45 Best Bourbons From Fred Minnick's Ascot Awards

2022-07-02 08:54:54 By : Ms. Yan Cheung

We’re getting deep into awards season in the spirits industry. This week noted bourbon reviewer Fred Minnick dropped the medals from his spirit’s awards, the Ascot Awards — named after Minnick’s signature neckwear. Below, I’m going to call out every bourbon that you can actually (maybe) find that won a coveted “Double Platinum” award.

Before I get to that, a few background notes. The Ascot Awards are their own thing with a unique set of judges (offering a unique POV). The medals are “Honorable Mention” for spirits that meet the minimum standard. From there, there’s a point system based on 100 points — hinged on appearance, aroma, taste, and finish — that denotes a “Gold,” “Platinum,” and “Double Platinum” medal. Skipping to the end of the blind tasting panels, expressions that received top marks from all the judges at the table earn the “Double Platinum,” which is similar to how it works at the SF World Spirits Competition. Likewise, the “Double Platinum” medalist are then sent to finals where a “Best in Class” winner is blindly chosen.

Long story short (too late), the Double Platinum winning bourbons are the prime cuts from the hundreds of entries the judges at the Ascot Awards blindly taste. To that end, I’m calling out 45 of the Double Platinum bourbon winners. I’ve narrowed these down to bottles you might actually be able to get. That means that I skipped the private club and individual store barrel picks. Look, unless you live next to a random liquor store that got the barrel pick or are in a random club that did, you’re never getting those bottles. I kept this focused on bottles that you may be able to find (for a price at either a high-end liquor store or whiskey bar). I also filled in as many tasting notes as I could but relied on the distillery/bottler/blender or Ascot Award notes where I couldn’t.

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months

15 Stars bourbon is a bit of an outlier. The whiskey is a blend of old sourced barrels of bourbon from Bardstown, Kentucky. The whiskey then spends 14 years in the barrel before proofing and bottling.

Tasting Notes (from the blender):

“On the nose, an indulgent bouquet of butterscotch and maple is highlighted by roasted nuts and tobacco. Dark chocolate and molasses complement cream and vanilla to create an incredibly rich mouthfeel. Dark chocolate carries over from the palate with initial notes of oak and coffee followed by a bold and enduring hazelnut finish.”

This label has been popping up a lot over the last year or so. Color me intrigued.

As with the above, this is a sourced bourbon. In this case, it’s a blend of seven and 15-year-old barrels with a fairly accessible yet bold proof of 107.

Tasting Notes (from the blender):

“NOSE: On the nose, the fresh scent of cinnamon, rose petals, and apricot rest on rich maple and oak. PALATE: Citrus and spice form an inviting balance with caramel and almonds to produce a satisfyingly round palate. FINISH: The experience is concluded by a long and soft toasted oak finish.”

This sounds delicious from the tasting notes. I’ll have to get my hands on a bottle to see how many of those notes are actually there. I’m guessing a fair few given 15 Stars’ rising reputation.

This Colorado whiskey is very young, all things considered. The juice ages for about one year in barrels with toasted Aspen staves in the barrel to amp up the aging process from the inside. The whiskey is then bottled as-is with no proofing or fussing.

You get a big note of banana bread on the nose with plenty of walnut, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a dash of cloves that lead to freshly cut firewood laying in black dirt with a whisper of potpourri in the background. The palate returns to the banana with hints of strawberries in straw, more dried florals, thick vanilla pudding, and plenty of brown sugar syrup. That sweet mid-palate gives way to raw leather, more of that dirty firewood, and a dusting of white pepper.

This is just a fascinating pour. It feels young on the nose but ends a little bit old and gnarled. It’s a fun ride.

These whiskeys are from hand-selected sourced barrels. Those barrels are sent out to Bourbon, Missouri where they’re bottled as-is, generally for private barrel picks but also for the brand’s own shop.

Tasting Notes (from the Ascot Awards):

“A sweet and savory combination of chocolate, baking spices, and a hint of bitter oak on the finish is perfectly balanced and well-integrated. Nicely done!”

First of all, I need to go to Bourbon, Missouri ASAP. Secondly, I need to drop in this bottler when I’m there to give this juice a try. I’ll report back when I do.

