Oh sweet, sweet September. Not only does this month mark the start of my favorite season (Fall) and my anniversary (Sept. 14), but it's also National Bourbon Heritage Month. Not that we bourbon lovers need any excuse to celebrate our favorite spirit, but I'll speak for myself when I say it's nice to have a month-long reason to twist off the tops of my favorite expressions and enjoy a few sips of whiskey.
Did you know that bourbon was designated as an American spirit in 1964 by Congress? Legally bourbon can only be made in the United States and under federal law it has to consist of at least 51% corn and be aged in new, charred oak containers. Bourbon's uniquely American history also means that the spirit is deeply rooted in history which includes chattel slavery. If you're interested in learning more I'd check out this article and this one as well.
Bourbon is a fascinating spirit and one that I have a deep, deep love for. I first fell in love with it in my early 20s, mostly as an act of rebellion. Growing up my mom always told me that true ladies don't drink dark liquor and I was dating a guy at the time who pretty much believed the same thing. But once I got past just wanting to prove them wrong, I truly began to appreciate the craftsmanship, beauty and flavor of it. Hell, even the name of this blog is a nod to my love of bourbon.
Whether you're new to the joys of bourbon and looking to expand your palate, or you're an aficionado like myself, there are bound to be a few bottles on this list you haven't gotten a chance to try out and now is the perfect time.
Happy National Bourbon Heritage Month!
Four Roses Single Barrel
This is the first bottle of whiskey that cost more that $20 that I fell in love with. For years, if anyone asked me my favorite bourbon, I'd say Four Roses Single Barrel and while I have discovered other favorites, this bottle still holds a special place in my heart. It's priced at around $50 but you'd be hard pressed to find a better expression, especially at that price point. When you pop open the wooden cork your nose is immediate hit with the smell of baking spice and warm maple syrup. The finish is smooth. You'll want to enjoy this neat or on the rocks, anything else is a sin.
Wilderness Trail Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Single Barrel, Bottled In Bond
Holy. Shit. I got a chance to visit this distillery on a media tour years ago and it was love at first sip. Since then I keep two bottles on my bar at all times. Wilderness Trail Distillery is a relative newcomer on a scene where family legacy is a true currency. But, what they late in storied history, they more than make up for in flavor profile. Their mashbill (basically their special blend of ingredients that makes their whiskey) is 64% corn, 24% wheat and 12% malted barley meaning that their bourbon is a little on the sweeter side...but don't let that turn you off. Don't you dare use this in a cocktail, neat or on ONE large rock. That's it. Their whiskey is more than worth the $60 bucks it costs. Thank me later.
Evan Williams Straight Bourbon Whiskey
I know, I know Evan Williams? But hear me out. A few years ago, I took Shep to Louisville to go whiskey tasting. We grabbed lunch downtown and saw that Evan Williams had a tasting room across the street so we figured, fuck it, we have nothing to lose...let's do it. We truly had preconceived notions of what Evan Williams was. For many of us, it's that cheap bottle that is often on the bottom row of liquor stores but if you give it a chance, you'll discover a true hidden gem. One sip and your mouth will explode with the flavor of rich brown sugar and silky caramel. In our home, this is our well bourbon. We use it in all of our whiskey based drinks and it's just divine. Give it a try, at under $15 a bottle, what do you really have to lose?
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
I'm literally smacking my lips just writing about Woodford Reserve's Double Oaked Bourbon. First of all maybe it's because I'm a California girl but anything with a strong oak flavor is kind of my kink. This expression has that nutty wood flavor in the spades. In this bottle you'll taste some pretty beautiful vanilla bean notes as well as creamy chocolate and a punch of baking spice. This bottle retails for about $60 but if you're a fan of drinking your bourbon neat, then you'd be hard pressed to find a better botte to spend your money on. This expression taste expensive, as in rich AF as in...no not everyone who comes to your house can taste it. A lot of brands have a cult following because of the name (looking at you Pappy Van Winkle) but this bottle? It deserves every ounce of your loyalty.
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel
Elmer. T. Fucking.Lee. If your budget allows (a bottle can retail for up to $400) I can't tell you how worth it this bottle of bourbon is. The first time I ever tasted it, a nice salesperson at my favorite liquor store in Washington, D.C. talked me into trying it out. At the time I was a super poor Capitol Hill staffer and I think the bottle set me back $30. I was new to bourbon and the salesperson assured me that this bottle was a great choice for a novice like me. Fast forward ten years and not only is Elmer T. Lee hard AF to find in liquor stores, but it's also a fuckton more than what I spent on it. Still, when I randomly found a bottle at a store near my parents house in California, I didn't blink when the cash register told me the total. Here you'll taste warm clove, vanilla and worn leather (not like sneakers...like rich ass luxury). OMG orgasm in the mouth.
