This week, we’re heading deep into really good bourbon whiskey territory — the truly special (and sometimes rare) bottles. Not every bourbon listed below is going to be a one-off limited edition or single barrel. Some are just high-quality cask strength editions.
Still, these bourbons are all pretty fantastic. And definitely unique. Look for the phrase “classic bourbon flavors” to pop up less and less in the tasting noes from here on out.
A little warning: these bourbons are going to vary in price wildly. Since many of these bourbons aren’t nationwide releases, it will all come down to availability in your region. Moreover, liquor store and delivery service prices will vary depending on demand. Good luck out there.
The ten bottles below are chosen according to taste and listed according to price. There’s no ranking here. It’s just ten tasty-as-all-hell bourbon expressions worth checking out if you’re ready to take your whiskey drinking up a notch.
Related: The Best Bottles Of Bourbon Whiskey Between $60-$70
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon Whisky
Average Price: $70
This wheated bourbon is a small-batch masterpiece. The juice is a blend of up to 19 barrels from the Maker’s warehouses. The whiskies are hand-selected according to distinct flavor characteristics to build a masterful end product. Once the whisky is married, it goes into the bottle at cask strength, unfiltered, and ready to drink.
There’s a clear sense of bourbon vanilla on the nose with touches of burnt caramel, charred oak, and a hint of dry bales of straw. The taste brings about a spicy tobacco chewiness that’s cut with more vanilla and hints of dried apricot. The end is slow, leaves your tongue buzzing with tobacco and spice, and has a mellow vanilla roundness.
This is a great bourbon for the vanilla-heads out there who want a bold-yet-classic bourbon. Once you crack the seal, the expression really benefits from a touch of water or a single rock to help it bloom in the glass.
Woodinville Bourbon Cask Strength
Average Price: $70
This is Woodinville’s award-winning bourbon with no proofing at all. The juice is a grain-to-glass experience with locally grown Washington grains (corn, rye, and barley), matured in Washington state for around five years. After those five years, barrels are hand-selected for their precise flavor and are small-batched and bottled as is.
Dried cherries and plums mingle with a hint of tobacco spice, soft cedar, vanilla husks, and cornmeal on the nose. The body of the sip leans into almost burnt toffee sweetness and bitterness that leads towards dark chocolate-covered almonds with a touch of salt with more of that spicy tobacco and a hint more of fruit. The end is long and touches on the soft wood, tobacco, nuttiness, bitter chocolate, and a hint of sweet/savory fruit (kind of like honey-roasted pumpkin).
This is one of those bottles that is going to be hard to find outside of Washington state (especially at this price). Still, if you do get your hands on a bottle, give it time to bloom with a little water. And then take your time with it and let those notes build across your senses.
Average Price: $73
This small-batch bourbon from Willett Distillery hits a lot of high marks. The brand keeps their cards pretty close to their chest when it comes to mash bills (they use four for their bourbons), barrel ages, and so forth. This whiskey used to carry an age statement of 15 years but that was dropped due to demand.
What we do know is that after aging the small-batched bourbon goes into the bottle unfussed with and at close to barrel proof.
Maply syrup-covered walnuts greet you with a sense of dark dried fruit and a hint of rose water. The taste holds onto those notes while adding in an almost sherried plummy depth with a whisper of caramel apple and orange oils. The vanilla and oak kick in with a rich depth and well-rounded lightness to the sip as it fades slowly away.
This really is an easy-drinking whiskey that deserves a little time and water to really enjoy. That water will reveal a little bit of dark chocolate walnut bar depth, giving it more complexity with a bitter-sweet end.
Average Price: $74
Jim Beam’s very high-end Booker’s Bourbon is a rolling small-batch release. Each batch is a combination of hand-selected barrels that dial into a specific flavor profile. The overall end result is a bourbon that’s built to be sippable above all else.
Batches will vary. But one thing you can expect is boldness tied to vanilla, oak, worn leather, spicy tobacco chew, crunchy apples, and plenty of ripe cherries (it is Beam after all). The body of these expressions tends to lean rich and full-bodied — almost oily — while being soft on the tongue. The finishes are designed to be long and highlight the flavor profiles that were built into the dram.
This is a great gift bourbon. Prices are going to vary along with which batches you’ll come across. But the point is that they’re usually pretty special and worthy of expanding any bourbon drinker’s palate/knowledge.
Widow Jane Aged 10 Years
Average Price: $74
This is sourced Kentucky bourbon by way of Upstate New York. The hand-selected barrels are sent to New York where they’re blended in small batches (no more than five barrels), proofed with New York spring water, and bottled. What you’re paying for here is the exactness of a whiskey blender finding great barrels and knowing how to marry them to make something bigger and better.
There’s a creamy vanilla pudding up top with a slight woody edge (as if the whole vanilla pod was dropped in the bottle) next to Christmas spices and a hint of orange zest. That orange carries onto the taste as notes of marzipan, dark chocolate-covered cherries, and maple syrup mingle with more vanilla creaminess and mild spice. The end amps up those spices as the oak becomes charred with a bitter dark chocolate edge.
