Bourbons To Buy Every Time You're in Kentucky
While there's never a bad time to purchase a bottle of bourbon, when in Kentucky to visit or to take in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, there are some bourbons that I purchase nearly every time I'm in the Bluegrass. Find out if some of your favorites made the short list.
Early Times Bottled-in-Bond
While sold across the country, this bourbon adhering to the 1897 Bottled-in-Bond Act rarely seems to make it in quantity to my home state. Formerly produced by Brown-Forman, the brand was sold a couple of years ago and added to the Sazerac lineup, which also owns Barton and Buffalo Trace. The mash bill is similar to its former cousin Old Forester - 79% corn, 11% rye and 10% malted barley. The nose is quite lovely with vanilla, maple syrup, and bananas foster. On the palate, there is vanilla, caramel, and fruit balanced nicely with toasted oak and baking spice. Packaged in a one-liter bottle, and priced around $26 or so, this is a great bargain to keep in your cabinet.
Evan Williams Single Barrel
Flying under the radar for years, this single barrel bourbon from the Evan Williams lineup pays homage to Evan Williams - the first commercial distiller of bourbon. Generally found in the 7-8 year range - with an age statement, and a 5-time winner of "Whiskey of the Year", this bourbon was moved from nationwide availability to being only available in the Commonwealth. Whiskey enthusiasts will be greeted with notes of warm bourbon bread pudding accompanied by vanilla bean ice cream and neatly balanced with oak and gentle holiday spices. If you live outside of Kentucky, this is definitely one to bring home for friends and family to enjoy.
Heaven Hill Quality House
The humblest member of this short list is this bargain-shelfer from Heaven Hill. While it isn’t as tasty as the formerly readily available Heaven Hill 6-Year Bottled-in-Bond and the Heaven Hill 6-Year Green Label, this youthful, 80-proof is my go-to for easy sipping and cooking. Made from the same mash bill as the Evan Williams brand along with others at Heaven Hill, this still has the iconic brand flavors, including vanilla, caramel and brown sugar, along with the fruity and doughy sensation of warm apple strudel. Typically found for around $10, this is one to grab for yourself, your kitchen, and a friend.
Allocated Bourbons from Buffalo Trace
There are entire social media sites dedicated to “What’s Available at Buffalo Trace Today” - complete with pictures of long lines and stories of hours spent waiting. Outside of the distillery gift shop, you may find yourself shelling out significant funds to get your hands on a bottle of Weller Reserve, E.H. Taylor, Eagle Rare, and Blanton’s.
Most days, however, you can check the distillery website and see what is available for purchase. We’ve been lucky on several occasions to literally walk in mid-afternoon - with no lines - to find a wall full of these fine bourbons and purchase them for MSRP in the gift shop. On another occasion, seeing the supply dwindling down for Weller Reserve, we made a dash to snag some of the final bottles before seeing staff members bringing cases of bourbon to restock - hence the reference to the “Buffalo stampede”.
Note that as of this date, visitors are allowed to purchase one of these brands every 90 days. For example, if you visit on Monday and purchase a bottle of Blanton’s, you may return on Tuesday to purchase a bottle of Weller Reserve. However, you’ll have to wait 90 days before being able to purchase either of those brands at the gift shop. While you’re there, don’t pass up on the free tastings of some of their premier brands on the second floor. On a recent visit, we even caught up with industry legend Freddy Johnson, one of the stars in the documentary Neat.
This may sound like a bit of a Buffalo Trace bromance, but I have to say, again, that good selections from that particular distillery just aren’t available back home. So it is with the Benchmark brand. While at home, I can typically find regular Benchmark on the shelves, it’s at the regional liquor stores and grocery stores in the Bluegrass that I find a dizzying array of Benchmark varieties, including a Single Barrel, Top Floor, and Bonded expression. Produced by Buffalo Trace, we don’t know the exact mash bill, but it’s fair to assume that it’s similar to the flagship Buffalo Trace brand.
The brand is named for the early Kentucky pioneers - James, George, and Robert McAfee - who in 1773 first surveyed the area of Frankfort, Kentucky - which later became the site of the OFC Distillery (and later became Buffalo Trace). Smooth and uncomplicated, these are everyday drinkers, with notes of brown sugar, caramel apple, dried fruit, and raisin.
Any Distillery-only Release
It’s always worthwhile when you’re in the Bluegrass to be sure and stop by your favorite distillery for releases that may have limited availability or only be available at the distillery site. Occasionally, you run into some great people, too. After all, it was on a quiet afternoon that we walked into the visitor’s center at Wild Turkey to be greeted by bourbon legend Jimmy Russell who was happy to not only share bourbon tales, but sign some special release bottles. We’ve had good luck snagging limited releases from Woodford Reserve, including a Chocolate Malt Whisper and a Honey Barrel Finish. Lastly, it was at Wilderness Trail that we were able to catch a new 8-Year Bottled-in-Bond release a couple of years ago that I enjoyed immensely.