Frequently overshadowed by bourbon renowned neighbors like Kentucky, our home state of Ohio is beginning to grab some of the spotlight for their distinctive spirits. One that stands out in particular is OYO Michelone Reserve Bourbon Whiskey ($50) from Middle West Spirits in Columbus. The first Master's Blend from the Columbus distillery is also the first 100% wheat whiskey produced in Ohio in nearly a century. The outcome is a smooth, sweet, wheated bourbon deserving of the family name and tradition it was inspired by.
The fall season marks the return of one of the most anticipated bourbon collections, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection ($70 each). Again this year, there are five limited-release whiskeys of various ages, recipes and proofs to drool over and covet. Eagle Rare 17, George T. Stagg, Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, and William Larue Weller are all unique, delicious, and very limited. It's a group of spirits that collectors and connoisseurs are thirsting for.
The fall season is a big one for new bourbon releases, but it's not too often that one of those releases tastes like fall as well. Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon ($70) tastes like it was made for the fall season, with hints of gingerbread spice, cinnamon and clove. They used Bowman Bourbon barrels that held booze for a solid 8 years before emptying and passing them along to Hardywood Brewery, who then aged their award-winning Gingerbread Stout for 12 weeks. Finally, early in 2013 the barrels came back to Bowman and were filled with the bourbon that you will enjoy, like a crisp fall day, if you're lucky enough to score a limited edition bottle.
If you've ever wondered what maple syrup would taste like with some bourbon in it, Knob Creek Smoked Maple ($35) might be right up your alley. The flavored bourbon brings just a hint of smoke but has plenty of sweet maple goodness to go along with some of the Knob Creek quality you are already accustomed to. It's a flavorful sipper that might go as well with dessert as it does with some cured meats at the breakfast table.
Accidents can be costly, especially in the bourbon business. So when Wild Turkey realized they had mistakenly blended small batch bourbon with high proof whiskey, people were worried. But then the Associate Master Distiller tasted the accidental blend and declared it worthy of bottling, and a mishap turned into Wild Turkey Forgiven ($50). Forgiven clocks in at 91 proof and makes no apologies, accident or not. It has a spicy, bold taste that finishes unlike most drinks in its category. All is Forgiven, so track down a bottle because this one time foul up isn't likely to be duplicated.
When it comes to big, barrel-proof bourbons, there aren't many that are in the same class as George T. Stagg. After waiting for it to properly mature, Buffalo Trace is releasing a younger version of their award winning bourbon, named Stagg Jr. ($50). The son of Stagg is another beastly entry, clocking in at 134.4 proof, and also happens to be another incredibly inviting spirit. It's unrestrained and unapologetic, with strong oak, vanilla and even some smoky brown sugar flavors that should satisfy even the most hardcore bourbon fanatic. This young buck is poised to grab your attention, and might even challenge his old man for the spotlight.
How much does the age statement on a bottle of bourbon mean? If you're like us, an older bourbon seems like it should be better, but doesn't always live up to the more mature billing, or price. One incredible exception however, is Elijah Craig 21-Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon ($140). It's a remarkable bourbon that seems to be at an ideal age for sipping, with plenty of flavor, oak, and a subtle, easy burn. Where you might expect extra wood characteristics because of how long it spent in barrels you instead receive the welcome surprise of incredible balance. So have a pour and relax, and try to remember what you were doing when this stuff was put into barrels all the way back in 1990.
There are certain things that signal the start of the fall season. Leaves change color, football season begins, and Four Roses releases a limited edition small batch bourbon. This year marks the 125th for the historic distillery, and while they are celebrating year round, the 125th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch ($85) might be cream of an already prestigious crop. It's an enticing blend of three of Four Roses unique bourbon recipes bottled at barrel strength that smells and tastes like a creamy vanilla, brown sugar dessert. Only 8,000 bottles will see retail store shelves, so don't miss out on this autumn masterpiece.
Already one of the best distilleries on the Bourbon Trail, Buffalo Trace isn't one to rest on their laurels. The pioneering distillery is in the process of releasing the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection ($46 each), the returns from testing recipes and barrel treatments that began two decades ago. For their most recent wheat entry, the same bourbon recipe was put into barrels at different proofs (from 125 to 90) and aged for 11 years and 7 months. All four were then bottled at 90 proof. There isn't a bad one in the bunch, so grab one for your collection or all four for a taste test experiment of your own.
For bourbon enthusiasts who don't have deep pockets, Bulleit Bourbon inches ahead of an increasingly crowded pack. So when bottles of Bulleit's brand new bourbon landed on our desk, we were ready to taste the trusted distillers latest drink. Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon ($45) is the brand's selected reserve, aged in their charred American white oak barrels, but for a few years longer than their staple bourbon. It's noticeably smooth, with hints of creamy vanilla and some faint dried fruit. Imagine the standard Bulleit Bourbon but with more flavor and a quick, balanced burn. The next time you reach for a bottle of Bulleit, grab a few extra dollars and gravitate towards Bulleit 10.
When you get to the whiskey/bourbon aisle at your local liquor store, you're accustomed to seeing plenty of the booze named for a master distiller from the past. This applies well to Elmer T. Lee, but at over 90 years old, Lee isn't just a ghost from the past, but is still giving each barrel his personal stamp of approval before bottling. He's also responsible for introducing the world's first single barrel bourbon, Blanton's Single Barrel. After helping launch other single barrel successes, Buffalo Trace gave Lee a much deserved bourbon bearing his name, and it's among the best in its price range. Elmer T. Lee Bourbon ($30) exhibits plenty of caramel and nutty tastes up front, and some nice vanilla and honey remnants on the back end. It's a nearly perfect balance of heat and sweet. If you're just getting into reasonably priced single barrel bourbons, and want to sample one of the best, reach for a bottle of this stuff.
Don't let its clear color fool you — this is no typical moonshine. Inspired by the white whiskey distilled by founder Jacob Beam, Jim Beam Jacob's Ghost White Whiskey ($22) is actual, full-on whiskey that offers the woody flavors of a traditional bourbon but with a lighter body and greater versatility. It's aged for at least a year in a charred white oak barrel, resulting in a slightly smoky flavor with light vanilla and sweet corn undertones. And while it can certainly be enjoyed like a traditional bourbon — neat, on the rocks, or in traditional whiskey cocktails — it really shines when you use it to replace white spirits like vodka, tequila, or rum. A bourbon-based Bloody Mary? Yes, please.