Buffalo Trace continues to innovate with their Experimental Collection and the most recent release, Extended Stave Drying Time. The wood planks that make up a bourbon barrel are dried out in the open air for about six months before being turned into barrel planks. Stave drying plays an important role in the taste of the bourbon, so Buffalo Trace decided to experiment by allowing the staves for this spirit to dry out for about twice as long. The extended drying time bourbon is significantly aided by the extra time too, balancing the oak flavors that can sometimes dominate in an older bourbon. Snag both bottles and try them side by side with a friend for the full experience.
Already one of the best readily available bourbon's on the market, there isn't much that Booker's can do to improve on a high quality product. But it appears they have done just that with Booker's 25th Anniversary. This limited edition release ranges between 9-11 years old with an unfiltered proof strength ranging between 121-130, depending on the bottle you wind up with. Available in early March, the juice pays homage to its namesake, 6th Generation Beam Master Distiller, Booker Noe and is taken from the center-cut of Booker's favorite rack house.
With the bourbon whiskey market booming, there isn't a shortage of new labels hitting shelves looking to grab a slice of the growing pie. Some are easy to overlook, but there is no overlooking Old Blowhard from Orphan Barrel Whiskey. This brand new offering is 26-years-old and was found in old warehouses at the Stitzel-Weller facility in Louisville, a distillery best known as the original home of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons. It might not have the same demand as a bottle of Pappy, but Old Blowhard is already one of the best new releases of 2014.
One of the first bourbon releases of 2014 also happens to be one we look forward to the most every year, Evan Williams Single Barrel. This is the 19th annual release of the world-renowned spirit, spending 10 years aging in barrels. It's also become a tradition to find that each bottle is marked with the exact date the liquid was placed into the barrel and then bottled. Inside each hand numbered bottle is a sweet, smooth bourbon with flavors like maple syrup, toffee and mint. A bottle this great usually costs you an arm and a leg, but at under 30 bucks, you might want to buy more than one.
With the influx of new bourbon labels and brands on the market in the past few years, it's easy to look past the tried and true Jim Beam logo. Jim Beam Single Barrel ($35) however, is worthy of consideration. It's the first ever single barrel offering from Beam, representing the seven generations of history that the brand is built on. And since less than 1% of Beam barrels qualified for this new bourbon, you know you're getting a hand selected gem, not a mass produced mystery. So keep your eyes peeled this spring for this individually bottled, hand-numbered expression.
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.