Christopher Osburn has spent the past fifteen years in search of “the best” — or at least his very favorite — sips of whisk(e)y on earth. In the process, he’s enjoyed more whisk(e)y drams than his doctor would dare feel comfortable with, traveled to over 20 countries testing local spirits, and visited more than fifty distilleries around the globe.

Let’s face it. There are a lot of bourbons on the market. Even if you just stick to Kentucky, you’re looking at way more juice than you could ever drink. While the likes of Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Wild Turkey take up a fair bit of the shelf space, the country is dotted with smaller bourbon distilleries producing expressions that are just waiting to be discovered by a wider audience.

To help you find new bourbons to love, I decided to crack open my tasting notebook and list ten of my favorite bottles that you’ve probably never heard of. Some of these picks are offerings from smaller distilleries. A few are little-known bottles from bigger outfits. I personally vouch for all of them.

If nothing else, this is a great chance to broaden your whiskey horizons.

New Riff Single Barrel Bourbon

ABV: 55%

Price: $49.99

The Story:

If you haven’t tried New Riff yet, don’t be turned off by their somewhat cheesy bottle designs. The whiskey inside is much better than the outside packaging. This high rye (30%), barrel proof, non-chill filtered bourbon was aged for four years in toasted and charred new American oak casks.

Like all single barrel offerings, part of the appeal is the idea that you’ll have a subtly different flavor experience every time you buy a new bottle.

Tasting Notes:

While the flavors inside vary based on the barrels selected, my first nosing was met with substantial toasted oak notes mixed with peppery rye and sweet, vanilla beans. The first sip was velvety and filled with dried cherries, spicy cinnamon, caramelized sugar, and peppery spice. The finish is long, warming, and spicy enough to compel even the most ardent rye fans to give this expression a try.

Bottom Line:

While a great sipper, this high-proof whiskey excels when it’s used as the base for old fashioneds and whiskey sours.

Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon

https://www.instagram.com/p/B6n43iYnpjm

ABV: 44%

Price: $63.99

The Story:

This Fort Collins, Colorado-based whiskey’s master distiller previously held the same title at Indiana’s famed MGP. A unique bourbon, instead of the high rye you’d expect from someone from MGP, it has a surprisingly high amount of malted barley (34%). Instead of taking a few days to proof, Old Elk uses a process called “Slow Cut” to make the whiskey extra mellow and smooth by spending weeks proofing slowly between barrel and bottle.

Tasting Notes:

Give this one a proper nosing before taking a sip. If you do, you’ll be met with the aromas of Christmas spices, nutty almond paste, and subtle wood char. Sweet milk chocolate, maple syrup, brown sugar, and sweet vanilla are prevalent on the palate. The finish is long and subtly warming, with mellow hints of caramelized sugar and spicy cinnamon.

Bottom Line:

This is a great whiskey for drinkers who prefer to sip their bourbon neat. Don’t mix this one with anything (save for a single ice cube).

Hickory Hill Single Barrel 12-Year-Old Bourbon

ABV: 45%

Price: $49.99

The Story:

You might not have ever heard of Texas’ Gulf Coast Distillers, but you should definitely put the brand’s Hickory Hill Single Barrel 12-Year-Old Bourbon on your radar. This bourbon was aged for 12 years in charred, American oak casks. Truly small batch, each bottle carries the information of the specific barrel the liquid came from.

Tasting Notes:

Before sipping, spend a few moments to nose it. You’ll find hints of brown sugar, birthday cake, and subtle spicy cinnamon. From the first sip, you’ll find subtle charred oak, dried fruit, creamy vanilla, and toffee flavors. The finish is medium in length, warming, and ends with a final flourish of spicy cinnamon.

Bottom Line:

This whiskey was aged for 12 years and was hand-selected from specific barrels. Give it the respect it deserves by drinking it neat or on the rocks.

Calumet Farm Small Batch Bourbon

ABV: 43%

Price: $50.99

The Story:

Calumet Farms bourbon is high corn (74%) and aged in extra charred American oak casks. This is a very small batch whiskey (50 barrels per batch to be exact) is made up of 25 barrels of 13-year-old bourbon and 25 barrels of 7-year-old bourbon. The result is a remarkably mellow, easy to drink, subtly sweet bourbon.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll be met with sweet corn, rich caramel, and charred oak flavors. The first sip is filled with sticky toffee, candied orange peels, toasted caramel, and just a wisp of woodsmoke. The finish is long, sweet, and ends with a final pleasing hit of caramel and cinnamon apples.

Bottom Line:

Another bourbon that deserves to stand on its own, Calumet should be sipped slowly as you enjoy the fleeting, warm fall evenings.

Milam & Greene Triple Cask Straight Bourbon

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2g2jUBllsk

ABV: 47%

Price: $42.99

The Story:

Milam & Green’s flagship bourbon, its Triple Cask is high corn (70%) and gets its ingredients from Texas (corn), rye (Oregon), barley (Wyoming), and yeast (Kentucky and Texas). The three casks involved are a two-year-old bourbon, three to four-year-old Tennessee whiskey, and 10 to 11-year old Tennessee whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

This bourbon’s nose is overflowing with clover honey, milk chocolate, charred oak, and creamy vanilla. The first sip brings on spicy cinnamon, brown sugar, more sweet honey, and a nice pleasing kick of cracked black pepper. The finish is long, very warm, and ends in a nice mellow crescendo of caramelized sugar.

