10 Stellar Bourbons That Aren’t Made in Kentucky
If you are under the impression that bourbon can be made only in Kentucky, you’re not alone. After all, about 95 percent of it does indeed hail from the Bluegrass State. But while production of the whiskey is strictly regulated (for instance, at least 51 percent of the mash bill—or grain recipe—must be corn, and the spirit must be aged in new charred-oak containers), the only rule regarding its origin is that it be produced in the United States.
And though the best-known and biggest names in the field are Kentuckian—think Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Evan Williams, and Elijah Craig—there’s a whole world of excellent bourbon to be found in every other state as well, from California to Washington to Minnesota to Florida. Some of these distilleries put their own unique spin on the spirit, experimenting with proportions in the mash bill, using locally grown grain, finishing the whiskey in different types of casks, or perhaps paying tribute to styles that were made in their regions before Prohibition. Several that opened in the past decade have now been around long enough to release spirits aged to that sweet spot of around six years, instead of having to bottle less mature liquid. (While standard bourbon has no minimum age requirement, “straight bourbon” must be aged for at least two years.)
The upshot: There are now more first-rate options than ever. Though the concept of terroir might be a stretch when it comes to whiskey, the stories and history (or lack thereof ) behind these brands go a long way toward creating something singular. Bourbon is the only uniquely American style of whiskey, and while there are clearly throughlines based on the specifications of how it’s made, the details in the difference are what’s fascinating. Here are 10 of the best made outside their spiritual home of Kentucky worthy of your attention.
Remus Repeal Reserve
Even if you’re not familiar with the name Ross & Squibb (formerly MGP), you’ve likely enjoyed whiskey from this Indiana distillery sold under other brand names, such as Bulleit or Dickel. Rye whiskey is the house specialty, but the annual release of Remus Repeal Reserve proves that the bourbon made here is also fantastic. Series VII is a blend of five bourbons aged between 9 and 16 years and bottled at 100 proof, with a rich, complex palate.
Buy Now: $818
Frey Ranch Bourbon
Frey Ranch is a grain-to-bottle operation located in Nevada not far from the mountains. The namesake founding family has a long farming history, and the quality of everything from ingredients to maturation is evident in this bourbon. The whiskey has big notes of oak, stone fruit, vanilla, and butterscotch on the palate. There’s also a new Farm Strength version, if you’re looking for something with a higher ABV than the core expression.
Buy Now: $45
Kings County Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon
Kings County became the first distillery to open in New York City since Prohibition, when it was founded over a decade ago. The whiskey has come a long way since then, and the bottled-in-bond version of the bourbon is a highlight. As required by law, the latest batch is at least four years old (it’s six years and counting now) and bottled at 100 proof, giving it heaps of flavor and just a little bit of heat on the palate.
Buy Now: $70
Woodinville Whiskey Port-Finished
Woodinville consistently makes some of the best bourbon to be found outside Kentucky. The core expression is exceptional, but this cask-finished version brings interesting new flavors to the spirit. It’s a five-year-old whiskey that was given a secondary maturation in port barrels for six months, imbuing it with notes of tannin, dried fruit, and a bit of spice to complement the classic bourbon flavors. Try this one in a cocktail—it brings new life to an old-fashioned.
Buy Now: $47
291 Colorado Whiskey Barrel-Proof Single Barrel
This small Colorado distillery stands out thanks to its use of aspen-wood staves to finish its whiskey—the staves are submerged into the barrels to infuse the spirit with an extra burst of flavor. In the case of the single-barrel cask-strength bourbon, the result is a bold high-proof spirit with notes of fruit and vanilla that is refreshingly different from anything produced elsewhere.
Buy Now: $107
Wyoming Whiskey Double Cask Bourbon
Sherry-cask finishes are common in Scotch and are starting to gain more traction in American whiskey. Wyoming Whiskey has taken this extra step to new heights with its Double Cask Bourbon, a five-year-old spirit that is placed into Pedro Ximénez sherry casks for a secondary maturation. The sweetness from the sherry wood mingles with the bourbon’s oak and vanilla notes, resulting in a patient and elegant finish that doesn’t overpower.
Buy Now: $63
Cedar Ridge Bourbon
Iowa is better known for corn than bourbon, but you can’t have the latter without the former. The spirit produced at Cedar Ridge is made from a mash bill of 74 percent corn grown in the surrounding area and proves beyond doubt that high-quality bourbon can indeed come from an unexpected locale. Sip this whiskey neat or use it in a cocktail—it’s an extremely versatile spirit.
Buy Now: $40
Cook’s Mill Bourbon
Cook’s Mill was created in an effort to raise money to save an old grist mill of the same name in North Carolina, but the brand has gone well beyond down-home neighborliness. The bourbon is distilled in the state using local corn and grain, and despite the spirit’s being aged for just two years, the flavor is deep and complex. There are plans to release an heirloom grain–distilled bourbon in the future, but in the meantime give this a try: You won’t be disappointed.
Buy Now: $72
Union Horse Reserve Bourbon
Most bourbon is made in tall column stills, but some, like this one from Kansas, are distilled in traditional pot stills, giving the bourbon a nice fruity flavor, along with classic notes of maple, vanilla, oak, and brown sugar. At 92 proof and five years old, this is a well-aged bottle with just the right amount of heat on the finish.
Buy Now: $50
Redwood Empire Grizzly Beast Bourbon
This bottled-in-bond bourbon is the first release from this California distillery produced entirely in-house, from mashing the grains to maturing the whiskey in barrels. The latest batch was made from a high-rye mash bill and aged for five years, balancing the sweetness of the spirit with a healthy dose of spice and fruit. Grizzly Beast is a welcome addition to the ever-growing world of bonded whiskey.
Buy Now: $88
Source: Robb Report