Bourbon is always evolving. Innovative distillers continue to push the creative envelope with new and interesting expressions of the definitive American whiskey. And with prices rising across the board for many coveted classics, it’s the perfect time to explore the newest bourbons on the market – many of which come from places not historically associated with the spirit.
“Over the last 15 years, the number of bourbons available has exploded,” says Noah Rothbaum, whiskey expert and the associate editor of the Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails, and the author of the forthcoming Whiskey Bible. “With the increase in bourbon’s popularity, prices have also increased exponentially. But there are still many great picks at every price level.”
Here are nine bourbons with a range of price points and flavors, from distilleries spanning from Kentucky to New York, to Charleston to Chicago.
Jefferson’s line of limited-batch Ocean-aged whiskeys are named for specific ocean voyages the barrels embark on to accelerate the aging process. That’s right — the whiskey barrels are put on a ship and sent out to sea. Some trips have even crossed the equator multiple times. Voyage 24 was an experiment in high heat and humidity that circumnavigated the Caribbean. Temperatures reached 124-degrees Fahrenheit and relentless tropical humidity combined with the underlying benefits of jostling liquid against wood while picking up ambient notes of saline. This bourbon is an absolute joy to drink, with the heat treatment lending a sumptuous quality that you’d find in a great tropical-aged rum.
Marianne Eaves was the first female to achieve the title of Master Distiller in Kentucky bourbon history. A Woodford Reserve and Castle & Key alum, Eaves’ new endeavors include this limited-edition Tennessee bourbon backed by Andy Roddick and Peyton Manning. The 2021 Batch — her second Sweeten’s Cove expression — is the result of a meticulous blend of four, six, and sixteen-year-old spirits from different sources. On the palate, it will take you to places you’ve not been before with Bourbon. Despite the high proof, it begs to be sipped neat.
This is the first bourbon to be distilled on the grounds of the historic Old Taylor Distillery in five decades. The titular castle was built in 1887 and was the birthplace of Kentucky bourbon tourism. Over the past few years, the castle and adjoining distillery have been fully restored. While many bourbon brands focus on consistency of flavor from batch to batch and year to year, the team behind Castle & Key is allowing the different batches to vary in their flavor profiles by focusing instead on a “consistency of quality rather than consistency of flavor.” Aged four years, and with a mash bill of 73% white corn, 10% rye, and 17% malted barley, it’s a complex spirit. The white corn felt front and center to me.
There’s something about Widow Jane’s military stencil font that quietly subverts the “Olde Timey” way bourbon has typically been branded. Kentucky sourced and aged for a minimum of 13 years, partly in their Brooklyn rick house, drinking Lucky Thirteen is like listening to a great song you’ve never heard before. To me, it had a sweet-hot combo like red chili marzipan that I kept going back to for more.
Few Spirits is an across-the-board excellent and innovative distiller in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. And for Kentucky bourbon devotees, Few Straight Bourbon — and their Bottled-In-Bond Straight Bourbon — offer a different experience by melding influences from both the North and the South. With unique riffs like a dry kick of Northern Rye in the mash bill and fermentation with a rare and peppery yeast used for saison beer, the result is a distinctively rich and spicy Chicago-style bourbon.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the distinctive Hudson Whiskey bottles, but it also helps that what’s inside them is always stellar. This new four-grain Bourbon is rich and complex. It’s made from a mash bill of 60% corn, 15% rye, 15% wheat, and 10% malted barley, distilled in the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York, aged for a minimum of seven years, and bottled at 46% alcohol. To me, “Harmony” is the operative word in the name – it has enough bite to make a cocktail with, but so many layers to pick apart if you’re sipping it neat. This is a philosopher’s bourbon.
Made from a mash bill of 100% Jimmy Red Corn, an heirloom corn native to South Carolina that was two cobs away from extinction not long ago. Part of High Wire’s New Southern Revival line, the distillers partnered with local farmers to revive this legendary moonshiner’s corn. Jimmy Red has far more complexity than industrial corn –– it’s nutty, sweet, mineralic, and its high oil content gives the bourbon a uniquely creamy texture. It’s aged for a minimum of two years and guaranteed to be the most unique corn whiskey you’ll ever taste. The latest batch, #23, is a blend that makes use of older whiskeys than were available for prior batches, and it was distilled on High Wire’s new hybrid still.
Great Jones Distilling Co. opened in August of last year as the first whiskey distillery in Manhattan since prohibition times. Their straight bourbon is made entirely from New York-grown grain: corn, malted barley, and rye. It’s aged four years and bottled at 43% alcohol. To me, it’s like having the balance of good Japanese whiskey in a bourbon –– a perfect middle ground between the sharpness of rye and the sweetness of corn, and refreshingly light-bodied. I also love the sleek art deco bottle.
Clyde May’s is named for a notorious Alabama moonshiner, whose grandson is the current brand ambassador. This special reserve batch was distilled in Indiana, but the company has just broken ground on a new distillery in Troy, Alabama, not far from where Clyde mixed up his infamous hooch. Expect good things to come from the producer of juice legally designated as Alabama’s state spirit. Aged six years and bottled at 110 proof, this is a balanced bourbon with a structured finish that would stand up well in a cocktail.
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