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 area 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 whisky producers.

There are many variables that distillers must consider when selecting barrels for aging bourbon. Four components directly related to wood contribute to bourbon's flavor: hemicellulose, lignin, tannins, and the char layer. There are two major considerations when it comes to tree composition and location: lignins and tannins. 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 contributes to the formation of ellagic acids and tannic flavor. Tannic flavor 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 plays a significant factor 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 23 states.

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. Not to mention, with the amount of bourbon lost to evaporation over time, barrels are half empty after ten years. With the increase in demand, long aging process and the evaporation loss — can a shortage be brewing?


The Fifty Best Bourbon Tasting of 2015


The Tasting Results:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 29 American bourbon whiskies with 17 pre-qualified judges. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the bourbons were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles, and served at slightly above room temperature. Only ice water, neutral unflavored crackers and bar snacks were available to cleanse the palate. The judges tasted through four flights of 7 bourbons plus one. The two flavored bourbons were tasted at the end and scored separately as a group.

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 and alcohol content are identified for each brand.


Here are the final results:


Red Handed
84 proof (Treaty Oak Distilling, Texas)

Nose: Honey, cane sugar, molasses, toffee, fudge, maple. raisins, cassis, ginger, nutty, toast, brine, tobacco, oak.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, creamy, buttery, honey, banana, coconut, peach, biscuit, toast, marzipan, port wine, sherry, ginger, white pepper, peppery, coffee, tobacco, leather, charcoal, beautiful wood, oak, well balanced.
Finish: Floral, eucalyptus, pepper, spicy, brine, smooth.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Red Handed Bourbon

Van Brunt Stillhouse Bourbon

Van Brunt Stillhouse
84 proof (Van Brunt Stillhouse, Brooklyn, NY)

Nose: Toffee, butterscotch, brown sugar, cane sugar, sweet cream, chocolate, dark chocolate, banana, marzipan, hazelnut, pecans, black walnut, peanut, spice, floral.
Palate: Toffee, fudge, chocolate, honey, vanilla, orange, cinnamon, malt, pepper, grass, oak, smooth, balanced.
Finish: Spicy, pepper, maple notes, nutty, wood, subtle, smooth.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

1792 Ridgemont Reserve
Barrel Select Kentucky Straight

93.7 proof (Barton 1792 Distillery, Kentucky)

Nose: Molasses, toffee, maple, light confectioner's sugar, cotton candy, glazed pop tart, butter, honeysuckle, dried mango, ripe banana, banana bread.
Palate: Toffee, butterscotch, fudge, light molasses, light banana, ripe banana, walnut, cinnamon, pepper, herbal, white pepper, spices, mint, pine, saline, leather, oak.
Finish: Fruit, ginger, honey, fudge, leather, nutmeg, pepper, spicy, oak, perfect.

Double-Gold Medal
Double-Gold medal

1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon

Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel Bourbon

Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr.
Single Barrel Kentucky Straight

100 proof (Buffalo Trace Distillery, Kentucky)

Nose: Raisins, dates, light fruit, green apple pie, pineapple, cola notes, vanilla pudding, crème brûlée, sweet, blossom, grain, hay, wood.
Palate: Honey, vanilla, creamy, butterscotch, banana, orange, marmalade, raisins, dried fruit, fudge, chocolate, toasted corn, cinnamon, sherry, anise, clove, walnuts, toast, oak, soft, delicate, excellent.
Finish: Raisins, dark fruit, spicy, allspice, wood notes, smooth.

Double-Gold Medal
Double-Gold medal

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

100 proof (Buffalo Trace Distillery, Kentucky)

Nose: Maple syrup, honey, butter, corn, nutmeg, cafe, pepper, spice, wood, oak.
Palate: Honey, caramel, lovely corn, dried apricot, elderflower, light cinnamon, clove, spice, crackling firewood, charred oak, oak, well balanced.
Finish: Toffee, creamy, tropical fruit, spice, pepper, soft, awesome.

