Over the course of 2019, there were a whole bunch of new releases and core lineup additions coming out of multiple distilleries. We saw some new and delicious selections pop up, including Four Roses Small Batch Select and Old Forester Rye. There were also a couple bourbons I was very excited about when they were first announced last year, and they fell short of my personal expectations. George Dickel Bottled in Bond and Woodford Reserve Chocolate Malted Rye were a few disappointing highlights from 2019 given my personal flavor profile preferences.
At the end of last year and leading into the new year, several new whiskeys have been announced as upcoming for 2020. Elijah Craig Rye and the new Larceny Barrel Proof have been a few pleasant surprises thus far in early 2020. There are many more announcements I couldn’t be more excited for. That being said, going into 2020 I am being more realistic about my expectations. Given the current state of the bourbon boom, both price and availability will be major factors in how the new releases will be received by the whiskey community. With more and more distilleries putting out “limited editions” and one off expressions, I am anticipating demand will never be higher for these products. It is already challenging enough to find allocated bottles in the current state of the market, and there is no sign of that changing anytime soon.
I am going to be open and honest about my opinions regarding the distilleries and my anticipation about the juice itself. That being said, let’s dive into some of the new expressions that are already planned for release in 2020.
Weller Single Barrel Bourbon
Buffalo Trace Distillery has been approved on the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) website for a brand new addition to the Weller lineup. The new Weller Single Barrel comes in at 97 proof, and falls somewhere in the middle of their current wheated offerings. Both the Weller 12 Year and Special Reserve are 90 proof. The Old Weller Antique comes in at 107 and the latest addition, Full Proof, clocks in at 114. Sporting an orange label, it has recently been rumored it will begin hitting the shelves in mid to late summer 2020.
My Two Cents: Why Buffalo Trace, just why. We already can’t find damn near every Weller expression in the majority of the markets in the United States. I wish instead of expanding the Weller line every year, Buffalo Trace would instead up the distribution and allocation of their very limited, but solid core lineup. Guess what, there is already a single barrel Weller out there in the form of Old Weller Antique store picks. Those are even more impossible to find for most of us, even though the few I have been able to try were excellent. I am hoping this will be the last addition to the Weller lineup for several years, and they start pumping out more juice for us to get the opportunity to try them.
Knob Creek 15 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Jim Beam Distillery has filed TTB labeling for a brand new 15 Year Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon. This bourbon will be bottled at 100 proof and was announced shortly after Jim Beam stated they will be limiting their Knob Creek Single Barrel Select program for bar and store owners. In 2019, Knob Creek released a 12 year age stated expression. Beam Suntory must have been happy with the reception of the release. According to the label, the bourbon will have “…..aromas of caramelized oak followed by hints of sweet vanilla and baking spices. The palate is smooth caramel and toffee notes paired with toasted oak and light leather. The finish is warm with spice, light floral, and fruit.” No release date or price has been set.
My Two Cents: I am kind of torn about this new announcement. Some of the older (12-15 year) single barrel reserve store picks I have tried have been some of the most flavorful and rich bourbons I have had. I really hope they do not cut back much (if any) on their single barrel program, because I don’t want to miss out on the potential of those barrels. Most likely, the majority of Knob Creek store picks you will find in the wild will be right around that 9 year age for the foreseeable future. It is logical that those olders barrels will now be reserved for the 12 and 15 year bottlings instead. I am curious to see if the quality of the 15 year will be similar to some of those older picks I have tried. If I was a betting man, I am guessing the quality will be a decent step down from the higher aged store picks of the past. Also, let us not forget, this will be 100 proof and not 120.
Benchmark Bourbon Line Extension
Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #1 (low rye) bottom shelf offering is likely getting a complete labeling and bottling overhaul sometime in 2020. TTB labels were submitted for five different variations, all with different proof points and classifications. No specifics regarding release dates or prices have been provided.
