We’re living in the golden age of spirits. Never before have there been more bottles of booze vying for a parking space on your bar cart. We lean on the pros to help you build a bottle list from scratch.
Fred Minnick knows his way around whiskey shelves. The author of nine books, including “Bourbon Curious,” Minnick is the bourbon curator at Louisville, Ky.'s loaded Bourbon & Beyond festival, as well as one of the sharpest palates in the business. In 2013, he was named Bourbon Authority for the Kentucky Derby Museum.
Henry McKenna Single Barrel ($35)
Both Minnick and Thomas independently selected the single-barrel Henry McKenna. “I love the complexity and depth of flavor,” says Minnick. At 10 years old and bottled in bond at 100 proof, what's not to like? “Of course, it doesn't hurt that it wins a lot of my personal blind competitions at home.”
This Henry McKenna is loved by more than just Minnick and his drinking buddies though. "This won whiskey’s top honors this year," Thomas says, referring to its accolades as Best Bourbon from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. "It’s about time this bourbon got its due. It's aged long enough that it has some boldness, but it's affordable enough that you can enjoy it anyway you like."
Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style ($60)
“This bourbon packs a punch,” says Minnick. Old Forester dubs this a Prohibition-style whiskey, said to be reminiscent of the whiskey the distillery was permitted to make during those dark dry times. It’s bottled at a robust 115 proof. “I go back and forth with this and McKenna as my house bourbons,” says Minnick.
Belle Meade Sherry Cask ($80)
"This is a standout in the category of alternate cask aging," says Thomas. It's a sourced bourbon finished and bottled by Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville from brothers Andy and Charlie Nelson.
"It's also a great gateway for The Macallan scotch lovers," says Thomas. "It allows bourbon's traditional characteristics to shine through with those extra notes of raisin sweetness for a perfectly balanced dram."
“Larceny may be the best value brand on the market right now,” says Minnick. That's no small feat, considering that many great, affordable bourbons are made by the big producers. It also happens to be Minnick's second choice coming from Heaven Hill. “It's so inexpensive but is as good as bourbons two to three times its price.”Continue to 5 of 5 below.
“This is arguably the best nondistiller producer on the market right now,” says Minnick. “They acquire stocks from distillers yet somehow continue to get the best of what's out there and create their own house style. Their whiskeys often have a lovely marzipan note I just love.”
Barrell also provides those thirsty for knowledge as well as a glass of bourbon plenty of insight into the specifics of its whiskeys. Detailed batch-by-batch information is available online disclosing all the need-to-know nuggets that make up each particular selection.