Best Bourbon

Bourbon – The True American Spirit

It doesn’t get any more American than bourbon. Although its origins are debated, bourbon most likely got its name from “Bourbon County” to honor the French Royal Family. Located in the central Bluegrass region of Kentucky, the region once housed the major shipping ports for distilled spirits heading down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, often with barrels stamped “Bourbon County”, so Bourbon and Whiskey soon became synonymous.

Ever since Elijah Craig from Kentucky distilled his whiskey from corn mash and opened a distillery in 1789, bourbon has become the adopted spirit of the U.S. And it continues to be a passionately guarded tradition with the debate as to whether Kentucky produces the only true bourbons.

For a product to be called "Bourbon" the distilled spirit must conform to certain requirements. True bourbons must be made in the United States using "mash bill" of at least 51% corn (most distillers use 70 to 80 percent corn, with a remainder of wheat), and aged a minimum of two years in new, charred oak barrels. These barrels cannot be re-used for bourbon, and are sometimes sold to distillers in Scotland who rely on them for single malt scotch whiskey production.

There are many variables that distillers must consider when selecting barrels for aging bourbon. Four components that directly relate to wood contribute to bourbon's flavor, these include tannins and the char layer. There are two major considerations when it comes to tree composition and location. The top half of the tree tends to have more lignin, which contributes to the formulation of vanilla and vanilla flavor. The bottom half of the tree tends to have more tannins, which leaves the mouth dry and delivers complexity or richness in texture. Charring transforms the wood and caramelizes the sugars, bringing out the vanilla and caramel flavors characteristic to the bourbon style. There are also different degrees of char, depending on the distillers’ specifications.

Terroir also comes into play, since the quality of the water and corn play significant factors in the process. Nothing can be added to bourbon at bottling to enhance flavor, add sweetness or alter color.

"Straight" Bourbons are aged at least four years and must be labeled with the duration of its aging. Small batch bourbons are produced from a "batch" of barrels that have been mixed prior to bottling. As opposed to single barrel bourbons that are the bottlings of one "single" barrel of bourbon. A recent approach is “blended bourbon” that marries batches selected from various producers.

Until recently, commercial bourbon distilleries were only located along the Bourbon Trail® in Kentucky. There were hundreds of distilleries in Kentucky before the Prohibition. A few of the them have since reopened under different names and remain the most well known to this day, such as Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Four Roses, etc. These established producers have only recently seen competition from new craft distilleries opening throughout Kentucky. While still associated with the American south, bourbon-producing distilleries can be made anywhere in the United States, and are now found in at least 32 states.

The overall bourbon category is experiencing 5% growth, and premium brands are up by nearly 20% from last year. But despite the increase in distillation and the addition of distilleries over the past few years, bourbon demand still outpaces supply. According to the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA), Kentucky's inventory of aging Bourbon hit a 40-year high of 6.6 million barrels in 2015 – or 1.5 barrels for every person in the state. The tally marks the state's highest level of inventory since 1974 and the largest production year since 1970. As heard in Bardstown, Kentucky, “We got more barrels of whiskey in Kentucky than we have people. Just over 5 million people and 6 million barrels. By my count, that means one barrel for each of us Kentuckians and y’all can fight over the rest.”

Bourbon must be matured in new oak barrels and some bourbons age in barrels for eight to ten years, even over two decades. That's a long time to wait for a bottle of bourbon. Not to mention, with the amount of bourbon lost to evaporation over time, barrels are half empty after ten years. So the increase in demand, coupled with the aging process and evaporation loss, can lead to shortages.


The Fifty Best Bourbon Tasting of 2017


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 17 bourbon whiskies with a panel of 20 judges. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. The bourbons were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles, and served at room temperature. Each of the bourbons were judged and scored separately. Only ice water, unflavored unsalted crackers and chips were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each product on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. Double-Gold, Gold and Silver medals were awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no Bronze medals awarded in this tasting. The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The states of origin are identified for each brand.