This is a great example of the power of sourcing whiskey. The blend is impeccable and will shut up anyone who dares besmirch sourced whiskey.
Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Cask Strength
Average Price: $75
Jefferson’s Ocean is an experiment in finishing that’s pretty unique. The blenders pull in six to eight-year-old whiskeys sourced from four Kentucky distilleries. They marry those barrels and then re-barrel the whiskey, load them onto a ship, and sail those barrels around the world for almost a year. The best of those barrels are married and bottled at cask strength with no additional fussing.
There’s a clear crème brûlée vibe on the nose with touches of orange zest, cinnamon toast, slightly singed marshmallow. The taste dives into salted caramel notes with hints of Almond Joys covered in dark chocolate next to a savory fruit edge. That fruit turns figgy as the end fades slowly, hitting on spicy tobacco warmth and a final touch of fresh mint.
While this one will be a little harder to find, it’s worth checking out. If you do find it, take your time, open it up with water or a rock, and dig in to find those velvety flavor notes.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
Average Price: $75
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is all about finding the best barrels in the Heaven Hill warehouses and letting that whiskey shine on its own. These are released three times a year (we’re tasting the January 2021 release below) and have been winning award after award. The whiskey in the bottle is generally at least 12 years old and bottled with no cutting down to proof or filtration whatsoever.
There’s a real throughline of sunny berry brambles (blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry) next to orange oils and a touch of oakiness on the nose. That fruit and oak will carry through on the palate as hints of buttery toffee, rich vanilla, and peppery spice mingle on the tongue and set your lips abuzz.The end tends to be slow and velvety with the spice, fruit, oak, and vanilla all blending nicely until the last drop.
This is a fine f*cking dram of whiskey. It’s bold, drinkable neat (though it is warm without water or a rock), and will expand your palate. Those berry notes really do shine with a bridge between the stems/leaves and the actual ripe berries on their vines.
Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon
Laws Whiskey House
Average Price: $76
This craft expression from Colorado is a high-altitude grain-to-glass experience. The whiskey is made from locally grown corn, wheat, rye, and barley. That distillate is then rested for over three years in oak at those aforementioned high Colorado altitudes. The barrels are then small-batched and the juice is proofed down with Rocky Mountain water.
There’s a very clear sense of orange oils supported by hints of white pepper, mild oak, a touch of honey, and slightly bitter tea. The palate amps up that black tea as the body of the sip becomes rounded like a vanilla pudding spiked with those orange oils and a few cinnamon sticks. The end is slow but subtle as the vanilla, orange, spice, and white pepper fade away, leaving you with a slight tobacco buzziness.
This is a great entry point into the deeper world of Law’s line of whiskey. It’s also one of the best cocktail candidates on the list, especially if you’re going with a Manhattan or Sazerac.
Four Roses OBSK Cask Strength Single Barrel
Average Price: $78
Every year, Four Roses releases very limited special single barrel drops. In short, the distillery makes ten different bourbons to mix into their expressions. For this expression, they go through their warehouses to find the “honey barrels” that hit just the right notes after eight to 12 years of aging and bottle those barrels untouched by water or filtering.
In this case, the “OBSK” stands for their “number two” mash bill with a very high rye component (60 percent corn, 35 percent rye, and five percent malted barley) that’s fermented with their own “Yeast K” which highlights slight spice.
There’s a clear sense of dark chocolate cut with spicy cinnamon Red Hots, a touch of vanilla cream, rich toffee, and a whisper of old oak. A cherry flourish arrives but it’s more like a chocolate-covered cherry with a brandy center next to more cinnamon, light dustings of black pepper, and sweet woodiness. The end builds to a spicy tobacco chew and buzz and the cherry becomes brighter, the cinnamon gets woody, and the toffee and chocolate meld into a well-rounded silky sweetness.
If you can snag one of these for this price, you’re doing well. Older versions will cost far more. Still, this is a very velvety whiskey that’s dialed into each flavor note. It really blooms with the addition of some water or a rock.
Take your time enjoying this one.
Rabbit Hole Heigold
Average Price: $79
Rabbit Hole started out by contracting out its whiskey production (they controlled the mash bills and maturation as opposed to buying ready-to-use barrels). Once Pernod Ricard came along, Rabbit Hole was able to start distilling and aging its own juice. So depending on which bottle you come across, you might still be getting their contract distilled whiskey or their own-make, both of which are a fairly high-rye bourbon with 70 percent corn, 25 percent rye, and five percent barley that’s aged for at least three years.
The whiskey opens with a slight black licorice edge that leads towards clove-studded oranges next to a hint of cherry cola. The taste builds on those notes and adds in spicy tobacco, a touch of marzipan covered in dark chocolate, and light cedar. That cedar lasts through the slow finish as hints of spice, marzipan, and cherry cola pop back in.
This is an interesting dram that works really well as a cocktail base. It’s also a fine sipper, especially with a little water or a rock to really let nuttier and more savory notes shine through.