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As Bourbon Heritage Month marches on, our celebration of all things bourbon continues to march on too. While we’ve been pretty focused on Kentucky this month, it’s time to widen that net and talk about some great bourbon whiskey from outside the Bluegrass State. Yep, it’s time for a non-Kentucky bourbon whiskey blind taste test!
Look, Kentucky still makes about 90 to 95 percent of the world’s bourbon whiskey, depending on who you ask. But the speed at which the bourbon market is growing — state-by-state — is shocking. And while Indiana and Tennessee are well-known bourbon producers right alongside Kentucky, Washington, New York, Texas, Michigan, Maryland, South Carolina, New York, Utah, Ohio, California, and so many more regions are popping off right now and building long-lasting bourbon whiskey heritage in real-time.
That means that a lot of us can look locally to find perfectly good and occasionally amazing bourbon whiskey right next door. Are there some clunkers out there, too? Obviously — that’s why you have us!
To that end, I pulled ten bottles of bourbon whiskey that are not made in Kentucky, had my wife line them up, and then blind-tasted them to find a winner. This wasn’t about recognizing regional variation or local vibes. This was all about the taste. Spoiler alert: All of these whiskeys tasted good. So, I’ve ranked them purely on which pours had the most depth and enjoyable flavor profiles.
Our lineup today is:
- Redwood Empire Whiskey Grizzly Beast Bottled in Bond Batch #002 (CA)
- Cedar Ridge Bottled-In-Bond Iowa Bourbon Whiskey (IA)
- Heaven’s Door Aged 10 Years (TN)
- Remus Repeal Reserve VI (IN)
- William Alan Small Batch (SC)
- High West Bourbon (IN & UT)
- Middle West Straight Wheated Whiskey Michelone Reserve (OH)
- Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Voyage 25 (IN)
- Chattanooga Whiskey Bottled In Bond Spring 2018 (TN)
- Woodinville Moscatel Finished (WA)
Let’s dive in and find you a great non-Kentucky bourbon whiskey to add to your bar cart (click those price links to see if you can get them in your neck of the woods).
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months
- We Blind Tasted A Whole Bunch Of $30-60 Bourbons To See If Any Could Beat Weller
- We Put A Whole Bunch Of Bourbons To A Giant Blind Test And Discovered Some Absolute Gems
- We Blind Tasted Classic Bourbons And Were Shocked By The Winner
- The Best-Known Basic Bottles Of Bourbon, Blind Tasted And Ranked
- All The Double Gold-Winning Straight Bourbons From This Year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Part 1: The Tasting
Cherry pie with plenty of winter spice leads off on the nose with buttery brown sugar, tart red berries, and walnut shells. The palate opens with burnt orange, salted caramel, and more of those tart berries swimming in rich vanilla cream before a hint of spicy warmth arrives. The end leans into brown sugar and winter spice-laced butter with walnut tobacco leaves wrapped in vanilla husks and cedar bark.
This was a lovely place to start. It’s a complex sip with a nice balance of bourbon-y flavor notes.
There’s a bit of grain on the nose with hints of leather, oatmeal cookie dough, raisin, and light brown spices with a hint of butter and wet brown sugar. The palate has a nice body with smooth Cream of Wheat next to vanilla cookies just kissed with cinnamon. The end arrives quickly with a dash of mint chocolate chip next to yellow cornbread with plenty of butter and brown sugar.
This was nice. It’s crafty but well-made.
There’s a tannic old oakiness on the nose (this is older) with hints of pecan waffles covered in maple syrup with vanilla butter. The taste is pure silk with salted caramel, vanilla cream, black licorice, marzipan, and a hint of cinnamon-pecan ice cream with a dusting of powdery chocolate. The end has a moment of warmth thanks to that cinnamon before lunging toward old porch wicker, cinnamon bark, star anise, pear tobacco, and old leather with a hint of potting soil.
This is certainly the oldest and most complex so far. It’s deep but didn’t grab me by the collar and hold my attention.
The nose opens with a light sense of fresh mint next to fairground caramel apples, boot leather, spiced plum jam, and a touch of sweet cedar bark. The palate leans into salted caramel with eggnog spices and creaminess next to creamed honey and vanilla sheet cake. The end arrives with a rush of woody spice next to candied fruits, cedar bark, and menthol tobacco leaves.
This feels lighter by comparison to the last pour, but only barely on the nose and finish. It’s so good otherwise, that. I can 100 percent forgive any “lightness by comparison.”
The nose on this is very crafty in the best way with a bowl full of white grits cut with butter and brown sugar with a hint of burnt orange, dried rose, and fresh mint rounding things out. The palate leans into woody wintery spices before circling back around to those sweet grits, Cherry Coke, ginger juice, and a hint of savory fruit — think pumpkin flesh just touched with cinnamon. The end leans into that fresh savory fruit before hitting on a moment of black peppercorns and cinnamon bark with a lush burnt orange finish.