2021’s Barrell Batch 030 launched the brand’s awesome blends into a new direction by adding Wyoming bourbon alongside Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee whiskeys. The final mix ended up being a blend of five, six, nine, ten, eleven, and 15-year-old bourbons that were bottled at barrel proof.

The nose opens with a plum pudding brimming with dark, wintry spice, dried and candied fruits, and fatty nuts that’s all been soaked in dark rum with a hint of worn library leather that leads towards this dramatic shift towards fresh blackberries and raspberries with a hint of the bramble. The palate is blackberry pie with a lard crust topped with a cinnamon vanilla ice cream next to hints of oatmeal raisin cookie, ancho-chili-laced dark chocolate, and dry walnut shells. The mid-palate harnesses that chocolate and nuttiness and leans it toward creamy Nutella as a dry pine arrives on the very end with an almost bitter dark soil.

If you see this on the shelf, buy two. One for everyday sipping and one for down the road when that first bottle is long gone and you want to revisit this because it isn’t coming back.

This sourced whiskey comes from Kentucky. The juice is a blend of 70 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and nine percent malted barley whiskey that’s aged for up to four years before proofing and bottling.

This smells like “bourbon” on the nose with hints of caramel, vanilla, oak, and a dollop of maple syrup. The palate has a thick winter spice vibe with dusty cinnamon and nutmeg-heavy eggnog with a creamy edge next to vanilla tobacco with a whisper of cedar humidor. That spice really amps up toward the finish with a Red Hot tobacco chew and dry wicker finish.

This is one that just hasn’t hit with me yet. I feel like I need to revisit it (again) to see what all the fuss is about. I know my editor — a vanilla fiend — is a big fan.

This is a true outlier in Kentucky’s bourbon scene. The mash is made up of Kentucky-grown blue corn, 75 percent of it, alongside 21 percent wheat and a mere four percent malted barley. That whiskey then ages for an undisclosed amount of time before it’s bottled at barrel strength.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Nose: caramel, vanilla, oak. Pallet [sic]: sweet toffee, butterscotch, baking spice, banana bread. Finish: Medium with notes of sweet butter, corn, and cream.”

The tasting notes had me until “butterscotch” and “banana bread.” Those notes signal that this is a young and crafty bourbon. That’s not a bad thing. But for $60, I can assuredly buy some classic whiskeys on this very list that will be my jam.

This is the standard Bulleit but with a little more dialed-in flavor profile that allows the juice to shine on its own. The sourced bourbon is small-batched from hand-selected barrels and bottled at Diageo’s new Bulleit facility without any filtration or cutting down to proof.

These will vary depending on which release you snag. Expect sweet woody notes next to oily vanilla and a big note of black pepper. The taste delivers ripe peaches next to more peppery spice and a hint of Christmas spices, with the vanilla taking a backseat and the oak really stepping in to shine. The end is spicy, hot, oaky, and peachy, with a hint of caramel corn.

These are pretty damn good. I haven’t had one since late last year, but it really was a classic and easy-drinking bourbon, especially on a rock or two.

This is the same high-rye source bourbon as above. The key difference is that this is a single barrel (so not a small-batch). And even though the proof is lower on this, it’s still uncut and unfiltered.

That now-classic Bulleit vibe of winter spices, deep caramel, rich vanilla, and soft leather draws you in on the nose. Woody maple syrup, faint dried roses, dates, eggnog with plenty of nutmeg, and creamy vanilla sauce all mingle on the palate. The sweet and creamy mid-palate gives way to dry wicker with hints of old pipe tobacco dipped in that eggnog.

This is straightforward but kind of deep. This really shines as a sipper with a single rock. Or — since this is fairly well-priced — you can build one hell of a cocktail with this thanks to the richness of the vanilla, caramel, and dry woodiness.

Murphy Quint, Cedar Ridge’s Head Distiller, started selecting single barrels from their rickhouse for this exclusive series last year. This version was bottled from Barrel 16.430 and but in glass as-is without any fussing whatsoever.

Tasting Notes (from the Ascot Awards):

“Dangerously smooth at this high ABV, here we have a whiskey with a rich mouthfeel and flavors of peanut butter, roses, and candied licorice. This is great!”

