The era of people scoffing at “sourced” bourbon as something inferior is a long-distant memory. Some of the greatest bottles of whiskey on the shelf today are sourced from MGP of Indiana, Castle & Key, Barton 1792, Four Roses … I could go on. Those whiskeys are being used to assemble some truly great brands and expressions — Redemption, Old Carter, Belle Meade, Old Elk, and Penelope are a mere few labels with just the Indiana juice in the mix.
In 2022, sourced whiskey deserves as much respect as any other bottle on the shelf. To that end, I decided to taste 12 sourced bourbon whiskeys “double-blind” from my shelf to see what’s really up with them.
For this tasting, I had my wife grab some bottles from a shelf of sourced bourbons I set up. She poured and numbered them and I dove in. What was a looking for exactly? Quality. Is there a continuity between these sourced bourbons? Sometimes. Are they really that different? Absolutely.
Our lineup today is:
- Widow Jane 10
- Jefferson’s Reserve Very Small Batch
- Pursuit United
- DIGITS Bourbon
- Yellowstone Hand-Picked Collection Single Barrel
- Redemption High-Rye Bourbon
- Nashville Barrel Company Single Barrel Bourbon (5-Year)
- Traverse City Barrel Proof Bourbon
- Belle Meade Sour Mash Bourbon
- Uncle Nearest 1884
- Elvis Tiger Man Tennessee Whiskey
- Pinhook Bohemia 2020 High Proof Bourbon
Let’s dive in!
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- Every Winning Bourbon From Our 2021 Taste Tests, Blind Tasted And Re-Ranked
- The 100 Best Whiskeys Our Head Drinks Writer Tasted In 2021
- We Blind Tasted A Whole Bunch Of $30-60 Bourbons To See If Any Could Beat Weller
- The Best Ten-Year-Old Bourbon Whiskeys, Tasted Blind And Ranked
Part 1: The Tasting
This is fresh on the nose while being somewhat classic with hints of mulled wine spice and orange rinds next to pancake batter and dried mint. The palate leans into dark chocolate-covered marzipan with a hint of woody maple syrup. The end layers in some black cherry with a note of that dark chocolate sneaking back in before a garden shop note arrives at the very end.
This opens pretty thin with hints of caramel, vanilla pods, and maybe a touch of leather and oak with a mild berry vibe. The palate is either subtle or thin … I can’t decide. There are notes of classic bourbon caramel and vanilla countered by a hint of stewed apple, buttery toffee, and maybe a hint of nutmeg. The end stays pretty mild but does build to a nice finish full of classic bourbon notes.
Old wood and dried fruit lead the way on the nose with a rich and creamy eggnog with plenty of nutmeg and maybe a hint of pine resin. The taste is all about the salted caramel candies with plenty of dark chocolate bespeckled with orange zest. That sweetness carries on through the mid-palate toward a finish of vanilla cake with chocolate ice cream countered by dry and spicy pipe tobacco with a nice layer of cherry in there.
Hum, a hint of popcorn leads to vanilla extract and flat cream soda on the nose. There’s plenty of spice, caramel, and vanilla on the palate but each one feels cut short. The finish is very cherry-vanilla chew with a touch of whiskey warmth but little else.
Stewed pears and spicy dark chocolate open up the nose toward hints of cedar and vanilla oils. The palate is kind of like a vanilla candle next to almonds toffees with minor notes of cedar and old moss. The fruit comes back around on the mid-palate and finishes with leather apricot and pear tobacco layering into the nutty toffee and moss.
Rich vanilla wafers with nougat and orange zest mingle with tart berries and winter spices on the nose. The palate is all about the dried cherries dipped in chocolate with lemon pepper spice, a hint of cedar, and old leather. The end feels part vanilla-cherry tobacco and part mint chocolate ice cream with a touch of cedar tying it together.
This is like walking through a State Fair in my best memories thanks to a nose full of candied apples, cotton candy, vanilla cakes, cherry hand pies, and touches of sandy dirt on well-oiled boot leather. The palate starts off warm with sharp brown spices — clove, anise, allspice — that lead to soft sweetgrass with Almond Joy and salted caramel apples. The almonds and chocolate combine with the spice and builds to a big finish with a nice warmth and fruitiness.
Wet oats, corn husks, and butterscotch lead toward raw leather, orange slices, and a touch of caramel. The palate leans into almond and toffee with plenty of vanilla and old oak staves. The finish is chocolate-covered almonds with a hint of vanilla tobacco.
