Whiskeys of the (Half) Year

Who doesn’t love a good list? (Apparently you do since you clicked on the link to this article.)  I don’t resort to lists for articles too often, but we are about midway through 2021 and that seems like a good time to share my five favorite whiskeys from the first half of the year (alphabetical by distillery name). I realize that some of the whiskeys here you may not be able to easily find.  But, maybe this gives you something different (than Blanton’s and Weller) to search for while “Bourbon hunting”.  

Buzzard’s Roost Sippin’ Whiskeys: Toasted Barrel

Buzzard’s Roost and its co-founder, Jason Brauner, is very transparent about what they are doing.  Their whiskey is three-year-old rye sourced from MGP in Lawrenceburg, IN.  While that is good whiskey, by itself it is not really that special – certainly not worth including in a whiskey of the year conversation.  The magic happens when Buzzard’s Roost puts that whiskey to rest in proprietary barrels Jason designed in conjunction with Independent Stave Company.  Over the last couple of years, Buzzard’s Roost has produced small batch, single barrel, barrel strength, and peated barrel expressions of their rye.  My favorite of the Buzzard’s Roost offerings (and one of my favorite whiskeys of 2021) is the Toasted Barrel.

Chris Zaborowski, co-owner of Westport Whiskey & Wine in Louisville, says that the nose of a great whiskey should “seduce you”.  The aroma of this Toasted Barrel definitely has seductive powers and that is one of the things I love about it.  I get notes of citrus, cherry, mint, vanilla, and caramel on the nose of this whiskey and the palate offers much of the same.  You can find more information on this whiskey in my article here.

Right now Buzzard’s Roost is only available in Kentucky and Massachusetts.  However, they are looking to branch out into five more states in 2021 and even more next year.  So, be on the lookout for Buzzard’s Roost in your area. 

Kentucky Peerless Distilling: “Burnt Ends” Bourbon

When Corky Taylor revived the Kentucky Peerless Distillery it was their rye that first brought the brand back to the whiskey world. A couple of years later Peerless introduced its Bourbon, which I actually prefer over the rye for both flavor and price point.

One Peerless private-selection bourbon that I have particularly enjoyed this year is a pick from Justins’ House of Bourbon called “Burnt Ends”.  It is brisket in a bottle: smoky and fat with flavor.  Drink it neat and drink it with discipline.  One could easily follow one pour with another while sitting on one’s deck on a summer evening.  Not that this would be something I know from personal experience or anything.

Caleb Kilburn (master distiller) has elevated the Peerless Bourbon into great form as evidenced by being named 2021 “Best Kentucky Bourbon” by the World Whiskey Awards.  While this specific bottle may not be available to you, John Waddell, single barrel curator at Peerless, has the private selection program on a roll.  So, look for a single barrel selection in a store or bar near you.

Limestone Branch: Yellowstone Single Barrels

One thing that I’ve found to be completely reliable in 2021 is Yellowstone single barrels.  I have owned a few bottles and I’ve sampled a few others.  As sure as you’ll hear “Freebird” at a Skynyrd concert, you can count on these Yellowstone single barrels to be fantastic. 

The ones I have tried all hit similar spots on a flavor wheel, but each bottle is still unique (which we should expect to be the nature of a single barrel).  One may be fruitier.  The next might be sweeter.  Another might have more baking spice.  I enjoy them all, but it’s the subtle differences from bottle to bottle that make each interesting on its own.  Master Distiller Stephen Beam is certainly producing some of the best whiskey in the state of Kentucky right now and Stephen Fante, the distillery’s charismatic and passionate brand ambassador, is carrying the “good news” of Limestone Branch to the Bourbon masses. 

These single barrels are available as private selections in bars or liquor stores and in the Limestone Branch gift shop.  Buy with confidence when you get the opportunity to do so.  I am certain you’ll be impressed.

Spirits of French Lick: Lee W. Sinclair 4-Grain Bourbon (Iconoclast release)

I had dubbed this distillery-only “Iconoclast” release as “Whiskey of the Year” when I first tried it…in January.  While the first month of the year may be a bit early to hand out such titles, that’s just how much I loved it.  I’ve tasted a wide variety of whiskey since then – big distillery labels, craft whiskeys and brands in between – and none of them has knocked Iconoclast off that mountain, yet. 

The Iconoclast release is a three-barrel “off profile” batch of Lee W. Sinclair at barrel proof.  This Bourbon brings flavors of cherry, French toast, vanilla and cream.  It is decadent.  You can find more about what has been going with lead distiller Alan Bishop and Spirits of French Lick in this article here.

Iconoclast may have come and gone, but “The Alchemist”, as Bishop is called, is a man who burns with a restless flame and that means there is always something innovative and delicious in the works.  If distribution of SOFL hasn’t reached your market yet, be sure to check out Seelbach’s as they carry many of their products.

Stumpy’s Spirits: Old Monroe Small Batch Bourbon

Adam Stumpf is a genius. 

He also happens to be the maker of outstanding whiskeys.  The “genius” part certainly plays into the “outstanding whiskeys” part as he has some unique mashbills, methodologies and machinery involved in his distillation processes.  Adam is also not afraid to shake things up even if that means taking a good thing and changing it to make something better.

Case in point is adding small batch offerings to the Stumpy’s lineup this year.   Previously, all whiskey releases were single barrels.  Some “Single Barrel Select” at 90 proof and some “Distiller’s Select” at barrel strength.  Both “select” offerings were very popular, so why change anything at all?  Well, Adam saw an opportunity to improve the overall lineup at Stumpy’s and make a good thing even better.

It comes as no surprise that the Stumpy’s small batch products are stellar.  I’ve had the opportunity to try a few of these and they are all up to the level of quality that Stumpy’s fans have come to expect.  My favorite is batch #21C1.  It has an excellent balance of fresh baked bread, vanilla and caramel corn.  There is also a touch of smoked malt in the mashbill and that smolders in late on the palate. 

Finding Stumpy’s will start to become easier as their distribution is set to expand to several more states beyond Illinois and Missouri.  Of course, a trip to visit Adam and his team in the St. Louis suburb of Columbia, IL is always a great way to find the latest selections available.  

Overall, it’s been a good first six months of 2021 for whiskey.  The Lee W. Sinclair Iconoclast is still my “Whiskey of the (Half) Year”, but each Bourbon or rye I’ve listed is special and worthy of your interest.  The last half of the year will surely bring some fantastic bottles, too.  I’ll look forward to seeing how this list changes by the end of the year.

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