8 Best Bourbons For Bourbon Purists
When the label on a bottle of maple syrup reads “100% pure Vermont maple syrup,” chances are it’s true. But with a spirit like bourbon, purity is somewhat subjective. For many bourbon loyalists, a true bourbon is defined by its mash bill while to others, it’s all about the spirit coming straight from the barrel. But no matter what kind of purist you are, there’s a bourbon out there for you. Here are eight great ones to try.
For the Mash Bill Purist
U.S. law dictates that a straight bourbon whiskey must have at least 60 percent corn content in its mash bill. For those who really lean into that corn-heavy mash and prefer a bill made up of 70-80 percent corn, these bourbons are for you.
This small batch Kentucky bourbon is made with a mashbill of 79 percent high-quality corn. The high corn content gives the spirit a bold juiciness and heady sweetness on the palate. Notes of honeycomb mix with salted caramel, vanilla and butterscotch pudding. The finish is long, dry and warming, with a hint of spice and a creamed corn flavor.
Produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery with a high corn percentage and very little rye (10 percent or less), this bottled-in-bond offering from E.H. Taylor is aged for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. On the palate, the bourbon is floral, with notes of fresh steamed corn smothered in melted butter, corn bread, cinnamon and black pepper. On the finish, its high-alcohol heat comes out, and the bourbon has a long, drying, tannic burn that leaves you wanting more.
For the Barrel-Strength Purist
Many bourbon lovers believe that the purest whiskies are undiluted, straight from the barrel to the bottle—or your glass. If you require that boozy heat, here are two bourbons to try.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed ($35)
Uncut with water, Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a barrel-to-glass bourbon. At a whopping 112 proof, this bourbon doesn’t fool around. It’s hot, big, brash and in your face with intense flavors and aromatics. Black and white pepper mingle with cayenne heat on the forefront of the palate, while vanilla, custard and honeycomb creep in on your tongue as the spice dissipates. This is a whiskey for seasoned whiskey drinkers.
Booker’s Bourbon ($70)
The crown jewel of Jim Beam’s small-batch bourbon portfolio, Booker’s cask-strength is aged for six to eight years and bottled at 120 to 130 proof. It packs a wallop of flavor and high-alcohol heat, with notes of leather, tobacco leaf, apricot, honey and charred oak. With a ridiculously long finish and lasting burn, this bourbon should be a template for all other cask-strength bourbons.
For the American Oak Barrel Purist
To qualify as a bourbon, a whiskey must be aged in 100 percent charred, new American oak casks. Today, many craft American distillers are aging or finishing their whiskies in ex-rum, wine or sherry casks. Most bourbon purists would argue that it’s best to stick to tradition. If you want a bourbon that truly showcases that new American oak, try these bottles.
Widow Jane 10 Year ($55)
Aged in American oak casks for 10 years, this Brooklyn distillery’s bourbon is dank and delicious. After aging, distillers bring the bourbon to proof with limestone-rich water from an upstate New York mine, which gives the spirit a rich, earthiness more commonly found in single malts. On the palate, it is extra spicy and tannic, with loads of black pepper and clove. As it opens up and expands, there are washes of cacao, burnt sugar, toasted rye bread and vanilla (thanks to that oak). On the finish, the pepper resurfaces and melds with a custardy-sweetness. While it may be hard to find outside of East Coast liquor stores, this bottle is worth tracking down.
This single barrel, cask-strength spirit is so damn delicious that even the snobbiest whiskey snob will bow to its greatness. This limited offering from Barrell Bourbon is distilled and aged for six years in new American oak and bottled at 114.8 proof. One sip yields intoxicating flavors of raw honeycomb, corn pudding, county fair funnel cake, pipe tobacco and fresh cherry pie. You only get the alcoholic heat at the tip of your tongue as the spirit finishes.
For the Single Barrel Purist
While blending bourbons (or any spirit for that matter) may yield a more balanced, uniform and consistent product, many devout bourbon purists believe that the best bottles are from one, single barrel. Single barrel bottlings are a unique snapshot of the life of a bourbon. Everything that happened to that specific barrel—whether it be the effects of climate or the trees used to make the barrel—comes through in the spirit. Every year is different and every year tells its own story. If that’s your breed of bourbon, try these bottles.
Evan Williams makes some darn good whiskies. Even their entry level bourbons are great products. This bourbon however, proves that Evan Williams can go head to head with some of the finest spirits on the market. Aged for 10 years, this single barrel, 86.6-proof whiskey hits all the sweet spots. On the palate, it’s smooth, refined and extremely quaffable. Taking that first a sip is like biting into a caramel apple. There’s notes of buttered popcorn, vanilla sweetness and that tannic bite in the finish that leaves your mouth watering.
Blanton’s Single Barrel ($55)
This single barrel commemorates Albert Bacon Blanton, one of the bourbon industry’s earliest champions. While Blanton reportedly only shared his barrel select with his most revered guests and dignitaries, this one is available to all. Harmonious, rich, full bodied and complex, it has notes of freshly grated nutmeg, allspice, fresh-baked cornbread, banana pudding and orange rind. The finish is long and honeyed, with speckles of peppery heat.