Best 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, 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), 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 Scotch whiskey producers.

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. Terroir comes into play as well, 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 under 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.

Until recently, commercial bourbon distilleries were only located along the Bourbon Trail® in Kentucky. While still associated with the American south, bourbon-producing distilleries can be made anywhere in the United States, and can now be found in at least 29 states.

According to the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA), Kentucky's inventory of aging Bourbon hit a 40-year high of 5.67 million barrels last year (2014). The tally marks the state's highest level of inventory since 1975 and the largest production year since 1970. The overall bourbon category is experiencing 5% growth, and premium brands are up nearly 20% from last year. Despite the increase in distillation and the number of distilleries over the past few years, bourbon demand still outpaces supply. The overall bourbon category is experiencing 5% growth, but premium brands are up nearly 20% from last year. As far as flavored boubons are concerned, one brand reportedly jumped from just under $2 million in 2011 to $61 million for the past year.

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. Aside from the fact that the barrels are half empty after ten years due to the amount of bourbon lost to evaporation over time. With the increase in demand, long aging process and the evaporation loss — can a shortage be brewing?


The Fifty Best Bourbon Tasting of 2016


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 20 bourbon whiskies with a panel of 15 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 slightly above room temperature. Each of the bourbons were evaluated and scored separately. Only ice water, neutral unflavored 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 are awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no bronze medals awarded for 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.


Spirit of America
86° proof  (Indiana)

Nose: Dried figs, subtle dried fruit, light butterscotch, vanilla, pear, green apple, dandelion, blossoms, mint, dinner mints, grass, peppery, pecan, wheat, oak, clean, fresh.
Palate: Fudge, caramel, vanilla, pineapple, tropical fruit, strawberry, sultana, pear, toasted coconut, dried fruit, sherry, wild flowers, blossom, subtle wheat, hay, walnut, almond, licorice, mint, nutmeg, peppery, spicy, tobacco, leather, well balanced.
Finish: Fruity, honey, almond, mint, clove, spicy, salty, smooth, soft, elegant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

   Spirit of America Bourbon

Buffalo Trace
90° proof  (Kentucky)

Nose: Caramel, butterscotch, sweet corn, green apple, sour apple, pear, cherry, persimmon, pineapple, peaches, dried apricots, coconut, honeysuckle, tea leaves, green leaves, grassy, mint, tarragon, hay, oak.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, molasses, buttery, vanilla, citrus, orange, marmalade, fruit preserves, cherry cobbler, apple peel, apple, sweet grains, dates, marzipan, sherry, rose petals, mint, nutmeg, pepper, pine, clean, delicate.
Finish: Apple, hazelnut, toast, tea, mint, spicy, oak, nice, easy.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Hudson Baby Bourbon
92° proof  (New York)

Nose: Caramel, cream, vanilla, honey, molasses, sugar cane, demerara, toffee, dried dark fruit, sherry, popcorn, toast, hay, grass, mint, peppermint, rye, nutty, new oak, tobacco, pipe tobacco, leather.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, butterscotch, buttery, vanilla, honey, molasses, dried fruit, prune, coconut, walnut, oak, peppermint, patchouli, clove, cinnamon, spice, white pepper, smoky, tannins, smooth.
Finish: Coffee, caramel, maple, creamy, licorice, peppermint, pepper, woody, leather, well balanced, smooth, flavorful.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Hudson Baby Bourbon

1792 Small Batch
93.75° proof  (Kentucky)

Nose: Dark chocolate, toffee, butterscotch candy, butter, cream, vanilla, honey, sugarcane, subtle molasses, papaya, orange, eucalyptus, rose petals, hay, pine, oak.
Palate: Toffee, butterscotch, buttery, caramel, candy corn, creamy, vanilla, honey, green apple, orange, peach, pear, coconut, walnut, elderflower, sweet tea, licorice, nutmeg, spice, mint, grass, pine, oak, smoky, smooth, bright, nicely done.
Finish: Nice spice, floral, peppery, hazelnut, nutty, wood, smooth.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

1792 Small Batch Bourbon

High West American Prairie
92° proof  (Utah)

Nose: Butterscotch, caramel, toffee, vanilla, cane sugar, toasted coconut, honey, cola, dates, dried prunes, sherry, licorice, hay, banana leaf, grass, tea leaves, oak.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, cola, honey, toasted sugar, sugarcane, orange, orange zest, apple, dried prunes, dried fruit, hazelnut, nuts, cinnamon, allspice, coriander, clove, mint, eucalyptus, grass, oak, cognac notes, woody, flavorful, balanced, delicate, elegant.
Finish: Fruity, apple peel, vanilla cream, slight spice, salty, minty, pine, woody, leather, flavorful.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

High West American Prairie Bourbon


Colorado Gold Straight Bourbon Whiskey
90° proof  (Colorado)

