Strong Bourbons to Keep You Warm

Whenever someone asks me whether I'd prefer to live someplace that stays warm all year, the answer is always no. I like the change of the seasons; if it's good for aging bourbon, it's good for me. But good God, not like this. The past two weeks in Louisville have been miserably cold, at least for Louisville. My friends in Minnesota would think the weather we've had since Christmas is tropical, but it's all relative, I guess.

Anyway, it looks like we might be in for a cold winter, so I wanted to go through some of the best bourbons to sip on to keep warm. Anyone who has drank with me or come on one of our tours knows that I enjoy higher proof products, preferably 100 or more. This rings especially true this time of year, when the hotter the proof, the warmer it can make you feel.

Below are three bourbons to have in rotation this winter. I picked products that you'll be able to find (it wouldn't be fair to recommend George T Stagg or Pappy 15) and run at least 100 proof (50% alcohol).

Booker's is a barrel strength bourbon from Jim Beam. This one is straight from the cask with no water added, so the proof will vary between 121 and 131 - not for the faint of heart. No age statement here, but the understanding is that the juice will have been in the wood for 6-8 years. Most barrel-proof releases are very limited and tough to find, but Beam is gracious enough to make sure that Booker's is always on the shelf. It is strong for sure, and should probably be enjoyed with a splash of water or an ice cube if that's your thing. I won't go all flavor wheel on you, but you'll notice sweetness from the high corn mash bill, a nice thick mouthfeel, and a lingering finish. As with most high-proof bourbons, this one is best sipped slowly.

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style is the third release in Brown Forman's Whiskey Row series, and comes in at 115 proof. This one is strong, but unlike Booker's, it is not barrel strength and is chill filtered. Hands down, this is my favorite regularly released bourbon that you can find in any liquor store around. It runs $50-$60, so it ain't cheap, but it's worth every penny. Anything on the Old Forester line is of very high quality that you can notice as soon as you even take a sniff. The 1920 takes everything good about the O-Fo line to a new level. It's is full of chocolate and caramel flavor and is extremely drinkable considering the high alcohol content. Since this one doesn't taste near as strong as it really is, proceed with caution.

Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection (Barrel Proof) kind of pushes the limits of my self-imposed rules, since it isn't a regular release. It is, however, something that you can generally find around Louisville at any given point in one or two liquor stores that have been lucky enough to make the pilgrimage to Cox's Creek to pick out a barrel. Just look for the label that is gold instead of tan and the price tag that is close to $70 instead of $40 to tell this one from the standard Four Roses Single Barrel (which, by the way, is delicious in its own right). This product is unique because every barrel is, well, unique. Four Roses famously utilizes 10 recipes at the distillery (2 mash bills and 5 yeast strains), and any of these you come across will represent one of the 10. On the side label, you'll see a code like "OESO" or "OBSK" which denotes the recipe. Luckily, the tag around the neck of the bottle will let you know whether to expect "fruity and medium body," "floral and spicy," or one of the other 8 distinct flavor profiles brought out in the distillation process. These will range in age from about 8 to 11 years (or even older if you get lucky). If you're curious, just ask the person behind the counter of the store. There is a decent chance that they got to help pick the barrel and they will be more than happy to tell you all about it.

  Andy Huenefeld  SMT Co-Founder & Tour Guide

Andy Huenefeld
SMT Co-Founder
& Tour Guide