Bourbon is a special class of whiskey that’s all-American in its production. Even though some of our whiskies are bourbons, they avoid the name, notably Tennessee whiskies like Jack Daniels and George Dickel. These distilleries differentiate themselves from bourbon by actually going above and beyond in the distilling method, while keeping the integrity of the ingredients intact.
Every whiskey connoisseur should have a solid base of bourbons in the collection. Bourbon must be made of at least 51 percent corn mash, distilled at 160 proof or less, barreled at 125 proof or less, and aged in a new charred oak barrel with no additives.
Of all the bourbons I’ve tasted from distilleries big and small, these are the ten I feel belong in every bourbon lover’s collection. Also check out ten bottles every scotch lover should own.
The Bulleit Distillery was created in 1987 using old family recipes dating back to the 1830s. The distinct flavor is derived from Kentucky limestone-filtered water and a high rye content. This 10-year bottle has 68 percent corn, 28 percent rye, and 4 percent malted barley for a smooth, oaky taste with subtle hints of vanilla.
2. Four Roses
The Four Roses brand is nearly as old as Louisville, Kentucky itself, and these small batch, single barrel, and limited edition bottles are truly a nectar of the hillbilly gods. This bottle of Four Roses Small Batch has been winning awards consistently for the past decade, and it’s a blend of four original recipes that gives it the taste of smooth caramel and raspberries.
3. Maker’s Mark
Maker’s Mark was created in the 1950s using red winter wheat in place of the rye commonly used in whiskey mash. It also incorporates an heirloom yeast and wax seal for a distinct flavor and look in a crowded field. This bottle of Cask Strength is bottled at barrel proof and nonchill filtered for a variable potency of 108-114 proof. It has a rich, woody taste with flavors of spicy vanilla and caramel.
4. Angel’s Envy
Another Louisville, Kentucky original, Angel’s Envy has expressions of straight bourbon whiskey aged in a variety of barrels like Port, Rye, and Rum. This bottle of port finish was aged for about 6 years, losing 5 percent to the angel’s share before being transferred to French Oak ruby port wine casks from Portugal. It’s a personal favorite with tastes of maple, chocolate, and vanilla.
Created in 1997, the Jefferson’s distillery was created to honor the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, along with the founder’s bootlegging, moonshining grandma. The brand creates a dozen different expressions, and the bottle above is Jefferson’s Reserve, a small-batch mix of bourbons aged in French Oak Cabernet Savignon casks for complex flavors you won’t find anywhere else.
6. Bib & Tucker
Bib and Tucker is a small batch bourbon that looks like the old fashioned root beer and sarsaparilla bottles of the old west. It’s one of the smoother bourbons I’ve tasted, with a warm, almost sweetness to it, followed by a complex, nutty finish. Also the bottle just looks cool on the shelf among others.
7. Eagle Rare
Eagle Rare is my regular sipping whiskey and a popular choice for many from Buffalo Trace Distillery. The 10 Year bottle featured above is iconic in bourbon circles for its hints of orange, toffee, and honey, along with a dry, leathery finish. This entry-level bourbon from Eagle Rare is a taste unlike any other, and any discerning aficionado will appreciate seeing it in your bar.
8. Knob Creek
Knob Creek is a small batch Kentucky straight bourbon that’s also great for sipping. Two main expressions are available (a rye whiskey and a bourbon), but there are several limited editions and varieties, including smoked maple bourbon, a liquor meant to remind us of bacon while drinking whiskey. The small batch bourbon above has a woody, nutty taste.
1792 creates small batch bourbons using a high-rye recipe in unique shaped bottles. The small batch bottle above is the entry-level expression, while over a dozen limited editions have been released, including port finish, sweet wheat, and bottled in bond. It has spicy taste with hints of both caramel and vanilla.
10. I.W. Harper
I.W. Harper was born in 1870 and survived this country’s prohibition. Today, it has two expressions, including the elegant 15 Year bottle above. It’s sweeter up front than your average bourbon, with a heat that lasts a while in your belly. This is a great bottle to show off how fancy you are for having a ton of liquor…not an alcoholic…fancy af…