12 Rare Bourbons That Are Worth Tracking Down

Whiskey has had itself quite a 21st century so far, and it's fair to say a lot of labels that were once steals are now so highly prized, that they get stolen. But with demand comes increased production, and that's a great thing for fans of brown liquor bourbon because it means so many more options for new experiences or variations on what we love. It also means a lower entry level for accessible collecting, and that's where we are today: bourbons that are worth the time, effort, or expense to acquire, and should be findable if you're willing to poke around a bit.

Presented in alphabetical order, here are the best bottles to develop your bourbon bibliography. Some are expensive, some are rare, some are just a bit of work to find, and some aren't available in every state... many are a combination of those factors and more. All of them provide a great basis for you to figure out which whiskeys are worth your dollar. They make great references for both what to drink next and what to put into your increasingly valuable collection.

Barrell Craft Spirits Gold Label Bourbon

This might be the best bottle on this list to bequeath your bourbon-lover on Valentine's Day since its carefully combined blend of barrels showcases cherry, nuttiness, and chocolate. Barrell made headlines by tracking down desirable distillate and combining it into the case for blended craft separate from all-in-one producers distilling onsite. BCS Gold Label just proves the point. At 16 and 17 years of age, every whiskey in here has the complexity to spare. A glance at its tasting notes gleans a quickly shuffling deck of cards, from tamarind to za'atar.

Please note the second edition of Barrell Craft Spirits Gold Label is aged even longer at 18 years old, and it has a distinctly fruitier bent: It's a firework explosion of jammy flavors in turn with pleasantly bitter, sharp ones. Consider it the more refined sibling that spent a little longer at finishing school. Priced at $500 on Barrell's website, these are prohibitive enough to linger on the market but valued enough to make it an enthralling hunt. You might even spot it on Drizly for a discount — oh, lucky day!

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof

Good luck getting it for MSRP $70 when batches immediately soar to rent levels, but E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof Batch 11 just dropped if you move fast. And fast is how this juice moves, hitting the tongue with immediate intensity and only a little burn given its proof and strength of flavor. (No wonder Taylor barrels made Sierra Nevada's bourbon-aged barleywine fantastic.) Its tasting notes read like a recipe for a Kentucky summer. Drink half neat, then add water to experience a completely new whiskey, transforming from candy to char.

Consider The Whiskey Jug's comparison to fellow Buffalo Trace Stagg, which shares characteristics and a little more aging in, well, not the same legendary warehouses, but equally revered ones, and for a much lower price of a mere $300. Expensive? Sure, but not compared to the George T. Stagg it derives from. Amongst the Whiskey deemed it downright poetic, but with reservation. Whiskey Consensus finds it bold, but Breaking Bourbon thinks it might suffer stoicism where it needs splashiness. Ultimately, drinking it is your gamble, but the purchase is a safe bet.

This investable Taylor may stay sealed when an approximate luxury Stagg sits nearby, but don't let it sit on the shelf forever, as a unique bourbon like this deserves to be sampled.

Garrison Brothers Balmorhea

Since the widely admired Texas craft distiller's Guadalupe label is going to be a regular thing now, set your sites on Balmorhea, the other most amazing bourbon from a company that really doesn't make a bad one. Unable to pick a clear winner, Uproxx named these two expressions a tie, which means you'll have an easier time finding and opening your wallet for the blue-waxed neck. That's a double advantage among otherwise equals.

Praising its thick legs ambling boldly into a slowly unraveling flavor, The Whiskey Reviewer emphasizes how gradually this experience plays out, like — the comparison must be made — a cowboy pushing open the saloon doors and strolling slowly to the bar. Do you know who else is a long ride on a light sip? Our pick for the best Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bottle; George T. Stagg. Except, Stagg currently sells for 20 times Balmorhea's listed $70. No wonder Travel Distilled reports Jim Murray named it Micro-Whiskey of the Year — twice.

Balmorhea is thick, dark, rich, and sweet, aged in two sets of barrels, one from Minnesota, the other from Kentucky, all subject to Texas extremes. Appropriate to a bourbon produced within the range of Austin, it's got a strong pecan essence. Though if you can't find it, the 2023 Guadalupe drops on February 4, so a trip to Hye, Texas might be in your immediate future.

Hardin's Creek Jacob's Well 15

Hardin's Creek feels like an intentionally direct departure from the small-batch Booker's label to prove premium takes many pathways. And unlike Bookers, dilettantes may not know about it yet, making it Drinkhacker's optimal label to snag for the shelf — especially because, the experts are already praising its simultaneously released first two expressions. Prices are climbing, but it's somewhat light on the broader radar.

Whiskey Raiders explains that Hardin's Creek Jacob's Well blends a 15-year-aged, high-rye bourbon with a 16-year one for a classic profile, while its fraternal twin Col. James B. Beam is a rocket-shot of barely legally straight bourbon at two years' aging. Lest you fret that's not long enough to develop a great profile, remember that A, the U.S. government instituted the two-year requirement to ensure that quality, and B, this bourbon ferments longer prior to distillation to develop its flavors early on from the mash more than the barrel. Breaking Bourbon anticipates the flap and refutes it.

But back to Jacob's Well and its $200 escalating price tag. It's affordable to the casual collector, yet out of reach from shoppers seeking their everyday pour. It's got a very barrel-forward flavor that ends with a little dried fruit but mostly retains its spice and wood. Whiskey Shelf puts it above Wild Turkey 17-Year (also on this list) for managing its oakiness more ably. All told? It's one to drink even if it becomes the first of a future legendary line.

