Every month, we try dozens of new whiskeys and pick out a few to highlight. And it’s no surprise that several of our monthly picks include bourbon. Throughout the year, we kept a running tab on the best-tasting bourbons; our final list, below, includes a distillery 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 technically is, as 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 FashionedThese 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. Each of the bottles below did something unique in the bourbon space.
Here are the best bourbons in 2023
A marriage of 11- and 12-year-old bourbon barrels — and the first age-statement release from the famed Kentucky distillery — this one still offers the classic Maker’s mashbill (70% corn, 16% wheat and 14% malted barley) but the barrels spent the latter half of their maturation in a climate-controlled, limestone cellar. So you’re still getting that smooth, bitter-free experience that Maker’s is known for (and classic vanilla, caramel and baking spice) notes but now with a creamy mouthfeel and additional notes of dried stone fruit, fig and candied cherry. Read our profile here.
Chicken Cock is a whiskey brand that dates back to the 19th century and was wrevived in 2012. This bottle 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 great but, sadly, only available in Texas.
While primarily an Armagnac brand, BHAKTA (started by the founder of WhistlePig), the company is really 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.
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.
This uncut and unfiltered bourbon release from Booker’s is named in honor of Charlie Hutchens, the craftsman behind the signature wooden box in which each Booker’s bottle arrives. Coming in at 126.6 proof and aged for a bit over seven years, this bottle (the first of the 2023 Collection) is full of butterscotch, vanilla, toasted oak and a spicy kick that’s almost akin to ginger.
Batch Proof 124.7 (named after its proof) is part of Woodford Reserve‘s annual limited-edition Master’s Collection series. Here, the distillery blends barrels into a batch and then bottles the whiskey at its actual proof. There’s a lot of fruit and wood spice here, but even at the elevated proof, this is as smooth as it is robust.
The latest in this annual limited-edition series is a collaboration between Master Distiller Eddie Russell and Dr. Joy Spence, the Master Blender of Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum. Ergo, Voyage is a 106-proof, 10-year-old bourbon finished in Jamaican rum casks that previously held 14-year-old pot still rum. As the first rum cask finish in Wild Turkey’s history), this one adds a wonderful tropical fruit note along with cocoa, baking spices, caramel and aged oak.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the South Carolina distillery High Wire used a nearly extinct type of corn (Jimmy Red) that they harvested and targeted for this release. A Bottled in Bond expression, this is a nuttier and more herbal bourbon than you may be used to, but the sweetness and caramel, graham cracker and vanilla notes shine on the mid-palate.
Barrell makes its second appearance here. They’re an award-winning independent blender of uniquely aged cask-strength whiskey — but those fun maturations don’t come cheap. Ergo, a new five-year bourbon that’s more approachable in price ($60) but still complex enough for whiskey enthusiasts. A blend of KY, IN, TN and MD bourbon whiskeys bottled at 100-proof with a derived mashbill of 73% corn, 23% rye and 4% malted barley, this one is, well, harmonious. It features a powerful nose, with sweet, buttery notes of caramel popcorn, honey, vanilla and a little wood spice on the palate. A steal.
Ultra-aged bourbon is not something we usually go for (the sweet spot is about 10-12 years), but Buffalo Trace used its new experimental warehouses to create the oldest and best expression of Eagle Rare yet.
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