I am a fan of Kentucky Straight Bourbons. I believe that at this point in history the best Bourbons in the world are being made here in Kentucky. Kentucky has all of the ingredients that are needed to make a great Bourbon: a balanced climate with hot summers and cold winters, iron-free limestone water and a long tradition and the experience that comes with that tradition, of making Bourbon. Old Forester, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Booker’s, 1792 and all of the other Straight Kentucky Bourbons represent the quality level of distillers in other states strive to achieve.
With that said, I have rummaged through my bottles and found five Bourbons that are made in other States that are very good and are of a quality that is as good as anything made in Kentucky. These Bourbons are not ranked in any way. I am providing them in alphabetical order. They are also not the only good Bourbons coming from each State. I could have found five from Indiana alone. I picked them for four main reasons: 1) They are very good quality, even if young at this point, 2) I own bottles of each product, 3) I find the story behind them interesting, and 4) they have distilled the Bourbon themselves with no sourced whiskey in the bottle. I have reviewed three of the products already and the other two are on my long list of products waiting to be reviewed.
Dettling 1867 Bourbon, Big Escambia Spirits LLC, Atmore, AL.
Seth Dettling is using an heirloom variety of white corn to make his Bourbon. He told me that he picked this corn because he thinks it makes the best cornbread. He sent me a sample of the cornmeal to try the cornbread. I was brought up eating corn bread made from Hickory Cane white corn, another heirloom variety of corn, and I will say that this cornbread is right up there with Hickory Cane. The corn does make an excellent Bourbon as well as bread.
The bottle I have is a single barrel that was double oaked because the original barrel leaked bad enough he decided to re-barrel the whiskey. It was bottled at 107.8 proof, cask strength. A lower barrel entry proof shines through in this Bourbon. The whiskey is only 35 months old, just short of three years, but still has the kind of caramel and vanilla notes you find in an older Bourbon. Big Escambia Spirits is paying attention to the details and making an excellent whiskey. I would love to get a bottle of their Bourbon when it is four or five years old.
Long Road Straight Bourbon, Long Road Distillers, Grand Rapids, MI.
Michigan is a State with several artisan distilleries. There are programs dealing with fermentation, brewing and distilling in the university system in Michigan, so it is a State working to create experienced distillers. The products coming out of Michigan mostly reflect this growing experience.
I have to like the philosophy these distillers place on their label. They state that “We don’t source spirits, we source ingredients” and, “Every distillery has a path. We chose to take the long one. You won’t see the difference, but you’ll certainly taste it”. They are bottling whiskey that they have made and not rushing the process. This whiskey is still young – only two years old, but it is a solid Bourbon. It is a small batch Bourbon bottled at 93 proof. It has some nice citrus notes with some vanilla and baking spices.
Old 55 Single Barrel Bourbon, Old 55 Distillery, Newtown, IN.
Jason Fruits is the distiller at Old 55 Distillery. The distillery is named for the State Highway that runs by the distillery. His family have been farmers and grain distributors for a couple of generations. When Jason decided to go into distilling, he was simply branching out the family business. One of the products he makes is a Bourbon made from 100% sweet corn. He loves to experiment with the grains.
The single barrel Bourbon is more of a traditional Bourbon and is made with winter wheat. It is bottled at 80 proof without an age statement, but I know it is only a little over two years old. Even at that age, the Bourbon has some nice vanilla notes with a hint of banana pudding on the nose. The taste is full of flavor, even at 80 proof. There are the vanilla and corn notes with lots of baking spices and that hint of banana pudding. A good solid Bourbon that will get even better as it matures.
Tom’s Foolery Bonded Bourbon, Tom’s Foolery, Chagrin Falls, OH.
I first met Tom Herbruck about five years ago. I was teaching a Bourbon class in Cleveland and Tom invited me out to visit the distillery and taste some samples. I really enjoyed what I tasted and thought they were all good, solid Bourbons, ryes and brandies. There were several products using beer malts in the mash bill and I thought several of them were brilliant. Tom has since moved and expanded the distillery to a larger site not far from where I visited. The whiskey samples I tasted five years ago may very well be part of this bottle of bonded whiskey. I thought then that they would be excellent when they mature to four or more years, and I was correct.
The Bourbon is Bottled-in-Bond, made in the spring of 2012. It is four years old and of course, 100 proof. There is fruitiness to this Bourbon that makes it almost brandy-like. There are peach and apricot flavors with a hint of dates. Vanilla and sweet baking spices with a hint of oak on the finish round out the taste of this Bourbon.
Wyoming Whiskey, Small Batch Bourbon, Wyoming Whiskey, Inc., Kirby, WY.
I have a lot of respect for the founders of this distillery. They knew that if they were going to make a great whiskey, they would need some help, so they came to Kentucky to hire an experienced distiller to help them build and start their distillery. They hired Steve Nally, who had just retired as the Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark. Steve helped them by overseeing the construction of the distillery and then creating their mash bill. It is of course a wheated Bourbon very similar to Maker’s Mark.
My bottle has been on my shelf for a couple of years and is the three year old version of Wyoming Whiskey. They now have a four year old version on the shelf that is even better than my bottle. It is bottled at 88 proof. The nose is very Maker’s Mark-like with lots of vanilla, a little apple and oak. The taste is still a little young, but that has decreased in the newer bottles. There is a French vanilla, ripe apple, hazelnuts and oak on the palate with a finish full of oak and a hint of white pepper.
These are just five Bourbons from five different States that are as good as lot of the Bourbons being made in Kentucky. These distilleries are still quite new themselves and yet are making very good Bourbons. In another ten years, when these distilleries and their distillers are more experienced, their products will be even better. Kentucky Distilleries must stay sharp because there is some worthy competition from other states.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller