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The 10 Best Bourbons 2023

Most disciples of whisky (note whiskey in the U.S. carries an ‘e,’ unlike its overseas counterparts) consider the below requirements to be the so-called “Five Commandments of Bourbon,” but ‘suggestions’ or ‘amendments’ is probably a more apropos term—as I was reminded while preparing for this year’s list of the best bourbons to try in 2023. 

  1. It must be aged at least two years in charred, white-oak oak barrels.

  2. It must contain 51 percent mash.

  3. In-barrel liquid must not exceed 125 proof.

  4. It must be bottled at at least 80 proof.

The truth of the matter is that bourbon is always changing based on the demands of the times. Take for example the testy question of denomination; despite over 90 percent of hooch being made in Kentucky, the Bluegrass state is no longer the sole resource of the good stuff. Now places as diverse as Indiana, Minnesota, Texas, Nevada, and even California are getting in on the Bourbon Game. 

We now know the East Coast was the original birthplace of the drink as it was beloved by the founding fathers and everyday farmers alike. In fact, this carmel-color elixir was such an important part of the colonial and post-Revolutionary period that Alexander Hamilton’s Distilled Spirits Tax of 1791 was among the first pieces of legislation passed by the newly formed U.S. government–a move that gave rise to the famous Whiskey Rebellion of 1794

Throughout the 1800s, production migrated westward, where limestone-rich water and the wood from the mighty White Oak were to be found in abundance, introducing the drink to new populations along the way. The spirit survived during Prohibition and came roaring back in the thirties once the ban on booze was lifted. Now fast forward to the 2020s and we find ourselves again in what many consider to be another pivotal period in the evolution of Bourbon. With a plethora of niche distilleries making exactly the kind of bourbon they want to make, pushing the envelope on both process and source ingredients, it’s fair to say that the entire sector is in the midst of something of a boozy Renaissance. 

It’s within this period, where the Bourbon industry is undergoing so much innovation and change, that we find ourselves assembling Worth’s list of best bourbons to try in 2023. From small batch to up-and-comers to wallet busters, consider this a top-shelf review of bourbons distilled from all over the U.S. that will appeal to everyone from the casual whiskey appreciator to those with most refined noses and palates. 

Without further ado, here is Worth’s list of the ten best Bourbons to try in 2023:

1. “Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve’” 20 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

MSRP: $5,131 / mL 750 / ABV 45.2%

 

Van Winkle’s 23 year old bourbon will make the whiskey veteran blush with delight. This elixir is delicious, storied, and fun. These are the qualities of great bourbon, and Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve carries these in spades. Photo courtesy of Van Winkle.

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve is bottled by the Old Van Ripple distillery and it sits at our number one spot for being the creme-de-la-creme of beautiful, storied bourbons. It’s pricey—but worth every drop. (One can find the 20 year aged whiskey for around five Gs, but the heavy price is worth the purchase.) The Frankfurt, Kentucky-based distillery has been producing top-shelf whiskey for close to a century, its founder Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle having a hand in prohibition-era production before starting a business that has remained in the Van Winkle family for three generations. 

The bourbon is aged for 20 years before being bottled at 90.4 proof, with a palette consisting of smooth citrus notes with hints of sherry, dried fruits and vanilla. Drink straight.

2. Bespoken Spirits Straight Bourbon Whiskey

MSRP: $46.99 / 750 mL / ABV: 47%

 

Bespoken’s Straight Bourbon won a Double Gold at the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition, and has been featured in Rolling Stone and Newsweek, giving it some much deserved public recognition. Photo courtesy of Bespoken Spirits.

There’s a lot to like about the Californian newcomer Bespoken Spirits. Co-founder Martin Janousek holds a PhD in Material Science and ran the company and product distillation out of a garage in Silicon Valley for 6 years. The company’s sustainable practices should be properly recognized: the company uses less than 3 percent of the wood, 1 percent of the energy and a fraction of the water required by traditional barrel aging. This is because of Bespoken’s proprietary “ACTivation technology” used in their wood treatment, a scientific process that allows Bespoken to tailor their product’s maturation to any number of minute specifications.

