There’s nearly an endless amount of new bourbon on the shelves right now. Some of it is great. A lot of it … not so much. There was a time — not that long ago — when a rare or limited release whiskey was an assurance of quality. Rare and limited releases were where brands highlighted their talents and hidden barrels. In 2022 with the dearth of endless releases, that’s not always true. Sometimes brands are just trying to keep up (and stay relevant).
Meaning it’s high time for a blind taste test to separate the great bottles from the mediocre — or even downright bad — ones.
For this blind taste test, I grabbed ten new bottles (a few so new that they won’t be on shelves until next month) plus some other pretty limited expressions. For the most part, these are whiskeys that are going to be rare and hard to find. That’s kind of the point. I did throw in a few limited releases that get wide distribution (but with a small bottle count) and a crafty release (Cedar Ridge) but that’s not available everywhere/all of the time. The overall point is that these aren’t really big nationally distributed basic expressions that you can grab at any corner liquor store — this is the stuff you find in specialty shops and higher-end whiskey bars where real effort was put into stocking great whiskey.
Our lineup today is:
- 15 STARS Fine Aged Bourbon Private Stock Aged 7 & 15 Years
- Yellowstone Limited Edition 2022
- Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2022
- Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey Bottled-in-Bond Release 003
- Redwood Empire Grizzly Beast Bottled-in-Bond Batch #002
- Larceny Barrel Proof Batch no. C922
- Barrell Vantage
- Remus Repeal Reserve Series VI 2022 Medley
- Daviess County Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Lightly Toasted American Oak Barrels
- Middle West Straight Wheated Bourbon Whiskey Michelone Reserve Barrel no. 0393
As for the blind tasting and ranking, this was insanely hard. It might have been one of the harder rankings I’ve done. Basically, the bulk of these whiskeys are all great. That means I’ve split some serious hairs in the ranking below.
Let’s get into it!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months
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- The Best Ten-Year-Old Bourbon Whiskeys, Tasted Blind And Ranked
- We Tasted Bourbon Whiskeys ‘Double-Blind’ And Tried To Guess Each Bottle
- All The Double Gold-Winning Straight Bourbons From This Year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Part 1: The Tasting
This has a nice and deep nose with layers of woody cinnamon with a hint of dried chili next to a touch of dried apricot, a hint of maple syrup, and a dash of pine resin with a faint whisper of dried rose lurking way in the background. The palate has a spiced orange vibe that warms up on the palate before creamy vanilla with a line of salted caramel softens the taste. The end leaves the creaminess behind and hits on almond shells and old deck wood.
This is a really nice place to start.
From my notes: “a solid AF pour.”
This opens soft with an almost meaty dried apricot dipped in pine-laced honey with a line of cinnamon-spiced tobacco sharpening the nose. The palate has a mild sticky toffee pudding vibe with plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg next to meaty dates, rum-raisin, and a hint of walnut cake with a twinge of butteriness. The end leans into those sweet dates with a hint of black tea and a dash of wet brown sugar before raisins packed in vanilla tobacco leaves round things out.
This is another excellent pour.
The nose opens with a hint of old basement floorboards with a hint of worn leather jackets next to a hint of sour blueberry pancakes with a deep butteriness next to thin lines of red berry jam and maple syrup. The taste feels like a mix of pecan sandies and mulled wine spices (heave on clove and anise) next to soft vanilla creaminess with a hint of spiced cherry tobacco just kissed with dark chocolate and nutmeg. The end has a slight warmth with a hint of dry cedar bark and hazelnut next to brown sugar and cinnamon butter with a final echo of sour cherry.
This was very clearly a step up from the last two, but not by that much. All three are still great in their own ways, especially as I go back and re-nose and re-taste.
This opens fairly young and grain-forward but not overly so. The nose feels a bit like raw oatmeal cookie dough with plenty of muted brown spices and brown sugar with a hint of butter underneath it all. The palate has this soft Frosted Mini Wheat vibe with a creamy vanilla layer and a hint more of that spice. The end is subtle with a hint of dried mint and cold cornmeal next to a final line of winter spice.
