It wasn’t too long ago that the word “blended” had a very negative connotation in the bourbon whiskey world. The idea was that “blended” bourbon wasn’t “straight” bourbon so it was, thereby, automatically inferior. While that may have been true at some point (but even then, not really), those days are long gone. Today, blended bourbons are amongst the most respected and lauded bottles on the shelf.
In fact, entire brands are built around the fact that they take barrels from all over and blend them into masterpieces. It’s a genre unto itself.
So what is a “blended” bourbon these days? Very simply, a blended bourbon is a mix of different bourbons from different mash bills and distilleries, sometimes from completely different states. With this list, I’m focusing on the blends with whiskey from different distilleries and states that are put together by craft distillers and blenders. For clarification, Four Roses bottles could be on this list — as they blend ten different bourbons from two mash bills with five yeasts each for each bill. But since that’s still all in-house, I’m not adding it below. These are the blends that combine very different barrels of bourbon from multiple producers to create something bigger and bolder.
I’m also adding my tasting notes and ranking these. Look at it this way, ten through six are all solid sips but five through one are the ones that I’d eagerly reach for. Savvy? Let’s jump in!
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- The Best Ten-Year-Old Bourbon Whiskeys, Tasted Blind And Ranked
10. Three Chord Blended Bourbon
Average Price: $50
Three Chord is a small blendery that focuses on striking the perfect chord — get it! — while blending bourbon. The juice is a mix of up to 12-year-old barrels from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee. Those whiskeys are blended and then proofed way down to 81 proof.
There’s woody maple syrup on the nose that leads to vanilla pound cake with a hint of poppy seed next to a thin line of orange zest. The palate leans into salted caramel and vanilla cream before a mild cinnamon and nutmeg kick in, leading to dry sweetgrass. A very mild bitter chocolate note attaches to the orange zest as a warm cinnamon leads back to that dry sweetgrass with a hint of burnt cedar on the very backend.
This is a pretty solid sip all around. It’s a little too soft for me, but it’s not washed out by that low proof. That said, this over some rocks and you’re set.
9. Fistful of Bourbon
Average Price: $25
This is one of the more interesting sourced whiskeys on the shelf in the U.S. The juice is the design of Scottish Master Blender (for William Grant & Sons) Kelsey McKechnie. McKechnie left Scotland for the U.S. to work in bourbon in the same ways she worked in blended scotch. Fistful of Bourbon is the fruit of that labor — blending five straight bourbons (from undisclosed distilleries) into one bottle.
This is whiskey by design and hits classic and deep notes starting with bespoke but not too sweet Red Hots, vanilla pods, and a touch of mint on the end of the nose. The palate refines the spices and broadens to a clear Christmas spice feel next to a touch of dried fruit, leather, and oak. The end sharpens the spiciness while holding onto the bold vanilla as the oak and fruit fade completely out.
This is another one that’s perfectly solid. I tend to reach for this when I’m mixing simple cocktails (old fashioned) or whiskey highballs.
8. Milam & Greene Triple Cask Straight Bourbon Blend Whiskey
Average Price: $42
This expression starts off with a two-year-old Texas bourbon distilled by Milam & Greene. That whiskey is blended with two Tennessee whiskeys, one a three-year-old and another an eleven-year-old. Those barrels are blended and balanced before a little bit of that Texas water is added to bring the proof down.
That two-year-old bourbon pops on the nose with a hint of yellow masa next to butterscotch, vanilla beans, and a hint of Red Hots. The palate has a sharp black pepperiness that’s immediately countered by soft vanilla ice cream drizzled with maple syrup and speckled with dark chocolate chips. The finish lets that dark chocolate shine as both creamy and slightly bitter as the Red Hots kick back in with a touch of warmth.
This is a nice foundation for a cocktail. That hefty cinnamon warmth really shines through in a sour or Manhattan. That said, this works on the rocks too.
7. High West American Prairie Bourbon
Average Price: $50
American Prairie is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after sourced whiskeys. The whiskey in the bottle is a blend of two to 13-year-old barrels rendered from high-rye, low-rye, and undisclosed source mash bills from Indiana, Utah, and elsewhere. The release supports the American Prairie Reserve by highlighting the project and supporting it financially.
This opens with caramel apples next to new leather, vanilla pudding, and sweet buttered corn with a touch of salt. The palate has a nougat svelteness next to creamed corn and Southern biscuits dripping with butter and honey. The mid-palate to finish starts to dry out with vanilla husks and cedar bark but then veers into apple candy.
This is soft and simple but not basic. It’s deep and interesting while being straightforward and kind of classic. I like it in cocktails but wouldn’t turn it down on the rocks.
6. Old Elk Blended Bourbon
Average Price: $46
Old Elk is the work of distilling legend Greg Metze. Metze devised a bourbon through MGP of Indiana, a distillery in New York, and Old Elk’s facility in Colorado. The combined mash bill ended up being 51% corn, 34 percent malted barley, and 15 percent rye, which is one of the more unique mash bills in the game. The juice is then proofed down to a very accessible 88 proof.