My Two Cents: Once again, Buffalo Trace is capitalizing on the bourbon boom and giving the consumers more aged, higher proof options (theoretically…). In my opinion, the trend of public bourbon preferences is starting to head in that direction. More and more of us are seeking out higher proof offerings, as they generally tend to provide more full and rich flavors.
As previously mentioned, availability may become an issue with these new labels. While many more markets can find Benchmark, than say a Blantons bottle, it still isn’t everywhere. Also, how much different will a 90 proof small batch whiskey be from an 86 proof “Top Floor” bottle? The answer is, “I honestly don’t know”. What I can tell you is that Buffalo Trace is counting on me wanting to find out (And guess what? I do want to find out).
Old Forester Single Barrel 100 Proof and Barrel Proof
According to Jackie Zykan, Old Forester’s master taster, “….we wanted to be able to share how special some of these barrels are when the product inside is tasted in raw form.” Brown-Forman announced in 2019 they would be making some changes to their single barrel select program, and I couldn’t be more excited for it! Formerly, Old Forester Single Barrel Bourbon was only available at 90 proof. That lower proof point will now be replaced with 100 proof, and barrel strength single barrel versions. Bottles will also have a sleeker, redesigned label that holds true to the Old Forester brand. The barrel strength versions will fall somewhere between 130-135 proof. MSRP will be ~$50 for the 100 proof and ~$80 for the barrel proof offering.
My Two Cents: This is probably the addition in 2020 that I am most looking forward to, especially the barrel proof version. Old Forester Single Barrel picks have always been some of my favorites out there, and an amplification in proof is only going to improve the bourbon drinking experience. Old Forester continues to do things the right way, and is giving the people what they have been asking for. I know both myself, and several others in my whiskey circles, have long dreamed what a barrel proof Old Forester would taste like, and now we get the chance to find out! Given Old Forester’s track record with making their products available, there is a very good chance that most of us will be able to find these new single barrel offerings. My only concern is that I am overhyping it in my head. I hope to find out for myself.
Colonel E.H. Taylor 18 Year Old Marriage
Coming out of Buffalo Trace Distillery, the E.H. Taylor line is already one of the most sought after brands in their entire portfolio. E.H. Taylor (EHT) is no stranger to limited releases, with some of the most expensive secondary bourbon bottles out there, including Cured Oak, Seasoned Wood, Warehouse C Tornado Survivor, and Old Fashioned Sour Mash. The newest edition will be a combination of American bourbon barrels “from three signature mashbills that matured for eighteen years, including two different rye bourbon mashbills and our wheated mashbill.” Upon the back of the recently submitted TTB COLA label, Buffalo Trace states, “The marriage of bourbon mashbills gives this magnificent whiskey a nose of vanilla butter cake, a rich palate of caramel and cinnamon, and long finish of toasted oak, cinnamon, and a hint of spearmint.” This bourbon will stay true to the EHT line and be Bottled in Bond, coming in at 100 proof. Release date is unknown, but rumors indicate it may possibly hit the shelves in the summer or early fall of 2020. MSRP and distribution plans are not currently available.
**It is worth noting that any new whiskey label that appears on the TTB COLA registry is not guaranteed to ever be released to market**
My Two Cents: Sure, I would love to find one of these, or perhaps try a sample, but the odds are very slim. The described flavor profile and mash bill specifics make it sound like it will be an excellent expression. Availability and accessibility will be the major barrier to the average consumer having an opportunity to enjoy this one. Holding true to most other EHT offerings, it will be very allocated and damn near impossible to find. If I do ever get the opportunity to be able to try this 18 Year Marriage, I am very curious to see if it can possibly live up to the hype.
Other Notable Bourbons Coming in 2020
- Blanton’s Gold
- Release: June 2020 (United States)
- 103 Proof
- MSRP: $120
- Wild Turkey 17 Year Bottled in Bond
- 100 Proof
- Release: Unknown
- Old Forester 150th Anniversary Batch Proof
- 126 Proof
- Little Book Chapter 4
- Release: October 2020