Maker’s Mark is throwing their hat into the private barrel ring in a big way in 2016. Starting in December 2015, Kentucky and Illinois based retailers will be able to customize their own Maker’s by finishing fully-matured Maker’s Mark Cask Strength in a single barrel made up of their custom selection of oak staves for nine additional weeks. With 1,001 possible stave combinations, this will be one of the most unique private barrel programs available. The program will expand availability to other states’ retailers in late 2016.
The company once known for only having one product on the market has been bitten by the new product bug. Maker’s introduced Maker’s 46 in 2010, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength in 2014 (with national rollout in 2015) and Maker’s 46 Cask Strength at their gift shop in September 2015. While we expect the company to follow a similar release plan with M46 CS in 2016, that may not be the case. A representative for the company has confirmed with us that they currently have no official plans to expand the availability of M46 CS beyond the company’s gift shop. We reviewed M46 CS and called it, "A richly enhanced version of the standard Maker’s 46 that drinks lower than its actual proof."
The company showed off a 12 year version of their flagship product at the Derby Museum Legends Series in 2015 to great response. This would be about double the age of the original Maker’s Mark, which is rumored to be aged for 6 years. Following new product announcements over the last two years it was thought the company might also bring this product to market. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case. A representative for the company has confirmed with us that they have no plans to release a 12 Year version of their flagship product. Per the brand, “Maker’s Mark is, as it always has been, aged to taste, ensuring a consistency and quality that make it the world’s most delicious bourbon. We have no plans of releasing a bourbon that’s aged any longer than our current whisky, because well, we happen to think it’s aged just the right way as it is, thank you very much."
Booker’s 2015 roundtable batches were a lot of fun. It appears from TTB label approval that the company plans to continue with the name game in 2016. New labels will include: Toogie’s Invitation, Booker’s Bluegrass, Annis' Answer, Bluegrass Peak Batch, Off Your Rocker, and Noe Hard Times. Keep an eye on Booker’s website for the inspiration behind the new batch names.
Amid rumors of Knob Creek 9 Year losing its age statement, Fred Minnick reported that Beam has no such plans, and in fact aims to release an older version of the brand in late 2016. In his article, a Beam spokesperson said, “While we are not releasing a 12-year aged Knob Creek offering, we do have exciting plans in the works for an even older expression later this year.” We included both Knob Creek and Knob Creek Single Barrel in our Best Value lists as excellent examples of quality and value. As one of Beam’s most successful brands of their small batch line, this is exciting news.
The Old Forester Whiskey Row series has been fairly well received so far with 1897 Bottled In Bond being the clear favorite. In 2016 it's believed Brown-Forman will roll out “1910,” a double barreled whiskey and “1923,” a 125 proof version of their original recipe.
What will arguably be Buffalo Trace’s most talked about release in 2016, is the new batch of Sazerac 18 Year. After years of pulling stock from their stainless steel tanked reserve of Sazerac 18 Year, those tanks are now empty, and everyone is curious if this new batch will stand up to the now legendary “Classic” batch. One thing is certain, it’s going to be a tough act to follow.
We’ve had this on our Release Calendar ever since a June 2015 Courier-Journal story about the Pappy theft quoted Zachary Becker, the assistant Franklin County commonwealth's attorney, mentioning the bottle. He said the thieves stole a 23 gallon stainless steel tank of Eagle Rare 17 Year that “was to be bottled next year as a commemorative edition.” That comment appeared to have some merit as it aligned with the brand’s 40th Anniversary, but Buffalo Trace has confirmed with us that there is “no truth” to a commemorative edition.
Like Sazerac 18 Year, ORVW Rye was put into steel tanks years ago and has been drawn down for ongoing releases. However, less information has been released on the brand and it is unclear from year to year whether the entire bottling has been tanked (like Sazerac 18 Year), or if and at what point it’s being blended with new stock. While it has been suggested 2015’s release might have been the last of the tanked ORVW stock, Buffalo Trace has confirmed this is not the case. How much is left, exactly how old it was when it was tanked, and whether it’s being blended and to what extent with new make remains a mystery, though rumors abound. While this is nearly impossible to find, it remains one of highest quality ryes money can buy.
