Four potent new bourbons that provehigher alcohol content boosts flavor
Earlier this year, when faced with an unexpected spike in demand that depleted its barrel-aged reserves, Maker's Mark announced plans to reduce the alcohol content in its popular flagship bourbon from 45 percent to 42 percent, decreasing proof from 90 to 84. But when the company's fans protested, it soon nixed the idea.
The about-face underscores how much proof matters to bourbon enthusiasts. While other liquors typically go into the bottle at 80 proof - the legal minimum set by the federal government - bourbon distillers have traditionally bottled their whiskey at higher potency to convey its more complex flavors and help it stand up better to other cocktail ingredients.
Increasingly, more distillers are tweaking bourbon proof for these very reasons. These four new higher-proof standouts exemplify the best of modern American bourbons.
Bulliet Bourbon 10-Year-Old Frontier Whiskey
Bulleit's traditional bourbon (sold in a distinctive apothecary-style bottle) is crisp, smooth, and made with a healthy dose of rye grain. Aged a full decade and bottled at 91.2 proof, it has the expected oakiness that comes from age, but also a surprising and pleasing whisper of cinnamon and licorice. $45/750 mL; bulleitbourbon.com
Hillrock Estate Distiller Solera Aged Bourbon
From New York's Hudson Valley, this is the first bourbon made using a solera - a fractional blending method traditionally employed by makers of sherry and balsamic vinegar. (Hillrock also is finished in a sherry cask.) The result? A big, full-bodied, densely layered 92.6-proof bourbon with a subtle vanilla aroma, followed by a fleeting taste of caramel and figs. $80/750 mL; hillrockdistillery.com
Jefferson's Presidential Select 21-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Jefferson's 21-year-old bourbon - released in April as part of its "Ridiculously Small Batch" line - starts with spicier, wheat-free whiskey. But that's tempered by extended aging (21 to 24 years) in lighter char barrels, which were kept on the cooler levels of the rick house. This yields a stylish, sophisticated bourbon with hints of candy corn and stone fruit, bottled at a bracing 94 proof. $120/750 mL; jeffersonsbourbon.com
The first bourbon distilled in Chicago since Prohibition, it joins a line of full-bodied whiskeys produced by this craft distiller since opening in 2008. This 94-proof product stands apart for being made with millet in addition to corn, giving it a rounder, funkier fullness, with fruity notes including apricot and green apple. $50/750 mL; koval-distillery.com