Winter is here, that perfect time of year when sitting around a nice fire can take the chill out of the night air. But if you're anything like us, it's also the time of year you crave a bit of bourbon for the same wonderful warming effect. Although bourbon is an American corn-based whiskey that is named after Bourbon County, Kentucky, it is not necessary for bourbon to made in KY, and is legal for it to be produced in any part of the U.S. When selecting a bottle, try embracing these tasty options outside of Kentucky and Tennessee, and give some of these up-and-coming brands from the lesser known bourbon producing states a taste this winter.
1. Clyde May's Special Reserve (Alabama)
This established purveyor of "Alabama style" whiskey — the secret is the addition of oven-dried apples to the barrels for a distinct finish — launched its first brand extension this year with the Special Reserve. The whiskey is a blend of three different bourbons that is aged in heavily charred American oak casks for five to six years. Despite being bottled at 110 proof, it doesn't overpower, though the nose is very warm and the taste is spicy. But thanks to those apples, it has a long finish, with flavors of cinnamon and vanilla throughout — like a warm winter dessert. It's no wonder Clyde May's is the official state spirit of Alabama. Get Clyde May's Special Reserve whiskey here. ($70)
How to Drink It: Although the distillers recommend drinking the Special Reserve neat or over ice, we think its flavor profile would spike some warm cider nicely.
2. Van Brunt Stillhouse Bourbon (New York)
Somebody's making bourbon in Brooklyn!? Named for early settler Cornelius Van Brunt, this wheated bourbon is made with 65 percent organic New York corn, which you can definitely taste. Because of its young age, it's not as complex as classic bourbons, but it has a rich, sweet taste and a smooth, fruity finish, with hints of cherry, oak and vanilla. You could easily have a glass of this for desert after a holiday meal. Get Van Brunt Stillhouse Bourbon here. (price $36 for 375 mL)
How to Drink It: Try the Paper Plane
3/4 oz Van Brunt Stillhouse bourbon
3/4 oz Aperol
3/4 oz Amaro Nonino
3/4 oz lemon juice
Shake with ice. Strain and serve up.
3. Red-Handed Bourbon (Texas)
First, a disclaimer: Although this bottle comes from Treaty Oak Distilling Co. in Austin, Texas, the company actually "stole" (get it? Red-Handed?) three of their favorite bourbons from Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. But we give them credit for blending them and aging the liquid another 12 to 15 months in new American oak barrels under the Texas sun. The result is a bourbon with a high rye content and a pleasing woody nose. It has a fruity taste, with flavors of cherry, apple and caramel that give way to a spicy cinnamon finish. Get Red-Handed Bourbon Whiskey here. ($35)
How to Drink It: Make a classic: an Old Fashioned
2 oz Red Handed Bourbon Whiskey
1⁄2 oz Simple syrup
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
Add ice to a rocks glass and pour 2 oz. Red Handed, simple syrup and bitters. Stir gently and rim the glass with orange peel to release the essential oils. Drop orange peel in glass and serve.
4. High West Bourye (Utah)
As its unique name suggests, this delicious sipping whiskey from the beehive state is a mashup of four straight whiskeys: a 9-year-old bourbon, a 10-year-old rye and two different 16-year old ryes. All of that rye gives this a beautiful, spicy nose of cloves and cinnamon that, upon tasting, mellows into the full-bodied sweetness of caramel and vanilla flavors with a slightly fruity finish. This only comes in limited supplies, so snatch up your bottle now for a great holiday gift to yourself. Get High West Bourye here. ($75)
How to Drink It: It's a perfect treat neat, but you can also try one of High West's suggested cocktails: The Very Old Cabin.
2 oz High West Bourye
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz Grade B maple Syrup
2 Dashes Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients in mixing glass with ice and shake. Strain cocktail glass over large ice cube. Garnish with lemon peel.
5. Silo Bourbon (Vermont)
From American Crafted Spirits, this very young bourbon is made both in small batches and small barrels (less than 15 gallons), which the distillers believe provides extra control on the taste of the final product. Made with a mashbill that's 70 percent Vermont corn and 30 percent rye, the liquid has a unique banana and dry fruit nose that on the taste yields creamier flavors of brown sugar and maple. (It is Vermont after all!) Get Silo Bourbon here. ($50)
How to Drink It: Try an East of Toronto
2 oz Silo bourbon
1/2 oz Zucca (Rhubarb Amaro)
1/2 oz Honey Simple Syrup
2 dashes Rhubarb bitters (or Angostura)
Orange twist for garnish
Stir whiskey, amaro and simple syrup with ice, strain into rocks glass with large cube or serve up, add bitters, garnish.
6. Bowman Brothers (Virginia)
A hand-crafted small-batch bourbon that pays tribute to four brothers who were Virginia militia officers during the Revolutionary War, this whiskey is distilled three times in a unique copper still using a mixture of corn, rye and malted barley that is aged in new charred oak barrels at the A. Smith Bowman distillery in Fredericksburg. It's a rather classic bourbon, but it has a delicate sweetness, with flavors of caramel and apple and a slightly spicy rye finish. Get Bowman Brothers Bourbon here. ($35)
How to Drink It: A simple whiskey sour
1.5 oz Bowman Brothers bourbon
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.75 oz simple syrup
Cherry and/or lemon wedge (optional garnish)
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.Garnish with a cherry and/or lemon wedge if desired.
7. Charred Oak Bourbon (Wisconsin)
Although the legend of this bourbon involves an oak tree being burned by a strike of lighting in Western Wyoming, the modern day Charred Oak is distilled by Off the Clock Spirits/Yahara Bays using local grains in Madison, Wisc. This 100 proof bourbon pairs particularly well with a cigar, but non-smokers can still enjoy the subtle balance of vanilla and butterscotch flavors with tart apple and cherry. Get Charred Oak Bourbon here. ($35)
How to Drink It: The Charred Oak makers recommend The Woody
2 oz Charred Oak Bourbon
3/4 oz Ginger simple syrup
1/2 tablespoon fresh honey
1/4 teaspoon bitters
1 orange slice
Shake all ingredients in a shaker until fully blended. Do not use ice in shaker. Place ice in your highball glass and pour mixture. Squeeze orange slice over top and drop in.
8. Wyoming Whiskey (Wyoming)
Born in Kirby, Wyoming from the state's first legal distillery, this small-batch bourbon puts its state pride right there on the label. Made with corn, wheat and barley from growers within 100 miles of the distillery and using water from a mile-deep limestone aquifier, the bourbon is aged at least five years. The liquid itself is a rustic celebration, with scents of caramel and oak and flavors of vanilla and orange leading to a smooth, wheaty finish. Get Wyoming Whiskey here. ($40)
How to Drink It:Try this Wyoming twist on a classic: The Wyoming Fashioned
1.5 oz Wyoming Whiskey
1/2 tbsp. honey
2 dashes bitters
1/4 cup apple cider
Splash of water
Combine all ingredients in a glass and garnish with half a sage leaf.