Low Gap Straight Bourbon California Whiskey
86.4° proof  (American Craft Whiskey Distillery, California)

Nose: Toffee, butterscotch, caramel, molasses, sugarcane, vanilla, cream, chocolate, candy apple, tropical fruit, dried fruit, blossoms, rose, nutty, cereal, allspice, musty, earthy, mineral, oak.
Palate: Caramel, butterscotch, brown sugar, sugarcane, honey, maple, vanilla, Valrhona, cherry, red apple, orange, lemon, apricot, dates, walnut, spices, cinnamon, oak, smooth.
Finish: Toffee, caramel, clotted cream, medium creamy, toasted sugar, vanilla, marzipan, lemon, almond, nutty, spice, tobacco, woody, soft, smooth, balanced.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

   Low Gap Straight Bourbon California Whiskey

Eighteen 33 Straight Bourbon Whiskey
90.8° proof  (Boone County Distilling, Kentucky / Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)

Nose: Toasted caramel, fudge, molasses, demerara sugar, honey, vanilla, sweet corn, cocoa, cherry, pineapple, green apple, citrus, ginger, rose, nuts, almonds, saffron, black tea, grassy, dried hay, tobacco, woody, cedar.
Palate: Butterscotch, caramel, fudge, molasses, cane sugar, vanilla, strawberry, apricot, fruit syrup, citrus, sweet tea, rose, peppermint, nutty, filbert, dark chocolate, sherry, coffee, spice, tobacco, deep oak.
Finish: Butterscotch, toffee, chocolate, demerara sugar, marzipan, mint, cinnamon, clove, coriander seed, cumin seed, spice, black pepper, black tea, coffee, tobacco, oak, smooth, complex.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Eighteen 33 Straight Bourbon Whiskey

JSB Reserve Single Barrel
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

88° proof  (Jane’s Saddle Bag, Crestwood, Kentucky)

Nose: Caramel, toffee, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, vanilla, clotted cream, cocoa powder, corn, popcorn, dark berry, nutmeg, allspice, anise, cardamom, bay leaf, grass, hay, leather, musty, wet wood, oak.
Palate: Toffee, butterscotch, caramel, molasses, light brown sugar, sugarcane, honey, vanilla, apricot, coconut, banana, citrus, corn, nutty, eucalyptus, peppermint, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, coffee, grass, tea leaves, tobacco, leather, peat, wood up front, oak, full flavored.
Finish: Vanilla, chocolate, creamy, buttery, nutty, clove, cinnamon, spice, bay leaf, mint, wintergreen, black tea, tobacco, charcoal, smoky, wood, oak, soft, rich.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

JSB Reserve Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Breckenridge Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys
86° proof  (Breckenridge Distillery, Colorado)

Nose: Butterscotch, light brown sugar, honey, vanilla, strawberry, citrus, lime, dried apricot, floral, rose, eucalyptus, nutty, cinnamon, nutmeg, grass, iodine, charcoal, oak, pine.
Palate: Caramel, fudge, creamy, vanilla, cherry, citrus, orange, lime, banana, coconut, pineapple, lemon peel, fruit syrup, rosewater, elderflower, ginger, grass, bay leaf, nutty, spicy, corn, grainy, peppercorn, black pepper, tea, tobacco, untoasted oak, crisp, round, rich.
Finish: Butterscotch, sour apple, floral, eucalyptus, cereal, nutty, green tea, spicy, peppery, wood, pine.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Breckenridge Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys

Hirsch Small Batch Reserve
Selected Straight Bourbon Whiskey

92° proof  (Hirsch Distillers, Ohio)

Nose: Caramel, treacle, brown sugar, cream, clotted cream, vanilla, pineapple, tropical fruit, fig, green apple, wildflowers, green leaves, bison grass, wintergreen, bay leaf, almond, light toast, oak barrel, pine.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, fudge, light brown sugar, honey, maple, butter, vanilla, pineapple, orange, citrus, corn, almond (marzipan), floral, elderflower, rose, eucalyptus, bay leaf, peppermint, sweet mild spice, spicy, sherry, bitter chocolate, coffee grinds, woody, oak.
Finish: Cocoa, demerara, nutty, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, eucalyptus, charcoal, sweet wood, oak, pine, smooth, nice, gentle.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Selected Straight Bourbon Whiskey


Town Branch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
80° proof  (Alltech’s Lexington Distillery, Kentucky)

Nose: Caramel, cream, maple syrup, honey, apple, orange, pineapple, dried fruit, corn, burnt biscuit, hay, green leaves, tea, spearmint, licorice, pleasant perfume, sherry, light oak.
Palate: Butterscotch, caramel, toffee, honey, vanilla, mild sweet apples, pear, citrus, banana, tropical fruit, raisins, cereal, filbert, licorice, anise, eucalyptus, spice, cinnamon, clove, tea leaves, lavender, rose, Amontillado sherry, pinewood, smooth.
Finish: Toffee, butterscotch, cream, cocoa dust, lemon, cherry pit, toast, grain, tea, woody, soft, smooth, elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Town Branch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The Steward's Solera Bourbon Whiskey
100° proof  (Woody Creek Distillery by Paradise Distribution, Colorado)

Nose: Toffee, caramel, molasses, cane sugar, honey, vanilla, clotted cream, chocolate, corn, marzipan, orange, currants, raisins, jasmine, cinnamon, cracked pepper, earthy, toasted oak, clean oak, sweet wood.
Palate: Toffee, burnt caramel, molasses, maple, honey, creamy, vanilla, apple, orange, dates, light corn, nuts, licorice, mint, peppermint, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, spice, ginger, bay leaf, black pepper, oak, pine, woody, smooth.
Butterscotch, creamy, vanilla, ginger, clove, pepper, pink peppercorn, lingering spice, wood, round mouthfeel, balanced, silky, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

The Steward's Solera Bourbon Whiskey

St. Augustine’s Florida Double Cask Bourbon Whiskey
93.8° proof  (St. Augustine Distillery, Florida)

Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, caramel, treacle, dark sugar, honey, maple, vanilla, sweet corn, peach, apple, orange, raisin, cinnamon, nutmeg, tea leaves, mushroom, leather, peat, charcoal, toast, oak, deep wood.
Palate: Toffee, treacle, dark sugar, sugarcane, vanilla, strawberry, citrus, orange, Grand Marnier, prune, raisin, licorice, fennel, elderflower, nutty, nutmeg, coriander seed, spice, cocoa, coffee, sherry, peat, charcoal, pine, heavy oak, toasted oak.
Finish: Lemon, orange peel, coffee with cream, pleasant nuttiness, hay, eucalyptus, spicy, tobacco, earthy, mineral, cedar, rich.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

St. Augustine’s Florida Double Cask Bourbon Whiskey

Kinsey Bourbon Whiskey
99° proof  (Millstone Spirits Group, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Nose: Caramel, honey, vanilla, banana, citrus, dried fruit, faint floral, green leaves, cinnamon, nutmeg, leather, fresh hay, corn, oak, new wood, bourbon barrel.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, molasses, vanilla, cherry, apple, lemon, banana, pineapple, rose, violet, nutty, spicy, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, tea leaves, sherry, tobacco, leather, smoky, oak, new wood.
Finish: Vanilla, creamy, sugarcane, cherry, pear, fruity, cereal, nutty, floral, mint, basil, cinnamon, clove, spice, tobacco, toasted oak, assertive, smooth, pleasant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Kinsey Bourbon Whiskey

Adirondack High Rye Bourbon Whiskey, Batch #1
83° proof  (Springbrook Farm Distillery, Queensbury, NY)

Nose: Toffee, caramel, brown sugar, honey, vanilla, butter, unripe banana, citrus, orange, orange peel, cinnamon, cereal, grain, tobacco, mineral, woody, oak.
Palate: Caramel, treacle, honey, maple, vanilla, buttery, orange, grape, mild citrus, dark fruit, dried fruit, cinnamon, spicy, tangy, grain, cedar, oak, woody, rounded, fireworks display of flavors, smooth.
Finish: Maple, vanilla, orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, light spice, pepper, grassy, woody, oak, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Adirondack High Rye Bourbon Whiskey

Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
90° proof  (Ezra Brooks Distilling, Louisville, Kentucky)

Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, fudge, sugarcane, honey, vanilla, melon, orange peel, tropical fruit, grape, light floral, nutty, cinnamon, sherry, hay, deep grass root, dry wood, light oak.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, creamy, chocolate, mocha, vanilla, apple, pear, banana, citrus, orange, corn, cereal, walnut, lively floral, elderflower, tea leaves, spicy, tobacco, peat, oak, cedar, smooth.
Finish: Coconut, nutty, cocoa powder, floral garden, allspice, mint, tea, cereal, hay, tobacco, wood, soft, elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr.
Small Batch Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

100° proof  (Old Fashioned Copper Distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky)

Nose: Caramel, butterscotch, toffee, maple, brown sugar, honey, vanilla, cherry, apricot, green apple, citrus, lemon, lemon peel, raisin, wintergreen, light spice, chocolate, smoky, oak.
Palate: Caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, buttery, chocolate, cherry, pear, coconut, mango, date, raisins, citrus, lemon, apple peel, peppermint, licorice, baking spice, cinnamon, spicy, pepper, rye, grass, leather, scotchy peat, earth, smoky, oak.
Finish: Caramel, berry, cherry, tannic sugars, cinnamon, cardamom, spice, tea leaves, light toast, nutty, leather, sweet sherry touch, peaty, musty, woody, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

Dancing Pines Bourbon Whiskey, Batch #44
88° proof  (Dancing Pines Distillery, Colorado)

