Bourbon is special. Known as Americas Native Spirit, this corn-based whiskey comes with a handful of specific guidelines. To be called a bourbon, its mash bill must be comprised of at least 51 percent corn, it must be distilled at no more than 80 percent alcohol, it must be aged in new, charred, oak barrels, it can enter the barrel at no higher than 62.5 percent alcohol, must be produced in the US, and if its aged for less than two years it cant be called a “straight bourbon.” If it’s aged less than four years, it also must be labeled with the months it was aged.
But one thing youll never see mentioned in the official bourbon guidelines is that it must be made in Kentucky. Thats because, while 95 percent of bourbon is produced in the Blue Grass State, it technically can be made anywhere in the US. In fact, there are countless, high-quality, well-crafted bourbons produced in all corners of the sprawling nation.
Below youll find some of my personal favorites.
Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon (Texas)
Balcones was the first distillery to produce whiskey made from blue corn (there are a few others now). Known for its sweet, rich corn notes, the use of a blue corn varietal makes this a truly unique, Texas-style bourbon thats complex and full of flavor.
This limited-edition, whiskey is available once a year and is aged in new, charred American oak barrels for between two and three years to mellow out the heat — turning it into a highly sippable whiskey.
Right away, your nose will be met with aromas of sweet corn, cinnamon, peppery spice, and sugary caramel. The first sip yields dried orange peel, cooking spices, sweet cream, rich vanilla, and toffee. The finish is long, warming, and filled with white pepper and brown sugar sweetness.
This bourbon is made in limited quantities and can be difficult to find at times. That makes it a truly special bottle that deserves to be slipped slowly on a cool evening.
Wigle Pennsylvania Straight Bourbon (Pennsylvania)
If youve never heard of Wigle, now is the time to get on board. This Pennsylvania-based distillery makes a wide array of whiskeys, including its award-winning Wigle Pennsylvania Straight Bourbon. While we dont know what exactly a Pennsylvania Bourbon is, we know this was the first bourbon made in the state in more than 30 years and its made with 65 percent Wapsie Valley corn, plus winter wheat, and malted barley before being aged in new, charred American oak barrels for two years.
Since youve likely never had a Pennsylvania Bourbon, you might want to give this whiskey a good nosing before taking a sip. The first scents youll find are sweet corn, creamy vanilla, and honey. The first sip delivers dried cherries, candied orange peels, sweet cream, and butterscotch. The finish isn’t rushed — full of nutty sweetness with just a hint of toasted caramel.
This is a great bourbon for fans of sweet corn. Its sweet, rich, and full of caramel and vanilla — a perfect after dinner sipper.
Wyoming Double Cask Bourbon (Wyoming)
You might not think about Wyoming when you think about bourbon, but the folks at Wyoming Whiskey are doing some really exciting things. Their Double Cask gets its name because its first aged for five years in new, charred oak casks before spending a second maturation in Pedro Ximenez sherry butts.
Like all whiskeys that spend time in sherry butts, the initial aroma is sweet sherry along with brown sugar and dried cherries. The first sip drops a cascading symphony of sweet cream, butterscotch, English toffee, and cinnamon notes. The finish is long, warming, and full of subtle Christmas spices.
This is a really complex bourbon. With the combination of oak and sherry cask aging, this well-rounded dram is perfect for sipping on the rocks after a long day of work (even if youre working from home).
Woodinville Straight Bourbon (Washington)
This award-winning small-batch bourbon gets all of its grains (corn, rye, and barley) from Omlin Family Farm in nearby Quincy, Washington. Everything else in the whiskey-making process (mashing, distillation, and barreling) is completed at the distillery itself. Once the whiskey is barreled, its shipped over the Cascade Mountains to be aged at the distillerys barrel houses. Why does it travel so far? Well, the temperature changes in the area are known to aid in the aging process.
After the first nosing youll realize youre in for a unique experience. While the nose isnt overly heavy in flavor, youre met with hints of cinnamon, caramel, butterscotch, and dried cherries. The first sip yields subtle hints of charred oak, caramelized sugar, and cooking spices. The finish is mellow, warming, and filled with subtle tobacco, espresso, caramel notes, plus a final flourish of white pepper.
This is a classic slow sipping whiskey. Its small batch, full of vanilla sweetness and should be enjoyed over ice while you watch the leaves slowly see-saw down to earth.
Widow Jane The Vaults (New York)
If youre lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle of Widow Jane: The Vaults, youre in a for a real flavor experience. This limited release bourbon is made with the companys rarest and oldest bourbons that were hand picked by Widow Jane from its barrel house. Its a blend of bourbons that are all at least 14 years old and finished in American oak barrels that were air seasoned for 8 full years.
A bourbon of this high-quality deserves a long nosing before tasting. The first scents youll be met with are cinnamon, toasted oak, and dried figs. The first sip is effortlessly warming with hints of sweet vanilla, chocolate, and caramelized sugar. The finish is long, warming, and filled with sweet honey, cooking spices, and long lingering final note of vanilla beans.
Anything besides simply drinking this bourbon with a single ice cube is unacceptable. Youre already paying $150 for a bottle, you should enjoy every single note.
Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Bourbon (Tennessee)
Honestly, you cant go wrong with the brands original bourbon. But if you want to kick it up a notch, grab a bottle of its Reserve Bourbon. This offering was made by distillers hand-selecting specific higher proof, richer bourbons — aged between 7 and 11 years. Theyre combined in small batches and bottled at high proof.
The result is a subtly spicy, high-rye bourbon perfect for fans of complex whiskeys.
Before you drink, give this whiskey a proper nosing. Youll be met with hints of cinnamon, brown sugar, caramel, and just a whiff of peppery spice. On the palate, this gem yields dried fruits, candied orange peel, sweet cream, and creamy vanilla, The finish is long, pleasantly warming, and feels like a long fall hug with hints of allspice, toasted oak, and mulled cider.
This should be your go-to fall sipper. Instead of making hot cider, pour yourself a glass of Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve. It will warm you inside and out.