3. Four Roses Small Batch Select Bourbon Whiskey

MSRP: $64.99 / mL 750 / ABV 52%

 

A brand staple in top-shelves around the world. Four Roses Small Batch is the perfect stocking stuffer for the whiskey aficionado in your life. Photo courtesy of Four Roses.

Since its inception in 1888, Four Roses has become a household brand name, easily one of the most recognizable Kentucky Bourbon brands in America. This high quality bourbon’s distinctively smooth characteristics has rocketed the distillery to the top of bar shelves around the world. Four Roses Small Batch Select is made for the experienced bourbon drinker, creating a decadent flavor profile by combining six of the distillery’s ten unique recipes and allowing the liquid to age for six years. The nose consists of vanilla, cinnamon, and oak, its palate containing similar undertones of spice and a bit of fruit and leather on the finish.

4. Keeper’s Heart Irish + Bourbon Whiskey

MSRP: $53.99 / 750 mL / ABV: 46

 

A tale of two whiskeys: enjoy Keeper’s Heart’s blend of Irish and Bourbon whiskeys without breaking the bank. Photo Courtesy of Keepers Heart.

Minnesota-based O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co. was birthed from the collaboration among two industry heavyweights, world-renowned Master Distiller Brian Nation and Keeper’s Heart Liquid Collaborator and Adviser David Perkins.The liquid is a blend of Irish and Bourbon whiskeys that when brought together create a wonderful hybrid of a spirit: the sweetness of Irish Grain, the richness of Irish Pot Still and the spiced, candied palate of American Bourbon. 

Keepers Heart Bourbon + Irish Whiskey’s nose consists of sweet, candied scents of caramel and pecans, and hits the palette with broad notes of peppered spice, vanilla malt, and cocoa.

5. Off Hours Bourbon Whiskey 

MSRP: $46.99/ mL 750 ABV: 47.5%

 

Smooth, caramel with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. Off Hours Bourbon is an excellent whiskey to enjoy straight or mixed with your favorite cocktail. Photo courtesy of Adrian Martin.

Last summer, Off Hours Bourbon made Worth’s list of best whiskeys and bourbons due to the company’s laid back attitude in regards to the normally stuffy whiskey culture. Off Hours still retains that bad-boy image, letting their product do all the talking. As we sampled this complex blend, we were overwhelmed by its almost dessert-like qualities. Aged in American white oak barrels for over 5 years in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Off Hours is smooth and balanced with aromas of creamy vanilla, hints of nutmeg and toasted pecans, rich notes of cinnamon and a silky finish of lingering honey. We can say with total confidence that veterans and newcomers will fawn over their glass of Off Hours Bourbon.

6. Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon Whiskey 

MSRP: $60/ 750 mL  / ABV: 50%

 

Frey Ranch Whiskey is sourced from the award-winning Frey Ranch Distillery out of Fallon, Nevada and one of only a few whiskey producers in the world to grow 100 percent of its grains on site. Photo by Beau Draghiciu.

Tucked away just east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range on 1,500 acres in Northern Nevada, stands the Frey Ranch Distillery. The family that maintains the land and distillery come from a long line of Nevadan farmers, over 165 years now and counting. The folks at Frey Ranch are doing their ancestors proud, too, as Frey Ranch Distillery is one of a handful of companies in the world to grow 100 percent of its whiskey grains on-site. Frey Ranch is unique in that they have knowledge accumulated over five generations of farming, which has led to Frey Ranch having complete control over the malting, milling, mashing, distilling and maturing of the grains—resulting in a whiskey born of complete balance and flavor. Frey Ranch is an exceptional bourbon—and one that doesn’t break the bank but can still shine among its peers in your home bar. It has a nose of oak and citrus with hints of sweet honey and vanilla. That vanilla is apparent on the palette, and is coupled by a caramely, fruity note with an undertone of oak and dry hay.

7. Brother’s Bond Original Cask Strength

MSRP: $79.99/ 750 mL / ABV: 57.9%

 

Brother’s Bond 4-grain Bourbon is distilled in one of the oldest distilleries in the U.S., located in out of Lawrenceberg, Indiana Photo courtesy of Brother’s Bond.

