In just a few short days we’ll all be once again gathering for a Thanksgiving feast that’s sure to be filled with good food, family, and great spirits. Well...maybe.
Let’s face it, this holiday season is going to be one thing for sure...weird. With COVID cases on the rise and mixed feelings about whether to get together, go virtual, or just cancel family gatherings altogether, the fact is Thanksgiving is probably going to look a bit different for many of us. On top of that, we’re in the midst of a very heated political climate...one that many attending any kind of family gathering would agree is a topic that’s probably best avoided at the Thanksgiving table. After all, no one wants their meal to adjourn with fisticuffs in the driveway.
But have no fear, we’ve got you covered! We’ve compiled a list of five bourbons that aren’t only great for drinking, they’re also great conversation-starters to help soak up your Thanksgiving woes. So pick up one of them - or all of them - and however your 2020 Thanksgiving goes down, these conversation-starting bourbons are sure to help!
This isn’t your granddaddy’s bourbon...or maybe it is?! Early Times was created by John Henry “Jack” Beam, son of David Beam, Jim Beam’s brother, in the mid-1800s. In 1923 the Early Times brand and stock of aging barrels were acquired by Owsley Brown, owner of Brown-Forman. Later in 1945, Brown-Forman launched Early Times Bottled in Bond which sold so well it eventually became the most popular bourbon in America in 1953! Unfortunately, during the difficult times endured by the industry in the 1970s and 1980s, the Early Times brand changed from bourbon to blended whiskey, leaving the Bottled in Bond label behind. Early Times “Old Style Kentucky Whisky” was born, which was a blend of straight bourbon and light whiskey...not exactly the brand’s finest moment.
In 2017 Early Times Bottled in Bond was born again in the form of a re-release with a snazzy new label that hit a handful of states as a limited edition. It was quite well-received, and as a result is now finding its way into new states across the country as an ongoing product. Best of all it’s Bottled in Bond, which means it conforms to basically the highest standards possible for a bourbon - a whiskey geek’s nirvana. Pricey right? That’s the best part. It’s only about $25 for a 1 liter bottle. How ‘bout them apples?
Learn more about Early Times Bottled in Bond here.
Old Elk Blended Bourbon is what you get when you combine one of smartphone’s most popular protective case designers with one of bourbon’s most notable distillers. Old Elk Distillery was founded by Curt Richardson, also the visionary behind Otterbox. He’s joined by Greg Metze, former master distiller at MGP in Indiana, a massive distillery behind a staggering number of highly regarded products whose marketers don’t always want you to know where the bourbon came from. Except in this case, they do.
Old Elk Distillery is located in Fort Collins, Colorado, but the bourbon currently going into the bottles was distilled specifically by Greg Metze for Old Elk during his time at MGP. Distillate that originates from their distillery in Colorado will eventually make its way into the bottles, but forget all that for now. There is something else really interesting going on. The company uses a proprietary process they refer to as “Slow Cut” proofing. The bourbon is proofed down to 88 proof for bottling, but unlike other distilleries they don’t do it quickly. Instead they add water in small portions incrementally over a period of time to preserve the congeners present in the bourbon that can come out of solution if water is added too quickly, which in layman’s terms means “chemicals that give bourbon its character.” This ultimately makes the bourbon quite smooth, and as a friend of mine so concisely phrased it, “I could drink this all day!” It’ll set you back about $50, but if you're seeking a nice easy-sipper you won’t be disappointed.
Read more about Old Elk Blended Bourbon here.
Located almost as far north in Kentucky as you can get (you can see Cincinnati, Ohio from their window), it’s been over six years since New Riff Distillery opened their doors. Founded by the folks behind the massive spirits retailer The Party Source - and literally located adjacent to the store with a shared parking lot - the folks at New Riff know what makes a single barrel special as well as anyone. This includes the selection process if it’s one you’re choosing for yourself.