Double-Gold Medal
Double-Gold medal

Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch Bourbon

Silo Bourbon

90 proof (American Crafted Spirits, Vermont)

Nose: Yellow banana, caramelized plantain, dried banana chips, raisins, dried fruit, plum, lime, citrus, chocolate, carnations, patchouli.
Palate: Pear, tropical fruit, citrus, brown sugar, sugar cane, honey, marmalade, maple, corn, toast, almond, walnut, white pepper, grass, austere wood, oak.
Finish: Caramel, raisins, dried fruit, almond, biscuit, pepper, spice, soft, smooth.

Double-Gold Medal
Double-Gold medal

Knob Creek
Kentucky Straight Small Batch - Aged 9 yrs.

100 proof (Knob Creek Distillery, Kentucky)

Nose: Vanilla, cane sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar, molasses, banana, chocolate, cinnamon, dark spice, leather, pine.
Palate: Banana, orange, apple, light brown sugar, honey, caramel, macadamia nuts, pecans, spice, pepper, white pepper, licorice, tobacco, oak.
Finish: Caramel, corn, plantain, toast, eucalyptus, mint, spicy, wood.

Double-Gold Medal
Double-Gold medal

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Small Batch Bourbon

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon


Buffalo Trace
Kentucky Straight

90 proof (Buffalo Trace Distillery, Kentucky)

Nose: Tropical fruit, papaya, fruity, grape, sweet, sweet cream, honey, caramel, toffee, floral, leather.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, molasses, vanilla creme pie, dates, raisins, port wine, sherry, pepper, spice, wood, oak, balanced.
Finish: Vanilla, buttery, caramel, pecans, fruity, floral, peppermint, peppery, smoky, soft, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Eagle Rare
Single Barrel Kentucky Straight - Aged 10 yrs

90 proof (Buffalo Trace Distillery, Kentucky)

Nose: Vanilla, buttery, toffee, cocoa, brown sugar, molasses, citrus, green grass, hay, toast.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, molasses, honey, maple, raisins, corn, almonds, green pepper, sherry, spice, leather, wood, excellent.
Finish: Caramel, sugar cane, toast, raisin, pepper, spicy, soft, incredibly smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Bowman Brothers Virginia Straight Small Batch Bourbon

Bowman Brothers
Virginia Straight Small Batch

90 proof (A. Smith Bowman Distillery, Virginia)

Nose: Dried fruit, light brown sugar, molasses, caramel, nutty, rye, green apple, herbal notes.
Palate: Molasses, honey, sugar cane, caramel, creamy, butterscotch, pear, citrus, cinnamon, marzipan, pecan, nut, coffee, eucalyptus, wood.
Finish: Honey, spicy, clean, leather, soft, smooth, well balanced.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Simeon Turley's Taos Lightning
Single Barrel Straight - 6 yr old

90 proof (KGB Spirits, New Mexico)

Nose: Tropical fruit, banana, pineapple, kiwi, citrus, toasted corn, dark toasted chestnuts, black walnuts, hay.
Palate: Buttery, honey, vanilla, fudge, molasses, banana, pineapple, light lemon notes, fruit, hazelnut, walnut, cinnamon, toast, coffee, oak.
Finish: Vanilla, raisins, bitter chocolate, orange zest, clove, subtle, balanced, smooth, mellow.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Simeon Turley's Taos Lightning Single Barrel Straight Bourbon

Rhetoric Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Kentucky Straight

90 proof (Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co., Tennessee)

Nose: Cane sugar, cotton candy, whipped cream, honey, treacle, caramel, butterscotch, rum, corn, cookies, floral, clove.
Palate: Dark sugar, molasses, vanilla, butter, clotted cream, coconut, almond, nutty, marmalade, rum, nutmeg, white pepper, spice, mint, eucalyptus, hint of smoke, smoky wood notes, oak.
Finish: Dried fruit, raisins, coconut, molasses, grassy, mint, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Whiskey Sister
80 proof (Kentucky)

