You Can Only Keep 5 Bourbons
Imagine you're faced with a dilemma ... Space is a concern or you're on a deserted island ... Or you're stuck in an area of the country with limited availability. However you set it up - within reason (no 23 year-old VanWinkles here)- these have to be reasonably available) - if you could only keep 5 bottles of bourbon in your cabinet, which would they be?
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
My first foray into bourbon happened several years ago at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky. As we walked past the mash tubs, observed the pot stills, and marveled (and breathed deeply) in the rickhouse, something, truly, stirred my soul. The history, the attention to process, and, of course, all of the experiences for the senses. Their flagship Distiller's Select is an everyday treat, but if every day was the weekend, I'd be pouring their Double Oaked expression. At 72% corn, 18% rye (higher than the spicy Wild Turkey 101), and 10% malted barley, this is a balanced blend of sweet and savory. Married with a bourbon ball or a piece of chocolate, the caramel, dark cocoa, and toffee-like notes truly pop to the surface and the $55 price tag is worth every sip.
Knob Creek Small Batch
For the price point - and with its reinvigorated age statement, this is one of the best bourbons on the market. I was truly disappointed in 2016 when they removed the age statement, but was delighted to see that by 2020, it had returned. While this shares the same mash bill as Jim Beam - 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley, the resulting distillate is allowed to age a full 9-years (double that of traditional JB White). At around $35, the result is a vanilla, caramel, brown sugar bomb, gently balanced with subtle oak and spice. At 100-proof, this also holds up well with ice or in a cocktail.
Russell's Reserve 10-Year
Readily found, at reasonable prices, and a 10-year age statement, this is one of my favorite expressions in the Wild Turkey lineup. Like others in the lineup, this begins with the flagship brand mash bill of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. The bourbon is allowed to age for ten years before being bottled at 90-proof. The lower proof on this one truly makes this very approachable for newer and seasoned fans alike. In the glass, you'll find vanilla paired with oak, leather, and tobacco, all incredibly smooth and balanced. Unlike Eagle Rare or Henry McKenna 10-year products, this is readily found on store shelves and is typically priced in the mid-$30 range.
Elijah Craig Small Batch
I confess that as I began my bourbon journey, I often looked down upon the Heaven Hill lineup, especially as it produced a number of bargain-shelf brands. As time went on and my palate expanded, I began to appreciate the humble brand, its story, and its attention to producing truly great bourbon.
If stuck on a desert island, with a lifetime supply, Henry McKenna Single Barrel 10-Year is one of my favorites. But adding in the clause "readily available" (and close to MSRP prices), that expression of Henry McKenna is often elusive. Sharing the same mash bill as one of my popular bargain pours - Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond and Heaven Hill Green Label (78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley), this small-batch bourbon is welcome in my cabinet any day. With traditional notes of vanilla, caramel, peppery spice and charred oak, I truly have a man-crush on this classic bourbon expression.
Wilderness Trail 6-Year Small Batch
It was pretty easy to come up with my top 4 picks to have ready for whatever happens, but now - with just one bottle to select - what would be my final choice? There are a lot of great choices out there.
When push comes to shove - I wanted something that was a little different from all of the other bourbons on my list. Wilderness Trail is just that. Made with a mash bill of 64% corn, 24% rye (this would qualify as a "high rye bourbon"), and 12% malted barley, and utilizing a freshmash process, this Bottled-in-Bond bourbon strikes my fancy. Deep-amber in color, this bourbon is rich with vanilla toffee, butterscotch, and baked fruits. As we enjoyed a tasting on our tour, my non-bourbon-drinking spouse exclaimed, "You have to get a bottle of this". "Thanks, dear". I'm glad I did!