Bottom Line:

A bourbon this complex should be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, but it’s well-rounded enough to be mixed into your favorite whiskey-based cocktail.

Noah’s Mill Bourbon

ABV: 57.15%

Price: $53.99

The Story:

Everyone knows Willett, but you might not realize that the brand is a wide range of sourced whiskeys. This includes Noah’s Mill, a 114.3 proof bourbon that once carried a 15-year age statement. It now has no such age statement, though it’s believed to be a blend of bourbons from four to 20 years old.

Tasting Notes:

Knowing this offering is from Willett should be enough to make you give it a proper nosing before taking your first sip. If you do, you’ll find hints of smoky, charred oak, velvety vanilla, and cooking spices. The first sip is filled with toasted almonds, brown sugar, spicy cinnamon, and decadent caramel. The finish is long, warming, and ends in a combination of toasted wood, leather, vanilla, and subtle peppery spice.

Bottom Line:

A whiskey of this caliber shouldn’t be mixed with anything. It should be enjoyed neat or on the rocks while you sit in an easy chair while being warmed by a fireplace and the wind blows chilly outside.

Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon

ABV: 50%

Price: $41.99

The Story:

This unique whiskey is a blend of Old Scout, a brand the distillery merchant bottles (made by MGP), and a wheated bourbon crafted by the Smooth Ambler distillery in West Virginia. Meaning that it’s a mix of a bourbon they make, along with one they simply bottle.

The average age of the juice inside is nine years. It’s unfiltered, raw, and extremely complex.

Tasting Notes:

The MGP whiskey is high rye and this gives the nose a nice, sweet peppery start. This quickly moves into dried cherries, toasted vanilla, and cinnamon sweetness. The first sip brings forth more cracked black pepper along with dried fruits, sweet vanilla, caramel, and toasted marshmallows. The finish is long, dry, and full of comforting pepper spice.

Bottom Line:

This unique whiskey is just as well-suited for sipping as it is mixing. The combination of wheated and high-rye bourbons make perfect for Manhattans and boulevardiers.

Bib & Tucker 10 Year Bourbon

https://www.instagram.com/p/CFZkmXqsnFQ

ABV: 46%

Price: $89.99

The Story:

Back in the day, the term “bib & tucker” was a way to describe the fanciest clothes a person owned. Drinking this small-batch, 70% corn bourbon will make you feel like you just donned your Sunday best in liquid form. Made from specially selected 10-year-old small-batch bourbons, each bottle is hand-labeled with the specific barrel it came from.

Tasting Notes:

Take a nice whiff of this bourbon before sipping. Your sinuses will be filled with hints of charred oak, caramelized sugar, leather, and cloves. From the first sip, you’ll be treated to dried fruits, subtle herbal notes, toasted vanilla, and rich caramel. The finish is long, very warm, and ends with caramel and a nutty sweetness.

Bottom Line:

Get dressed up in your finest sweatpants and find a comfortable chair to slowly sip on this highly nuanced bourbon.

Chestnut Farms Bottled in Bond Bourbon

ABV: 50%

Price: $89.99

The Story:

If you think about Barton, there’s a pretty good chance your mind immediately goes to its flagship 1792 brand. But, while you won’t find it on their site, the distillery also makes the mysterious (and delicious) Chestnut Farms Bottled in Bond Bourbon. Good luck finding much else about this whiskey though, including its age.

Doesn’t matter. Just one taste and you won’t care about all the mystery — it’s that good.

Tasting Notes:

Enjoy a nice nosing before your first sip. You’ll be treated to toffee cookies, dried apricots, clover honey, and spicy cinnamon. The first sip yields cooking spices, rich milk chocolate, almonds, butterscotch, and creamy vanilla. The finish is long, warming, and ends in a final kick of cinnamon spice.

Bottom Line:

Treat this bottle the same way you would 1792. It’s well-made, high-quality, and deserves to be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.

Boondocks 8 Year Port Cask Bourbon

ABV: 45%

Price: $49.99

The Story:

You’ve probably seen other brands resting bourbon in port casks, but you might not know why they do it. The dark, sweet, rich flavors of port casks impart an added kick of candied fruit and caramel flavors to this 8-year-old aged bourbon. The result is a very complex, rich, extremely mellow whiskey — perfectly suited for slow sipping.

Tasting Notes:

This unique bourbon carries aromas of dried fruits, charred oak, toasted brown sugar, and slightly acidic, robust port wine. The first sip brings more port sweetness along with sugar candy, caramel, butterscotch, cinnamon, and subtle white pepper. The finish is long, warming, and ends with more sweet, rich port wine along with just a hint of spice.

Bottom Line:

Like you would with another port wine finished bourbon (Angel’s Envy), enjoy this one neat or on the rocks on a chilly fall eve.

Source: https://uproxx.com/life/best-unknown-bourbons-2020/