I love funky and odd combinations on a crafty whiskey and “peanut butter, roses, and candied licorice” is exactly that. I’m looking forward to digging into this one once I get my hands on one.

Beyond the fact that this is a sourced bourbon blended by The Bard Distillery in Kentucky, not much else is available about what’s actually in the bottle.

Tasting Notes (from the Ascot Awards):

“Chocolate, vanilla, and graham cracker s’mores! YUM!”

This feels like I bottle that I’d come across at a trade show or judging one of these events and then never, ever see or hear of again.

Cutwater is all about that blend. The juice in this bottle is a mix of hand-selected barrels from undisclosed sources, ages, and places. That makes this a “Blended Bourbon Whiskey” if you want to get all technical about it.

White summer flowers, soft vanilla, and a hint of orange zest lead the way on the nose with touches of caramel and oak. The palate is largely the same, offering a “classic” mixing bourbon vibe. The caramel and vanilla really dominate the palate with hints of citrus, dark spices, and wet wood. The finish is short and sweet with a touch more spice and vanilla.

This really feels like it was made to be mixed in an old fashioned.

This sourced bourbon from Lux Row is a blend of wheated and rye-heavy bourbons. Those barrels are blended and then filled into French oak casks for a final six-month maturation. That whiskey is proofed and bottled without any fussing.

This feels like descending into a cellar from the jump with cobwebs, a dry dirt floor, old cellar beams, dried flowers, a hint of rusty iron, and a whisper of grape must. The palate builds on that grape must with oatmeal raisin cookies with ground walnuts and plenty of nutmeg as a hint of pear candy sweetens the mid-palate. A hint of anise arrives late and leads to wet oak staves, more of that cellar floor, and a tiny dash of dried chili pepper.

This kind of rules. It’s unique, funky, and still somehow grounded in a bourbon-ness. If you’re looking for something completely outside the box but still understandable/enjoyable, this is the bottle to grab.

Doc Swinson’s Master Blender, Jesse Parker, takes a lot of time making this whiskey. The juice is a blend of MGP five-year-old bourbons. That blend is just touched with water to bring it down to 155 proof and then bottled.

This opens with a nice balance of dried and leathery apricot next to Caro syrup and peanut brittle with a hint of charred oak in the background of the nose. The palate leans into the nuttiness with an almost Almond Joy vibe with a dark chocolate bitterness and a touch of creamy vanilla. The finish is part brown sugar and part crushed peanuts with a hint of spicy dark chocolate tobacco rounding things out.

It’s not every day that you get a nice and nutty bourbon like this. While this doesn’t feel overly unique, it has enough of its own character to be memorable, especially over a rock or two.

El Cuerpo, or “The Body,” is a five-year-old sourced bourbon. The juice is finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry butts to add more depth to the MGP juice before bottling.

Tasting Notes (from the blender):

“NOSE – Leather, ripe plums, dark chocolate, and vanilla. PALATE – Dark stewed fruits, honey, marzipan, custard, aged tobacco, bourbon vanilla, and stewed plums. FINISH – A rich and full-bodied bourbon with satisfying vanilla, fruit leather, and wet tobacco that cling to the palate.”

This sounds like a delicious bourbon, especially for winter sipping.

For this release, Doc Swinon’s blenders built a whiskey around “The Spirit.” To do so, they finished five-year-old MGP bourbon in Cognac puncheons (larger barrels) for a final spell before bottling.

Tasting Notes (from the blender):

“NOSE – Orange marmalade, Soda bread, citrus, and marzipan. PALATE – Golden raisins, wildflower honey, dark chocolate, dried tobacco, crème brûlée, and candied orange peels. FINISH – Exceptional balance of sweet and citrus notes, a smooth sipping bourbon with a toasted oak finish.”

With all of that citrus, this sounds more like a spring/summer sipper.

For “The Mind,” a whiskey was created to challenge the mind. The five-year-old MGP barrels were batched and refilled into Oloroso sherry casks for a final maturation before bottling.

Tasting Notes (from the blender):

“NOSE – Holiday spice cake, almond paste, orange zest, and wildflower honey. PALATE – Dried apricots, candied citrus peels, roasted nuts, and baking spices. FINISH – An uplifting and fragrant bourbon full of seasonal fruits and citrus peels followed by honey and toasted oak.”