After last year’s E.H. Taylor Cured Oak flew off the shelves, many are anticipating what the Taylor brand has coming in 2016. A label for E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood was approved by the TTB in 2015 and Buffalo Trace confirms that it will be arriving on store shelves in late March. The label describes Seasoned Wood as, “...aged inside new oak barrels crafted from staves treated with an innovative method of bathing and natural outdoor seasoning. This technique pulled rich flavors from the wood. Using a unique wheat recipe mash bill, the result is a whiskey with bright, citrus flavors followed by spicy undertones.” Last year's Cured Oak saw very limited release numbers and we expect Seasoned Oak to see a similar release yield. Put your orders in now! Check out our review of Seasoned Wood for our thoughts on this limited release.
There’s also mounting evidence that Buffalo Trace is experimenting with Taylor’s original recipe of white corn under the codename “O.F.C.” White corn might be a new trend. In late 2015 Woodford Reserve released a white corn whiskey under their Master’s Collection brand. Buffalo Trace responded with "No comment. Stay tuned" when asked about its existence.
Buffalo Trace is rumored to be entering the bourbon finished in wine barrels market. “Spirit by Canton” is another long rumored product that might hit shelves in 2016. This is said to be BT’s mash #1 finished in wine barrels. Buffalo Trace responded with "No comment. Stay tuned" when asked about its existence.
1792 made headlines in 2015 with “Sweet Wheat” and “Port Finish” releases. In 2014, "Full Proof," "High Rye," and "Single Barrel" editions saw label approval. So far Buffalo Trace has announced that 1792 Single Barrel is coming in early March for $40. BT has released single barrels of 1792 in the past as private selections, so adding it as a permanent edition to the 1792 portfolio isn't a complete surprise. We've sampled the new Single Barrel and can report there are nuanced differences from the Small Batch. The Single Barrel is a bit sweeter and has less rye pop, but overall there's more to love. BT says they have "plans to release even more new and different 1792 expressions throughout the year." This could mean a rye and barrel proof expressions are also coming. Check back for further updates.
“Gifted Horse” is a 115 proof bourbon that is a blend of 4 and 17 year old bourbons. This bourbon could be a response to criticism leveled against the brand that previous releases have been too low in proof and over-oaked. A 17 year bourbon cut with a younger one should help control the over-oaked criticism and 115 proof would be the brand’s highest proof bourbon yet. Expect to see this pop up in February.
The other label that was approved by TTB was for “Whoop & Holler.” It should turn heads solely based on its age statement: 28 Years. Old Blowhard, a previous Orphan Barrel release was aged for 26 years and quickly flew off shelves despite so-so reviews. All of the Orphan Barrels have been skewed on the heavy-oak side, so there’s a good chance the 28 year “Whoop & Holler” might too. Expected in second quarter of 2016.
We’ve also heard the company is planning on releasing an “Orphan Barrel Library Set” consisting of all of the previous Orphan Barrel releases. It’s unknown what volume the bourbons will come in, but 375ml bottles or smaller makes the most sense in order to keep the total cost under control. If you missed out on some of the Orphan Barrel releases (Old Blowhard anyone?) this could be the last chance to catch up. Despite high production numbers on many of their releases, once they're gone, they’re gone forever.
During a Bourbon Pursuit podcast, Ewan Morgan, National Director for the Diageo Masters of Whiskey, mentioned that some Orphan Barrels will see a second batch release. He made it clear that Forged Oak would be one of them. He alluded to Old Blowhard getting another limited release as well, but remained noncommittal about it. Since then the company has seemed to have taken a hard-line that Old Blowhard was a "one and done" release.
Another year, another Rhetoric. Diageo should continue with their plans in 2016 to release Rhetoric aged an additional year. They’ve given no indication that they have dropped their five year plan to release this each year despite less-than-stellar reviews of 2015’s 21 Year. Expected in May/June.
