Kentucky is widely known for its whiskey – particularly bourbon. Much of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky and so much of it is seriously good. The best Kentucky whiskey often comes with a complex array of flavors and aromas that are rich and potent. Kentucky distillers have mastered their craft over the years, but the location does lend itself well to the practice.
First of all, Kentucky experiences a wide range of temperatures. Winters are pretty cold and the summers get hot. This causes the charred barrels of aging whiskey to alternate between absorbing and releasing the whiskey. Over the course of several years, this imparts strong flavors.
Kentucky is also home to plenty of highly fertile ground, making it easy to grow top-quality corn which is one of bourbon’s main ingredients. Much of Kentucky also has very hard water, meaning its pH is high and it contains high levels of minerals. The yeast used in bourbon really likes these minerals, creating an optimal situation for distilling.
These are only a few of the compelling elements that make Kentucky such an amazing place to distill amazing bourbon. Add to this the hundreds of families passing down their knowledge and expertise through the generations, and it’s no wonder their bourbon is the best.
The Best Kentucky Bourbon
1. Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
Four Roses was built in 1910 and was made to resemble the classic architecture found at California wineries. The magnificent place is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was also one of only a few distilleries granted permission to remain open during prohibition.
This was, of course, advantageous for them and they came out of prohibition and went on to produce the best-selling bourbon in the United States. Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey is an older recipe that was discontinued for a time but brought back when a new owner purchased the distillery in 2002.
Straight bourbon must be aged for at least two years, but Four Roses ages this one for eight in newly charred white oak casks. The mash bill has a high rye content that produces lots of rich, spicy notes that are well-balanced.
On the nose, you’ll find fruitier notes of plum and cherries, with cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple syrup on the palate. It’s the perfect combination of spicy, warm, and a little sweet.
2. Old Forester Signature 100 Proof
Old Forester Signature 100 Proof is a tribute to the founder of the company, George Gavin Brown, who made great waves in the world of bourbon back in the late 19th century. It was 1870 and Brown was a pharmaceutical salesman with a love of whiskey. However, distilleries weren’t aging their whiskies back then. This meant that they would add things like syrup, tobacco, or even acid to sweeten the palate.
He saw the need for something better so he saved his money and eventually opened his own distillery with his brother. They started distilling bourbon but set themselves apart by aging it. He named his first expression simply Old Forester and aged it in oak casks. Since its inception, it’s been on the market consistently, even during prohibition when it was allowed to be made for medicinal purposes.
The bottle on this one features the signature of George Gavin Brown himself, paying homage to his practice of signing each and every bottle himself back in the day. The nose is rich with caramel, oaky spice, cherries, and subtle notes of chocolate and coffee. The palate is just as rich with notes of fruit, nuts, caramel, and syrup. The finish is spicy with a complex medley of cloves, pepper, oak, and nutmeg.
3. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
Once named one of the ten best bourbons in the country, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit is a unique spirit with a fun story. Originally called Ripy Brothers Distillery, it promptly reopened after prohibition ended. An executive from the distillery took some samples of whiskey from the distillery on a wild turkey hunt and shared them with friends.
Later on, they specifically requested some of that “wild turkey whiskey” which is what inspired the distillery’s new name. Today, the distillery is overseen by Master Distiller Jimmy Russell and his son, who have a combined 90 years of experience with bourbon! Once distilled and aged, Jimmy Russell personally chooses casks that have been aged for at least nine years to be bottled individually. This results in a rich and uniquely complex profile in every bottle.
On the nose, you’ll find aromas of honey, tobacco, and caramel followed by a full-bodied palate of citrus, nutmeg, brown sugar, and leather. The finish offers accents of mint, pepper, and vanilla.
4. Maker’s Mark Private Select
Maker’s Mark Private Select is an incredibly unique expression from an impressive distillery that offers a new and exciting experience each time you drink it. It begins as a fully matured Maker’s Mark whiskey at cask strength. The Private Select is then created by adding ten custom finishing staves to every barrel. This is then finished in a limestone cellar to bring out even more flavor.
The thing that makes this unique and exciting is that these ten staves can be any combination of five different flavor profiles that were chosen especially for this process and expression. This means that there are 1001 possible combinations. Each bottle is interesting and unique while still being distinctly Maker’s Mark.
Fans of the brand love picking up these bottles when they find them because it’s always going to be something different, and always smooth and delicious. While they are readily available for purchase at the distillery, they are only found in select markets beyond that, so grab one while you can!
5. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
The Woodford Reserve Distillery is sitting on plenty of history, the property once housing an old distillery founded by a man named Elijah and his son back in the 1800s. With the help of Master Distiller James Crow, this original distillery transformed the way of whiskey-making in the United States. They revolutionized the yeast propagation and sour mash concepts.
Almost 200 years later, Woodford Reserve now sits where Pepper and Crow used to work. The Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon was made by the current Master Distiller to pay homage to the original crew. He believes in creating premium flavors by modernizing old, traditional practices. He’s clearly doing something right as this expression is top quality.
The aroma offers notes of cinnamon, light chocolate, and vanilla. The palate is mellow with notes of oak, brown sugar, raisins, and baked apples. The finish is long and very sweet.
Kentucky Whiskey Cocktails
Great whiskey cocktails are plentiful, and even a single drink can be so different each time depending on the whiskey you use. Most of the whiskey out of Kentucky is bourbon, and bourbon has its own set of distinct cocktails. Some are renditions of a classic, others are unique, but they’re all tasty!
The Moscow mule is a well-loved classic and this Kentucky twist is a great choice for all the bourbon lovers out there. While it’s typically made with vodka, it’s technically the ginger beer that makes it what it is. So, there are different ways to make it and this is a great one.
- 2 ounces Kentucky bourbon
- ½ ounce lime juice
- Ginger beer
- Mint sprig to garnish
- Add the lime juice and bourbon to a Mule mug or other glass.
- Fill the mug with ice
- Top with ginger beer
- Add the mint to garnish
It’s an easy drink to make and your choice of bourbon will dictate the flavor notes that appear. Try a few out and find your favorite!
The whiskey sour is another notorious drink and this version is a particularly fun one. The recipe was originally created by a bartender by the name of Eben Freeman and it adds some bold pomegranate liqueur for a unique, distinct taste.
- 1 ounce Kentucky bourbon
- 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 ounce pomegranate liqueur
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- Orange wheel and cherry to garnish
- Add the pomegranate liqueur, bourbon, lemon juice, and syrup into a shaker with ice
- Shake until chilled
- Strain into a rocks glass over ice
- Garnish and enjoy!
The name may be foreboding, but this drink is bright, tasty, and complex. Pomegranate is such a unique flavor that using a good, naturally-derived liqueur and pairing it with a deep, smooth Kentucky whiskey, gives you a real experience of a cocktail.