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.
Think the Kentucky Derby was your only excuse to visit Louisville this year? Think again. You'll likely be flying into the city to go fetch a bottle of Jim Beam Distiller's Masterpiece ($200). This limited-edition release is available only at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, KY, roughly 30 minutes outside Falls City. As for the booze itself, it's a potent 100-proof, extra-aged in the optimal rack-house position as determined by Master Distiller Fred Noe, and then finished in PX sherry casks to give it a unique dynamic all its own. Smooth, rich, and full-bodied, it will arrive in its own wooden case that's sure to become a highlight of your liquor shelf.
Uncut and unfiltered, Booker's Bourbon ($50) is a must have for any true bourbon lover's liquor cabinet. Created by 6th generation Master Distiller Booker Noe — also known as Jim Beam's grandson — this drink is bottled straight from the barrel, and comes in at 121-127 proof. Yes, that's quite strong, but thanks to the oaky, smoky flavor and intense, complex finish, odds are you'll be sipping on each glass for as long as you can.
The words "devil" and "bourbon" do have many connections — especially to those who've felt like hell after a night of drinking the brown stuff, or for those old enough to remember prohibition — but never have they been paired quite so well. Jim Beam Devil's Cut ($24) is made by taking the bourbon trapped inside the wood of an emptied barrel (as you should know, the Angel's Share is what's lost to evaporation) and remixing it into an extra-aged blend to create a full-flavored, robust, yet surprisingly smooth 90-proof whiskey that will have you feeling plenty devilish in no time.
Not content to sip on his terrific standard bourbon, Master Distiller — and great-grandson of James Beam — Fred Noe decided to do one better and created Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve ($40). Aged nine years, just like its regular counterpart, Single Barrel Reserve captures the essence of Knob Creek in an even more flavorful, nuanced and smooth 120 proof blend that's best enjoyed one glass at a time, lest you end up in a creek with little recollection of how you got there. Our regards to Mr. Noe — we've been enjoying our complimentary bottle maybe a little too much.
Infused with natural black cherry flavors, Jim Beam Red Stag ($22) is a great choice for fireside sipping this winter. The slow infusion process adds just a hint of fruity taste and aroma to the traditional Beam bourbon flavor, with a smooth, slightly sweet finish that's even better than the standard for mixing up some cocktails — making it an equally good choice when stocking up for a holiday season get together.
Celebrate the history of an American classic with Jim Beam Distiller's Series ($24). This limited edition bourbon whiskey comes in collector's bottles, featuring the seven Beam family distillers that have run the company over the last 200+ years. Aged seven years, the spicy/sweet blend features subtle wood notes and a smooth, mellow finish. Damn tasty.
Perfected over 175 years ago, Bulleit Bourbon ($25) has, to say the least, proven itself. Made using a unique rye recipe and Kentucky limestone-filtered water from the Salt River, the small batch bourbon is aged around six years and provides a distinctive smoky smooth taste. We went through our review bottle alarmingly quick. Luckily, the flask-shaped, frontier-esque bottle is so cool you'll want to save it after the 90-proof goodness is long gone. The bottles are so cool, in fact, that they were used as props on Deadwood. How can you not approve of Swearengen's drink of choice?