Autumn is an exciting time in bourbon country, and not just because the changing of the leaves signals the arrival of some prime whiskey-drinking weather. Fall is also the time of year when most of the annual releases so prized by bourbon enthusiasts appear on store shelves, sparking whiskey hunting expeditions and feeding frenzies over sightings of rare bottles bearing names like “Pappy” and “Stagg.” Here is what you should be looking for among the recently released and the soon to come:
Known as “BTAC” for short, these five whiskeys are the most sought-after items after the famed Pappy Van Winkle line. The collection consists of a mix of either very old or very high proof whiskeys: Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon, George T. Stagg Bourbon, Thomas H. Handy Rye, Sazerac 18 Year Old Rye, and William Larue Weller Bourbon.
This year’s release is a blend of three different Four Roses stocks with ages ranging from 12 to 16 years, and is most noteworthy because the anchor stock is from their sweet, fruity OESO recipe. This is the first time that particular recipe has been used in this annual release in seven years.
For starters, Heaven Hill has their trio of Elijah Craig specials coming out: the Barrel Proof, the 18 Year Old and the 23 Year Old. The crowning gem this year, however, is the 10th edition of Parker’s Heritage, a 24-year-old Bottled-in-Bond bourbon. They are also rumored to be releasing a gift-shop only batch of bourbon drawn from three 20-year-old barrels made at their original Bardstown distillery, before that was destroyed in a 1996 fire.
The annual Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is always drawn from a single day’s distilling vintage, in this case a single day 12 years ago. Joining it this year is Old Forester 1920: Prohibition Style, a bold 115-proof bourbon.
It’s the most sought-after brand name in bourbon, and this is when the whole line comes out. Mind you, you probably won’t be able to get one without serious connections at the liquor store and/or a grand or two in cash, but even so, they will hit the market come October. These include not just the Pappy 15, 20 and 23 year old bourbons, but also the Van Winkle Rye, Van Winkle 12 Year Old Bourbon, and Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old.
Every year these fan favorites from Bardstown, Kentucky release progressively older cask strength versions of their rye and bourbon whiskeys. This year those are both four years old, so Willett has now crossed the threshold from “young” to “mature” bourbon.
Although it often gets less attention than some of the aforementioned annual releases, the new Woodford Reserve’s Master’s Collection comes out each year in November. This time around, it’s a bourbon finished in brandy casks.
Beyond the big names and annual releases are a crowd of all-new items and more irregular offerings, including a few from the burgeoning micro-distillery scene.
Dad’s Hat Straight Rye
This small Philadelphia-area distillery specializes in the once-lost and robustly spicy Pennsylvania style of no-corn rye whiskey. This year their straight rye has grown into a three year old, has improved with the extra year, and is a must-try for rye whiskey diehards.
Jack Daniel’s 150th Anniversary Edition
To mark the big occasion, this whiskey was made using slow toasted barrels billed as 1866 style by Master Distiller Jeff Arnett, and bottled at 100 proof. It presents a subtle and very pleasant twist on the standard Jack Daniel’s flavor profile.
Rebel Yell 10 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon
Bottled at 100 Proof, this one might be the sleeper of the year. The Rebel Yell brand name is usually associated with bottom shelf whiskey, but early reviews of this bourbon have been quite favorable.
Whoop & Holler American Whiskey
Don’t let the name throw you; The details on this Orphan Barrel whiskey reveal that it is essentially a 28-Year-Old George Dickel. If you like Tennessee Whiskey, this ultra-aged version (the oldest Orphan Barrel release yet) is worth looking at.