This is very much in the new style of bourbons that lean into the mashing (extracting sugars from grains with hot water) more so than the fermentation (turning sugar water into beer), distilling (turning beer into spirit), or aging (turning spirit into whiskey). The grains are the star of the show and it’s done really well here.
The nose on this one is pretty thin comparatively with buttered corn, fruity yeast notes, and a nice sense of woody spice. The palate is soft and leans into lush nougat with a vanilla wafer vibe next to creamy honey, nutmeg and clove, and a mild sense of fresh firewood bark. The end has a smooth vanilla base with a hint of salted apple chips and dry straw stacked with very light tobacco.
This was very light. There was plenty there but it just didn’t enthrall or last long.
A hint of sourdough doughnuts dusted with cinnamon and sugar leads to maple syrup, coconut cream pie, marzipan, and a hint of toffee. The palate dries out toward an almond nutshell before hitting a rum-raisin/Cherry Coke vibe next to woody winter spices on the mid-palate. That spicy warmth fades toward cedar bark, Almond Joy, and spiced cherry tobacco on the finish with a hint more of that warm doughnut from the nose.
This was pretty nice overall. The warmth on the mid-palate was big but not over-powering. Still, I wanted a rock in the glass before I went back in for more.
There’s a thin, proofed vibe on the nose with fresh honey, mulled wine spices, dark sugars, burnt orange, and a hint of white pepper peeking in. The palate leans into woody cinnamon bark next to ripe orchard fruits wrapped in old tobacco and stacked with old porch wicker. The end leans into the orchard fruit and wood more than the spice with a hint of salted caramel next to pear skins and apple tobacco.
This really needs to be higher proof. There’s a lot going on but it isn’t quite landing for me today.
The nose opens with rich toffee leading to dark chocolate, tart red berries, malted vanilla milkshake, orange oils, old leather, and a hint of cornbread dripping with maple butter cut with cinnamon. The palate sweetens the tart berries slightly toward cherry root beer with buttery Southern biscuits dipped in honey leading to a vanilla wafer vibe. The end leans into spicy barks and cherry tobacco with a hint of hickory and huckleberry on the dry and robust finish.
This is just good. This also might be the first pour that I was excited to get back into.
The nose presents as sweet with hints of sweet prunes and dates but runs deep and dark with smoked apricot, five spice, dark chocolate creaminess, and black tea cut with burnt orange. The palate mixes Almond Roca (toffee covered in roasted almonds) with peach pits, vanilla pound cake, poppy seeds, black molasses, rum-raisin, black-tea-soaked dates, and rich Christmas cake spices with candied zests. The end leans into those dark spices and adds a woody edge that leads to dry porch wicker, choco-date tobacco, and cedar bark dipped in toffee.
Well, this is just freakin’ delicious.
Part 2: The Ranking
10. High West Bourbon — Taste 6
Average Price: $32
High West Bourbon is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after sourced/own-make whiskey blends. The whiskey in the bottle is a blend of two to 13-year-old barrels rendered from high-rye and low-rye mashes alongside undisclosed whiskeys, some of which are sourced from MGP. Those sourced barrels are mixed with two-year-old barrels from High West before proofing and bottling.
This being a blend makes sense. It was the lightest sip by far. That said, this was fine. It’s great for cocktails (think of it as a building block).
9. Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Voyage 25 — Taste 8
Average Price: $83
This expression is Jefferson’s sourced wheated bourbon from Indiana. The barrels were loaded onto an Ocearch vessel in Savannah, Georgia, and then sailed through the Caribbean, Panama Canal, around the Pacific, into the Indian Ocean, and back along the Pacific Coast, through the Panama Canal again, and back to Savannah — all that rocking around the ocean means more extraction of sugars into the spirit.
Once the barrels were back in Kentucky, they were vatted, proofed, and bottled in very small batches.
This was, again, very nice. It was just a little too proofed down for my palate. That did make it very approachable, but I’d really use this to make a killer cocktail with a nautical theme before I’d grab for it as a sipper.
8. Cedar Ridge Bottled-In-Bond Iowa Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 2
Average Price: $45
This very local whiskey is made with 74 percent corn, 14 percent malted rye, and 12 percent two-row malted barley. After mashing and distilling, the juice is aged for at least four years in Iowa. Once just right, the whiskey is touched with a little water to bring it down to proof and bottled without any fussing. For this 2021 release, only 400 cases were released, but it was the first Cedar Ridge Bottled-in-Bond to make it out of Iowa.