A limited release of 70 of the finest Brother’s Bond Bourbon barrels, this whiskey offers connoisseurs an ultra-premium drink with a higher ABV. Broken down, the Brother’s Bond formula consists of 65 percent corn, 22 percent rye, with wheat and barley making up the rest. The ingredients are given three days of fermentation before finally being aged in charred American white oak. The wonderfully blended expression produced contains aromas of ripe banana, walnut, leather, subtle smoke, and lingering rye spices that lead to a balanced finish. Most recently, Brother’s Bond Original Cask Strength was awarded a gold medal at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

8. Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch Whiske with 4 Markham Marquis by Waterford Double Old Fashioned Glasses

MSRP: $114.99 / 750mL (+ $50 for crystal glass engraving) / ABV: 46.5%

 

No matter your drinking vessel, you won’t go wrong with Uncle Nearest. Photo courtesy of Uncle Nearest.

Uncle Nearest 1884 is the most recent award winning whiskey to come from the Tennessee based distiller, joining the already award-winning Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey line-up of Uncle Nearest 1820 and Uncle Nearest 1856. Together, these three ultra-premium whiskies have garnered more than 125 awards since launching in July 2017, including two “World’s Best” by World Whiskies Awards, “Top 5 Whiskies in the World,” by Cigar & Spirits Magazine, “Chairman’s Trophy, Platinum and Double Gold” by SIP Awards and “Best American Whiskey.” Uncle Nearest 1884 also comes with the option to customize your own bespoke crystal glasses. Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch is a sweet spirit, a palate of caramel, vanilla, mild cinnamon and brown sugar that finishes with a splash of spice and heat.

9. Oak and Eden In-Bottle Finished

MSRP: $59.99 / 750 mL / ABV: 45%

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After bottling every Oak and Eden Finished Whiskey Bourbon is finished with a cabernet-infused French Oak spire, making it the only brand on the market that is finished in-bottle vs using another oak barrel. Photo courtesy of Oak and Eden.

Launched in 2018, Texas-based distillery Oak & Eden employs a wholly unique technique of in-bottle finishing with a five inch oak spire. The patented finishing process enables the brand to create custom bottles and infusions that have won awards and distribution in over 15 thousand stores across 39 states.

Oak and Eden’s bourbon is a remarkably smooth combination of corn, rye and barley. Once distilled, the bourbon is aged in new American Oak barrels producing a rich, deep yet sweet spirit. For the Finished Whiskey Bourbon, Oak and Eden has collaborated with Marker Cellars winery to infuse the Markers Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignon with Oak and Eden’s award-winning Bourbon. Combining sweet Bourbon with rich, deep cabernet and French Oak spires produces a smooth whiskey filled with sweet notes of coconut, vanilla and honey. 

10. Makers Mark 46

MSRP: $30.49 / 750 mL/ ABV: 45%

 

Maker’s Mark 46 uses infrared ovens to sear their wood bleaching the French Oak of tannins that, using more traditional methods, would normally be too deep in the grain to wash out. Photo courtesy of Maker’s Mark.

Makers Mark 46 has been on the market for almost 12 years now, and while the Kentucky-born Bourbon might be overshadowed by Maker’s Mark’s more “traditional” Whiskey Bourbon, we at Worth believe it deserves a spot on your at-home bar. The Maker’s Mark brand is almost as old as American Whiskey itself, and if one were to visit the 1,000+ beautiful acres the distillery calls home, one would find that the old ways of making whiskey still hold sway. Labels are still cut by hand, and every single bottle’s iconic wax cap is hand dipped. A particular point of pride for CEO Bill Samuels are the two replicants of the copper still that Maker’s Mark first started with. All of these decisions Mr. Samuels has made regarding the company’s growth (decisions he defines as “expansion with purpose”) tie back to the original founder’s vision of making a “yummy” whiskey. And Worth believes he continues to meet this simple measure of success.

The post The 10 Best Bourbons 2023 appeared first on Worth.

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