Bourbon has a strong claim as America’s spirit. And while the most famous bottles come from Kentucky (which makes sense numbers-wise, considering that some 95 percent of bourbon comes from the Bluegrass State), they actually don’t have to. And that means there are plenty of good bourbons being made around the country.
By law, all bourbon must be made in the U.S. with a minimum of 51 percent corn, be 62.5 percent alcohol by volume or less, and aged in charred, new oak barrels. Nowhere does the law say that it must be made in Kentucky, although many of the best bottles are. Venture out of Kentucky, though, and you’re in for a surprise. Here are the seven best bourbons not made in Kentucky.
Hudson Baby Bourbon from Tuthilltown Spirits
New York’s original bourbon. It’s aged in small barrels rather than traditional size, and it’s a gentle bourbon that’s slightly sweet with notes of vanilla and caramel from the barrel. Its sweetness comes from being 100 percent corn — which is rare for bourbons (and even more rare for non-Kentucky bourbons).
Belle Meade Bourbon from Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery
Kentucky bourbon doesn’t have a monopoly on distilling history. Nelson’s Green Brier in Nashville, Tenn., was once one of the largest whiskey distilleries in the U.S. until Prohibition went and ruined everything. The brand is alive once more, and its Belle Meade Bourbon is a smooth blend of four barrels with notes of maple, caramel, and vanilla. There’s a relatively high amount of rye spice that makes it stand out in a cocktail — but it’s just as good neat or on the rocks. If you’re looking for something a little different, Belle Meade also has bourbons finished in sherry casks, Cognac casks, and Madeira casks.
Featherbone Bourbon from Journeyman Distillery
Featherbone uses organic corn, rye, barley, and Michigan wheat to create a well-balanced bourbon. The traditional bourbon sweetness and barrel notes of vanilla and caramel are evened out by a slight spice and tobacco flavor. It’s on the lighter side, and makes a good cocktail.
KOVAL Single Barrel Bourbon
KOVAL does things a little different while staying within the rules of bourbon law. In addition to the corn, KOVAL uses millet, which blends in with the corn to make a bourbon like you’ve never tasted before. It’s slightly fruity and sweet, yet also earthy. You’ll want to try the bourbon coming out of Chicago’s first distillery since the 1800s.
Finger Lakes Distilling Company McKenzie Bourbon
Produced in the Finger Lakes wine region of northern New York, McKenzie Bourbon has the sweet feel of a traditional Kentucky bourbon (although uses local New York state corn) with a touch of rye spice.
Blending different whiskies to make one great whiskey is an art — just ask the master blenders in Scotland. Breckenridge takes this path with their Breckenridge Blend, a mix of their house bourbon and bourbons from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. All have plenty of rye, but Breckenridge takes the strongest parts of each whiskey to create a well balanced liquid with notes of brown sugar, pepper, and toasted bread.
FEW Spirits Bourbon Whiskey
FEW markets its bourbon as a mix of Southern tradition and Northern rye — and that’s an apt description. Coming in at 46 percent alcohol by volume, FEW’s bourbon has some rye spice mixed in with the sweet corn that defines traditional bourbon. It’s a powerful-tasting bourbon perfect for cocktails.