12 Small-Batch Bourbons You Need to Try Before You Die
Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Lincoln Henderson, the 73-year- old master distiller at Angel’s Envy, recalls how he got into bourbon making. It started during his days at the University of Louisville: “I’ll never forget. We were having Christmas break and I couldn’t go home, so we decided to do research on bourbon. We drove down to Texas and we bought about five cases of bourbon. I think we spent our whole three weeks of Christmas break with Ancient Age.” Henderson's distilling skills have leant itself to many-a big batch brand, including Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Jack Daniel’s “Gentleman Jack” and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Whiskey. When he retired from his 40-year career as a Master Distiller at Brown Forman, he launched Angel’s Envy Bourbon, which he considers his “life's work.” In his own words, he calls it “a whiskey of incomparable smoothness…. It takes into account over 200 years of bourbon heritage and mingles it with over 400 years of port wine heritage.”
Prichard’s Double Barreled Bourbon & Double Chocolate Bourbon
In 1822, Enoch Prichard inherited his dad's “still, tubs, and utensils thereto” when he passed away in Davidson County, Tennessee. Five generations later, Phil Prichard reopened his family's distillery in Kenslo, Tennessee. Prichard’s Distillery became the first legal distillery in the state in almost 50 years.
Unlike most Bourbon distilleries, Prichard's recipe calls for a sweeter white corn mash vs. the traditional yellow corn: “Today the vast majority of distilleries making whiskey in this country are making their whiskey with yellow corn,” says Phil. “But you and I both know that white corn has a higher sugar content than yellow corn. It makes a fine, fine whiskey.” Prichard's Bourbon is charred American oak barrels for upwards of nine years before being moved into new American oak barrels for another three to five years. The double-barrel process is a time-consuming labor of love that adds notes of notes of caramel, toffee, and vanilla to the final product.
And what about Prichard’s Double Chocolate Bourbon? That comes from infusing the chocolate bourbon with slow-roasted cacao beans from Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Company in Nashville. The result is a handcrafted bourbon that's extremely smooth and mellow thanks to it's chocolate finish.
Need more testimonial? In the 2009 Whiskey Bible, Jim Murray offered the following glowing review:
“A classy effortless delivery. The corn-rye integration oozes sophistication and the vanilla-themed oak offers the perfect background. Immediate bitter sweet character celebrates both a raisin-fruity juiciness and a much firmer, burned-honeycombed middle; complex, classy and challenging; thuddingly firm with limited yield. Spices from the rye try to probe the wall but this is the metalled hoof a Kentucky thoroughbred; a very different bourbon that ticks the boxes as they should but throws in a few curve balls for the palate to negotiate.”
Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon
Who says all good bourbon must come from Kentucky? After graduating from West Point with a chemistry degree and an 11-year stint as a cavalry officer, David Pickerell spent 13 years in Loretto, Kentucky as a Master Distiller for Maker’s Mark Bourbon. He's now back in the Hudson Valley crafting batches of Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon, the world’s first solera aged bourbon.
What the hell does that mean? The solera-aging process is a cascading process typically reserved for aging cognacs, ports, and sherries. It involves filling a series of casks on top of each other. I.E.:
The young whiskey is added to the top barrel, aging while cascading though the other descending barrels over a long period of time. When the fully-aged bourbon is emptied from the bottom barrels, the same amount of new whiskey ready to be aged is added to the top. As a result, no cask in the solera is ever fully emptied. In the case of Hillrock, this complex process adds a spicy rye flavor, along with hints of fig, roasted walnuts and candied fruit.
Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Four Roses Distillery near Lawrenceburg has been a Kentucky staple since 1910. It was one of the six distilleries granted permission to operate during Prohibition and quickly became one of the top-selling bourbons in the United States when the 18th Amendment was inevitably repealed. After Seagram's bought and discontinued Four Roses in the 1950s, the distillery reopened almost a half-century later, in 2002, to produce an eight-year bourbon made of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley. The result is Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which boasts unique flavor characteristics with hints of caramel, honey, nutmeg, and cinnamon and a tinge of oak wood.
John J. Bowman Virginia Straight Single Barrel Bourbon
A. Smith Bowman Distillery was opened in 1935 in Northern Virginia following the repeal of Prohibition. At the time, it served a pragmatic purpose: To distill the excess grains Abram S. Bowman harvested from his dairy farm. It was named after Abram Bowman’s great, great uncle, Colonel John Bowman, a Kentucky Colonel who led a raid in 1779 of 300 soldiers against the Shawnee, who at the time were attacking frontiersmen.