Freshly baked cinnamon rolls with powdered sugar icing mingle with a hint of walnut, dark cacao powder, and a hint of dry cedar bark. The palate is very lush with a note of chocolate chip pancakes covered in brown butter and syrup with a dash of vanilla next to singed dry sweetgrass braids and a touch of burnt toffee. The finish lets the chocolate turn velvety as a whisper of dried chili meets salted caramel.
This is just good. It’s also probably not going to be a blended bourbon for much longer, as Old Elk has plenty of its own stock now.
5. Widow Jane Aged 10 Years
Average Price: $77
This is sourced from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee bourbons. The hand-selected barrels are sent to New York where they’re blended in small batches (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.
This has a matrix of rich vanilla pudding next to oranges infused with mulled wine spices and … Irish Spring soap. It definitely works and draws you in. The palate is all marzipan and dark chocolate-covered brandy cherries that lead towards a dry maply syrup mid-palate. The finish dries out a bit more while still holding onto the cherry, bitter dark chocolate, and almost woody maple syrup.
This is one of those bottles that’ll empty faster than you’d expect. It’s easy to drink but also unique enough to keep you searching for more in that flavor profile. It works really well in Manhattan too.
4. Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon
Average Price: $44
Smooth Ambler is a great example of how smaller craft operations get up and running. This expression is a blend of sourced high-rye bourbon that’s aged for nine years with Smooth Ambler’s own-make, a wheated bourbon that’s aged for two years. The sourced bourbon is MGP of Indiana, giving the blenders a quality foundation to build their bourbon off of.
Classic notes of bourbon vanilla and oak mingle with spicy stewed cherries buried in a sourdough pancake on the nose. The palate holds onto that sweet fruit and spice, as notes of worn leather and soft cedar arrive with a hint of grain. The end is short-ish with the spice, oak, and cherry lasting the longest until a nice and velvety vanilla mouthfeel arrives.
This is really good juice. It’s complex but not overly so. It’s easy-going while offering a classic sipping experience.
3. Stellum Black Bourbon
Average Price: $99
Stellum Black Bourbon basically takes the recipe from Stellum Bourbon — one of our favorite bourbons for 2021 — and uses the reserve barrels (sourced from Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky) from the series to create this heightened blend. The whiskey is batched and bottled at cask strength to let those barrels shine through in every sip.
The nose opens with a mix of black and green peppercorns next to kettled corn with salted caramel sauce, dried yet sweet cedar, vanilla blossoms, and a hint of an orange creamsicle stick. That orange drives the palate as soft suede mingles with that floral vanilla vibe next to holiday spices (think cinnamon and clove) layered with that sweet cedar and sharp black pepper. The pepper fades out on the finish and makes way for a dark mocha chocolate/coffee bitterness with a vanilla tobacco chewiness with a hint of pepper, leather, and cedar on the far back end.
This is a very easy sipper. Like it on a single rock but it shines just as brightly neat. It also makes a killer Manhattan thanks to that higher ABV and killer flavor profile.
2. Pursuit United Bourbon
Average Price: $70
This is a vatted from 40 total barrels from three different states. 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.
Dark chocolate-covered caramels that are just touched with orange oils draw you in on the nose. The taste has this light sense of cornmeal next to dark chocolate-laced tobacco with a hint of dried red fruit that feels like a red wine stave. The mid-palate has a Christmas cake feel with spice, fruit, and nuts all with a hint of vanilla leading towards an old cedar box that used to hold tobacco.
I really dig this on the rocks after a long day. It’s a complex and deep whiskey but feels like a table whiskey with zero pretension — which is a breath of fresh air.
1. Barrell Batch 030
Average Price: $93
2021’s Barrell Batch 030 launched the brand’s awesome blends into a new direction by adding Wyoming bourbon into the mix with Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee whiskeys. The final mix ended up being a blend of five, six, nine, ten, eleven, and 15-year-old bourbons that were bottled at barrel proof.
The nose opens with a plum pudding brimming with dark, wintry spice, dried and candied fruits, and fatty nuts that’s all been soaked in dark rum with a hint of worn library leather that leads towards this dramatic shift towards fresh blackberries and raspberries with a hint of the bramble. The palate is blackberry pie with a lard crust topped with a cinnamon vanilla ice cream next to hints of oatmeal raisin cookie, ancho-chili-laced dark chocolate, and dry walnut shells. The mid-palate harnesses that chocolate and nuttiness and leans it toward creamy Nutella as a dry pine arrives on the very end with an almost bitter dark soil.
This is the epitome of modern blended bourbon. This is also gettable and (relatively) affordable — a great place to start diving into the wonders of how amazing blended bourbon is in 2022.