The search for a true craft-distilled bourbon is something like a Dan Brown novel. There are mysterious clues, false leads, plot twists and wrong turns. Your definition of craft spirits may not be a distillery’s definition. And, in fact, there is no legal definition of craft spirits, just a legal definition of bourbon.
To be labeled as bourbon, whiskey has to be distilled from grains that are at least 51 percent corn and be stored in charred new oak barrels to reach 80 proof or higher before bottling. Straight bourbon whiskey is a whiskey that is aged in charred oak barrels for two years or more.
But in an era when the craft of creating something is as appreciated as the final product, nitpicking has its advantages. Here is our list of five true craft-distilled bourbons which offer field-to-glass and grain-to-glass sincerity as well as heritages of closely guarded distilling techniques.
Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Aged Bourbon
The Hillrock Estate Distillery is surrounded by their own barley fields in New York’s Berkshire Mountains. Once home to a thriving spirits industry, the state’s distillers were all shut down during the Prohibition Era. Hillrock is now one of the few field-to-glass whiskey producers in the world. They’re also the first distillery to offer solera aged bourbon. A solera is a stack of barrels where whiskey is taken out and new whiskey added in a complex juggling of time, quantities and barrel-types to create a bourbon with the average age of over six years at a relatively affordable price.
Rock Town Distillery Arkansas Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon Whiskey
Rock Town Distillery is a grain-to-glass micro-distillery, sourcing their corn and wheat from their home state of Arkansas. The “Rock Town” in their company name is their distillery location in Little Rock. Named the 2015 U.S. Micro Whisky of the Year by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, Rock Town Distillery’s Arkansas Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon Whiskey is the real deal – milled, mashed, fermented, distilled, aged, bottled and packaged at the Little Rock distillery. World-class casks produce an oaky bourbon with notes of caramel, vanilla and spice.
Widow Jane 7 Year Straight Bourbon Whiskey
The Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, might not be the first place you think of for a craft-whiskey distillery. But the Widow Jane distillers make a great case for why they can give Kentucky, known for its bourbon, a run for its money. Kentucky is full of limestone and limestone-filtered water has special properties. But Rosendale, New York, is also full of limestone, which filters water with a higher ratio of special properties. Just where do you think Widow Jane gets their distillery water? That’s right. Rosendale. Widow Jane is all about the details, using non-genetically modified heirloom corn and sourcing local ingredients where possible. The Widow Jane 7 Year Straight Bourbon Whiskey has walked away with multiple awards, including a double gold at the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Deep cherry notes are combined with a light tannic finish in this bourbon.
Few Spirits Bourbon Whiskey
Few Spirits distills in Evanston, Illinois, just outside Chicago where Al Capone and others made a nice living as spirit distributers during the Prohibition Era. Few describes their bourbon as “southern tradition meets northern rye.” Hand-crafted in small batches, Few bourbon is a favorite of trendy Chicago cocktail bars and won a silver World Spirits Competition medal as well as a gold medal from the Beverage Tasting Institute. Spicy notes finish off sweetly and smoothly in a bourbon that is keeping folks warm during cold Chicago winters.
Buffalo Trace Distillery William Larue Weller
Though it has changed hands over the centuries, Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, has been in continuous operation for more than 200 years. A special permit allowed Buffalo Trace to continue distillation through the Prohibition Era “for medicinal purposes.” Buffalo Trace’s William Larue Weller from their Antique Collection is definitely good for what ails you. Named 2015 Best Bourbon in the World by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, the spirit is hand-bottled, uncut, unfiltered and barrel proof. Wheat is substituted for the traditional rye grain in a production method developed by the bourbon’s namesake in the mid-1800s. Offering a palate of marshmallow, salted almonds, nougat, figs and dates, William Larue Weller is known for its smooth and sweet finish.