Lost Republic Bourbon
Let me tell you something, imma (yes, I'm going to lol) rep California until I die so actually finding a bourbon from my home state that could seriously hold its own against Southern giants was big for me. I was gifted a bottle of Lost Republic Bourbon delicious bourbon by my friend and her wife and it was love at first sip. Unlike bourbons from Kentucky or even Tennessee, this expression smells almost...fruity. Instead of warm baking spice I smelled the warm butter in a freshly baked biscuit. In lieu of vanilla or caramel, this bourbon smelled like super ripe bananas. Gahhhdamn is it delicious. It retails for around $40 so if you can find it, snap it up. I prefer to taste this in an Old Fashioned but it's your world. Enjoy it how you like.
Boone County Single Barrel
In 2018 my girlfriends and I decided to take a trip to Louisville to go whiskey tasting. After a tour at Angel's Envy Distillery (which was fantastic, go if you can!) we stumbled on an unassuming wine storefront that was offering whiskey flights. We decided to check it out because it gave us the best bang for our tasting buck and thanks to our decision, we discovered some of the best fucking bourbons we've ever had. One of my flights included a 1 oz pour of Boone County Single Barrel and it was so good I purchased a bottle to bring home. Here I taste pralines, ripe fig and freshly baked banana bread. This is another bottle you're going to want to enjoy either neat or on the rocks. Plan on spending between $85-$100.
Cooper's Craft Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
So, full disclosure. I was sent a bottle of Cooper's Craft Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey last year to try out as part of a campaign. I was seven months pregnant at the time so unfortunately I had to hold off on actually sampling my bottle until after Nola was born. When I finally got the chance, I literally did a happy dance in my dining room. My little sister made everyone in the house a round of Old Fashioned's to celebrate our new baby and used Cooper's as the spirit. They were so damn delicious. At around $25 a bottle this stuff isn't so precious that you'll only want to break it out for people you really like, but it's good enough to deserve some reverence. Here you'll taste vanilla wafers and a smack of cinnamon.
Duality Double Malt Whiskey
When a local spirit producer invited me to a whiskey tasting in Atlanta, I wasn't expecting much. I'd already tried my hand at "wine-tasting" in Georgia and lets just say I was severely underwhelmed. I figured I'd be let down in this case as well. I've never been so happy to be proven wrong. Duality Double Malt Whiskey isn't a bourbon so technically it doesn't belong on this list but I'm going to break the rules for this one. If you're a scotch lover or even if you like bourbons that are a little smokey, you'll love this one as well. Duality Double Malt Whiskey hits your mouth with the warm buttery flavor of toffee and a fire smoke kiss. It's good enough to sip neat but I've also had it in a killer Manhattan. Bottles go for just under $50 bucks so it won't break the bank but it isn't a cheap thrill either.
Maker's Mark Private Select
When I was in my 20's, Maker's Mark what just what everyone drank. It was the well whiskey at cocktail hour, men I dated drank it...it was literally everywhere. When I got more seasoned in my whiskey palate, I realized I didn't particularly love Maker's. That is until I visited the distillery in Loretto, KY and got my edges snatched with a bottle of their Private Select expression. The bottle retails for just under $80 making it one of the more expensive bourbons on this list, but if you're ready to drop a little more cash on a seriously delicious bourbon, the is the one. This bourbon is aged up to seven years in charred oak barrels and no two bottles taste the same (which I think is fun!). You can totally have this in a cocktail but for the money I'd recommend enjoying it neat.
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Oat Grain Bourbon
Oh, my, land (as the old folks say). This shit is beyond yummy. That's literally the only word I can think of to describe it...yummy. Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Oat Grain Bourbon is a gift to humanity. A warm hug on a cold day...the will to live even. This silken amber liquid is just bursting with warm maple syrup and freshly ground nutmeg (and maybe a little allspice). A bottle can retail for up to as much as $200 but it's money well spent. It's a little on the sweeter side so it's perfect on the rocks and of course, neat.
Note: If you happen to have a hard time finding a bottle, Woodford's Double Oaked which I mentioned earlier is literally the stuff of dreams. Matter of fact, I need a bottle on my bar cart right neow.