Nose: Cane sugar, honey, caramel, maple, fruit cake, pineapple, citrus, green apple, blossom notes, herbal, grassy, roasted nuts, cocoa, oak.
Palate: Caramel, creamy, toffee, maple, sugar maple, banana, mango, coconut, corn, cherry, raisins, toast, mint, pine, mild leather, nice oak.
Finish: Vanilla, caramel, banana, spice, eucalyptus, nutty, chocolate, coffee, cedar, smoke, soft, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Whiskey Sister Bourbon

Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon

Single Barrel

93 proof (Blanton's Distilling Co., Kentucky)

Nose: Caramel, toffee, chocolate, creamy, sweet cream, whipped cream, vanilla, tropical fruit, banana, pineapple, citrus, green leaves, flowery, hay, Pedro Ximénez sherry, coffee.
Palate: Toffee, butterscotch, honey, honeycomb, creamy, prune, dates, dried fruit, orange, sweet grain, tea, eucalyptus, clove, nutty, spicy, pepper, coffee, tobacco, oak, balanced.
Finish: Caramel, maple, chocolate, pear, orange, mint, eucalyptus, spicy, rye, brine, leather, light wood, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

100 proof (Cooperstown Distillery, New York)

Nose: Honey, molasses, demerara, brown sugar, vanilla, caramel, buttery, buttered popcorn, kettle corn, cobbler, orange, lemon curd, green banana, tea leaves, tobacco.
Palate: Sugar cane, honey, maple, vanilla, creamy, butter, corn, peach, cherry, licorice, spicy, oak, wood, well-balanced.
Finish: Toffee, pecan, tea leaves, spicy, soft, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Beanball Bourbon

Charred Oak Bourbon

Charred Oak
100 proof (Charred Oak Spirits, Georgia)

Nose: Vanilla, cane sugar, demerara, toffee, dried fruit, ripe yellow plums, toast, cinnamon, herbal, spice, spice cake, nutmeg, hay, oak.
Palate: Citrus, pear, dark fruit, cherry, dates, vanilla, buttery, pie, sherry, ginger, fresh herbs, licorice, cinnamon, allspice, clove, nutmeg, pepper, white pepper, spicy, light leather.
Finish: Vanilla, cherry, pecans, cinnamon, allspice, eucalyptus, rye, briny, flavorful.

Gold Medal
Gold medal


J.R. Ewing
Kentucky Straight - 4 yrs old

80 proof (Kentucky)

Nose: Dried fruit, pear, honeycomb, maple, cinnamon, herbs, subtle citrus, grass, tea.
Palate: Honey, vanilla, cream, apple, pear, plantain, marzipan, peppermint, herbal tea, grass, white pepper, pepper, spice, oak, smooth.
Finish: Creamy, marzipan, Graham cracker, biscuit notes, herbal, leather, smoky, woody, young wood.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

J.R. Ewing Kentucky Straight 4 yrs old Bourbon

Barrell Barrel Strength Craft Distilled Bourbon

Barrel Strength Craft Distilled

121.6 proof (Barrell Craft Spirits, Kentucky)

Nose: Brown sugar, light caramel, nougat candy, cola, banana, papaya, green apple, apple, spiced apple pie, toasted almond, grain, black tea leaves, sherry, leather, oak.
Palate: Pineapple, apple cider, toffee, butterscotch, sugar cane, honeysuckle, winter wind over snow, ginger, raisins, eucalyptus, big spice, spicy, oak.
Finish: Light almond, kiwi, mint, clove, leather, light sweetness, smooth, delightful.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Black Dirt
NY Bourbon - Aged 3 yrs

90 proof (Black Dirt Distillery, New York)

