10 Incredible New Bourbons You Should Seek Out ASAP
Peated bourbon. Wheated bourbon. "Hipster" bourbon that really delivers. These are the new bottles to know.
There are interesting things happening in bourbon these days. Bourbon as a category now encompasses a broader range of flavors than ever before, thanks to the continual creativity of distillers and blenders, and consumer demand for ever more nuanced and diverse experiences. Many of these evolutions, techniques, and recipes start with craft producers who are nimble and creative enough to take risks, then they ripple through the industry as a whole.
At the same time, blenders are achieving a level of respect in the US that they’ve long had in Scotland and Japan, where blenders are even more lauded than distillers. Along with this has come greater transparency about sourcing spirits––brands that blend and bottle whiskies they did not distill. A geographic shift makes things interesting as well: not long ago, it was a novelty to drink bourbon made outside of Kentucky and Tennessee, but now we take it as a given that you may have incredible bourbon from New York, Colorado, or Indiana.
The ten new bourbons below showcase the whiskey’s increasingly broad range. From peated bourbon from New York, to wheated bourbon from Colorado to rum-cask-finished bourbon from Kentucky, they’re all worth exploring.
This bourbon is the happy outcome of a supply shortage at Kings County Distillery. While making their flagship bourbon, they ran out of the unpeated barley they use, but had peated barley on hand from a single malt batch and decided to give it a try. Colin Spoelman, the Kentucky-born owner of the New York based distillery, says he and head blender Ryan Ciuchta “make bourbon with a Scotch process,” with pot stills, open fermentation, and a focus on blending. The peat they use is from the East coast of Scotland, which Spoelman says yields a more barbecue flavor than the briny island peat on the West side. It’s bottled at 45% ABV and has a three-year age statement but includes whiskies as old as six years.
This small batch, hand-blended bourbon was made by Kentucky’s first female Master Distiller, Marianne Eaves, and it owes its name to the fact that women were once forbidden to make whiskey in America. Well regarded for her work with Castle & Key and Sweetens Cove bourbons, Eaves has a chemical engineering background that gives her a meticulous approach to creating spirits. Forbidden is the first time that she has shepherded a bourbon from grain to glass, and it is the first-ever use of cuisine-quality white corn, white winter wheat, and barley in any bourbon. It is distilled, aged, and bottled at Bardstown Bourbon Company and overseen entirely by Eaves.
This limited-edition bourbon from Jefferson’s is named for the founder’s eighth-generation Grandmother, Marion McLain, one of the first women to make and sell whiskey in America. It’s a blend of five whiskies that include 14-year-old straight bourbon from Tennessee, 11-year-old straight bourbon from Kentucky, double-cask-aged wheated whiskey, rum cask finished whiskey, and 8-year-old Kentucky bourbon. Bottled at 51% ABV, it can handle a little dilution on the rocks.
Launched by top-shelf bourbon producer Kentucky Owl, The Wiseman is a more affordable daily-drinker than its avian big brother. It’s a blend of four Kentucky bourbons, including some from Bardstown Bourbon Company. While it has no age statement, some of the juice in the bottle is as old as 8 ½ years. It’s a good value blended bourbon distilled wholly in Kentucky, and it doesn’t hurt that the bottle looks great on your shelf.
Hudson-Valley-based Hillrock was a pioneer of field-to-glass terroir whiskey. They grow their own grain, do their own floor malting, distilling, and they age this bourbon using solera method begun by Hillrock’s former Master Distiller, Dave Pickerell, a whiskey-world legend who helmed Hillrock until his death in 2018. It’s aged five years in a “nursery” stage before it gradually moves down through two more cask tiers of older spirit over time, then a final tier of Oloroso Sherry casks that give it added complexity and roundness. “The solera allows you to create a real complexity but also consistency between releases,” says owner Jeffrey Baker. This also allows for blending as it ages, and they have been gradually increasing the rye content over time in response to a shift of drinkers towards the savory side of bourbon.
This new whiskey from Bardstown Bourbon Company is a blend of 7-year-old rye from Indiana and 17-year-old bourbon from Tennessee that was created to accentuate the Barbados rum flavor that it picks up while aging for a final 23 months in Foursquare rum barrels before bottling. Foursquare is a highly respected producer of rum in Barbados and a darling of rum aficionados. Bardstown Bourbon Company and Foursquare share an ethos of transparency in the way they produce spirits that makes them like-minded partners for this collaboration.
A special occasion Kentucky Straight Bourbon finished in Cognac barrels. It begins with six-year-old bourbon with a mash bill of 72% corn, 13% Rye, and 15% malted barley, which is finished for 18 months in 30-year-old XO Hine French Oak Cognac casks in Bardstown, KY––7 ½ years in total. Rich, spicy, and a very assertive 63.5% ABV. The Hirsch name comes from a collector’s rare bourbon bottling in 1974 that became famous. Hotaling re-launched the brand in 2020 as a celebration of premium sourced bourbon.
Off Hours is a new brand with a cool bottle that has been called Hipster Bourbon (though not by us). It’s a nice bottle to gift someone because it’s not too expensive and flavor-wise, it’s a crowd-pleaser. A self-declared “modern bourbon,” this sourced spirit is distilled in Indiana and aged for five years. The mash bill is 75% corn, 21% Rye, and 4% Malted Barley. The spicy character of the barley offers a nice resistance to the sweetness of the corn for a nice overall balance. It’s bottled at 47.5% ABV, which is stout enough to make it very cocktail friendly.
Wheated bourbon is having a moment, and even legacy brands like Woodford are releasing them this year. Old Elk’s wheated bourbon is 51% corn (the minimum for bourbon), 45% wheat, and 4% malted barley. It’s distilled in Indiana and blended in Fort Collins, Colorado, where Old Elk uses what they call “Slow Cut” proofing, which is a process more common in brandy and rum. Before bottling, water is added to most whiskeys to reduce the barrel proof to bottle proof, which typically means from about 60% to about 45% ABV. Adding all the water at once causes a reaction that creates heat, but doing it slowly creates less heat, which preserves more subtle flavors and results in a smoother bourbon.
Barrell Craft Spirits, makers of Stellum, is an independent blender and bottler based in Louisville, Kentucky that specializes in high-end sourced whiskies. With Stellum, they created a more affordable blend of straight bourbon whiskies. Two high-rye and one high-corn whiskey, all from Indiana, are slowly blended with older barrels of Kentucky and Tennessee Whiskey in a multi-step blending process. It’s a good value from a respected producer, and at 57.49% ABV, it's got a firm handshake.