While Johnny Drum Private Stock’s origin is a bit of a mystery, that doesn’t overshadow the fact that it’s an intensely flavorful bourbon for a fair price. It’s flavor profile is more rich than it is balanced, but what it offers can be quite enjoyable. Heavy sweet notes of caramel and vanilla saturate the senses with bursts of tobacco and leather along with a touch of smoky char and hint of custard rounding things out. Spice pops in the finish, along with a trace of smokiness leading to a lingering brown sugar sweetness. Private Stock is a bit of a wild card - the source is undisclosed and it’s produced in small batches. It’s also bit awkward, and as a result there’s a chance some might hate it as much as others love it. But that’s what makes it deserving of this list. It brings enough character to offer something notably different in the price range, and as a result worthy of your attention as long as you can find a store that carries it.
As the story goes, Mr. McKenna came to America in 1837 from Ireland and settled in Kentucky where he set out to create a better bourbon using his family’s recipe. Today, Heaven Hill offers us Henry McKenna Single Barrel bourbon aged for 10 years per the exacting requirements of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. Henry McKenna Single Barrel shares the same mashbill as many other Heaven Hill brands (75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley), and also closely resembles the limited edition 2013 Parker’s Heritage Collection “Promise of Hope” single barrel bourbon in proof, age, and style. Though not nearly as buttery smooth as the Parker’s, McKenna’s similar no-gimmick style begins with an inviting nose, followed by a balanced palate, and finally ends with a wonderfully sweet and long-lasting finish. Though it has an MSRP of $30, it tends to run from $28-$35 depending on your state and store. It’s a solid deal anywhere in this range and is a bourbon every enthusiast should become well-acquainted with. With more and more lower priced bourbons losing age statements, Henry McKenna Single Barrel is an unusual sight among its peers.
Eagle Rare 10 Year provides an interesting experience for a great price, with all the right aspects to look for in a quality bourbon. Additionally, this bourbon has some unique traits that make it more intriguing. In 2014, Eagle Rare 10 lost it’s single barrel designation as Buffalo Trace moved the brand from a hand bottling line to a high speed line, which may allow for a little mixing of barrels upon changeover during bottling. Despite this, it’s no less of a contender for our Best Of List.
As for flavor profile, it starts with citrus and oak on the nose, a simplistically sweet palate, and then finishes full of toasted brown sugar and honey. While this may not be the most complex flavor profile, the individual elements can be more easily identified than many other bourbons. This presents a unique experience for new enthusiasts looking to become a bit more technical in picking out individual flavors, while still offering experienced connoisseurs enough depth to enjoy as an everyday sipper.
Four Roses has been named distillery of the year multiple times, and for good reason. They utilize two mashbills and five yeast strains to create 10 unique bourbon recipes, age them in single story rickhouses, and produce consistently high quality bourbons as a result. Their small batch bourbon fits within their widely distributed product line between their lower end Yellow Label bourbon and their higher end Single Barrel bourbon. Small Batch is comprised of a blend of four of their recipes to maintain consistency and create the desired depth of flavor. It makes for a light, easy-sipping, and approachable bourbon with delicate fruit and floral characteristics. This is a great option for those looking to transition into sipping bourbon neat or wanting a light flavor profile for mixing cocktails.
Starting with sweet and floral notes with the nose, oily and thick mouthfeel on the palate, and ending on a uniquely spicy finish, this is one heck of a ride. The company was able to take a sourced distillate and create a product that’s all their own. This is not an easy task, as many non-distiller producers try and fail to do it all the time. For all of A. Smith Bowman’s marketing speak of “triple distillation,” “copper still,” and “aged in Virginia rickhouses,” these aspects seem to have had an actual impact on the final product. Any bourbon that sets its own course and offers something different should be celebrated. You may not love it, but there's a good chance when you want to switch it up, Bowman Brothers Small Batch will be on your short list to do just that.