I was touring distilleries on the American Whiskey Trail, dining at the acclaimed Proof on Main, visiting Vendome Copper & Brass Works, and drinking at The Silver Dollar—mercilessly exploiting its truly epic bourbon list (and fried pickles, prepared the way God intended).
But several distilleries into the trip, I noticed something I hadn’t really paid attention to before—even after more than a few jaunts to the state: Kentucky-only bourbon allocations. Meaning, there were these fantastic expressions that weren’t made for the rest of America to consume. And when I say fantastic, I mean really good stuff you wouldn’t want to part with. The kind of whiskey that blows the mind. The kind would never think to share.
It was an eye-opener, to say the least.
I ended up leaving with a Woodford Reserve Double Double Oaked (not to be confused with the Double Oaked) and a Bulleit Barrel Strength—both of which wouldn’t be available in my local New York liquor store. But I knew there were more Kentucky-only treats out there.
So with the help of Eric Gregory, the president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, I managed to track down a few choice bottles. Below is a list of favorites. And yes, you really do have to book yourself a plane to Kentucky to get these beauties—and the haul will be well worth the trip.
This single-barrel 103-proof Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey was released in June 2017 for The Kentucky Bourbon Affair. And its new American while oak barrels were toasted to specifications before being charred. The results are exactly what you want a barrel strength bourbon to be: rich, with just a tad of sweetness, and a spice that envelops your mouth, plus a long drawn out finish—the gift that keeps on giving. Many prefer to add a few drops of distilled water, just to open it up a little further and release the bouquet. But I do not. (I usually do that with other spirits, but with this one…it’s perfect the way it is.)
People who have been lucky enough to enjoy this $290 (SRP) bourbon will tell you that it’s sweet with hints of chocolate, toffee, and oak. I must confess, though: I have not had it. Not for lack of trying. It’s just not easy to find. But with the information I do have, I can only tell you two things: Enjoy it alone—as it is, with no food pairing. This one is meant to be consumed leisurely over a significant period of time. Or enjoy it with just one or two squares of dark chocolate. Because really, you want to enhance and complement the bourbon’s flavors—not drown it.
It’s no secret that the Maker’s Mark Private Select Program allows guests to hand select custom barrels and staves to create their very own expressions. Even restaurants, bars, and hotels from all over the country partake. But only when you visit Kentucky will you be able to try this particularly special treat (in addition to the Dale Chihuly ceiling in the Maker’s Mark Private Select warehouse). Maker’s Mark Chairman Emeritus, Bill Samuels, Jr., has his very own Private Select, which features Maker’s 46, which is Maker’s Mark Cask Strength that is finished with seared French oak staves. The result? More vanilla, oak, and spice.
How can you tell if you really love that special person in your life? Here’s one way: Spend a minimum of $250 (SRP) on highly-allocated bourbon. Granted, it’s not the same as dropping more than $3,000 for a Louis XIII, but that’s not what we’re talking about. In this country and certainly in New York, anything more than $100 for bourbon is already at the super premium category. But this is well worth the price. It’s rich, full-bodied, smooth—with a mellow burn.
I bought Bulleit Barrel Strength in April. And it would be an unfortunate lie if I told you—as a bourbon lover—to forego it. But I won’t do that. You should absolutely book a flight to Louisville right now and go for it. Stock up. I’d even tell you to buy the merch while you’re at the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller. I know I did. As for the bourbon, you probably won’t get the same thing as I have. You see, it’s uncut and unfiltered. Barrel strength—as with the aforementioned Michter’s. So your ABV will vary and the proof will range from 120 to 125. But rest assured that you’ll get a mildly sweet bourbon with a prolonged and dry finish. And because of the high rye content, you’ll get wonderful spice on the palate and finish.
In Kentucky, the definition of “small batch” is relative. But the high-proof (at 110 to 120) RockCastle comes from between three to six casks. And that really is small batch, especially when you factor in angels’ share. Another thing to note: RockCastle likes to use locally-grown corn, wheat, and malt barley. Although they didn’t specify whether local meant “America” or “Kentucky,” it’s a far cry from raw materials sourced abroad.
WhistlePig made waves in the industry when they released their Canadian Rye onto the market. Now, finally, they’ve created their own Rye from their farm in Vermont. WhistlePig Farmstock is a stellar American Rye that deserves a spot on every whiskey lover’s shelf.
This gorgeous Rye contains 20% WhistlePig’s ‘triple-terroir’ whiskey aged in Vermont oak for at least 1 year, 49% 5-year rye whisky from Alberta Distillers also aged in Vermont oak, and 31% 12-year rye from MGP in Indiana. Expect good hits of orange rind, cracked peppercorns, cinnamon, and creamy vanilla, which softens the edges of the rye — making one of the smoothest whiskeys on the market.