This is nicely floral with layers of orange oils, maple syrup, and caramel-mocha latte. The taste leans into the caramel and mocha with a big pump off the vanilla syrup bottle as sharp winter spices and candied nuts lead to a big Christmas cake vibe. The end feels like mincemeat pies and eggnog with a creamy and lush finish.
Pecan Sandies and leather pouches that once held cinnamon sticks dominate the nose. The taste is more about the vanilla ice cream over a fresh piece of apple pie with plenty of brown spice and brown sugar with a hint of butter. The end brings about some walnut, cherry, and chocolate powder with a touch more of that cinnamon-infused leather but ultimately kind of peters out.
This is a light one with notes of oak, popcorn, apple pie crust, and a dash of orange zest. The palate is oaky with a touch of maple syrup, vanilla pudding cup, and maybe some tart apple skins. The end then blows up with dark cherry, cinnamon, and caramel candy before it suddenly plunges to a watery grave.
Okay, this is a bit more than the last one! The nose is all about that pecan pie with vanilla ice cream, caramel drizzle, and flake of salt. The palate pops with tart fruit and raw biscuit dough before a big wave of heat arrives. That heat takes the sip toward marzipan-laced tobacco hot end with plenty of “spice.”
Part 2: The Ranking
12. DIGITS Bourbon — Taste 4
Average Price: $70
This bottle is a collaboration between Bulls superstar Scottie Pippen and Napa wine superstar Dave Phinney. The juice is a sourced five-year-old whiskey that’s distilled in Tennessee, likely in a place that rhymes with “Tacoma”, alongside some MGP whiskey from Indiana. The barrels are sent to Mare Island, off San Francisco, where they continue aging before vatting, proofing, and bottling.
This just didn’t deliver today. It was fine but I can’t imagine ever reaching for this to mix or sip. Sorry, Pip.
11. Elvis Tiger Man Tennessee Whiskey — Taste 11
Average Price: $50
This bottle from Grain & Barrel Spirits is a sourced Tennessee whiskey, likely Dickel. The mash bill is 80 percent corn, ten percent rye, and ten percent malted barley. The juice is aged for two years before blending, proofing, and bottling.
This had all the notes of a basic bourbon. Nothing less. Nothing more. That makes this hard to justify at this price point.
10. Jefferson’s Very Small Batch — Taste 2
Average Price: $27
This is a sourced bourbon from around Kentucky. The age, mash, and vital details are undisclosed. What we do know is that the team at Jefferson’s spends a lot of time tinkering with their barrels to create accessible and affordable bourbons.
This was so close to hitting high marks today. It was just a little thin from top to bottom. Look, that’s not entirely fair given the ABVs of some of these bourbons. Yet, here we are.
9. Uncle Nearest 1884 — Taste 10
Average Price: $51
This whiskey is built from a batch of barrels that are a minimum of seven years old. Nearest’s Master Blender, Victoria Eady-Butler, builds the blend according to classic flavor notes first put into Tennessee whiskey by her ancestor, Nearest Green, back in the 1800s.
This is where the list gets interesting. While this is clearly a mixing bourbon with a basic vibe to build upon, it’s perfectly good for what it is.
8. Pinhook Bohemia 2020 High Proof Bourbon — Taste 12
Average Price: $48
Pinhook Bourbon made a pretty big splash this year with a deep bench of well-made bourbons and ryes. The shingle brings a wine sommelier’s sense to the world of Kentucky whiskey and the results are worth tracking down. This particular juice is a fairly low-rye mash bill (only 15 percent) bourbon from Castle & Key Distillery.
I hadn’t tried this in a while and it hit nicely today. It felt a little one-note (hence being ranked this low) but still delivered a nice sipping experience.
7. Traverse City Barrel Proof Bourbon — Taste 8
Average Price: $75
This expression is comprised of single barrel selections of seven-year-old MGP that are taken up to Michigan and finished. The juice goes in the bottle uncut and unfiltered at barrel proof.
This was well rounded but, again, just classic and note much more. It didn’t jump out at me today.
6. Widow Jane 10 — Taste 1
Average Price: $79
This is sourced from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee bourbons (though that’s likely to change since Heaven Hill bought the brand). The hand-selected barrels are sent to New York where they’re blended in small batches of no more than five barrels, proofed with New York limestone mine 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.
