The Best Bourbons of 2023 (So Far)
Including excellent bottles from Barrell, Chicken Cock, Old Forester and more
It’s never too early to start reminiscing about great bourbon. Every month we try dozens of new whiskeys and pick out a few to highlight (as you can see here, from May). No surprise that several of our picks include bourbon. According to Drizly, bourbon was the top-selling whiskey subcategory in 2022, with a 39 percent share of whiskey sales on the shopping site. And the growth seems to be coming from better (and higher-priced) bottles.
“In recent years, bourbon has been one of the liquor subcategories most impacted by premiumization,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “The average unit price continues to grow year-over-year. Additionally, all the price ranges from $50 and above have gained share year-over-year over the lower price ranges.”
So we’ve started to keep a running tab on the best-tasting bourbons of 2023, whether you’re looking to sip it neat, over ice, or you’re looking for the best bourbon for an Old Fashioned. It’s a list that includes a whiskey brand that dates back to the 19th century, a brand that only blends, a couple of distillery exclusives (sorry!), some liquid that’s undergone an unusual finish and, well, one release that isn’t a bourbon (but is, we’ll explain).
As usual, we’re not being too picky about release dates: Some of these bourbons probably snuck into shops and online stores in December 2022.
The 10 Best Bourbons for an Old Fashioned
These excellent expressions will elevate the classic cocktail
As a reminder, to qualify as a bourbon, the whiskey must be made in the United States (not just Kentucky), aged in a new charred oak barrel and have a mashbill consisting of at least 51 percent corn. The whiskey cannot enter the barrel at higher than 125 proof, and it must have a proof of at least 80 once it’s in the bottle. And nothing can be added except water (to lessen the proof).
But that leaves a lot of room for interpretation! Terroir, mashbill, weather, additional barrel maturation (even in space), age, yeast and even the water can impact the bourbon’s final flavor.
The best bourbons of 2023, in no particular order
Chicken Cock Chanticleer
The latest from Chicken Cock (a whiskey brand that dates back to the 19th century and revived in 2012) is a Kentucky straight bourbon finished in French Cognac barrels and bottled in a Prohibition-era Chicken Cock replica apothecary-style bottle at 112 proof (56% ABV), featuring a mash bill of 70% corn, 21% rye and 9% malted barley. Why Cognac? It seems that CC originated in Paris, KY, which was named in honor of our French allies during the Revolutionary War. A lot of butterscotch candy notes here, with a hint of raspberry and a fair amount of rye spice and tobacco.
Barrell Bourbon New Year
So what if you just combined all the bourbons? New Year 2023 is a blend of 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10-year-old straight bourbon whiskeys that were distilled in Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Wyoming, New York, Texas and Maryland. Given all that, the result is a rye-forward release full of wood, spice, caramel, citrus, coconut, vanilla, sandalwood and molé (the last one is their tasting note and that’s pretty accurate), with a spicy dry finish.
Jefferson’s Reserve Twin Oak Extra Aged at Sea
A distillery exclusive — and the lottery to get a bottle was over quickly. This limited release is finished in proprietary barrels that were flash-charred and grooved out, providing more surface area for the bourbon to come into contact with the oak (and then put through the usual Aged at Sea process). This one features an oily mouthfeel, a lot of caramel and a good amount of wood spice.
WhistlePig PiggyBack Bourbon
Known for their rye, Vermont’s WhistlePig now has a 100-proof bourbon, aged six years in char #3 barrels with a “super-high” corn mashbill (and, of course, a bit of rye). There’s a lot of caramel corn on the nose, while the vanilla and spicy oak notes really shine through on the palate, along with a hint of maple and herbal tea on the finish. It has a rich mouthfeel and is on the sweet side overall, ideally suited for citrus and sour cocktails.
Old Forester King Ranch Edition
Old Forester King Ranch Edition combines the rich history of Kentucky-based Brown-Forman, which was established in 1870, and South Texas’s King Ranch, which traces its roots back to 1853 and is one of the world’s largest ranches. The bourbon begins as a proprietary batch of Old Forester that was aged in heavily charred barrels. From there, it’s finished through mesquite charcoal that was created from mesquite trees grown at King Ranch. The maple syrup-colored liquid has aromas of dried cherries, cranberries, toasted pecans and marshmallows. Flavors of sweet dark chocolate, tobacco and leather spices mingle with toasted oak. It is, sadly, only available in Texas.
BHAKTA 2013 Bourbon
While primarily an Armagnac brand, BHAKTA (started by the founder of WhistlePig), the company is really just about vintage spirits. Their 99% corn bourbon (a 2013 vintage), finished in French Oak barrels which previously held Armagnac vintages dating back to 1868, is nutty, spicy, fruity and with one sip, I instantly wanted more.
Jack Daniel’s 12-Year-Old Tennessee Whiskey
Most JD releases could technically be called bourbons, so we’re gonna allow this. Coming in at 107 proof, this age statement release features molasses and brown sugar on the nose, this one has a creamy mouthfeel and is full of blackberry and raspberry fruitiness. A hint of smoke from the wood adds to a profile I’d call campfire dessert. Delicious.
The Secret to Great Cocktails? Find Out in The Spill.
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