Older whiskey does not necessarily make for better whiskey, particularly when it comes to bourbon. The use of a new charred oak barrels gives bourbon its signature bold flavor, but if the whiskey is left in there too long, it can get over-oaked quickly. We have previously asked the question—Can bourbon be too old?—with most distillers agreeing the sweet spot is between 6 and 12 years.
But that’s not to say that bourbons older than that can’t taste great. Michter’s 20 year old (94 points) is one of the finest you can taste, provided you can get your hands on it. And each year, Buffalo Trace releases Eagle Rare 17 to a chorus of fanfare and acclaim. We scored the 2020 release at 92 points.
The Summer 2021 Buying Guide has a class of well-aged bourbon of its own, with these four 15 year olds earning 91 points or more. For those looking to introduce their palates to older American spirit, these bottles offer a glimpse at advanced aging done right.
4 Bourbons That Shine at 15 years Old
Widow Jane 15 year old The Vaults Blend of Straight Bourbons (2020 Release, Batch 1)
94 points, 49.5%, $199
Mature aromas of leather, shoe polish, blueberry pie, and iced tea mingle with brown sugar, walnuts, gingerbread, and—after some time in the glass—rose perfume. The palate is chewy like a well-made chocolate bar, rich with roasted and candied nuts, blackberry cobbler, dark chocolate, dried ginger, and white pepper; water and time bring out rose water. The complexity of the palate carries through to the finish, full of coffee bean, Coca-Cola, gingerbread, bittersweet oak, and a touch of mint oil. (5,000 bottles) —Susannah Skiver Barton
Barrell 15 year old Cask Strength Blend of Straight Bourbons (2020 Release)
93 points, 52.45%, $249
Peanuts, corn muffin, blueberry pancakes, well-integrated spice, grape soda, maple syrup, and orange peel on the nose. Chewy and rich with dark chocolate on the palate, studded with dried blueberries and cherries, Spanish peanuts, and dark mocha flavors; water brings out rancio notes but stays on trend with the fancy trail mix profile. Very lengthy mocha, cacao nib, polished oak, and roasted peanuts on the finish. —Susannah Skiver Barton
World Whisky Society Reserve Collection 15 year old Kentucky Straight (Batch 257)
92 points, 56%, $299
Dried herbs and tobacco, and then a fragrant rush of fresh cherries, caramel, Klondike bar, orange Creamsicle, clove, sweet black licorice straps, and sweetened ice tea. The sweeter notes rule on the nose, while the palate is balanced with spice and bold with notes of orange tart, vanilla ice cream, and black pepper. More balanced sweetness on a thick finish that’s rich in flavors of coconut, baking spice, angel food cake, and vanilla frosting. —David Fleming
Old Bones 15 year old Reserve Straight (Batch 1)
91 points, 53.5%, $130
Distilled in Kentucky from a mashbill of 78% corn, 13% rye, and 9% malted barley, the nose showcases notes of orange peel, butterscotch, flan, and honey-roasted peanuts. The palate is tart and acidic; orange marmalade and lemon peel, with loads of nuts and spices. Even with water added, dried citrus peel and roasted nuts break through. The finish is mouthwatering, with tingling spice and rich oak. Well-balanced and flavorful with density and dimension. (1,290 bottles) —Ted Simmons