More than 95 percent of the bourbon produced today is from Kentucky, thusly the spirit and state are inexorably intertwined. However, bourbon can be legally made anywhere in the United States, and that remaining five percent offers an array of exciting options.
Exploring the burgeoning diversity of bourbons made outside of Kentucky is worthwhile for any whiskey drinker. The following collection certainly isn't exhaustive, but offers a representative glimpse at what's available from across the entire country, including a dozen locales beyond the Bluegrass State. To qualify for this piece, the bourbon in question cannot come solely from a Non Distiller Producer, a company which does no distilling and sources all of its whiskey.
Below, 18 great bourbons that prove the spirit need not be distilled in Kentucky.
Breckenridge currently blends bourbon they distill at their facility with bourbon they source to produce Breckenridge Bourbon. Their own juice is aged for two to three years in full-size 53-gallon barrels, and distilled with snowmelt water obtained nearby thanks to the distillery's 9,600-foot elevation. Bottled at 86 proof, Breckenridge offers an exceedingly high rye mash bill, with 56 percent corn, 38 percent rye and 6 percent malted barley. The nose offers rye spice, bananas and brown sugar, moving along to a spicy, peppery palate, with caramel and vanilla, and a honey sweet finish.
FEW Bourbon ($50)
FEW Spirits in Evanston, Illinois
FEW may be best known for its rye, but they produce an excellent bourbon as well. The distillery is located in Evanston, Illinois, ironically once a home base of sorts for the temperance movement, and a dry community for over 100 years. FEW bourbon is bottled at 93 proof and is made with a mash bill of 70 percent corn, 20 percent rye and 10 percent malted barley. The bourbon offers malty sweetness and rye spice on the nose, with a dry, spicy palate featuring oak, pepper, caramel and molasses notes.
KOVAL Single Barrel Bourbon ($55)
KOVAL Distillery in Chicago, Illinois
KOVAL takes a unique approach to their bourbon, as they do with most of their whiskey. Here, they utilize an organic two grain mash bill of corn and millet, a cereal grain prominent in Asia and Africa. Bottled at 94 proof, this is a single barrel bourbon, meaning bottles from different barrels may showcase a tweaked taste. The mash bill produces a unique flavor profile, ranging from fruity and sweet, to spicy and earthy. KOVAL also makes a millet whiskey, an oat whiskey and a four grain whiskey (with oat, barley, rye and wheat).
Iowa Bourbon ($35)
Cedar Ridge in Swisher, Iowa
Cedar Ridge operates as a vineyard, winery and distillery. Their lineup of spirits contains several whiskeys distilled in small batches with an 80-gallon still. This includes Iowa Bourbon, bottled at 80 proof, with a heavy corn mash bill, at nearly 75 percent. Find corn, grain and vanilla on the nose, with baking spices, oak and caramel on the palate. Cedar Ridge also produces a Reserve Bourbon, bottled at 86 proof after more time spent in the barrel, and a Port Cask Bourbon, finished in their own port casks.
Grand Traverse Bourbon ($50, but currently out of stock)
Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City, Michigan
Grand Traverse ages their bourbon for three years and three months in full-size 53-gallon barrels stored in a climate controlled rickhouse. The juice is distilled from a mash bill of 70 percent corn, 20 percent rye and 10 percent malted barley, and bottled at 92 proof. The corn and rye are both grown in Michigan. Find notes of vanilla and rye spice, along with a drier side on the palate, with leather, oak and tobacco.
Journeyman Distillery Featherbone Bourbon ($45)
Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan
Featherbone Bourbon from Journeyman Distillery is a four grain bourbon incorporating corn, wheat, rye and barley. Journeyman Distillery is certified organic and they age their wares in small 15-gallon barrels, and bottle at 90 proof. Their bourbon is soft on the palate with caramel and vanilla notes leading into drier, earthier tones.
Hillrock Estate Bourbon ($85)
Hillrock Estate Distillery in Ancram, New York
Hillrock Estate is unique for several reasons. They're one of a very small number of distillers which floor malts their own grain in the traditional Scottish fashion; grain which they actually also grow themselves. Their bourbon is solera-aged, continuing to incorporate bourbon they distill and age in small barrels into Oloroso sherry casks which contained "mature seed bourbon." The average age of the resulting bourbon is six years, with a mash bill including 37 percent rye. The nose offers red fruits, honey and caramel, with a fruity palate showing heavy influence from those sherry casks.
Hudson Baby Bourbon ($40 for a 375ml bottle)
Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, New York
Tuthilltown Spirits is the first whiskey distillery in New York state since Prohibition. Their Hudson Baby Bourbon is made with 100 percent corn, and the majority of the distillery's grains are sourced within miles of their location. Hudson Baby Bourbon is aged in small barrels of different sizes and bottled at 92 proof. An unaged version of the spirit is sold as Hudson New York Corn Whiskey, and Tuthilltown also produces Hudson Four Grain Bourbon. The nose is dominated by corn, with a dry, oaky palate offering light hints of vanilla.
