Bourbon Barrel Proof. It’s uncut, unfiltered, and even has a “harvest date” to show when each barrel was selected.

Tasting Notes:

This bourbon gets a great start with a nose of cinnamon, caramel corn, maple candy, dried cherries, and rich, charred oak. Its palate is littered with flavors like vanilla beans, ripe berries, butterscotch, candy apples, and just a hint of peppery spice at the very finish to hold everything together.

Bottom Line:

After you’ve tried expressions from Balcones and Garrison Brothers, why not give this high-proof whiskey a try? It’s bold, sweet, well-balanced, and highly memorable.

Rabbit Hole Dareringer

Rabbit Hole

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $82

The Whiskey:

Rabbit Hole is a fairly new name in the whiskey world, having opened in 2012. Since then, the distillery has garnered acclaim and awards for its whiskeys. One of its best is its Rabbit Hole Dareringer. This award-winning straight bourbon was aged in charred, American oak barrels before being transferred to Pedro Ximénez sherry butts for finishing.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is laden with scents of dried cherries, rich oak, butterscotch, and gentle, sweet sherry. The palate is filled with notes of ripe berries, vanilla beans, oaky wood, caramelized sugar, dried cherries, and gentle spices. The finish is dry, warming, and ends with a nice final hint of caramel and fruity sweetness.

Bottom Line:

Fans of scotch already know that finishing (or aging) in a former sherry cask only adds to the depth of flavor. This is especially true when it comes to high-proof whiskeys. This bourbon is complex and bold and gets added stewed fruit notes from ex-sherry butts.

FEW Straight Bourbon

FEW

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $55

The Whiskey:

FEW has made a name for itself in the spirits world in the last decade. Its Straight Bourbon just might be its best expression. While not as high in alcohol as some of the other expressions on this list, it’s made with corn, rye, and malted barley before being matured in charred, oak barrels.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is classic bourbon with aromas of oaky wood, butterscotch, dried cherries, maple syrup, and slight spice. The palate is swirling with caramel corn, vanilla beans, toffee, dried fruits, and baking spices. It all ends with a nice, dry, warming, slightly spicy finish.

Bottom Line:

While this bourbon might not have the name recognition of some of the “big boys,” it belongs on your whiskey shelf just like Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, and others.

Weller Full Proof

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 57%

Average Price: $450 (MSRP: $50)

The Whiskey:

If you can get past the fact that Weller bourbons are hard-to-find and often have inflated prices, you can acknowledge that this is a really good, warming whiskey. It’s a 114-proof, uncut, unfiltered, and bold bourbon that retains its smooth, soft quality due to its high wheat content.

Tasting Notes:

This nose is a bourbon lover’s dream with hints of dried fruits, butterscotch, toasted vanilla beans, and baking spices. The palate is rich, with hints of sticky toffee, fudge, wood char, ripe cherries, and caramelized sugar. It all ends with a nice, mellow, sweet finish of maple candy and cinnamon sugar.

Bottom Line:

If you can get your hands on a bottle of this high-proof, uncut whiskey at close to MSRP, you should buy it. It’s 114 proof, but you wouldn’t know it due to the soft, sweet, mellow, highly sippable flavor.


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