So what is a “single barrel” exactly? Most bourbons are batched, whether small or large batches, the concept is the same - it’s at least two barrels but could be hundreds blended together to create the final product (there’s nothing that defines batch size, by the way). This homogeneous mixture will marry the flavor characteristics of every barrel, often with the goal of consistently falling within a “flavor band” that represents a particular product’s established profile. In the case of single barrels this flavor band still exists, but it’s generally more dynamic as no barrels are blended together before bottling. Instead, each individual barrel is selected and then bottled on its own, the barrel variation ultimately resulting in variation from bottle to bottle. In New Riff’s case, the variation is more extreme than others in the industry, resulting in a fun exploration to taste as many as you can. Well, as many as you can afford at $55 apiece anyway. As an added bonus, New Riff single barrels selected by barrel clubs often showcase some of the most creative "unofficial" custom stickers in the industry.
Read more about New Riff here.
What do the legendary Whiskey Wars of the late 1800s, the smallest commercial distillery in the United States, and New York City have in common? Kings County Distillery, of course. Kings County distills all of the whiskey they bottle, and at one time worked out of a 325 square foot room making them the smallest commercial distillery in the country. Founded in 2010, it’s New York City’s oldest operating whiskey distillery. In 2012 the distillery moved operations to their current location in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, an area known for the legendary Whiskey Wars starting in 1869 and ultimately wreaking havoc on Brooklyn.
As if being an urban distillery located in Brooklyn, NY wasn’t unique enough, Kings County Distillery does all kinds of things that go against the typical “bourbon-making” grain. It starts with a two grain mash of 80% corn and 20% malted barley, contrasting the typical three grain mash most bourbons are created from. They distill using copper alembic pot stills, a process unlike the more common column still distillation method. Finally, the bourbon enters barrels at only 110-116 proof, which is lower than the more popular legal limit of 125 proof. All of this equates to a bourbon that’s quite unique tasting with a fantastic oily-rich texture. You’ll have to fork over a Franklin if you want the 750mL, but the company also offers 375mL ($55) and 200mL ($30) bottles, providing a great way to taste test before you fully commit.
Read more about Kings County Distillery here.
Bourbon’s romantic history includes periods we would all probably like to forget. Rectifiers and Non-Distiller Producers play a rather significant role in this history, and despite the fact that many of today’s most sought after brands were born of this history, their role is not always seen in a positive light. Until recently, the idea of blending bourbon had a very different connotation than blending scotch, an honored practice that results in some of the most widely revered scotch whiskeys on the planet.
Enter Barrell Craft Spirits. The duo of company founder Joe Beatrice and master distiller Tripp Stimpson has changed the equation when it comes to blending bourbon, and now other spirits for that matter. Seeking out and marrying barrels from multiple distilleries to create unique barrel proof blends, three years ago the company introduced a premium line true to their namesake - Barrell Craft Spirits, or BCS for short. This year’s BCS Bourbon is a fine-tuned example of how magic can happen when you take bourbons aged for at least 15 years from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee and blend them together in just the right percentages. A near perfect assembly of fruit and oak, this is a bourbon for a special occasion, as it will set you back about $250.
Read more about Barrell Craft Spirits Limited Edition 2020 Bourbon here.
Alright, Alright, Alright. No Thanksgiving whiskey list is complete without at least one Wild Turkey whiskey on it. And while you should of course have a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon on hand at ALL times, and this is supposed to be a list of bourbons, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: this year, go for a Wild Turkey rye.
The father-son master distiller duo of Jimmy and Eddie Russell is a solid example of living legends. With a combined 105 years of experience at Wild Turkey - yes you read that right - it’s no surprise they make a fantastic product. And while Wild Turkey is probably most known for its bourbons, they make a helluva rye too. All of the company’s ryes originate from the same mashbill which is the legal minimum of 51% rye plus 37% corn and 12% malted barley - not that far off from what’s considered a legal bourbon mashbill with a minimum of 51% or more corn. In 2020, the company released their first barrel proof rye - Rare Breed Rye. Because each batch is barrel proof, which means no water is added after barrels are dumped, proof will vary by batch. The first batch clocks in at 112.2, and it’s exactly what Turkey fans expected and wanted it to be - big, bold, and at times, unapologetically brash. It’s a bit of a splurge at $60, but if you’re going to go big with a turkey this year, make this the one.
Read more about Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye here.