David and I really went back and forth over these selections. Emails were sent last minute reading, "Hold on! I want to change my pick!" or "Wait - last minute change!" There's a certain side of us that wants to reward the little guys or the artisan distiller, but you also can't argue with your taste buds. Of all the spirit categories that include both large and small producers, Bourbon is definitely the one where the microdistilleries have made the fewest strides. In 2011 there were some interesting "whiskies" and some fantastic new ryes, but no real great new Bourbons. In our opinion, the best Bourbons of the year were both made by Buffalo Trace, a distillery that continues to pound the competition into the ground. Heaven Hill and Four Roses are right behind them, but they simply don't have the stocks to compete right now.
David Driscoll picks: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old Bourbon - I really did NOT want to choose this whiskey. Mainly because I know how many people want to get one and this is only going to make that desire worse. However, that being said, it's still the best Bourbon I have tasted this year and it is entirely Buffalo Trace whiskey. I think it's important to note that because of all the hoopla surrounding the legend of Stitzel-Weller distillery. So many people are worried about stashing away the original SW juice because it's almost extinct, but I'm definitely not one of them. I once read a Michael Jackson article where he wrote about not feeling upset concerning the closure of Rosebank because Bladnoch was still operating. I couldn't agree more. Bladnoch is simply a better version of Rosebank, so there's no need to fret. With the last stocks of Stitzel-Weller being used solely for the 20 and 23 (and regardless of what people say, I don't think the 15 has been SW for the last few years), the 15 still wins as the best Van Winkle in the bunch. If it's the best of all the releases and it's 100% Buffalo Trace whiskey, then I think we're all going to be alright.
David Othenin-Girard picks: Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Bottled in Bond Single Barrel Old Fashioned Sour Mash Kentucky Bourbon - I loved the Taylor because it was so different from most other Bourbons. Dry and lean on the front end with a richness on the back end that didn't finish sweet. I really like what Buffalo Trace is doing with the Taylor series and I think these releases have been entirely overlooked so far. There's so much going on with the Sazerac Company right now between this, the experimental series, the single oak project, the antique collection, and the Pappy stuff. They're a real force right now.
-David Driscoll & David Othenin-Girard