This is very crafty but fine. It’s nowhere near the last three though.
This opens with a rich and tart berry cobbler with a solid layer of spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove) and buttery brown sugar with an almost warm tart berry compote driving everything toward a woody sense of walnut. The palate marries burnt orange rinds with rich, creamy, and salted caramel with a very faint sense of tart cream. The end brings it all together as the tart dark berries and butter brown sugar ends up all loaded into a nutshell and wrapped in a vanilla tobacco leaf.
From my notes: “Okay, we’re back! This is another solid pour of whiskey.”
This pour opens with a hint of soft leather next to raisins, sour grapes, a dash of apple fritter with plenty of cinnamon, and a mild sense of dried red currants. The palate hits with an ABV buzz (kind of like the numbness you get from wasabi without the taste at all) before soft vanilla creaminess calms everything down toward berry jams with cinnamon and clove next to a light buttermilk biscuit with a hint of dry sweetgrass lurking under it all. The end softly lands on a dried prune/date/raisin finish with a twinge of tartness and a light sense of cedar-laced tobacco just touched with cardamon and vanilla.
What can I say? This is another great pour.
The nose opens with a sense of chili pepper-infused dark chocolate pudding next to a hint of toasted coconut, dry ginger next to root beer, and an echo of pineapple stems. The palate is full of orchard wood and espresso cream next to a hint of lush eggnog with plenty of nutmeg and a dash of some green, herbal, and savory — kind of like tarragon. The end lets the spice amp up toward red peppercorns as plum cake counters with a soft and sweet finish.
We have yet another winner right here.
The nose on this one is complex and meaders through mint fields and caramel apple stands as hints of old boot leather, plum jam, winter spice, and a hint of sweet oak round things out. The palate opens with a rich toffee before a warmth takes over with a soft spice (nutmeg and allspice) before woody vanilla and creamed honey take over. The end feels like a handful of candied fruits wrapped up in leathery tobacco leaves with a hint of cedar bark and dried mint in the background.
From my notes: “This is a really good pour of whiskey.”
The nose on this one is salty/sweet with a sense of caramel and buttermilk next to soft oak and a mild hint of coconut shells. The palate toasts that coconut as buttery toffee leading to a vanilla cream pie with a lard crust and a dash of orange oils. The end mixes a soft vanilla cake with a pecan waffle with a whisper of woody maple syrup and light raisin.
This is really good. It’s not quite as amazing as some of the bourbons on this list but it’s damn fine.
This opens with a hint of sourdough maple bars next to coconut cream pie, overripe bananas, and soft almond paste cut with rich toffee. The taste leans into a dried nutshell with a hint of rum-raisin next to wintry spices, cherry syrup, and a hint of cedar bark. The end has a mild oatiness with a touch of almond and spicy cherry tobacco leaves with a hint more of that sourdough doughnut.
This is just good.
Part 2: The Ranking
10. Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey Bottled-in-Bond Release 003 — Taste 4
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 was the thinnest bourbon of the day. It felt crafty with those grainy notes but it was still perfectly fine. It’s not overly crafty or young by any stretch. That all said, I’d likely use this for cocktails more than anything else.
9. Daviess County Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Lightly Toasted American Oak Barrels — Taste 9
Average Price: $60
This brand new release from Daviess County is the first in Lux Row Distillers’ new Toasted Barrel Finish Series, which will be an annual release. The juice in the bottle is a blend of rye and wheated bourbons that aged at least four years. Once vatted, those whiskeys are re-filled into lightly toasted new oak for a final maturation. Once just right, the whiskey is proofed down and bottled (only 18,000 bottles were shipped).
This is where things get really good on this list. This is worth seeking out. The only reason this is this low on the list — and this is a massive nitpick — is that I’d like it at a little higher proof. But that’s just me.
8. Redwood Empire Grizzly Beast Bottled-in-Bond Batch #002 — Taste 5
Average Price: $229
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 is another really solid pour that could have easily been tied for second place with nine through three on this list.