This feels like a bottle that bridges the last two’s holidays and spring/summer vibe as an all-around great whiskey.

This year’s first drop is a 12-year-old whiskey made from Heaven Hill’s classic bourbon mash of 78 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and a mere ten percent rye. Those barrels are masterfully blended into this Barrel Proof expression with no cutting or fussing. This is as-is bourbon from the barrel.

Caramel draws you in on the nose with a slight sourdough cinnamon roll with pecans, a touch of floral honey, and a soft and woody drug store aftershave with an echo of vanilla candle wax and singed marshmallow. The palate rolls through a soft leather and vanilla pie note as cinnamon ice cream leads to spicy oak. The mid-palate leans into a sweeter, almost creamy spice (think nutmeg-heavy eggnog) which, in turn, leads to a dry cedar bark next to a dry stewed-apple tobacco leaf folded into an old leather pouch for safekeeping.

This is one of the better barrel proof whiskeys of the year, so far. It’s such a dailed-in stonecold classic that it’s hard to beat.

This new expression from the brand uses classic Elijah Craig Small Batch and gives it a finishing maturation. Basically, the aged juice is transferred to toasted oak barrels for a spell so that the whiskey can really capture more of that oakiness.

Naturally, you get a woodiness on the nose that teeters between soft cedar and sweet, almost fruity hardwoods, with a hint of caramel sweetness as a counterpoint. That caramel has a somewhat orange-chocolate edge with hints of clove, cinnamon, and white pepper lurking in the background. The spices dry out (think cinnamon sticks or spice barks), the sweetness subsides, and you’re left with a touch of that soft cedar and some well-warmed senses.

This is a good entry point to toasted barrel finishes, especially if you can get it MSRP (which is closer to $50). It makes for a good sipper that works wonders in a cocktail too.

This bottling from Persedo Spirits is a three-year-old crafty. Beyond that, very little information is available on what’s actually in the bottle.

Tasting Notes (from the Ascot Awards):

“Rich flavors of maple syrup, pecan pie, and cherry cordial, meets a great mouthfeel, pleasant tannins, and a long finish. What’s not to love?”

This sounds nice. But given that it’s going to be super hard to find, it might not be worth the effort unless you’re in Alvin, Texas.

This expression is part of Heaven Hill’s Heritage Center only line. The juice is classic Heaven Hill bourbon that’s aged for over a decade before being re-barreled in Chinquapin white oak barrels for a final maturation.

Tasting Notes (from the Ascot Awards):

“A bready nose leads to baked coffee cake on the palate with a long finish. Distinctive in a good way. Excellent.”

This is one of those whiskeys you take home after a tour of the factory and then wow your family and friends with at backyard BBQs and birthday parties over the next year.

Jefferson’s really hits it out of the park with their sourced juice. The “very old” element of this small-batched blend means that eight to 12 barrels of four unique bourbons were selected to be married, with the oldest clocking in at 20-years-old. That juice is then proofed with soft Kentucky limestone water to bring it down to a very approachable 90.2 proof.

This is classic. Notes of vanilla meet spicy tobacco, leather, oak, and very buttery toffee with a hint of popped corn and apple pie mingle on the nose. The palate holds true to those notes while adding a mellow cherry with an almost cedar-infused cream soda. The finish is short but full of all those woody, spicy, and apple pie notes again, with plenty of buttery mouthfeel and a cedar box full of rich tobacco leaves.

This is a fine bourbon. It’s an easy sipper but doesn’t quite pack the punch I was looking for.

This is a very wheated bourbon. The mash is 51 percent corn (the legal minimum) plus 45 percent wheat and four percent malted barley. That juice is left to rest for four years before it’s blended out and bottled as-is.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“King’s Wheated Bourbon is subtle and earthy, with rich notes of caramel and butterscotch, plus a touch of cinnamon, with a soft, wheaty finish. We recommend it for a bourbon drinker who prefers Maker’s, the Weller lineup, or Blanton’s.”

This bourbon sounds pretty rich but young (that butterscotch cannot be denied). Whether it stands up to a Weller or Maker’s is a big swing.

This is craft bourbon is one of the older crafty bourbons from outside Kentucky. The juice is from their 80 percent corn and 20 percent malted barley mash bill. It spends a long seven years resting before batching, proofing, and bottling.

