By Matt Goldstein & Sommelier Tom Pittakas
Over the last few years Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has had a major resurgence as the whiskey and spirit world catch on to the complexities and the excellence of the greatest American Whiskey. Not only Bourbon, but American Rye’s are also in the midst of a renaissance as the country’s best distillers are proving we can rival with any whiskey makers in the world. We’d take a $30 Kentucky Straight Bourbon over a $50 Single Malt Scotch any day of the week. Over the past few years we’ve tasted every bourbon we could possibly get our hands on and these are the best bourbons on the market. We tried to stay away from special releases and bourbons that are simply too expensive as there is no need to spend too much money to find the perfect bourbon. Under U.S. law, Bourbon must be made with a 51% corn mash and aged in newly charred oak barrels. Bourbon must be from Kentucky and aged 2 years in order to be called a Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
A two time gold medalist at the San Francisco World Spirits competition and rated 91 by Wine Enthusiast, Elmer T. Lee is produced and distilled at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort Kentucky. With a heavy rye mash for a Kentucky Straight Bourbon, the Elmer T. Lee is very balanced and subtly is its genius. The Elmer T. Lee bourbon is bottled only when master distiller emeritus, the 91 year old Elmer T. Lee decides that it’s time. After all these years, Elmer T. Lee is still a master at his craft. Not only is this rated our top bourbon, but you can find it in the stores for about $35.00 and Elmer T Lee is simply one of the best buys for any spirit on the shelves. Made with a “Rye Recipe,” the Elmer T. Lee focuses more on the rye and grains than the sweetness of the corn mash. The rye style Bourbon makes a subtle, complex yet easy drinking style. Spicy with hints of cinnamon and honey, the Elmer T. Lee is rounded out by beautiful malts and grains. Perfectly balanced and flavorful, this Bourbon comes with our highest recommendation for any whiskey. Elmer T. Lee is still the master of the bourbon craft.
A special release of the small batch collection by Jim Beam, the Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve is 9 years aged in newly charred American Oak Barrels, hand selected, and bottled at 120 proof. Exceptionally smooth for 120 proof, the Single Barrel Reserve has a light but sweet and smoky scent. With flavors of grains, malts, and an overall sweet flavor with notes of oak and wood, vanilla, chocolate and caramel. This bourbon is a flat out masterpiece and perhaps Jim Beam’s magnum Opus, not to be confused with the original Knob Creek, also a stud in the world of bourbon.
3. Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey:
Winning our first ever double blind taste test, even before our web site went live, Blanton’s is considered the original single barrel bourbon, a brilliant idea that has caught fire throughout the industry. An everyday work horse for bourbon, Blanton’s is stored in an iron clad warehouse but continuously heated to age and mature the bourbon. Sweet, smoky and creamy, Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon is an perfectly balanced whiskey and simply one of the best Bourbon’s on the market period.
Selected as the #1 spirit in the world by the Spirit Journal and defeating perennial 5 times champion in a row, Highland Park 18 Year Single Malt Scotch, the George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon is now one of the most coveted whiskeys in the world. Winning award after award and finishing 2nd in our very own double blind taste test, the George T. Stagg is one of the most complex bourbons and whiskeys on the planet. Uncut and unfiltered, and bottled at 141 proof, this Bourbon Whiskey is for the serious whiskey drinker, one who appreciates every complexity in the glass. Once the whiskey cools down, flavors of oak, fruit, and vanilla ice cream give a perfect mouth feel.
5. Black Maple Hill 16 Year Small Batch Old Bourbon:
Although we did not want to select a bourbon this expensive, we could not resist adding the Black Maple Hill 16 Year to our top 10 list as it is not only one of the best bourbons in the world but one of the best whiskies period. With flavors of caramel, oak and nut, the Black Maple Hill 16 Year is the quintessential small batch bourbon, made in classic fashion, bottled at 95 proof from a single barrel.
6. Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon:
Bottled at 107 proof, the Pappy Van Winkle 15 was Rated 98 by the Beverage Tasting Institute.
7. Michter’s 10 Year Old Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon:
Named the “best american whiskey” by Food and Wine Magazine, not only is this one of the best bourbons in the world, but Michter’s American whiskies might even be better than their bourbons. Single Barrel 94.4 proof.
Handcrafted and bottled at 94 proof, Woodford Reserve is the quintessential sweet bourbon..
From the Jim Beam small batch series, the price for Basil Hayden’s is excellent for how well rounded and beautiful this bourbon is. Easy drinking at 80 proof. .
Winner of multiple gold medals, this single barrel is very complex for a young whiskey. Bottled at 100 proof.
Editor’s Note: Selection limited to Bourbons available in PA, DE, NJ, NY, and MD.