Autumn is easily my favorite season. The cooling but still comfortable temperatures, whether under clear or cloudy skies. The quality of light from morning to evening. The greenery gradually fading into oranges and yellows and browns. The rich aromas of damp soil, tree bark, and fields. Apple and pumpkin harvests and the pies and breads people make of them with all those wonderful baking spices. It’s a calming, contemplative season.
Whiskeys offering autumnal aromas and flavors are likewise a particular favorite of mine. Here’s a handful of bottles I find contribute well to autumn’s calm contemplations.
ANY WILD TURKEY BOURBON
e.g. Wild Turkey 101, Russell’s Reserve, Rare Breed, the Master’s Keep series…
MASH BILL – 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley
PROOF – varies
AGE – varies
DISTILLERY – Wild Turkey
PRICE – $25 to $250 depending on the product, though any standard release WT going for two digits is going to be excellent.
A bit of a cheat, I know, to lump all Wild Turkey bourbons into one of the handful. But to leave any out would be remiss. They’re all autumnal—that particular Wild Turkey trifecta of caramel, baking spices, and oak. It’s very dependable in most any variation. For something lighter and brighter I’ll reach for Russell’s Reserve 10 Year or even the 101. The 101 is also a great low-cost base for Fall cocktails like a Stone Fence (2oz bourbon, 3oz unfiltered apple cider, 1/4oz maple syrup, garnish with a fresh apple slice and/or a cinnamon stick, on ice). For something richer and darker, any Russell’s Reserve single barrel will hit the spot. For a bit more heat on a chillier day, Rare Breed. For dessert after a hearty autumn meal, I’ll pick a Master’s Keep release and pour it into a favorite glass. Few bourbon brands conjure all things autumn more fully for me than Wild Turkey.
FOUR ROSES SMALL BATCH SELECT
MASH BILL – blend of two: 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% barley and 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% barley
PROOF – 104 proof
AGE – blend of 6 to 7 year bourbons
DISTILLERY – Four Roses
PRICE – $50 to $60 on average
This standard but special Four Roses release blends six of the distillery’s ten bourbon recipes into a lovely, well-balanced whiskey. It’s got a good age on it, a great proof, and is bottled without chill filtering, allowing all the natural flavors to remain undisturbed. For me it comes across as a slightly less rustic Russell’s Reserve, with a nose full of cherry, apricot, rich and creamy caramel, and wonderful autumnal baking spices. The taste follows up with sweet caramel, oak, and sparkly cinnamons. The finish gently and slowly fades on the notes offered by the taste. Just an easy sipper, great quality in every respect. I’d like it better at $45 or so. But even at $60 it’s worthwhile, and an amazing base for cocktails.
NEW RIFF BOURBON
any cask strength single barrel
MASH BILL – 65% corn, 30% rye, 5% malted barley
PROOF – varies
AGE – typically between 4 and 5 years
DISTILLERY – New Riff
PRICE – $50 or so
What I love about New Riff Bourbon is that it tastes very like a love child between Wild Turkey and MGP, the ubiquitously sourced (and for good reason) Indiana distiller. New Riff is not sourced, to be clear. They’re making their own stuff. And there is something at once fresh and classic about what they do. With notes of vanilla, cola, cinnamon baking spices, chocolate, and caramel, their bourbon hits with lively sweetness and spice. Makes me think of yummy pastries like fresh baked cinnamon rolls. Easy to like, easy to drink even at cask strength, and easy on the wallet for a crafty little distillery in these bourbon boomed times.
MASH BILL – Unstated (rumored 39% corn, 51% rye, 10% barley)
PROOF – 110
AGE – 6 years
DISTILLERY – Heaven Hill Distillery
PRICE – $50 on average
Most ryes don’t quite conjure Fall for me. They tend to be spicy in a more herbal way that conjures spring or summer, as opposed to the baking spices often associated with bourbon and autumn treats. But with its high corn quotient, Pikesville is among those “barely legal” ryes—using the minimum amount of rye grain to qualify as a rye whiskey—and so it tastes closer to bourbon than other rye whiskeys. Additionally, Pikesville is age-stated at 6 years and bottled at a robust 110 proof, specs that make it increasingly uncommon for a $50 bourbon in today’s market. Rich, gooey, old-fashioned caramel notes hover in perfect balance with autumnal, floral rye spices as the main event, with crystalizing honey, chocolate, and buttery bread notes all adding nuance. It’s really good, without making a big to-do about itself. Very easy to sip despite its high proof, Pikesville is among the ol’ dependables, and a great sip on a Fall day or evening.
WOODINVILLE MOSCATEL FINISHED BOURBON
Originally a Fall 2021 distillery-only release, with a second and final semi-national release Summer 2022
MASH BILL – 72% corn, 22% rye, 6% barley
PROOF – 100
AGE – NAS (5 years plus some months in 10-year-old Moscatel de Setúbal pipes)
DISTILLERY – Woodinville Whiskey Co.
PRICE – $70 to $100
It’s even subtitled a “Harvest Release,” perfect for Fall! Only available at the distillery upon its September 2021 release, in late Summer 2022 a limited number of additional cases were released in California and a few other states, and for a higher price of $100 on average. I always thought if a bottle turned up in my area I’d buy it again—in a snap at $70. But at $100 I had some hesitation… and then caved and bought two! This is easily my favorite Woodinville release to date. The standard Woodinville bourbon already pairs well with Fall, given its nicely weathered oak and spiced orchard fruit notes. Add to that the Moscatel cask’s rich array of savory spices—thyme, oregano, rosemary, red tea—and additional red berry notes complimenting Woodinville’s expected apricot and orange zest. It’s like some wonderful spiked red tea or a savory, extra-potent variation on mulled wine. Given it’s hard to track down outside of the distillery, Woodinville’s more widely distributed Port Cask Finished release would make a very worthy alternative.
Of course all of these whiskeys would taste good any time of year. And there are others I could have mentioned, like Willett or Jefferson’s Reserve or Booker’s. There’s something nice, in any case, about pairing whiskeys with other things—foods, moods, seasons… When you find a good match between a whiskey and whatever else it is you’re considering, something wonderful happens. It’s both magical and chemical. I find it slows me down, helps me to notice and to appreciate what I have, what I’m aware of, what I’m experiencing.
Wishing everyone a wonderful autumn season.