Until recently, the UK and its consumers have been lacking in choice when it comes to bourbon.
With more bottles being exported from the US and many of the familiar big brands unveiling new products. And with an increasing interest in the spirit, 2020 is set to be a great year for British bourbon drinkers.
To give you a taste of what’s in store, we’ve rounded up some of those new arrivals that are worthy of further investigation, along with a few older classics for anyone looking to try bourbon for the first time or wanting some variety on their bourbon shelf.
To qualify as a bourbon, the spirit must be made in the US from a minimum of 51 per cent corn and aged in charred new oak. Anyone wondering why Jack Daniels isn’t in this list, then it’s because, although close, it’s technically not a bourbon.
But there are plenty of alternatives here to get your taste buds going. Read on to find out which bourbons made the cut.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Old Forester Statesman, 47.5%, 700ml: £58.95, The Whisky Exchange
Old Forester’s standard release Kentucky bourbon is one of the better budget bottles you can buy. This more expensive release was launched as a tie-in with the movie Kingsman: The Golden Circle, but don’t let that marketing mechanism put you off – it’s well worth the extra cost. The aroma is of vanilla with a background hint of sweet bubblegum, with more spices including cinnamon and clove joining upon sipping. Those spices are initially served in a smooth, buttery texture but they gradually break free providing warmth and leathery comforts. A fresh orange zestiness helps keep the bourbon lively, while you steadily become more relaxed under the spell of its boozy charms.
Rebel Yell French oak barrel special finish, 45%, 700ml: £29.95, Master of Malt
Here’s a rare chance for UK whiskey drinkers to get one up on Americans – this small-batch bourbon from Lux Row distillers is being released first in the UK before hitting a few European markets and won’t be made available in the US. It uses the original Rebel Yell wheated recipe and has been finished in toasted French oak for six months, with that extra time in wood giving it some gingery fire in its belly. Along with the spice there’s chocolate, steamy fruit pie and cereal on the palate with a slight creaminess tempering the flames. It’s a special treat for UK bourbon fans, and even more so given its generously low price tag.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company bourbon whiskey #1 24 year old, 48%, 500ml: £199.95, Master of Malt
That Boutique-y Whisky Company is an independent bottler delivering a fantastic lineup of limited edition whiskies that have only recently entered the bourbon market, with this being its first release. It may be a little pricey but with a limited run of just over 8,376 bottles, and an age statement of 24 years, they’ve certainly hit the scene with a bang. As you might expect from such a mature bourbon, the flavours are rich and fruity with lots oak drying out the taste buds, but this effect is beautifully balanced by a soft, buttery texture and some sweeter, chocolatey toffee notes. It’s a superb whiskey that’s well worth trying – so if the high price puts you off then consider one of the 3CL drams which offer a more affordable treat.
Legent bourbon, 47%, 700ml: £47.95, The Whisky Exchange
Legent is a new bourbon collaboration between two legends of the whisky world. Fred Noe (seventh generation Jim Beam master distiller) was responsible for distilling the whiskey to an old Jim Beam recipe, and Suntory’s chief blender, Shinji Fukoyo, took over blending duties. The bourbon has been finished in a combination of wine and sherry casks and is billed as an “east meets west” bourbon, with berry and fruit flavours teased from those finishing casks to complement the spicy oak flavours.
There’s an instant sherry-sweetness to the aroma, which is carried through to the flavour, and the toasty grains seem to take on something of a vinous feel. There’s also quite a lot of brightness in this bourbon, the spices often emerging with a spring in their step, but those deeper notes of dried fruits and toasted nuts continue to play long after the whiskey is finished.
Wild Turkey Longbranch, 43%, 700ml: £36.95, The Whisky Exchange
This bourbon is another collaborative creation, with Wild Turkey’s distilling team taking input from the company’s creative director, actor Matthew McConaughey. The spirit has received a double charcoal filtration, initially using American oak before being introduced to Texas mesquite wood, a nod to McConaughey’s home state. This Kentucky-Texas partnership has produced a bourbon that isn’t too challenging but has some good depth of flavour to it, mostly of the toasty, nutty kind. There’s some corn sweetness, most evident in the aroma, and the spices are warm and soothing, while the oak flavours have a charred edge to them. We’ve seen our fair share of poorly conceived celebratory-endorsed drinks, but Longbranch bucks that trend and deserves to be afforded star billing.
Maker’s Mark 46, 47%, 700ml: £34.90, Masters of Malt
Bourbon producers are increasingly looking at ways in which wood can push flavours into new directions. For this spirit, Maker’s Mark inserted seared virgin French oak staves into their cask strength matured bourbon and gave it another nine weeks in the cellar. This higher proof bourbon is much livelier than the classic Maker’s Mark, kicking in with a whack of cinnamon and mulling spices alongside some juicy sweetness before finishing with some earthy green pepper flavours. The original version is a great introduction to the spirit; this edition is for bourbon drinkers in need of a more flavourful experience.
FEW bourbon whiskey, 46.5%, 700ml: £50.89, Drinks Supermarket
Whatever the year, we can always find room for a handsomely designed bottle of FEW bourbon on our must-buy list. The Chicago distillery, founded in 2011, supplements the necessary amount of corn with northern rye and a pinch of malt, and it crackles with character and flavour. That rye triggers the spice with every sip, whether consumed neat or as part of a punchy cocktail, while the malt gives it a polish around the edges to smooth its progress. It has a slightly oily texture and a touch of toasty sweetness, but it’s those spices that most impress – mingling and lingering long after your last sip.
Sonoma Distilling Co, cherrywood smoked bourbon, 47.8%, 700ml: £54.85, Master of Malt
Californians often do things a little differently to the rest of America so it’s not a surprise to discover that this unusual amber booze is a product of the golden state. Along with local and Canadian corn and rye, the distillers have introduced some cherrywood smoked barley from Wyoming into the mix, imbuing the oaky vanilla flavours with a sprinkling of ash. Although no actual cherries participated in the process, there’s a definite hint of kirschwasser about the booze. It’s a lovely bourbon that’s full of classic whiskey character along with a few Californian twists.
The verdict: Bourbons
With so many new bourbons now available alongside established classics, choosing one bottle is a trickier-than-ever task, but our top choice is Old Forester’s cinematically inspired statesman bourbon.