The 10 Essential Bourbons You Need for Bourbon Heritage Month
Happy Bourbon Heritage Month! If you’re anything like us and hoping to use this wonderful month as an excuse to indulge in some great bourbon, we’ve got you covered. Bourbon is a wonderful and quintessential American spirit, but there’s no doubt the market is a bit saturated due to the massive quantities of great bourbons being produced throughout Kentucky and across the rest of the U.S.
We’ve compiled a list of 10 bourbons you can’t go wrong with this Bourbon Heritage Month.
Best Bang for Your Buck: Wild Turkey 101
Wild Turkey 101 is an absolute classic with a serious cult-like following. 101 has attained its popularity for good reason. Moderately aged, aggressively priced and well-proofed at 50.5% ABV, this bourbon is a jack of all trades, able to shine neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail.
101 isn’t the most complex bourbon out there, but it’s damn good, featuring vanilla and cinnamon on the palate. It’s tough to find a bourbon that performs this well at this price.
Find Wild Turkey 101 at most retailers for a hair over $20 or buy it online for $31 on ReserveBar.
Best Bourbon for Your Cocktail: Old Forester 100
This is Old Forester’s signature bourbon, and it won’t let you down. Combining rich vanilla and notes of banana with spice and heat on the palate, this is a very solid bourbon at its price point (about $30). A 100-proof bourbon is about the perfect strength for most cocktails; 50% ABV hits a great sweet spot, allowing you to taste the bourbon in your drink just enough without overpowering your other ingredients. Whether you’re making an Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, Boulevardier or any other bourbon-based cocktail, Old Forester 100 is a great option.
Best Bourbon to Splurge on: Knob Creek 12 Year
With Knob Creek 12 Year, you’re moving away from the sub-$50 bourbons into a slightly pricier territory without breaking the bank or emptying your wallet reaching for the top shelf. At a suggested retail price of $60, Knob Creek 12 Year delivers the goods.
On the palate, Knob Creek 12 Year is creamy, with notes of nougat, peanut butter, cocoa, pepper and cherry. It cocnludes with a long finish that brings notes of brown butter, chocolate-covered cherries, peabut brittle and créme brûlée.
In the category of bourbons that fall between super-affordable and majorly expensive, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pour than Knob Creek 12 Year.
Best Celebrity Bourbon: Wild Turkey Longbranch
In a time where celebrities left and right are lining up to get their names on spirits brands, a few brands stand apart. There’s a major difference between famous people who slap their names on a bottle hoping to make a quick buck and those who have passion for the product and want to be a hands-on part of the brand. Actor Matthew McConaughey clearly belongs to the latter group.
Distilled by Wild Turkey, McConaughey’s Longbranch features a delicate and rich nose, with notes of vanilla, coconut water, peaches and cream, sawdust, candied lemon and roasted corn on the nose. The palate delivers rye spice, sweet cream, demerara, caramel, oak, tannins and smoky mesquite.
Best Bourbon Beyond Kentucky: Woodinville Whiskey Straight Bourbon
Kentucky is certainly the bourbon capitol of the world, but bourbon is made across the U.S., not just in Kentucky – although the misconception that all bourbon comes from Kentucky is a common one. Woodinville Whiskey Company, founded in 2010 and located in Redmond, Washington, delivers an above-average sipper with its flagship bourbon. For $40, Woodinville Whiskey Straight Bourbon won’t lead you astray. This bourbon comes devoid of an age statement but at a respectable 45% ABV.
It’s a bit young but performs well nonetheless. This bourbon features a nice malt character with notes of sweet cream, caramel, vanilla bean and pepper, with a surprisingly complex finish.
Find Woodinville Whiskey Straight Bourbon from ReserveBar.
Best Experimental Bourbon: Legent Bourbon
If you’re looking for influence beyond Kentucky, Washington or even the confines of the U.S., this collaboration between Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe and Suntory Master Blender Shinji Fukuyo — two enormous names in the whiskey world — should tickle your fancy. Kentucky takes a trip to Japan in this release.
To be honest, we wish they’d blurred the lines a little further in this release — more Japanese influence would be welcome. However, it’s still a good bourbon, worth picking up at its price point, which usually wavers between $40 and $50. Legent Bourbon offers notes of warm cookies, maple syrup, vanilla bean, orange peel, milk chocolate and melon on the nose, with a medium mouthfeel featuring toffee, caramel, oak, a touch of spice and some minerality on the palate.
Flavor aside, this bourbon is an excellent talking point; regale your guests with the story of Jim Beam’s seventh-generation master distiller working alongside the legendary Japanese blender Fukuyo.
Best Wheated Bourbon: Old Elk
A wheated bourbon is simply a bourbon with wheat present in the mash bill. Wheated bourbons are typically considered smooth, especially those made with a high percentage of wheat. The maximum amount of wheat that can exist in bourbon is 49%, as bourbon must be made with at least 51% corn. Whiskeys with mash bills more than half wheat do exist, but they’re in the wheat whiskey category, not bourbon.
Distilled by Greg Metze for MGP in Indiana and then bottled by Metze for Old Elk in Colorado, Old Elk Wheated Bourbon is aged five years and bottled at 46% ABV. Old Elk Wheated Bourbon is a total rockstar with tons of character. It’s sweet on the palate, with cream, oak, pepper and tobacco. This is a tremendous, well-orchestrated wheated bourbon.
With 45% of the mash bill comprising wheat (51% corn, 4% malted barley), this is about as high-wheat a bourbon as you’ll find. If you’re interested in sampling wheat’s effect on a bourbon, this is a great pick. Plus, it’s just an all-around awesome bourbon to enjoy.
Old Elk Wheated Bourbon can usually be found for about $70, making it one of the more premium offerings on this list. Find it at a Total Wine near you.
Best Barrel Proof Bourbon: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength
Maker’s Mark releases several batches of cask strength bourbons each year, and they consistently perform strongly. We love these batches, and they often outperform comparable, far more expensive releases like Stagg Jr. and Old Weller Antique.
Best Craft Bourbon: Starlight Bottled In Bond
An excellent bottled-in-bond release from Indiana’s Starlight Distillery, this bourbon delivers notes of cocoa, honey, caramel and toffee. This lovely and sweet bourbon coats your tongue with moderate viscosity. There’s notable but not punishing heat on the finish.
If you’re a fan of sweet bourbons that still pack a bit of heat (this release is bottled at 100 proof per Bottled in Bond regulations), this is a good pick.
At $60, Starlight Bottled In Bond isn’t exactly a bargain buy, but it’s well worth the price tag.
Best Finished Bourbon: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
This is a no-age-statement release from Woodford Reserve. Bottled at 45.2% ABV, this bourbon undergoes a second maturation in a toasted barrel with light charring. This bourbon is bright and sweet on the nose, offering notes of toffee, cocoa, fudge, peaches and red berries. The palate brings sweet cocoa, light fudge notes and a pleasant oak structure that adds a bit of complexity. The finish is long, dry and oaky.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked performs well. The addition of further maturation shows clearly through the bold tannin structure, especially in the finish.
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