Toffee covered in milk chocolate leads the way on the nose with hints of peanut shells and pine. The palate is close to the nose while layering in orange rind, vanilla tobacco, and a dose of winter spices. The finish softly balances those peanut shells with pine resin, burnt orange, and a final note of that milk chocolate and toffee.

The last time I tried this, I didn’t think all that much of it. It looks like it’s time for a revisit.

This Ohio whiskey is all about grain-to-glass. The juice is made from a mash of sweet yellow corn, soft red winter wheat, dark pumpernickel rye, and Two-Row malted barley. The whiskey spends about four years in oak before it’s bottled as-is at cask strength.

Coconut cream pie dominates the nose with a lard crust, a touch of black banana, and almond-covered toffees round things out. The palate leans into the creaminess of the pie while adding in soft dried fruits, a touch of winter spice, and a whisper of cedar. The finish arrives with a Honey Nut Cheerios vibe as the wintry spices amp up toward a warm end.

I always need to throw a rock in the glass with this to calm down those ABVs. After that, there’s a lot in the whiskey worth savoring.

Moylan’s is crafty bourbon from Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma, California. This four-year-old whiskey is finished in French Chardonnay barrels before it’s bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Aromatics of rich vanilla and fresh toasted coconut conquer the nose with a soft oaky notion. The brilliant golden-amber hue promises a delicious, elegant complexity of faint coffee bean and restrained citrus sweetness.”

This sounds like a good bourbon to look up if you’re in Sonoma and tired of all the wine.

This is a blend of two-year-old bourbons. This time, the whiskey is filled into Sonoma Portworks port barrels for a final maturation.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Aromatics of rich vanilla and fresh toasted chocolate conquer the nose with a soft Oakey notion. The brilliant golden-amber hue promises a delicious, elegant complexity of faint coffee bean and restrained port-like sweetness.”

Again, this is something I’ll look up the next time I’m in Sonoma. But I’m not going to go out of my way to track it down outside of California.

Nashville Barrel Co. is doing some of the best work in the bottling game, full stop. They’re sourcing incredible barrels (a lot from MGP) and bottling them as-is without any cutting, filtering, or fussing — they let the whiskey speak for itself and it’s kind of magical. This expression tends to be five to eight-year-old barrels that will vary slightly in the flavor profile while always leaning into bold and distinct flavors.

Depending on which bottle you come across, expect a nose full of cotton candy, buttered popcorn, vanilla beans, freshly baked cherry pie with a lard crust, and plenty of caramel sauce, mild leather, hints of oak, and a dollop of orange oil. The palate will lean into the spice with plenty of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice with maybe a hint of anise and sweetgrass before a mid-palate of Almond Joy and salted caramel candies take over. That sweet mid-point will give way to a finish with nutty dark chocolate clusters with hints of dried fruits, old leather, sweet oak, and plenty of wintry spices.

While these are all barrel picks, you can actually buy them if you’re part of a private whiskey club or barrel pick program. That makes these a bit of a game-changer in the barrel pick game, and worth seeking out.

This new release from Nelson’s Green Brier is a big evolution for the brand. This high-rye bourbon is aged for four years before it’s masterfully blended into his expression. It’s then bottled without any fussing or meddling.

A vanilla wafer with soft nougat greets you on the nose with a hint of burnt orange zest, Christmas cake, candied cherry, and a little bit of apple pie filling. The taste has a moment of grilled pineapple that leads to brandy-soaked dark chocolate-covered cherries with a supporting act of zucchini bread, pecan pie, and a whisper of lemon meringue pie — it’s kind of like being in an old-school diner. A mild dusting of white pepper ushers in the finish with a smooth green tea cut with menthol tobacco.

This is an excellent and classic bourbon. Buy some. Mix with it. Sip it. Enjoy it how you like. It’ll fit, be delicious, and always have you coming back for more.

These releases from New Riff will vary from location to location as they’re largely reserved for retailers. The juice in the bottle is New Riff’s standard bourbon mash of 65 percent corn, 30 percent rye, and five percent malted barley. The spirit is aged for four years before they’re bottled individually without cutting or filtration.

The nose on these tends to be soft, kind of like freshly baked rye bread, with notes of eggnog spices, slick vanilla flan, thin caramel sauce, and hints of spicy orange zest. The palate amps everything up as the orange peel becomes candied and attaches to a moist holiday cake, dried cranberry and cherry, more dark spice, a touch of nuttiness, and plenty of that vanilla. The end takes its time as the whole thing comes together like a rich and boozy fruit cake as little notes of leather and tobacco spice keep things interesting on the slow fade.

These New Riff Single Barrels are worth hunting down. They tend to always hit it out of the park and feel new and fresh each time while still delivering on the depth of a great New Riff.

This wheated bourbon whiskey — 68% corn, 20% wheat, and 12% malted barley — was distilled and laid down in barrels back in 2004. The barrels were vatted after 17 years and proofed down to the bottled-in-bond standard of 100 proof and then bottled in the iconic Old Fitz decanter for a Spring 2022 release.

This opens with a mix of freshly fried yeast doughnuts smothered in blackberry jam with moments of dried leather, old cedar, orange blossoms, and date-rich Christmas cake. The taste follows those lines and adds in almost smoky cherrywood, more blackberry jam, lush vanilla cream, black tea, cloves, and sticky tobacco. The finish balances that pipe tobacco with old cedar and plenty of dark berry compote.

This is one of the best whiskeys of the year. Hell, it might be one of the best of the last five years. Your best bet is to hit up your local high-end whiskey bar and get yourself a pour for a more reasonable price than $1.2k.

This is classic Indiana bourbon with a mash bill of 75 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and four percent malted barley. It’s aged, however, in Mississippi under the hefty heat of the South’s humidity for seven long years. The whiskey then goes into the bottle in small batches at cask strength.

Tasting Notes (from the Ascot Awards):

“Hello! Rich, powerful, syrupy, and loaded with character, this whiskey tastes like creme brulee and melon with a distinct tobacco and black pepper finish that lasts forever.”

I’m a big fan of Old Soul and am looking forward to tracking this one down. It feels like it’s going to be a good one.

Penelope Bourbon is another great example of what a master blender can do with MGP whiskey. In this case, three barrels were blended — aged three to five years — to create a barrel strength expression that highlights the quality of those casks. The final product ended up being a four-grain bourbon with a mash bill of 74 percent corn, 16 percent wheat, seven percent rye, and three percent malted barley.

The nose on this bursts forth with peaches, red berries, blueberry, and an almost savory gooseberry next to cotton candy, a touch of toffee, and very light-yet-sweet oak. The palate shines as the peaches and berries combine to make a sort of summer fruit crumble with plenty of butter, dark sugar, and spice alongside a thin line of soft leather, rich vanilla, and more of that sweet oak. The mid-palate sweetens with more cotton candy before diving into a warming and spicy finish that keeps the spice sweet and subtle.

These always knock it out of the park. Don’t hesitate to pick one up when you see it on a liquor store shelf. It’ll be a fun and fresh bourbon ride.

This new-ish whiskey from Penelope really helps solidify the brand as a powerhouse in blending. The whiskey in the bottle is a blend of three bourbon mash bills (one is 21 percent rye, another 90 percent corn, and a 45 percent wheated bourbon — all from MGP), which create a four-grain (corn, wheat, rye, and barley) bourbon. Beyond that, this is about masterfully blending of four to five-year-old barrels into something bigger than the individual parts.

You get a sense of dry cornmeal on the nose next to apple crumble, plenty of wintry spice, a hint of mulled wine, wet brown sugar, and a thin layer of wet yet sweet cedar. A hint of brandy-soaked cherries arrives on the palate with a dusting of dark chocolate powder next to more apple pie filling, spice, and buttery crust alongside a sweet, toffee-heavy mid-palate. The end arrives with a dry wicker vibe, cherry tobacco chewiness, and a hint of that dark chocolate.

As I said above, these are always a safe bet. You will get a little variation from batch to batch, but it’ll always be interesting.

Rebel is a Lux Row classic at this point. This expression is their wheated bourbon that spends ten years aging in oak in the Lux Row warehouses. The barrels are hand-selected, dumped, and proofed down to 100 proof before bottling.