With long-time Master Distiller Jim Rutledge retired, new Master Distiller Brent Elliott has large shoes to fill. The company has stayed true to fundamentals with respect to bourbon production and not followed some of the trends many others have; releasing one-off experimental bourbons, pushing the limits of age, or even releasing a rye for that matter. Despite this, or possibly because of it, Four Roses has earned a great deal of respect from fans. Does Brent have any surprises in store for 2016? A special release honoring Jim Rutledge maybe? Only time will tell and fans will be watching closely as the year unfolds.
Heaven Hill hasn’t released much on their 2016 plans but we know of two new bottles that might be coming in 2016. Evan Williams 18 Year was mentioned in the fall 2015 issue of Whiskey Advocate as a September/October release, but as far as we can tell that never materialized. Last year the company introduced a gift shop only red label 12 Year for $130. Should consumers expect to pay close to $200 for the 18 Year?
Evan Williams Master Blend was first spotted on the TTB website a few months ago. It appears to be another Evan Williams Experience only bourbon, but that could always change based on consumer response to it. The label states that it’s “A masterful blend of various expressions, these well-crafted bourbons have been aging in new, charred white oak barrels and are blended at barrel strength to bring out the best in every bourbon.” The expression consists of a blend of the company’s Black Label, White Label, 1783, Single Barrel, 23 Years Old, and Bourbon Experience Artisanal Bourbon.
Label approval for a cask strength version of Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea came in 2015 and consumers should expect to see this in January 2016 for around $100. It will be very interesting to see how a higher proof affects the resulting bourbon with this unique release. We also saw five voyages of this series so far, so more voyages at the brand's standard 90 proof are also very likely in 2016.
The Wood Experiment collection includes five different 200 ml “experiments” that each offer a unique flavor profile. They include different aging/barrel finishes, flavor altering agents, and varying levels of barrel char. The first collection was released in limited markets at the end of 2015 and is expected to expand to more markets in 2016. The suggested retail price is $100.
Jefferson’s released Groth Reserve Finish in 2015 and is planning a follow up on their finished series in 2016. The next release will have their standard Jefferson’s Reserve bourbon finished in old rum barrels. According to an interview company founder Trey Zoeller had with Men’s Journal, Jefferson’s Old Rum Cask Finish is a “4-year-old bourbon in dark rum barrels that had been aging rum for 14 years…took on "that molasses flavor," and made it "thick with a heavy pour."
This new limited release by Wild Turkey shares 2015's "Master Keep" name, but "Decades" will be a blend of bourbons between the ages of 10-20 years. According to Matt Gandolfo, Wild Turkey's Brand Ambassador on Bourbon Pursuit podcast, this 104 proof bourbon will be released in May. Wild Turkey’s limited edition bourbons have not flown off the shelves like other brands, yet their fan base appears strong. Once again all eyes will be closely watching this release.
Willett’s 3 year rye hit the their gift shop in late 2015 and will begin to appear on retailers shelves in the first few months of 2016. The company said they do not know if the 4 year rye will be released in 2016 as that will “entirely depend on the aging process.” Their 2 year rye was warmly received in 2014, so an additional 1-2 years of age hopefully increases an already great product by the company.
Willett also started bourbon production in early 2012 and is expected to release some of their new bourbon distillate in 2016. The company said they have tentative plans to release some of their bourbon in 2016 with a 4 year age statement. In March the they released four barrels of their 4 year bourbon at their gift shop and it quickly sold out. Can fans expect another release sometime in 2016? With their sourced Family Estate bourbon drying up, the company has got to be anxious and excited to release their own distillate to thirsty fans.
“XCF” was an interesting experiment in barrel finishing for the company in 2014 and they’ve briefly mentioned that a new version is in the works. 2015 came and went without a new release of the brand, so we might hear more about “Version 2.0” in 2016. No details have been given on the next version, but Willett surprised everyone with “Version 1.0” being finished in Curacao Casks. With many companies going the wine barrel finishing route, there’s a good chance Willett will surprise everyone again with something no one was expecting.
This article is a culmination of independent research, TTB label information and direct contact with producers. While we believe the information contained in this article is accurate, it does not mean all of these will become actual releases. This article will be updated throughout the year as new information is made available. Please contact us with any additional information or clarifications on any of the potential products listed in this article. All images should be considered concept art.