The pride and joy of late Master Distiller Truman Cox, John J. Bowman Bourbon Whiskey is aged for a minimum of ten years in oak barrels with a #3 char, which meaning the barrels were charred for 35 seconds. The bourbon is eventually brought to 100 proof before each bottle is filled from the barrel and labeled by hand.
Old Pogue Master’s Select Bourbon
A true sipping bourbon, Old Pogue is born in “bourbon’s birthplace, Maysville, KY” and boasts rich aromas of maple, stone fruit and brown sugar. It's named after Henry Edgar Pogue, who bought Old Time Distillery at the junction of the Ohio River and Limestone Creek (…fording the river in Oregon Trail, anyone?) just a decade after the Civil War ended.
Sans shuttering its doors during Prohibition, the Pogue family has been running the distillery ever since. A newspaper account from January 25, 1900 even celebrates Old Pogue Distillery for building up “a large business strictly through honorable methods” and “enjoyed the reputation of being one of the best known and best patronized distilleries in the State of Kentucky.”
James E. Pepper 15YO Bourbon and Rye
15 years is a long time for a bourbon to sit in the barrel. In the case of James E. Pepper's 15 Year Bourbon and Rye, though, anything less would be messing with tradition. Pepper's Bourbon is believed to be the favorite whiskey of Presidents Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as American statesman Daniel Webster. The bold, spicy finish comes from its signature mash of 62% corn and malted barley, and 38% rye.
Back in 1887, Colonel James E. Pepper boasted about his brand: “Pepper Whisky is an old fashioned whisky, made in the old time way from a formula used more than 100 years in three generations by the Pepper family. It is made from selected rye, barley and corn. We claim not only to make the oldest but absolutely the purest and best brand of whisky made in America, and we invite comparison with any whisky of any age.”
Filibuster Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Smooth yet complicated. Like that mysterious women you didn't get a correct number from at the bar. Filibuster Bourbon's distinct caramel taste comes from it's artful aging process. After the mash of 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% malted barley is distilled, Filibuster Bourbon spends two years in white American oak barrels. It's then transferred to used French oak wine barrels for 60 days, adding a hint of spice and dried fruit.
Widow Jane Single Barrel 7 Year Old Bourbon & Single Barrel Rye
Cement matters, especially in Rosendale, New York. The tiny town in Ulster County is the birthplace of some of the most important cement in New York City history, including that found in the base of NYC's Statue of Liberty, The Brooklyn Bridge, and Federal Hall. Widow Jane Single Barrel Bourbon is named after a beloved community member, the widow of the Rosendale Limestone Mine. To make the Bourbon, the sweet, mineral-rich water from Rosendale's limestone quarries is imported to Brookyln, where it's brought to proof with Kentucky bourbon and rye before being hand-bottled. The resulting flavor is aromatic with touches of vanilla and cinnamon.
Hudson Single Malt Whiskey & Baby Bourbon Whiskey
Hold your eye-rolls, Southerners: Believe it or not, there's damn good Bourbon being made just a short Metro-North ride out of Grand Central Station. Located near Beacon, New York, the Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery is the first New York Farm Distillery Tasting Room since Prohibition. Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey is the first bourbon to be officially distilled in the state of New York. The twice-distilled Bourbon is made from 100% New York corn harvested less than 10 miles from the distillery and left to age in small, 3-gallon and 14-gallon oak casks.
Then things get weird. The casks are stored in a warehouse that gets incredibly hot during the day from the distillery. At night, when the stills are inactive, the warehouse blasts rap music over deep bass speakers to agitate the bourbon and scotch in the barrels. It's called sonic aging and causes the liquor to interact more with the wood from the barrels. In other words, bourbon made with a touch of Wu.
Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon
Once heralded as “The World's Greatest Bourbon” by Washingtonian Magazine, Rock Hill's 8-year, 100-proof bourbon boasts a distinct nutty smoothness.
Hooker’s House Bourbon and Rye Whiskey
Bourbon… named after a Union General? Well, after all, the North did win the war. General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker is perhaps best remembered for defeating General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. Made with a rye-heavy 54% corn/46% rye mash, Hooker's House Bourbon is aged for seven years in Kentucky before being transferred into Pinot Noir barrels from California's Sonoma Valley. The double-barreling process gives the smoky bourbon a delightful, delicate taste of apricot and cherries.
Bourbon pic via Shutterstock