Again, this felt nice and well-rounded but there was nothing there to grab me and wow me. Looking at it now with the reveal, I feel like, for $80, there should be a bit more there.
5. Yellowstone Hand-Picked Collection Single Barrel — Taste 5
Average Price: $70
These bottles are part of an exclusive run of bourbon barrels that are “hand-picked” by Steve Beam out at Limestone Branch Distillery (from sourced barrels). Beam pulls these exceptional barrels in and releases them for special retailers, bar accounts, and collections. Each release is around 200 bottles and they tend to be rare finds.
Nice! I always liked this bottle but it’s one I always forget about too. It’s always like, “Oh, yeah, that is good isn’t it?” Then I forget about it again. I need to stop doing that as this was really well-rounded and had a solid character that stood out from the crowd.
4. Pursuit United — Taste 3
Average Price: $65
This is a vatted from 40 total barrels from three different states, making it a “blended” straight bourbon whiskey. While the team at Pursuit United doesn’t release the Tennessee distillery name, we know the juices from Kentucky and New York are from Bardstown Bourbon Company and Finger Lakes Distilling, respectively.
I felt like I went somewhere with this sip. There was a solid beginning, middle, and end that leaned into classic and craft bourbon vibes. Had it been a tad bolder, it might have ranked higher today.
3. Belle Meade Sour Mash Bourbon — Taste 9
Average Price: $40
This revival from the Nelson brothers of Nelson Green Brier has become an almost instant classic. The juice is a high-rye bourbon (MGP) that’s small-batched from only four barrels per bottling. The juice is then proofed with that soft Tennessee water and bottled.
There’s that boldness. This hit well and had a nice depth, but it still feel a little short as it tasted more like a bourbon to make an old fashioned with instead of a sipper.
2. Nashville Barrel Company Single Barrel Bourbon (5-Year) — Taste 7
Average Price: $90
Nashville Barrel Co. is doing some of the best work in the bottling game, full stop. They’re sourcing incredible barrels (a lot from MGP) and bottling them as-is without any cutting, filtering, or fussing — they let the whiskey speak for itself and it’s kind of magical. This expression tends to be five to eight-year-old barrels that will vary slightly in the flavor profile while always leaning into bold and distinct flavors.
This was nearly number one. In fact, this and the next one are basically a tie. The only reason this is slightly below is that this was a tiny bit hotter. I could have used a rock here. But, come on, that’s splitting a tiny hair.
1. Redemption High-Rye Bourbon — Taste 6
Average Price: $50
These bottles are the masterwork of chef-turned-master-blender David Carpenter. The juice is hand-selected MGP single barrels that provide a classic bourbon base that then leans a little softer on the palate.
Again, this took me somewhere. It was fresh, deep, and felt like it had a point of view. It was also very easy to drink without sacrificing flavor and feeling. Plus, this didn’t feel like it needed a rock, so, huzzah, it wins!
Part 3: Final Thoughts
And look at that. The top three were all MGP of Indiana. Coincidence?
Let’s look at the top three’s tasting notes again:
#1 — Taste 6: “Rich vanilla wafers with nougat and orange zest mingle with tart berries and winter spices on the nose. The palate is all about the dried cherries dipped in chocolate with lemon pepper spice, a hint of cedar, and old leather. The end feels part vanilla-cherry tobacco and part mint chocolate ice cream with a touch of cedar tying it together.”
#2 — Taste 7: “This is like walking through a State Fair in my best memories thanks to a nose full of candied apples, cotton candy, vanilla cakes, cherry hand pies, and touches of sandy dirt on well-oiled boot leather. The palate starts off warm with sharp brown spices — clove, anise, allspice — that lead to soft sweetgrass with Almond Joy and salted caramel apples. The almonds and chocolate combine with the spice and builds to a big finish with a nice warmth and fruitiness.”
#3 — Taste 9: “This is nicely floral with layers of orange oils, maple syrup, and caramel-mocha latte. The taste leans into the caramel and mocha with a big pump off the vanilla syrup bottle as sharp winter spices and candied nuts lead to a big Christmas cake vibe. The end feels like mincemeat pies and eggnog with a creamy and lush finish.”
Are there parallels? Sure. Are these the same whiskeys? Not even a bit. That just goes to show the power of excellent barrel selection by a blender when making a great whiskey. Yes, even a sourced one. It also goes to show the power of MGP of Indiana (and others) to make some truly unique barrels that we’re lucky enough to actually get to taste widely these days.