1. Al Young 50th Anniversary Small Batch Bourbon from Four Roses
Kentucky Distillers’ Association Hall of Famer Al Young toiled for 50 years at Four Roses, and for his efforts, they named a whiskey after him. A blend of four distinct proprietary recipes, the “Al Young,” as it’s affectionately known ($150), exhibits aromas of sweet caramel and floral honeysuckle. The palate offers fresh peach and apricot flavours, encompassing luxurious, warm fig and rich oak, with a hint of mint on the finish. It was originally priced at $150, but expect to pay significantly more on the secondary market.
2. Barrell Bourbon Batch 009
Barrell Craft Spirits was founded in 2013 and quickly became one of the most buzzed-about producers of American whiskey. Released in 2016, today Barrell Bourbon Batch 009 can most easily be acquired on the secondary market. Distilled in Tennessee and aged in Kentucky, it’s a 112-proof flavor bomb, offering everything from tropical fruit to thick clotted cream. This bourbon possesses a familiar warmth, like a favorite old blanket or pair of wool socks. The boundless finish is reminiscent of sweet buttered caramel corn.
3. Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon Finished in Port Barrels
Legendary master distiller Lincoln Henderson released this Angel’s Envy cask-strength expression ($180) to great acclaim in 2012. It turned out to be his swan song. Henderson passed away in September 2013, leaving a legacy of artistry and innovation that will not soon be forgotten. The Port Barrel–finished whiskey is a magnificent testament to his abilities. After six years spent resting in new white American oak, the spirit was refined in 60-gallon ruby port barrels made from French oak and imported directly from Portugal. European influence aside, this is still the epitome of complex, bold Kentucky bourbon. The palate teems with flavours, from raisin to banana to rich dark chocolate. A clean and lingering finish offers a hint of Madeira that slowly fades. At 124.5 proof, it packs a serious wallop.
4. High Wire New Southern Revival Bourbon
Jimmy Red is a legendary moonshiner’s corn that had all but become extinct until a South Carolina farmer brought it back to life in the early aughts. By 2016 the folks at High Wire Distilling in Charleston, who felt that many of the “big boys” in the industry weren’t paying enough attention to the quality of corn used in the mash, were using Jimmy Red to make truly unique bourbon. The Jimmy Red Corn Straight Bourbon ($99) smells of nutmeg and toffee. The first sip is nutty, sweet, and mineralic. Swish it around a bit to unbind banana and butterscotch flavors. It boasts an extremely high oil content, yielding whiskey with an unusually creamy mouthfeel.
5. High West American Prairie Bourbon
High West American Prairie ($35) is a blend of straight bourbons aged from two to 13 years. Rich and earthy on the palate, it reveals pleasant notes of candy corn, honey nougat, and sweet corn bread biscuits, closing out with a flash of Granny Smith apple. Every purchase comes with a karmic boost, as well—High West donates 10 percent of profits from the sale of each bottle to the American Prairie Reserve, which is dedicated to protecting and preserving America’s natural resources.
6. Knob Creek Limited Edition 2001
Part of the first wave of so-called “small batch” bourbons that now command the market, Knob Creek was introduced in 1992 by the late great Jim Beam master distiller Booker Noe. Booker ran the show at Beam for more than 40 years and did yeoman’s work to help revitalize the flagging bourbon industry in the 1960s and ’70s. In 2001, Booker retired and was replaced by his son Fred. This limited-edition expression, released in 2016, marked that historic passing of the torch. Knob Creek Limited Edition 2001 ($130) was offered in five batches, each with robust oak and char notes balanced by sweet vanilla and warm brown spices. The finish is long, rich, and glowing.
7. Mic.Drop Bourbon
A delicious blend of 20 different casks of eight-year-old whiskey that offers multifarious flavours highlighted by maple syrup, coconut, cloves, and dark fruit. Mic.Drop. ($100) came out of nowhere in 2017 and now resides on the back bars of some of the country’s most prestigious drinking establishments. It’s easy to spot, too, with an eye-catching label designed by comic book artist Chris Batista. The follow-up, Mic.Drop.2 was released in 2018 —140 bottles at $450 a pop.
8. John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve 20-Year-Old
Whiskey lovers tend to speak of the old Stitzel-Weller Distillery in hushed, reverential tones. Before being shuttered in 1972, the facility produced brands such as Larceny, Old Fitzgerald, Pappy Van Winkle, and Weller’s Cabin Still. John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve 20 Year Old ($300 for 375 mL) contains wheated bourbon gleaned from 12 barrels produced at old Stitzel-Weller that had been designated for use in Old Fitzgerald. The John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve offers a host of tastes that go great together, from cocoa to lemon to banana cream pie. The finish is lengthy and refined. A few years back, Heaven Hill released a minuscule amount of 375 mL bottles. They claim that’s all they had, yet there are whispers—hushed and reverential—that a secret supply still remains.
9. Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 2009 Seasoned Oak Finish
In the early 1800s, Woodford County Distillery owner Oscar Pepper and master distiller James Crow pioneered key bourbon-making processes such as sour mashing, copper pot distillation, and charred oak cask maturation. Woodford Reserve’s Master’s Collection ($129) is the belated thanks they get. Were either still around to sample this rich amber-coloured delectation, surely they’d revel in the 2009 Seasoned Oak Finish’s robust oakiness and spice, as well as the keen notes of fruit jam, toasted almond, and dark chocolate. The homestretch lolls pleasantly, offering sweet butter and a hint of cool lemon custard. Be forewarned—finding a bottle is darn near a mission impossible.
10. Jefferson’s Twin Oak Custom Barrel
Founded in 1997, Jefferson’s is committed to crafting innovative small-batch blends, as evidenced by its slogan “alchemy is everything.” The brand is definitely onto something, and the 2018 release ($80) may well be its most ambitious whiskey yet. For six years Jefferson’s worked with the Independent Stave Company to develop a proprietary flash-charred barrel made with grooved staves that allow for maximum exposure to oak at the peak of flavour. The result is a well-balanced, mocha-tinged whiskey that coats the palate with sweet and spicy goodness. It has a medium-length finish with a touch of cedar and tart lemon.