This had a nice enough flavor profile and didn’t feel washed out by proofing. It just didn’t really grab my attention beyond feeling like a good cocktail whiskey.
7. Redwood Empire Whiskey Grizzly Beast Bottled in Bond Batch #002 — Taste 1
Average Price: $79
The latest batch of Redwood Empire’s Grizzly Beast is a four-grain bourbon. The California whiskey was made with 69 percent corn 22 percent rye, five percent malted barley, and a mere four percent wheat. After five years of maturation, 26 barrels were picked for this batch. Those barrels were vatted and the juice was just kissed with pure water from a local Russian River Valley aquifer.
This was really pretty nice overall. I think it has a great flavor profile that leans toward classic Kentucky bourbon notes. I can see sipping this over some rocks or building a really solid cocktail with it.
6. Middle West Straight Wheated Whiskey Michelone Reserve — Taste 7
Average Price: $47
This Ohio whiskey is all about grain-to-glass. The juice is made from a mash of sweet yellow corn, soft red winter wheat, dark pumpernickel rye, and Two-Row malted barley. The whiskey spends about four years in oak before it’s bottled as-is at cask strength.
This is where things start getting complex and fun. This feels like a solid sipper that’d make one hell of a Sazerac or Manhattan. The only reason it’s not in the top five is that it felt a little warm and not as deeply hewn as the rest of the whiskeys on this list.
5. Remus Repeal Reserve VI — Taste 4
Average Price: $99 (available in September)
This year’s Remus Reserve is a mix of six to 14-year-old bourbons. Buckle in. The blend is made from two percent from a 2008 bourbon with a 21 percent rye mash, 27 percent from a 2012 bourbon with a 21 percent rye mash, 29 percent from a 2014 bourbon with a 21 percent rye mash, 17 percent from a 2012 bourbon with a 36 percent rye mash bill, and 25 percent from a 2014 bourbon with that same very high rye mash bill. Once vatted, the whiskey is just touched with water for proofing and bottled as-is.
This is where the good stuff starts in earnest. This is the lowest of the top five simply because it was the smallest on the palate. There’s still a ton going on (all of it great) but it didn’t quite pop as brightly as the next four.
4. Heaven’s Door Aged 10 Years — Taste 3
Average Price: $95
This is the first release in the new series from Bob Dylan’s Heaven’s Door Tennessee whiskeys. The juice is a ten-year-old straight bourbon that was made in Tennessee but wasn’t charcoal filtered before or after aging. The sourced barrels were blended and just proofed down before bottling without any other fussing.
This was a solid goddamn whiskey. The age sort of betrayed some of the subtler notes on the nose and finish. But if you’re looking for that tannic oakiness, this is going to be your jam.
3. William Alan Small Batch — Taste 5
Average Price: Distillery Only
This South Carolina bourbon is all about small batching and farm-to-glass experiences. The corn-fueled spirit with a very high malted barley component is aged for four years before it’s re-barreled in new toasted oak barrels for a final three-month rest. Those barrels and then vatted and the whiskey is proofed with local water for bottling.
This is very crafty but very deep and kind of fun. If you’re getting into that new, grain-forward bourbon style, this is a great bottle to find. You’re just going to need to go to South Carolina to do so.
2. Chattanooga Whiskey Bottled In Bond Spring 2018 — Taste 9
Average Price: $55
This particular whiskey was made back in spring 2018 and released in June 2022. The whiskey is a blend of four mash bills that all feature specialty malts ranging from honey malts to oak-smoked barley to naked oats to chocolate roasted barley to caramel malts and many more. The throughline is yellow corn, bonded warehouse aging, and proofing down to 50 percent ABV.
These top two were both stellar pours. I really, truly love this whiskey. It’s complex and fun and rewarding and yet it’s super accessible and easy to drink. It’s a hoot to mix cocktails with and it rules neat or on the rocks.
1. Woodinville Moscatel Finished — Taste 10
Average Price: $70
This whiskey starts as Woodinville’s award-winning five-year-old bourbon. That juice is then re-barreled into Moscatel wine casks for a finish maturation period. After nearly a year, the whiskey goes into the bottle having just been touched by water but otherwise as-is.
This wins out simply by having more arresting flavor notes and a slightly deeper profile overall. There’s just more going on with this whiskey and it really takes you on a journey. The best part, this one is finally available nationwide, so you can try it without schlepping out to Washington state!
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I stand by the top five as the bottles you want to chase. They all have their own vibes — offering something unique. But they also just taste good and sometimes (all the time, really) that’s enough.
In the end, the top two are the ones you want to stock up on. Buy a case of each. Give a bottle or two as gifts. Make your favorite cocktails with them. Crack them open for parties. You won’t be disappointed, I assure you.