7. 15 STARS Fine Aged Bourbon Private Stock Aged 7 & 15 Years — Taste 1
Average Price: $139
The whiskey is a blend of old sourced barrels of bourbon from Bardstown, Kentucky. In this case, it’s a blend of seven and 15-year-old barrels with a reasonable yet bold proof of 107.
This had that little extra ABV oomph I was looking for, so it’s a tad higher in my seven-way-near tie with the other bottles on the list today.
6. Yellowstone Limited Edition 2022 — Taste 2
Average Price: $129
This year’s Yellowstone Limited Edition is a masterstroke of blending by Master Distiller Stephen Beam. The juice in the bottle is a mix of seven, 15, and 16-year barrels finished in Sicilian Marsala Superiore casks (a drier sherry-like Sicilian fortified dessert wine). Once vatted, the whiskey was just touched with water to bring it down to 101 proof, which yielded about 30,000 bottles this year.
I can see this winning in a different blind taste test. It’s that good. Overall, the depth was there, the ABVs were subtle, and the juice was enticing. You really can’t ask for more.
5. Middle West Straight Wheated Bourbon Whiskey Michelone Reserve Barrel no. 0393 — Taste 10
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 was a fun ride of flavor and warmth. The ABVs were a little hot on the mid-palate. But a single rock will calm that right down. This also feels like a great candidate for a subtle yet very good Manhattan.
4. Barrell Vantage — Taste 7
Average Price: $80
This brand new release from Barrell Craft Spirits really leans into unique and rare finishings. The blend is a mix of Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky bourbons that were finished in three different oaks separately before blending. In this case, that’s Japanese Mizunara casks, French, and American oak. Different toast and char levels were used for the barrels to achieve a unique palate that builds on the heritage of Barrell’s other triple cask-finished whiskeys (Dovetail, Seagrass, and Armida).
This is a great bourbon with serious depth — it’s everything you should expect from a Barrell release. It’s nuanced and really takes you on a journey. Just make sure to add a little water or a rock to really plumb the depths of this one.
3. Larceny Barrel Proof Batch no. C922 — Taste 6
Average Price: $102
The last (of three) Larceny Barrel Proof releases of 2022 is here. The juice, in this case, is a classic wheated bourbon — 68 percent corn, 20 percent wheat, and 12 percent malted barley — from Heaven Hill. This small batch bourbon was aged for six to eight years before vatting and bottling as-is, creating 2022’s highest ABV release from the brand.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how this stacks up against both the rest of Larceny Barrel Proofs from this year and other wheated bourbons. This felt like it’ll be in the running for the best whiskeys of 2022.
2. Remus Repeal Reserve Series VI 2022 Medley — Taste 8
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.
Remus Reserve releases tend to be one of the high points of the yearly bourbon release calendar. This year’s release was no different. This is great bourbon that packs depth and nuance but goes down very easily and never feels overdone.
It’s deep but accessible — a nice balance.
1. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2022 — Taste 3
Average Price: $179 (available in early September)
This year’s LE Small Batch is made from a blend of 20-year-old Bourbon from the OBSV bourbon recipe (high rye mash bill, delicate fruit yeast), a 15-year-old OESK (lower rye mash, slight spice yeast), a 14-year-old OESF (lower rye mash, herbal notes years), and a 14-year-old OESV (lower rye mash, delicate fruit yeast). The blend is non-chill filtered and bottled at 109 proof. All of that yielded a mere 14,000 bottles this year.
This is a contender for the best bourbons of the year list, for sure. It’s just really unique and yet somehow nostalgic and comforting. It’s worth waiting in line to buy come September.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
This was a ridiculous ranking. All of these whiskeys are without fault and each one has its own charms. Yes, some are better than others. But they’re all worth a look if you really want to get into trying a lot of different bourbons. Yes, even Cedar Ridge.
Brasstacks, the top five are all bottles that I would keep an eye out for. Some will be findable… but only for a minute. Others, well, you’re going to have to do some hunting. The point is, there are a lot of great whiskeys out there. Look at those tasting notes above, find one that speaks to you, and then go out and have a good time tracking it down. Hell, maybe you’ll make a few friends along the way.