- Understanding the bourbon-making process
- Discovering the elements that make bourbon enjoyable
- Identifying the traits of a good bourbon
- Evaluating and selecting the top bourbons of 2023
The Irresistible Charm of the Bourbon World
The world of bourbon is akin to a labyrinth, enchanting in its complexity and diversity. It is the sweet, smoky allure of this distinct whiskey that captivates its enthusiasts, enticing them to explore its depths. Whether you’re a seasoned connoisseur or a novice stepping into the bourbon world, this spirited journey never ceases to offer new insights and tastes.
The Art of Making Bourbon
The creation of bourbon is a craft, a meticulous process that combines tradition and innovation in equal measure. It begins with the fermentation of grains—predominantly corn, supplemented by malted barley, rye, and wheat. This forms the mash bill, which, after being cooked, is mixed with set-back, or leftover distillate from the previous batch.
This sour mash undergoes fermentation, giving birth to a transparent spirit often referred to as the ‘White Dog.’ This raw spirit then embarks on a transformative journey inside charred oak barrels, drawing color and flavor from the wood during its aging process. Contrary to popular belief, bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States, not just Kentucky. However, Kentucky still holds the lion’s share, producing about 95% of all bourbon.
The Allure of Bourbon: Sweetness and Variety
Bourbon’s allure lies in its characteristic flavor profile—a core of corn-derived sweetness distinct from the honey-like sweetness of Scotch. This core is enhanced with notes of vanilla and a variety of other flavors, resulting from the specific mash bill and aging process of each distillery. Add to that the plethora of high-proof bourbons, which are veritable flavor explosions, and you have a spirit that is endlessly fascinating.
The Essence of a Good Bourbon
Like any form of art, appreciation of bourbon is highly subjective. There is no universal definition of a ‘good’ bourbon—it ultimately comes down to personal taste. If you find joy in the flavor, and it brings a smile to your face, that’s a good bourbon for you. The beauty of the bourbon world lies in this subjectivity, in the freedom to explore and form your own preferences.
Choosing the best bourbons is a daunting task. However, the top bourbons of 2023 were evaluated based on a balance of quality and accessibility. Here’s a look at some standouts, with varying levels of availability and price points.
- Weller 12: A sophisticated bourbon that pleases the thinking drinker, with a pleasant wheated profile complemented by light, sweet caramel, toffee, apple pie, and cherry flavors.
- 1792 Full Proof: Awarded the best bourbon of 2018, it continues to deliver with a rich blend of classic bourbon caramel, vanilla, and a unique chocolatey note.
- Rebel Yell 10: This wheated bourbon offers a deliciously sweet experience, sprinkled with hints of cashew nuts and spicy rye, making it an amazingly well-rounded choice.
- Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10: This ten-year offering is filled with a decadent mix of caramel, butterscotch, oak, and spice.
- Blanton’s Gold and SFTB: Both these Blanton’s offerings are excellent, each offering a unique flavor profile of caramel, vanilla, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
- Elijah Craig Barrel Proof: A robust, cask strength bourbon that presents a bold blend of caramel, dark fruits, and vanilla, with enough power to give your taste buds a memorable ride.
In the end, embarking on this journey through the bourbon world is about much more than just the destination. It’s about the people you meet, the stories you hear, the nuances you discover, and the memories you create with every sip. Enjoy the journey.