Nose: Dried fruits, tropical fruit, pineapple, citrus, honey, molasses, sugar cane, vanilla, maple, caramel. cream, butterscotch, patchouli, allspice, grass, hay, leather, oak.
Palate: Apricot, banana, berries, apple, lemon, cane sugar, burnt sugar, honeycomb, honey maple, nutmeg, slight clove, tobacco, leather, charred oak.
Finish: Spice, light clove, cereal grain, tea leaves, honey, sweet, peppery, tobacco, leather.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Black Dirt Bourbon

Wyoming Single Barrel Bourbon

Single Barrel

88 proof (Wyoming Whiskey, Wyoming)

Nose: Brown sugar, molasses, cola, sweet corn, pineapple, maple, Pedro Ximénez sherry, flowers, green leaves, clove, spice, oak.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, dark sugar, honey, maple, banana, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, corn, wheat, biscuit, peppermint, cognac, oak, charred oak.
Finish: Caramel, toffee, maple, toast, spice, red pepper, peppery, smooth.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Aged 20 yrs

90.2 proof (Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co., Tennessee)

Nose: Orange peel, citrus, lemon zest, brown sugar, butterscotch, butter rum, nutty, nutmeg, green pepper, herbal, floral, grain, toasted oats.
Palate: Vanilla, honey, white chocolate, fudge, butterscotch, toffee, caramel, sugar cane, demerara, treacle, dark fruit, raisins, dates, coconut, toasted coconut, ginger, Graham cracker, sherry, herbal notes.
Finish: Creamy, caramel, dried fruit, light pepper, leather, complex.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Barterhouse Aged 20 yrs Bourbon

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon

Knob Creek
Single Barrel Reserve

120 proof (Knob Creek Distillery, Kentucky)

Nose: Tropical fruit, cherry, sultana, vanilla, buttery, toffee, caramel, corn, plantain, herbal, wheat, grass.
Palate: Demerara, dark sugar, honey, vanilla creme pie, pineapple, mango, corn, peppermint, eucalyptus, spicy, oak, classic.
Finish: Herbal, spicy, leather, smooth.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Black Reserve Limited Production

100 proof (Cleveland Whiskey, Ohio)

Nose: Highlands scotch profile, caramel, bitter chocolate, toffee, butterscotch, buttered popcorn, honeysuckle, coconut, light mint, herb, hay.
Palate: Honey, maple, ripe cherries, green fruit, lemon grass, mint, tea leaves, nutty, pepper, tobacco, oak.
Finish: Caramel, brown sugar, dried fruit, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, woody, oak.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Cleveland Black Reserve Limited Production Bourbon

J.P. Trodden Small Batch Bourbon

J.P. Trodden
Small Batch

90 proof (JP Trodden Distilling, Washington)

Nose: Buttery, dried banana, lemon, rye, corn, patchouli, vegetal notes, lovely wood, pine, oak.
Palate: Burnt sugar, sugar cane, toffee, maple, caramel, kiwi, tropical fruit, coffee, patchouli, elderflower, tobacco, oak.
Finish: Toffee, creamy, butterscotch, raisins, herbs, chicory, coffee, spicy, woody.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

100 proof (Lake George Distilling Co., New York)

Nose: Yellow banana, dried fruit, honey, honeycomb, nuts, coffee, green leaves, grass, patchouli.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, dark sugar, yellow banana, Graham cracker, herb, tea, nutty, coffee, spicy, clove, woody, oak.
Finish: Biscuit, herbal, spice, dry.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Bullhead Bourbon

Better Days Limited Edition Release Bourbon

Better Days
Limited Edition Release

88 proof (Feisty Spirits Distillery, Colorado)

Nose: Ripe banana, tropical fruit, dried fruit, marmalade, molasses, treacle, honeycomb cereal, grain, toast, fresh ripe corn, carnations, flowery, patchouli, leather, oak.
Palate: Fudge, creamy, powdered sugar, William's pear, biscuit, grain, rye flour, nutty, spicy, herbal, patchouli, wood, oak.
Finish: Tea leaves, floral, cereal, wood, smooth.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Paddleford Creek
Small Batch

83 proof

Nose: Caramel, cream, hint of vanilla, honey, kiwi, pineapple, fruity, apple blossom, blossom, roasted filberts, toast, biscuit, oak.
Palate: Toffee, dark sugar, molasses, mango, marmalade, corn, sherry, black tea, tea leaves, grassy, oak, silky.
Finish: Vanilla, treacle, raisins, eucalyptus, mint, herbal, pepper, spices.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Paddleford Creek Small Batch Bourbon

Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon



Knob Creek Smoked Maple
90 proof (Knob Creek Distillery, Kentucky)

Nose: Maple, caramel, butter, cookies, corn, nut, lovely.
Palate: Maple, cotton candy, corn, praline, nuts, nutmeg, spice, pepper, oak.
Finish: Toasted corn muffin, awesome, delicious.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

William Wolf Pecan Kentucky Bourbon
60 proof (American/Dutch)

Nose: Butterscotch, caramel, maple, honey Graham, candy corn, pecans.
Palate: Toffee, caramel, delicious maple, butterscotch, brown sugar, pecans, almond, nutty, toasted corn muffins, coffee, sweet oak.
Finish: Creamy, caramel, ginger.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

William Wolf Pecan Kentucky Bourbon




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Comments and Suggestions:

Thu. November 12, 2015 12:35 PM - by: George Tate
William Bubba is VERY wrong
Fri. October 2, 2015 5:54 AM - by: shane keller
@William Bubba.... Sorry, but you are not correct. It only has to be produced in the US, not Kentucky specific, although 95% is produced in Kentucky.
Fri. September 25, 2015 5:44 PM - by: Robert Gilmer
Elijah Craig and others learned of charred white oak barrels as they passed through the upper Holston Valley on the way to Bourbon County, Va. Edmensons, Beattys, etc were exporting limestone water red corn liquor down the Tennessee valley to New Orleans when Kentucky was a Virginia county.
Thu. August 27, 2015 2:36 PM - by: charlie
nice evaluaion
Mon. April 13, 2015 4:09 PM - by: Adrienne C.
How can I purchase any one of these? Links would be helpful. Thank you
Fri. April 10, 2015 12:54 PM - by: John rosati
Some of the best bourbon I have tried. Fairly priced,mad from all local products and the business is owned and run by a great family who believes in their product. I love this stuff
Thu. March 26, 2015 5:04 PM - by: Jeff Clark
Four Roses Single Barrel. Knob Creek Maple?
Wed. March 11, 2015 8:17 AM - by: R
Correction. It can be made anywhere in the US. The only state specific product is Tennessee Whiskey.
Wed. March 11, 2015 8:13 AM - by: R
Actually it only has to be sourced from Kentucky. It can be finished wherever.
Tue. March 10, 2015 1:12 PM - by: William Bubba Cottongin VI
most of your list is INVALID! bourbon whiskey is from kentucky ONLY! so whiskey made outside of kentucky CANNOT BE CALLED BOURBON!!!!
Sat. February 28, 2015 7:16 AM - by: Peter White
Love E H Taylor single barrel Bourbon, unusual group of Bourbons, no Weller 12, EC12, Bookers or Evan Williams single barrel...mainstream Bourbons for sure. Pick up Black Saddle 12 years if you see it, $45+ but pretty good stuff.
Mon. February 23, 2015 6:49 PM - by: Art B
Glad to see Black Dirt on the list- a local favorite. Try Hillrock, another Hudson Valley NY product. Pricy but outrageously good. I agree with Mark, both are very good.
Tue. January 13, 2015 3:17 PM - by: Randy Head
Love Red Handed. Just a great Bourbon is sit and drink
Mon. January 12, 2015 6:01 PM - by: Mark Seale
You really need to try Widow Jane out of New York and Jefferson's Reserve out of Kentucky. Two of my current favorites.

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Fifty Best > Spirits > Bourbon
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