McKenzie Bourbon ($50)
Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett, New York
Finger Lakes Distilling produces a full range of spirits, including a family of whiskeys, such as their McKenzie Bourbon. McKenzie Bourbon has a predominately corn mash bill, at 70 percent, with 20 percent rye and 10 percent malted barley. After an initial aging period spent in small barrels, McKenzie Bourbon is then finished in Chardonnay wine casks and bottled at 91 proof. Find grain and vanilla on the nose, with oak, spice and more vanilla on the palate, leading into a spicy, earthy finish.
Widow Jane Heirloom Bourbon ($60)
Cacao Prieto Distillery in Brooklyn, New York
Widow Jane is best known for their popular line of sourced bourbon. However, the Heirloom Bourbon series is distilled by them in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and includes several different offerings, such as Bloody Butcher High Rye Bourbon, Wapsie Valley Single Expression Bourbon and Bloody Butcher Single Expression Bourbon, all of which are currently aged for one year. They utilize water from the Widow Jane Mine in Rosendale, New York, and with its limestone, the water there is said to contain an even higher mineral content than Kentucky's famed limestone.
Wigle Organic Pennsylvania Bourbon ($58)
Wigle Whiskey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Wigle Whiskey's Organic Pennsylvania Bourbon is the first bourbon made in the state in over 40 years. It's distilled with locally sourced, organic grains, and utilizes a wheated mash bill, consisting predominantly of Wapsie Valley corn, a unique heirloom corn with a higher protein content, along with winter wheat and malted barley. The spirit is bottled at 92 proof after aging in small barrels. A cask strength version is also available for $75. Supply is short, with each batch producing approximately 500 bottles per release.
Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon ($80)
Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, Texas
The first legal whiskey distillery in Texas, Garrison Brothers produces a range of bourbons, the flagship of which is their Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon. The spirit is 94 proof, with multiple yearly vintages. Each vintage may feature tweaked mash bills and aging processes, so their bourbons continue to evolve and take on different characteristics from year to year. The lineup also includes Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon TM, bottled at cask strength, 136 proof, and released in very limited quantities.
Yellow Rose Outlaw Bourbon ($64)
Yellow Rose Distilling in Houston, Texas
Founded in 2010, Yellow Rose is the first legal distillery in Houston, Texas. Their Outlaw Bourbon is made from a 100 percent corn mash bill, and is bottled at 92 proof. Aging is short, with time spent in small barrels, producing a sweet corn and caramel profile. Yellow Rose also produces Double Barrel Bourbon which is finished in wine barrels.
Bowman Brothers ($37)
A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, Virginia
A. Smith Bowman Distillery actually obtains first run distillate via parent company Sazerac and the Buffalo Trace Distillery. They then distill that juice a second and third time to produce their bourbon, including Bowman Brothers, 90 proof, and the single barrel John J. Bowman, 100 proof. They also offer the occasional experimental release, like this year's coffee barrel-finished bourbon. They added a second still at the start of 2015, spurring hope for more such unique creations.
Dry Fly Washington Bourbon 101 ($35 for a 375ml bottle)
Dry Fly Distillery in Spokane, Washington
Bottled at 101 proof, and hailing from Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, Washington, this bourbon is thusly named Washington Bourbon 101. It's aged for three years and made with a wheated mash bill featuring corn, wheat and barley, all sourced from local farms. The wheat was an easy choice for them since Dry Fly's more well known whiskey is their Washington Wheat Whiskey. Find notes of baking spices, caramel, corn, vanilla, and oak.
Yearling Bourbon ($30 for a 375ml bottle)
Smooth Ambler Spirits in Maxwelton, West Virginia
Yearling Bourbon is produced by West Virginia's Smooth Ambler Spirits from a mash bill of 60 percent corn, 20 percent wheat and 20 percent malted barley. It's aged for three years in small barrels and bottled at 92 proof. Profile features caramel and molasses, along with drier, earthier notes. Yearling is distilled by Smooth Ambler, however, the company also releases other whiskey which they source, such as their Old Scout Ten Bourbon, openly acknowledging and promoting that fact rather than hiding it.
V Bourbon Whiskey ($40)
Yahara Bay Distillers in Madison, Wisconsin
Yahara Bay Distillers produces a wide range of spirits and liqueurs, including their single barrel V Bourbon Whiskey, which is bottled at 90 proof and aged for three and a half years. When Yahara Bay says "small batch distilling" they aren't joking; they distill with a small 90-gallon still.
Wyoming Whiskey ($47)
Wyoming Whiskey in Kirby, Wyoming
Wyoming Whiskey produces a small batch bourbon made with grain sourced from within the state. Their water comes from a limestone aquifer, providing a Kentucky-esque minerality. Wyoming Whiskey, bottled at 88 proof, utilizes a wheated mash bill of 68 percent corn, 20 percent wheat and 12 percent malted barley, and they age their bourbon for five and a half years in full-size 53-gallon barrels. Find a caramel-forward nose, with cocoa powder and oak, and more rich caramel and molasses on the palate.