New whiskey gets released year-round, but SOND—September, October, November, December—is the high season. The leadup to the holidays sees a slew of limited-edition and special-release bottles hitting shelves, as brands compete to make the biggest splash and generate buzz. But whiskey hunters shouldn’t take the summer off. There are so many new, rare bourbons, ryes, and other American whiskeys available now—before the leaves start to turn. And the calendar release date makes no difference to collectability or enjoyment.
Keep an eye out for these rare bourbons and ryes, which range from extra-mature to barrel-proof with some unusual cask finishes thrown in the mix. They might be hard to find, but the thrill of the hunt is half the fun.
10 Rare Bourbons and Ryes Worth Hunting Down
1. Russell’s Reserve 13-Year-Old
Regular Russell’s Reserve, at 10 years old and around $35 on the shelf, is one of the best deals going; when it’s a Russell’s Reserve private barrel pick, even better. This limited-edition expression, selected as always by Wild Turkey master distiller Eddie Russell, offers even more to love, with an additional three years of age and no chill filtration. That means all the bourbon’s natural oils, fatty acids, and other compounds are left in the bottle, amplifying its flavor and mouthfeel. At a barrel proof of 57.4 percent ABV, it’s a robust bourbon that nevertheless maintains perfect balance.
[$70; try your luck at drizly.com]
2. Old Forester Single Barrel Rye
When Old Forester launched a straight rye for the first time in 2019, it represented a huge development for the brand, which is over 150 years old. Now this single-barrel iteration, bottled at barrel proof, adds another dimension. Though fans could previously find Old Forester Single Barrel rye at the Louisville, Kentucky, distillery, it’s currently rolling out nationwide—more available, but still not the easiest whiskey to find. If you do spot one, though, grab it: There are few enough barrel-proof ryes out there, especially ones that taste this flavorful.
[$80; locate a bottle nearest you at oldforester.com]
3. Angel’s Envy Madeira Finish
Angel’s Envy wrote the book on barrel-finished bourbon, with its core expression showcasing port cask finishing to beautiful effect. This limited edition, released in June 2021, opts for another Portuguese fortified wine: madeira. Drier and nuttier than the regular bourbon, Angel’s Envy Madeira Finish spent a year in the finishing casks for added complexity. Just 3,360 bottles of it were released to the distillery’s member club and retailers in a handful of states, so if you happen upon a bottle, consider yourself blessed by the angels.
[$230; in stores and at 500main.angelsenvy.com]
4. Blue Run 14-Year-Old
Master distiller Jim Rutledge retired from Four Roses in 2015, but he didn’t retire from whiskey. In the years since, he’s been fundraising to open the J.W. Rutledge Distillery and lending his expertise to a number of new brands, including Blue Run. The company, which launched in 2020 with a 13-year-old bourbon, seeks to entice the “modern whiskey fan.” Its latest release is 14 years old and 56.5 percent ABV, and succeeds a 13-and-a-half-year-old bourbon that sold out within minutes. A special Reserve version of this 14-year-old is already sold out online, but the regular Small Batch should still be available at retail in select markets.
5. Orphan Barrel Copper Tongue
The Orphan Barrel series has encompassed a range of extra-mature whiskies over the years, including Rhetoric (22 years old), Forager’s Keep (26 years old), and Whoop & Holler (28 years old). Its latest release hails from Cascade Hollow Distilling Company, the home of George Dickel, and was put together by general manager and distiller Nicole Austin. Though barrel-proof, this 16-year-old straight bourbon is only 44.9 percent ABV—its gentle strength the result of long aging and lots of evaporation. The name Copper Tongue refers to copperhead snakes, a venomous species that populate the distillery’s spring-fed creek.
6. Heaven’s Door The Master Blenders’ Edition Redbreast Finish
Bob Dylan-backed Heaven’s Door has released a number of innovative whiskies in the last few years, including Jamaican rum-finished Tennessee whiskey and mizunara oak-finished Canadian whisky. But the Master Blenders’ Edition represents a first for the brand: a 10-year-old bourbon that’s been finished in Redbreast single pot still Irish whiskey casks for 15 months. The two brands’ master blenders, American Ryan Perry and Irishman Billy Leighton, collaborated for more than two years to create this final product. It’s already sold out online, but keep a sharp eye and you may spot it on a store shelf. Act fast if you do: Rare bourbons don’t stick around long.
7. Col. E.H. Taylor Jr. Warehouse C
Made at Buffalo Trace Distillery and named for pioneering bourbon maker Col. Edmund H. Taylor, even the regular releases from this brand are in high demand. Limited editions are practically impossible to get your hands on, though if you do, you’re surely in for a treat. This 10-year-old bottled-in-bond bourbon was aged in Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse C, which was built by Taylor in 1885 as the featured warehouse in his “model distillery,” It’s famous for yielding the brand’s “Tornado Surviving” bourbon that goes for astronomical sums on the secondary market. Barrels were pulled from the second floor—with tight ricks, its lower airflow makes for ideal long-term aging—and the fifth floor, which has windows on all sides, allowing sunlight to heat the area and air to circulate freely. The combination of both sets of barrels is meant to yield a balanced and flavorful whiskey that epitomizes the E.H. Taylor brand.
[$70, in stores]
8. Milam & Greene 13-Year-Old The Castle Hill Series
During the long period of pandemic isolation in 2020, master blender Heather Greene holed up in The Castle, the historic building of the Texas Military Institute in Austin, meticulously creating this blend of vintage bourbons. It includes 20 barrels, chosen for their balance of sweet vanilla, chocolate, citrus, and almonds, along with a sturdy base of spice, tannin, and tobacco-forward oak. Bottled at a barrel proof of 54.25 percent ABV, the bourbon is the first in a planned series that’ll join Milam & Greene’s lineup of other whiskies, which Greene makes in tandem with master distiller Marlene Holmes.
[$120; find a local retailer at milamandgreenewhiskey.com]
9. Sweetens Cove
Whiskey and golf go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise this brand takes its name from a legendary Tennessee golf course. What might be a revelation is that the partners who founded Sweetens Cove Spirits include football legend Peyton Manning and tennis star Andy Roddick. They called on the expertise of master blender and distiller Marianne Eaves to craft the liquid. In 2020, Sweetens Cove debuted with five 13-year-old batches drawn from 100 barrels from a single undisclosed distillery. But this year, a larger release of 42,000 bottles encompasses barrels at 4, 6, and 16 years old sourced from multiple distilleries, blended by Eaves and proofed at 56.85 percent ABV.
10. Blue Note 17-Year-Old
Produced in Memphis by B.R. Distilling Company and named for the musical genre made famous in the Mississippi Delta, Blue Note offers several rare bourbons in its lineup. This limited-edition 17-year-old is the most aged and hardest to get: Just 50 barrels yielding 6,000 bottles were released, all bottled at barrel proof. The Tennessee straight bourbon goes fast online, but is also available in stores across 13 states.