2013 goes down in history as a pretty epic year for bourbon. The mass media seems to be acknowledging the bourbon craze (this has good and bad implications), the Pappy Van Winkle heist (and surrounding controversy of course), and most importantly the year Breaking Bourbon was conceptualized (maybe more epic for us than you, but hopefully we can change that!).
As the year draws to a close a number of bourbons and whiskeys stand out. These are whiskies either released in 2013 or ongoing releases we experienced for the first time in 2013, not necessarily released for the first time in 2013. We’ve summarized our favorites below. Please add your comments so we can hear what your favorites were and why you picked them.
Parker’s Heritage Promise of Hope
Despite its lackluster appeal on paper and generally so-so reviews online, this one impressed me immediately. There is an indescribable warmth and wonderful flavor combination here unsurpassed by just about anything else out there. Sure, Four Roses produces outstandingly balanced bourbons time and time again, Elijah Craig offers some excellent higher-aged bourbons, and then of course there’s the elusive Pappy line which is both consistent and excellent every year. However there is something magical about the Promise of Hope that I just don’t notice very often, even among the oldest, highest cost, and strongest competitors.
The first bottle we purchased was shared among us Breaking Bourbon guys - no one wanted to shell out $100 for this this on their own, it just didn’t seem all that exciting. Boy did that change after first sip. It crushes anything else in the 10 year old range and competes with bourbons in balance, quality, and character well in the 20 year old plus range. As subtle as it may be, this is a bourbon of epic proportions that may never receive the credit it deserves.
High West Double Rye
I am always excited to try something that promises to be different, but still retains the authenticity we attribute to a quality whiskey. This offers a blend of 2 and 16 year old ryes with a combination of flavor elements not found in any other whiskey on the market right now. I love a good rye, and this one is near the top of my list. Considering it’s $35 price point makes it almost hard to believe, it drinks much more like a bottle twice that price. Simply put, this is a masterpiece of not-so-typical flavors blended into an easy-to-drink low-priced bottle of awesomeness.
Pow-Wow Botanical Rye
By a stroke of good luck a local bar had a bottle of this and randomly offered us a sample. I’m not sure I would have heard of it or even tried it otherwise. It’s about $38 and carries no age statement although I’d estimate it’s not much more than 2 years old. As a result it’s no bargain on paper. What it offers however, is a very unique drinking experience. Although the flavor profile is not my favorite for sipping, it makes the best Old Fashioned cocktail I’ve ever had. The infused orange peel and botanical flavors seem to balance very nicely with the muddled sugar, bitters, orange, and cherry. Since no one in my area carried it I had to have it specially ordered. As it turns out, the liquor store now stocks this regularly and it sells really well. Give this a try if you haven’t already, it makes a wonderful cocktail. If you do, be sure to let us know what you like to mix it with!
Parker’s Heritage Promise of Hope
As I said in my review: no doubt about it, Promise of Hope is one of the top bourbons of 2013. Parker’s Heritage collection continues to stand out and deserves the praise it gets. Not only is every release different, but every one maintains a high level of quality. Parker’s decision to pull from his favorite warehouse, location in said warehouse, age, proof and release it as a single barrel is hard to disagree with. Promise of Hope might just be remembered as one of the most well-rounded bourbons to ever be released. Don’t miss your chance to experience this gem.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
After waiting a very long year to get my hands on this one, I found it at Melville in NYC. Without thinking, I order the the last ounce and a half the bar had left. I was jazzed. I immediately started taking photos of the bottle to send to the other two writers of Breaking Bourbon to brag that I finally found it. After having a sip, I was blown away by it’s delicious flavor and manageable burn. It was everything Stagg Jr wishes it was. Side by side with BTAC’s Stagg, it can even put up a fair fight. The winner has more to do with the drinker’s own preference rather than one being the “better” bourbon. Of course you can’t talk about ECBP without also mentioning the price. At $45, it has solid footing to call it “one of the best deals in bourbon.”
Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection
My local store purchased a barrel this year from Four Roses as part of their private selection program. These bottles cost a premium over a normal Four Roses Single Barrel, so I was a little hesitant to spend an extra $20 over the alway fantastic and reliable $30 range Single Barrel bottle. This particular selection came in at a whooping 126.2 proof which is extremely high for a Four Roses bourbon. What this high proof did though was take what I already loved about the Four Roses flavor and gave it to me in an even more concentrated and flavorful form. Whenever I was looking for a single pour of something from my collection, this private selection Four Roses is what I went back to time and time again. Everyone always goes crazy to get their hands on Four Roses’ Limited Edition bottles, when truthfully these private selections are every bit as good, even sometime better.
George T. Stagg
The lowest proof Stagg to date at 128.2 proof, and while many regular Stagg drinkers may be disappointed by the decrease in proof, I thought the drop made this just as fantastic a bourbon as in years past. It’s still the same monster bourbon drinkers are used to, however in a more manageable proof. This is a bourbon that you want to savor the entire time you’re sipping it, and one that you’ll want to share with the fellow bourbon lovers in your life. It has a delicious nose with a bold body to back it up.
Elijah Craig 21 Year
Putting aside the fact that this is slightly overpriced, this bourbon is phenomenal. From the moment you pour a glass, you’re treated to a gorgeous copper colored bourbon with legs that want to make their presence known all day long. Make sure to add 5-6 drops of water, as you’ll be rewarded with a supremely luscious smell that is backed up with an equally delicious palate and finish. I can only hope that future releases of the EC series stay this good as the age increases, as I’m truly going to miss this bourbon when the bottle's gone. Will it get better with age? No one knows, but for now EC21 is simply king of the hill.