Do you know what we need around here? An excuse to try some special-release bourbons.
Luckily, the holidays do call for something extra special, and whiskey makers around Kentucky have obliged, with some pretty fun stuff hitting shelves just in time for holiday season gifting. And we won't tell if you just gift it to yourself, either!
So, what can bourbon lovers expect to hit the shelves before the end of 2022? Here are six holiday or limited edition bottles of bourbon, in alphabetical order, that you should add to your wish list:
113.54-proof cask strength, barrellbourbon.com
Barrell Craft Spirits celebrates the start of every new year with a special blend, toasting new beginnings and the energy of the year to come. Barrell New Year Bourbon 2023 is a tribute to the optimism that every new year brings, says the brand, and to that end, it brought us a careful blend of five, six, seven, nine, and 14-year-old straight bourbon whiskeys from points across the country. This year’s New Year Bourbon comes from distillate in Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Wyoming, New York, Texas, and Kentucky.
They have as much of a way with words as they do with whiskey; check out these tasting notes:
"Nose: A classic bourbon opening of brioche and caramel. Added to that is a woodsy underpinning of sandalwood and a wisp of smoke. It evolves through a range of sweets: amaretto, coconut macaroons, and cream soda. Gooseberry, quince, and lime cordial add a bit of lift. A range of mineral notes round it out with flint, limestone, and beeswax.
"Palate: Though cask strength, the heat is kept in check by syrupy oak sugars. Black cherry soda and roasted molé take center stage. Vanilla is notably strong here and joined by fellow oak spices nutmeg, cardamom, and aniseed. The oak is well balanced by herbaceous rye notes along with rose hip, wormwood, and peppercorn.
"Finish: Candied chili pepper and preserved lemon flash across the Horchata take over as a creaminess builds, adding white chocolate, and cashew. As the flavors slowly fade, a waxiness lingers on.”
Well, guess who's back in a big way: we’ve got an uncut, unfiltered 15-year-old George T. Stagg Bourbon clocking in at 138.7-proof as a headliner in its fall release of Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.
The 2007 barrels have brought us a "classic Stagg presence," a spokesperson says, "full of maturity, balance, and flavor." Lovely especially for this time of year, the bourbon aged in warehouse K brings notes of "toasted pecan and chocolate sauce on the nose, a rich blend of baking spice, vanilla and cherry pie on the palate, and a robust finish of black coffee, molasses and oak."
100 proof, heavenhilldistillery.com/old-fitzgerald.php
Bourbon old-timers ― as in those of us who liked it before it was cool ― are already longtime fans of Heaven Hill’s Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond. Each year, it ups the ante on the favorite with its hallmark series in a Fall edition. This is the 10th year of the special release, and it's doing it up right in a showstopper of a vintage-style glass decanter that should have pride of place on your home bar. Inside that bottle is a 19-year-aged bourbon pulled from across three floors of their rickhouse F and one floor of rickhouse X at Heaven Hill Distillery’s main campus. This is the oldest to date in this line, comprised of barrels produced in September 2003.
Look for aromas of old leather, pepper, and baking spices, and a taste of rich butterscotch sweetness followed by cocoa powder and complex spices with dark dried figs, finishing with warm baking spices, milk chocolate, and pepper for a hint of toasted oak.
The retail price of the 100-proof bourbon is $240, and this puppy is on allocation, so cozy up to your favorite shop and hope they'll spare you one.
114.2 proof, michters.com/20-year-kentucky-straight-bourbon
When bourbon writers call something their favorite, listen up. Last year at the Bourbon Classic media camp, a few lucky souls who write about spirits got to sample the whiskey that bourbon lovers will do just about anything to get their hands on, the Michter's 20 Year. One fellow journalist told me it would be her last sip on earth if she had to choose, and once I tried it, I got it.
I was wildly fortunate to have a chance to taste this year's blend, along with my husband, and at the risk of sounding melodramatic, it's tempting to call it a transcendental experience. One whiff of the beautifully deep, dark amber liquid, and it was clear: this was going to be magical.
One sip, then two, confirmed it. This reminded me of everything I’ve ever loved about bourbon. In a moment’s time, as the sweet burn lit up every sense, a flood of memories washed over me: doing a barrel pick down at a distillery, thieving from a "honey" barrel with a master distiller, learning to sip my first grown-up bourbon. My husband had the same sentiment, his sip also catapulting him down memory lane to some of our favorite bourbons ever. It's hard to separate what you know about a product's price and rarity from the true taste sometimes, but this left no room for doubt.
Look, sometimes a long time in the barrel leaves you with a mouthful of, well, wood. While this brings the toasted, charred oak for sure, it's not overwhelming. The label says: "intense notes of black cherry, rich molasses, honeysuckle, and roasted pecans," but I also got deep, dark chocolate, cream, and smoky spice — and for me, it wasn’t in the barrel a moment too long.
This year's release, at 114.2 proof, hit in November. Chances are you won't find one of the 530 bottles in the wild (and certainly not for the $1,200 retail price if you do), but pours are available at the bar at Fort Nelson, at Michter’s downtown distillery, 801 W. Main St. Be ready to pony up: it's $750.
COST: $1,200 for one of 530 bottles; $750 for a pour at Fort Nelson Michter’s distillery
90 proof, makersmark.com
There's just something to love about vintage holiday decorations. Maybe it's the pandemic, or just seeing the years fly by, but I could mainline nostalgia, so I am in love with this year’s holiday bottles from Maker’s Mark. They’re your tried and true, easy-sipping wheated bourbons, but with a holiday twist. The impossibly charming bottles are designed for gifting with "to" and "from" labels on the side, and a variety of 60s-vibed Christmas ornament patterns on the front.
The folks at Maker’s Mark suggest mixing up some fun holiday cocktails with these bottles. My favorite is the maple Old Fashioned: two parts Maker’s, one-quarter part maple syrup, Angostura and orange bitters stirred with ice, served on the rocks, and garnished with a seared cinnamon stick.
We're so lucky to have the world of bourbon in our backyard, sometimes we can be guilty of overlooking tried and true classics beloved by the rest of the world. That’s a shame. Favorites are favorites for good reason, and Woodford Reserve is a perfect example of that.
Priced for real-world wish lists, the annual holiday edition of Woodford Reserve is $50 for a liter bottle, and the lovely, shimmering golden label is a joyous nod to all we have to celebrate at this time of year. With its balanced "bold grain and wood ... sweet aromatics, spice, and fruit and floral notes," I second everything Master Distiller Chris Morris says: "A Woodford Reserve holiday bottle is the perfect gift for any whiskey lover. This bottle is guaranteed to put everyone in the holiday spirit and will stand out beautifully on a bar cart. It’s a great gift to take to holiday parties – or a treat to yourself."
Tell Dana! Send your restaurant “Dish” to Dana McMahan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @bourbonbarbarella on Instagram.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Gifts for bourbon lovers: 6 holiday or 2022 limited edition bottles