A bakery full of berry pies greets you on the nose with hints of clove, banana, whole wheat biscuits, and a touch of brown sugar. The palate leans into dark cherry syrup with a cough syrup vibe as winter spices layer into a sticky toffee pudding with maple syrup pecans sprinkled everywhere. Dark chocolate powder attaches to the cherry as a dry wicker bench leads to old cedar braids, old leather, and a dry spicy cherry tobacco finish.

This is everything you want in an easy but deep bourbon. It’s warming but comforting. It’s a damn fine sipper that makes a hell of a Manhattan.

These bottles are the masterwork of chef-turned-master-blender David Carpenter. The juice is hand-selected MGP single barrels that provide a classic bourbon base that then leans a little softer on the palate.

Vanilla wafers with flecks of orange zest open up toward red berries that are slightly tart yet sweet and dusted with cinnamon, clove, and anise. The palate refines those notes toward dried cherries dipped in chocolate next to a black pepper spice with a touch of lemon, a hint of cedar, and some olf glove leather. The finish softens toward a chocolate-mint ice cream pipe tobacco on the very end while the cherry, lemon pepper, and cedar all slowly fade away.

This is a pretty fine single barrel for $50. I’d argue that this is one of the better ones out there that you can actually get. Pour it over a rock or neat. Either way, you’ll be set.

Smoke Wagon is everywhere these days. That’s thanks, in part, to co-founder Aaron Chepenik killing it on IG. The other part of the brand’s meteoric rise is that Smoke Wagon’s crew is masterfully blending some of the best barrels from MGP of Indiana that were made available. Case in point, the latest batch from the company was a high-rye bourbon (60 percent corn, 36 percent rye, and four percent malted barley) that was an instant hit.

Based on Batch 29, expect a nose full of classic bourbon notes of orange oils, cinnamon stewed apples, caramel with a touch of salt, and peachy wood chips. The palate really embraces the fruit and moves from that peach vibe towards a blackberry crumble that’s just kissed with nutmeg and clove that leads towards a hint of old leather, singed cedar planks, and a late hint of cherry-touched tobacco. That leather, berry tobacco, and cedar drive the finish towards a dry end.

These are flashy but deliver on the palate. The feeling you’re left with here is “ah, okay, I get it.” Pour this over some rocks and you’ll get it too.

Old Scout is MGP’s classic high rye bourbon — 60 percent corn, 36 percent rye, and four percent malt barley — that’s aged for five years. The juice is batched in small quantities and proofed down with West Virginia’s Appalachian water.

The nose draws you in with a soft masa vibe with a mix of Tex-Mex spices (think chili powder and a hint of cumin and garlic powder) that’s countered by cedar park and chocolate-laced tobacco leaves (the nose takes me straight back to my favorite childhood Tex-Mex joint). The taste veers more toward a classic bourbon with cherry tobacco and bales of damp straw next to a smooth vanilla foundation cinnamon-infused dark chocolate and a touch of dry oak. The finish lingers for a bit as vanilla toffees, a smidge of marshmallow, and spicy cherry tobacco round everything out.

This stuff is just delicious. Enough said.

The juice in that bottle is a cask-strength blend of whiskeys from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This whiskey is all about the blending process that Stellum (part of Barrell Spirit Company) employs to make this special and award-winning juice. Basically, the process is a sort of hybrid reverse solera technique where the blend gets more juice to keep the proof high and the blend consistent in flavor as the batch is drained off.

The nose is a holiday cake with fatty nuts next to woody spice barks — think anise, clove, and cinnamon — with a nice dose of dried red fruits and honey-dipped over-ripe Granny Smith apples. The palate edges away from the spice towards a powdered sugar sweetness with a hint of dry vanilla. Then a counterpoint bursts onto the scene with a hit of spicy, dried chili pepper flakes next to blackberry pie with a nice dose of cinnamon and nutmeg. The end lingers for just the right amount of time as the spice fades back towards the honeyed sweetness and a final touch of vanilla tobacco buzz lands in the back of the throat.

All that spice and wood make this a great mixing bourbon for cocktails, especially if you’re looking to pair it with a nice sweet vermouth for a Manhattan.

This tiny Windsor, Colorado, distillery is grabbing some attention with this bottle. Beyond the fact that this is three or four years old, not much else is known.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

“Inviting aromas of oak, warm vanilla, and decadent caramel swirl with sweet candied orange and rich plums. The delivery is masterful – silky and full, with slight notes of lingering char playing with the complex sweetness and spice. The finish greets you as an old friend, gracefully revisiting all of the flavors and aromas that met you with the first sip.”

This sounds pretty classic from their tasting notes. I’m intrigued enough to seek it out the next time I’m in Colorado.

This whiskey is made from a five-year-old MGP barrel. The mash is MGP’s very high-rye bourbon with 60 percent corn, 36 percent rye, and four percent malted barley. Each barrel is picked for its distinct flavor profile and bottled as-is.

Fancy cream soda greets you with a mix of nutmeg, soft leather, spicy oak, and a touch of toffee. The palate largely follows that path and builds in creamy vanilla pie, caramel sauce, black cherry, and a good mix of winter spices. The end is slightly woody with cherry tobacco touched with vanilla and toffee on the very end.

This is a pretty good all-around. It’s definitely in the “classic” realm but delivers and easy-sipping whiskey for everyday pours.

This expression is Weller in its purest form. There’s no water added. There’s no filtration. There’s no single barrel supplying the juice in the bottle. This is a marrying of the best barrels wherein the whiskey stayed at 114 proof from going into the barrel to coming out of it.

Imagine red Bing cherries soaked in vanilla syrup then dipped in caramel and allowed to harden then sprinkled with a pinch of sea salt and dusted with mild, powdery cinnamon on the nose. The palate holds onto that mild cinnamon and vanilla but then builds this big, layered vanilla cake with a buttery frosting full of caramel and baking spices with a hint of cherry tobacco and soft, dry cedar in the background … kind of like smoked stained wood paneling in an old bakery. The finish lingers and really leans into the buttery vanilla notes and, eventually, you’re left with this velvet warmth and a distant echo of dark chocolate.

Weller Full Proof is a good middle of the road of the lineup. It’s far above the Antique 107 and Special Reserve but doesn’t quite hit the heights of the 12-year and Single Barrel. That means that this is still pretty damn delicious, especially in cocktails.

This Weller is pulled from one barrel at a time. The masters at Buffalo Trace know their warehouses and hand-pick these barrels for their standalone perfection. The tastes and textures are then dailed in through the judicious addition of the soft water, bringing this down to an incredibly approachable 86 proof.

The dram opens with a mix of fresh mint next to ripe red cherries with a vanilla backbone and a shaving of dry wood. The taste holds onto that vanilla while building towards eggnog spiciness with hints of dark chocolate, salted caramel corn, espresso bean bitterness, and this small flourish of white pepper. That powdery pepper lingers and warms as the sip slowly fades away, leaving you with those creamy eggnog spices, woody vanilla husks, and a mild tobacco buzz and warmth by way of a pine humidor.

It’s hard to beat a Weller Single Barrel as far as single barrels go. The problem is actually getting your hands on one. When you do, savor it.

Jimmy Russell hand selects eight to nine-year-old barrels from his warehouses for their individual taste and quality. Those barrels are then cut down ever-so-slightly to 101 proof and bottled with their barrel number and warehouse location.

There’s a roundness to this sip that’s enticing. The nose is a classic mix of bold vanilla, baking spice, oak, and fruity sweetness. That fruit edges towards dark berries with notes of worn leather, aged oakiness, and a sweet and rose-water-forward marzipan nuttiness shining through. The end lasts a while on your palate and in your senses, leaving you warmed up and wanting more.

Stock up on this. It’s excellent. It’s a damn near-perfect sipper.

This is the mountaintop of what Wild Turkey can achieve. This is a blend of the best barrels that are married and bottled untouched. That means no filtering and no cutting with water. This is a classic bourbon with nowhere to hide.

Crème brûlée greets you with a nice dose of Christmas spices, mild pipe tobacco, orange zest, and a distant hint of fresh mint sprigs on the nose. There’s a pine resin nature to the woody flavors on the palate that accents the orange oils, spices, vanilla, and sweetness. The sip takes on a Christmas cake-feel late with a velvet end that is just the right amount of everything you want from a bourbon.

This is the only bottle on the list that I’d recommend buying by the case. You never know when you’re local liquor store is going to run out after all.