Nose: Butterscotch, caramel, demerara sugar, sugarcane, vanilla, green apple, light citrus, banana, corn, cornfield, biscuit flour, walnut, nutty, floral, herbal, sage, cinnamon, grassy, hay, tobacco, leather, earthy, wood, delicate.
Palate: butterscotch, caramel, toffee, fudge, buttery, brown sugar, honey, sugarcane, toasted sugar, maple, vanilla, berry, citrus, dates, light mint, nutty, spicy, sweet cinnamon, toasted oak, sweet oak, mouth filling, smooth.
Finish: Caramel, burnt caramel, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, spicy, coffee, tobacco, leather, wood, smooth, pleasant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Dancing Pines Bourbon Whiskey

The Most Righteous
New York Straight Bourbon Whiskey

85° proof  (Catskill Distilling Company, Bethel, New York)

Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, caramel, crème brulee, cane sugar, dark sugars, honey, vanilla, maple, chocolate, cocoa, bananas foster, cherry, banana, dried fruit, marzipan, honeysuckle, clover, very light spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, bourbon barrel, pine, oak.
Palate: Toffee, demerara sugar, vanilla, cherry, pineapple, banana, apple, lemon, orange peel, corn, cereal, chocolate, creamy, marzipan, almond, walnut, spice, rye, caraway, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, eucalyptus, mint, tea, dry sherry, leather, smoky, woody, oak.
Finish: Toffee, orange peel, raisins, honey, vanilla, cherry pit, bitter almond, spices, clove, tannic, leather, woody, smoky, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

The Most Righteous New York Straight Bourbon Whiskey


Featherbone Bourbon Whiskey
Batch 60, Organic

90° proof  (Journeyman Distillery, Michigan)

Nose: Toffee, caramel, molasses, honey, vanilla, pineapple, apple, dried apples, mild citrus, orange peel, sweet corn, cinnamon, nutmeg, cereal, muted oak.
Palate: Caramel, honey, vanilla, creamy, corn, buttered popcorn, apple, orange, lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, spicy, dried grass, musty, wood chips, cedar, oak, fresh air, well-balanced, smooth.
Finish: Vanilla, apple, mild citrus, lemongrass, slightly nutty, clove, spicy, light pepper, oak, delicious, great.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Featherbone Bourbon Whiskey

Sherwood Brothers Bourbon Whiskey
80° proof  (Sherwoods Winery & Distillery, Minnesota)

Nose: Molasses, cotton candy, honey, intense vanilla, corn, hay, lemon, green leaves, faint grass, very light new oak, clean, delicate.
Palate: Caramel, molasses, vanilla, honey, apricot, banana, coconut, pineapple, lemon, lemon peel, honeysuckle, nutty, almond, basil, tarragon, biscuit, grainy, clove, pepper, mint, tea leaves, tobacco, bitter wood, creamy oak, pine, very clean.
Finish: Treacle, honey, cocoa, wheat, cereal, floral, tea, clove, anise, sweet peppers, tobacco, woody, soft, smooth, pleasant.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Sherwood Brothers Bourbon Whiskey

Clark & Chesterfield Bourbon Whiskey
107° proof  (New England Sweetwater Farm & Distillery, New Hampshire)

Nose: Maple, truffle honey, vanilla, pear, peach, citrus, tropical fruit, nutty, cardamom, spicy, musty grain, sharp grains, woody, cedar, oak.
Palate: Caramel, dark brown sugar, dark chocolate, bitter chocolate, cotton candy, apple, sour apple, orange, tropical fruit, raisins, spicy, clove, musty grain, leather, wood, oak.
Finish: Caramel, honey, cherry, dried fruit, bitter almond, spicy, peppery, straw, woody, oak, smooth.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Clark & Chesterfield Bourbon Whiskey



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Comments and Suggestions:

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Mon. August 7, 2017 11:21 PM - by: Audrey
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Tue. May 30, 2017 10:49 PM - by: Shalinda
thank you for enlightening on this..look forward to taste those listed.
Mon. March 13, 2017 1:49 PM - by: Phil Acton
I look forward to tasting and adding to my collection some of the Bourbons listed. Thank You
Fri. December 9, 2016 6:51 AM - by: joe daly
my wife used Hiriam Walkers TEN HIGH STRAIGHT Bourbon Whiskey to make our favorite fruit cake. in 1990 Ten High WAS CHANGED to a Blended bourbon cut with vodka. could you identify a Bourbon similar to the old TEN HIGH with a hint of caramel and lemon,etc to use to make our favorite fruit cake .. THANKS

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Fifty Best > Spirits > Best Bourbon
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