A deep amber color with common notes of caramel, vanilla, and butterscotch make bourbon one of the most popular and sought-after liquor drinks today. From tastings at home to a night out at the bar, suppliers have to restock the shelves often. Bourbon’s humble beginnings in the hills of Kentucky only add to its charm. The most popular bourbons today consist of old standbys and new ones alike. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink, and let’s chat about bourbon whiskey.
What Exactly Is Bourbon?
In conversations about bourbon and whiskey, things can get a bit confusing. There are only a few things to remember in helping to determine the differences:
- Bourbon is an American whiskey.
- Born and bred in the bluegrass state, 95% of bourbons are still distilled in Kentucky. However, the bourbon name can be used as long as the bourbon is made in America.
- In order to be called a bourbon, the mash (mixture of grains) must be derived from at least 51% corn, contain no additives, be distilled at 160 proof or less, stored in charred new oak barrels at 125 proof or less, and aged for at least two years.
Now that we understand what bourbon truly is, let’s discuss the most popular ones today.
With its perfected techniques and velvety richness, few would guess Angels’ envy was launched in 2011. It tastes and feels as though it took hundreds of years to reach such perfection.
Distilled in the heart of Louisville, KY and finished in ruby red port barrels from Portugal, it’s this unique finish that makes Angel’s Envy a bourbon all its own.
If Angel’s Envy fans could find a word stronger than smooth, they’d use it. With distinct caramel and vanilla notes, Angels’ Envy has a magical way of leaving the tongue feeling as though it just allowed a buttery, soft caramel to melt in its mouth. And that’s no exaggeration.
The name is just as enjoyable, derived from the idea that angels take a percentage of alcohol from every barrel each year (evaporation), and what’s left is what they can’t have—the envy of the angels.
Knob Creek is a small batch bourbon from the one and only Jim Beam distillery. It’s known for its deep, dark color thanks to a long aging process (9years!) which allows the bourbon to absorb plenty of sugar from the wooden barrel.
Bottled at 100 proof, which is much higher than the standard 80 proof, Knob Creek is sure to warm your senses. Thanks to the extra sugar absorption and long aging process, the taste is described as rich, full-bodied, and almost fruity. The aroma is nutty with hints of oak.
Introduced in 1992, Knob Creek quickly became a classic.
Michter’s bourbon is nothing less than passionately distilled. They’ve been called the “born again” bourbon whiskey and for good reason. They have a healthy obsession with getting back to Kentucky’s bourbon roots.
The bourbon is entered into barrels at 103 proof rather than 125, as most bourbon whiskey. Michter’s feels 103 was once the gold standard for Kentucky bourbon—and if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. This method yields fewer bottles out of the barrel, but Michter’s wouldn’t have it any other way.
Their barrels are toasted before charring, allowing the sugars to caramelize, making the mingling of sweetness with bourbon more intense. Imagine caramelized sugars dancing in the barrel with aging bourbon. How can perfection not occur?
Known for its unique white pepper flavor which lingers on the tongue, along with notes of honey and raisin, whatever Michter’s is doing, we don’t want them to stop.
Certainly, there hasn’t been another Baptist preacher nicknamed the father of bourbon? That’s part of Elijah Craig’s unique history. First a preacher, then a distiller, but not just any distiller—the first to char oak barrels. Thanks Elijah.
Distilled at the Heaven Hill Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, its unique building structures are credited for Elijah Craig’s classic bourbon flavor. The bourbon’s level 3 charred oak barrels are stored in nothing fancy, but instead, in wood structured buildings with corrugated siding and roofs, allowing constant air circulation.
According to the distillery, it’s these drastic changes in weather that create a fine bourbon. With no climate control, it has to work harder to be one of the best. Well done Elijah Craig. You’ve succeeded.
Don’t let its reputation for classic or simple fool you. Those words translate to enjoyable. A true bourbon with oak and vanilla notes, Elijah Craig is a staple for bourbon collectors.
Maker’s Mark is known for their dripping red wax atop each bottle and prides themselves in distilling this extremely popular bourbon in the same way it’s been distilled since 1953. That means hand rotated barrels and hand-dipped bottles in red wax. They could speed up the process with modern technology, but this old distillery in little Loretto, KY has no desire to.
Red winter wheat is Maker’s secret, along with the distillery’s very own water source. They say their secret is in the limestone in Kentucky’s water, which naturally filters out iron. The result? Better drinking water and a better tasting mash.
The 525-pound barrels are hand rotated, spending a minimum of three hot Kentucky summers at the top of the rackhouse, and not relieved to a cooler section until the expert tasting panel says it’s time.
The notes are described as a woody oak aroma, along with vanilla and a subtle wheat; the taste as never bitter, thanks to that red winter wheat, caramel, and a slight fruitiness. Balance and subtle are often heard when discussing Maker’s Mark, making it the perfect sipping, old Kentucky bourbon.
It’s impossible not to respect Blanton’s as you read about their history and pride in Kentucky. Known as the original single barrel bourbon, born in Kentucky, and assuredly never leaving.
Each topper is adorned with a horse and jockey as a hat tip toward Kentucky’s well-known horse racing industry, making the bottle charming and a great conversation piece.
Produced at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Franklin CO., KY, the single barrel method used with Blanton’s bourbon ensures a premium bourbon as each bottle is derived from a single aging barrel rather than a blending of various ones.
The result is nothing less than divine. With the nose you’ll catch dark chocolate, earthy undertones, and butter. The tongue meets with warm vanilla, toasted nuts, butterscotch, and honey. Branton’s offers a rich spiciness unlike any other. The gorgeous packaging will tempt you, but it’s the flavors that will make you weak in the knees.
In conclusion, unfortunately, an exhaustive list of the most popular bourbons today would require the writing of a novel. We’ve done our best with a few that rank high. The truth is that although using a list to give you an idea of what to try, the best bourbon is the one that causes you to sip slowly, never wanting to miss a single note, and somehow magically transports you to the slower pace of old Kentucky, without a care in the world.
VS Liquor is passionate about fine bourbon, and that’s why we carry specialty liquor online for our customers. Contact us with all your bourbon questions and needs.