Nose: Toffee, caramel, chocolate, clotted cream, toasted sugar, molasses, honey, tropical fruit, banana, pineapple, ripe fruits, dried fruit, marzipan, blossom, hibiscus, floral, herbal, oloroso, spice, popcorn, hay, oak.
Palate: Chocolate, vanilla, caramel, creamy, sugarcane, honey, sweet corn, coconut, dried figs, dates, raisins, sherry, biscuit, hazelnut, coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, pepper, pipe tobacco, nice wood.
Finish: Toffee, caramel, vanilla, brown sugar, coconut, nutty, coffee, pepper, spicy, woody, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Colorado Gold Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Broken Bell
90° proof  (Minnesota)

Nose: Raisins, dates, dried fruit, pineapple, banana pudding, vanilla custard, vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, nougat, honey, molasses, Graham cracker, maple syrup, corn, blossom, hay, green leaves, grass, pine, oak.
Palate: Butterscotch, toffee, caramel, cream, honeycomb, honey, orange marmalade, orange peel, lemony, citrus, strawberry, apricot, cantaloupe, banana, coconut, roasted nuts, almond, licorice, rose, tea leaves, mint, grass, pine, pepper, black pepper, light spice, oak.
Finish: Apple peel, fruity, buttery, licorice, walnut, clove, spicy, oak, smooth, soft.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Broken Bell Bourbon

Paddleford Creek
83° proof  (Minnesota)

Nose: Chocolate, molasses, butterscotch, vanilla, buttermilk, banana, lemon, citrus, green apple, apple peel, dried fruit, maple, licorice, sambuca, walnut, nutmeg, pine, earthy.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, crème brûlée, creamy, buttermilk, coconut, corn, honeysuckle, apricot, pear, ginger, eucalyptus, mint, licorice, tea, hay, oak, ultra-light, silky, smooth.
Finish: Buttery, creamy, candy corn, floral, cinnamon, spicy, oak, smooth, elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Paddleford Creek Bourbon

Beanball Small Batch Bourbon
90° proof  (New York)

Nose: Caramel, creamy, vanilla, brown sugar, molasses, treacle, popcorn jellybean, honey, banana, bananas foster, coconut, dried fruit, apple brandy, lavender, hay, rye, tobacco, leather, pine, oak.
Palate: Honey, cane sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, creamy, butterscotch, toffee, caramel corn, gulab jamun, banana, orange peel, sultana, sherry, mint, elegant smoke, oak, soft.
Finish: Fruity, apple peel, honey, marzipan, licorice, mint, tea, spicy, leather, smooth, beautifully balanced.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Beanball Small Batch Bourbon

Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon
80° proof  (Kentucky)

Nose: Caramel, toffee, whipped cream, cane sugar, honey, vanilla, pound cake, toasted oats, coconut, pecan, pineapple, apple, lemon, citrus, green tea, grassy, tobacco, oak, leather.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, Werther's Original, vanilla, cream, honey, brown sugar, sweet corn, biscuit, coconut, pecan, apple, pear, banana, berry notes, lemon, lemon peel, citrus, green tea, light spice, clove, nutmeg, walnut, young wood, oak, very correct.
Finish: Vanilla, banana, citrus, marzipan, pecan, cinnamon, oak, wood notes, mellow, smooth, elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Black Dirt
90° proof  (New York)

Nose: Honey, maple, lemon zest, tea, tea leaves, black tea, wormwood, sandalwood, patchouli, sage, nutmeg, nutty, pine, woody, leather.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, vanilla, honey, Golden Grahams, molasses, maple, sherry, almond, chamomile, elderflower, peppermint, black tea leaves, hazelnut, rye, oak.
Finish: Dark sugar, pear, nutmeg, allspice, spicy, green tea, eucalyptus, touch of wood, well balanced, bold, beautiful.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Black Dirt Bourbon

Copper Fiddle
92° proof  (Illinois)

Nose: Caramel, butterscotch, cream, custard, chocolate, nutella, coconut, hazelnut, fruitcake, dried fruit, brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, mole sauce, toast, grain, coffee, nutty, charcoal, smoky, pine, leather.
Palate: Butterscotch, toffee, fudge, Cracker Jack, molasses, vanilla, vanilla custard, dates, coconut, pear, apricot, fruitcake, marzipan, licorice, hay, clove, allspice, mixed spices, peppery, coffee, smoky, tobacco, oak, full flavored, balanced, pleasant.
Finish: Honey, maple, chocolate, nutty, spicy, smoke, toast, oak, smooth, velvety, balanced.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Copper Fiddle Bourbon

Wyoming Whiskey
88° proof  (Wyoming)

Nose: Honey, vanilla, clotted cream, sugarcane, molasses, maple, toffee, faint caramel, coconut, banana, pineapple, dried apricot, fruity, citrus, green tea, grassy, hay, cinnamon.
Palate: Vanilla, honey, molasses, caramel, toffee notes, banana, coconut, raisins, apple, pear, sweet potato, sweet sherry, floral, almond, peppermint, eucalyptus, tea leaves, tobacco, pepper, oak.
Finish: Caramel, honey, faint coconut, cinnamon, peppery, leather, oak, clean, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Wyoming Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey

Widow Jane
91° proof  (New York)

Nose: Toffee, chocolate, butterscotch, brown sugar, honey, honey oat, vanilla, fruitcake, dried fruit, corn, nutmeg, tobacco, apple peel, citrus, floral, cut grass, hay, pine, wood barrel, oak.
Palate: Caramel, butterscotch, chocolate notes, creamy, vanilla, honey, banana, banana peel, fresh coconut, orange, prune, apple, elderflower, musk, licorice, anise, clove, mint, eucalyptus, tarragon, allspice, coffee, pepper, wood, leather.
Finish: Honey, creamy, almond, licorice, eucalyptus, tea, pepper, spicy, woody.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Widow Jane Bourbon

Jimmy's Texas Bourbon
90° proof  (Texas)

Nose: Toffee, vanilla, brown sugar, honey, caramel apple, dried fruit, banana bread, ripe banana, pear, grape, citrus, blossom, floral, hay, tea, cinnamon, clove, nutty.
Palate: Chocolate, toffee, molasses, vanilla, caramel, creamy, honey, fig, dates, banana, sherry, flowers, lavender, almond, walnut, clove, eucalyptus, white pepper, wheat, toast, smoky, woody, oak, smooth, balanced.
Finish: Lemon peel, ginger, mint, eucalyptus, spicy, wood, oak, well balanced, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Jimmy's Texas Bourbon

J. Henry & Sons
92 proof 5 yr aged Bourbon

92° proof  (Wisconsin)

Nose: Banana, pineapple, orange, tropical fruit, butterscotch, toffee, honey, chocolate, maple, green leaves, grass, clove, oak, lovely applewood.
Palate: Toffee, butterscotch, chocolate, creamy, vanilla, treacle, maple, ripe banana, orange zest, marmalade, apple, blossoms, cinnamon, tarragon, tea leaves, green leaves, tobacco, pepper, oak, soft, elegant.
Finish: Citrus, maple, nutty, salty, tarragon, spicy, woody, oak.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

J. Henry & Sons 5 yr old 92 proof Bourbon

J. Henry & Sons
5 yr old Cask Strength Patton Road Reserve Bourbon

127° proof  (Wisconsin)

Nose: Butterscotch, caramel, toffee, buttery, cream, honey, vanilla, cola, plum, apricot, peach, citrus, floral, sherry notes, cinnamon, green leaves, toast, woody.
Palate: Butterscotch, toffee, caramel, creamy, vanilla, banana, sweet corn, cherry, sultana, sour peach, citrus, bright mint, spearmint, eucalyptus, peppery, cinnamon, spicy, mineral, smooth.
Finish: Fruity, spicy, clove, pine.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

J. Henry & Sons 5 yr old Cask Strength Patton Road Reserve Bourbon


Black Fly
(New York)

Nose: Caramel, butterscotch, toffee, molasses, treacle, vanilla, light maple, raisins, dried fruit, agave, grass, moss, pine, floral, hay, tobacco, leather, clove, oak.
Palate: Melted caramel, butterscotch, fudge, chocolate, cocoa, honey, clover honey, sugarcane, banana, green apple, dates, almond, marzipan, licorice, lavender, patchouli, wintergreen, spearmint, sage, tea leaves, woody, oak, smoke, leather.
Finish: Cocoa, brown sugar, fruity, floral, tea, spicy.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Black Fly Bourbon

Better Days Wine Barrel Finished Bourbon

Nose: Cane sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, caramel, candy corn, butterscotch, ripe banana, banana peel, carob, raisins, mint, green leaves, grass, moss, pine, spice, nutmeg, smoky.
Palate: Vanilla, maple syrup, molasses, pear, citrus, raisins, prune, dates, sherry, toast, coffee, walnut, nutty, floral, light herbal, mint, peppermint, clove, eucalyptus, grassy, sweet wood, pine, tannic, white pepper, cayenne, spice, has character.
Finish: Vanilla, caramel, rose, mint, spicy, sour dough, leather.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Better Days Wine Barrel Finished Bourbon

Orange County Distillery Bourbon
90° proof  (New York)

Nose: Molasses, toffee, raw chestnuts, toast, burnt coconut, roasted filberts, tobacco, tea, sage, green apple, green leaves, wet grass, new wood, pine, oak, moss, earth, leather.
Palate: Toffee, fudge, caramel, molasses, creamy, sugarcane, multicolored corn, cereal, herbal, licorice, tea leaves, grass, peppermint, cinnamon, tobacco, tannic, pine, oak, cedar, pepper, leather.
Finish: Chocolate, banana, herbal, mint, green grass, salty, woody, oak, gentle.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Orange County Distillery Bourbon




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Fifty Best > Spirits > Bourbon
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