Jefferson's Ocean New York Limited Edition

There's precisely one distillery on the island of Manhattan, and at Great Jones Distilling, 62 barrels of this Kentucky Artisan distillate aged out at sea reached their completion. After traveling the world, they reached New York City to be cut to 98 proof by the most famous drinking and baking water in the country. Now, you can't make a borough-worthy slice out of this yeast-and-grain byproduct, but something far rarer awaits: Jefferson's Ocean Aged at Sea New York Limited Edition.

The Whiskey Jug cannot deny its own prejudices succumbed to this bottle's triumphant profile. The salt flavor is real but not overbearing. Like so many other great entries on this list, it's non-chill filtered. After all, why do all the work of toting these barrels around the ocean only to diminish the tale they have to tell? If you've ever had a Jefferson's Ocean, love it or hate it, you know you're dealing with something different.

Larceny Barrel Proof Batch A120

Not every rare bourbon has to be expensive. Sometimes, it's just a well-regarded batch in a ubiquitous line. Nobody's going to have a problem finding Larceny Barrel-Proof wheated bourbon, all nine expressions of which are evenly well-rated across different reviewers, each in agreement it's priced about right at $50. But locating the first release is a hunt growing more harrowing with the march of time since nobody blinked at drinking theirs. It might just be sitting on your local store's shelf, or you might have to cross state lines to find the first of its name. If the thrill of the chase appeals to you, here's a label that's only growing in appeal. However, 121 and 122 are almost as hard to find at this point.

Don't feel bad opening this non-chill-filtered friend. Drinkhacker says it's the fulfillment of everything Larceny originally promised, a sweet-wheat bourbon that drinks so much smoother than its proof. It even caused The Mash and Drum to ask if this bottle is the new "poor man's Pappy" now that Weller bottles hold that title by rising so high in price you'll impoverish yourself buying the line. Listen to Whiskey Consensus when it says, if you like wheated bourbon, this is one you ought to seek out to bulwark your mental library. Then heed Spirits Review and fearlessly use it as a mixer, after a neat appreciation pour.

Old Fitzgerald 17 Year Bottled-In-Bond

Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond always sells out instantly, but last spring's release seems to have done particularly well for collectors and traders. The gathering velocity of these expressions is naturally going to floor the pedal with its first 17-year, and already well into the mid-$1,000s. Old Fitz BiB 17 is an investment piece and a half. Of course, there are ceilings to these things, so you're going to have to do some math and gamble if you want to taste it because even a small drink deducted is going to significantly drop the value of the now-open bottle. It's a real case of in for a penny, in for a pound, as it's less about the amount lost than it is about the broken seal. Long story short: You're probably not going to drink this one, but all the respect to you if you do. That's what it's made for.

Now, if you do intend to drink it and see what the fuss is about, you might do better with 2021's 8-year, trading at a more, let's say reasonable, over $400 on Caskers, hailing from one year earlier. It gains high praise from the knowledgeable folks at Drinkhacker, who call it darn close to the best Old Fitz. We'll take a thousand-dollar discount for silver, sure.

Rebel Reserve 12 Year Single Barrel

That Old Fitzgerald mash bill wins hearts for a reason. And, oh look, the same recipe gets used here, in a bottling that seems to have crossed a magic threshold into elite greatness... if you're willing to visit Lux Row Distillers to find it. For once, we have a premium wheated bourbon that isn't getting called the new Poor Man's Pappy or otherwise compared to Weller, though Bourbon Culture does contrast the two.

As that site explains, the reason to get your mitts on this is that it's (theoretically) a one-off, straight bourbon as Rebel's new owners are likely trying to disperse barrels of a competitor's distillate, lest it outshines future endeavors. It's a 12-year low-premium wheated bourbon, and you might note that Weller 12 goes for several hundred more, which guarantees nothing here but offers plenty of room to speculate.

The Bourbon Whiskey Library enthusiastically declares Rebel 12 a steal at $200 with some very spicy baked goods comparisons, so leave that Johnnie Walker Blue Label on the shelf and spend those Franklin twins on a bottle that will convince your scotch-swirling buddy to start drinking west of the Atlantic. Perhaps tempered expectations are best, though, as Whiskey in My Wedding Ring went searching all over for this, only to luck into it and say... hey, it's fine. Like its namesake, the former Rebel Yell might be most effective when it catches you unaware.

Stagg Jr. Bourbon Batch 12

Whiskey Raiders reported in 2021 that it's just called Stagg these days, but in the summer of 2019, Breaking Bourbon showered the still-Stagg Jr. Batch 12 with praise, calling it the first one that truly lives up to its George T. Stagg BTAC legacy. While Jr.'s always traveled well in whiskey circles off the strength of being Stagg while realistically obtainable and affordable, in truth, Buffalo Trace offers options for fans of straight bourbon, barrel proof, and BT's mash bill No. 1, with drinkers debating the merits and over/underpricedness of each. So if you are going to buy a bottle of Stagg Jr., try to get this one.

The Bourbon Finder offers the too-rare compliment that something so high-proof can drink much smoother, which is really part of the dream. Something that has the body that attends higher ABV but the — please forgive us for using this word — approachability of the double digits. You could have had that for a mere $50 just a few years ago! (Except it probably tripled in price immediately.)

As in all things, the taste is subjective, and The Bourbon Culture maintains Batch 9 is still the best, with 13 coming in ahead of 12. But 12's quality is not in dispute, and here we have a golden, or at least amber, opportunity: You can find a good bar or three and test each to your liking before you settle on your bottle.

Weller Full Proof

Yes, Weller Full Proof is great. No, it's probably not a $500 bourbon, according to the hardcore enthusiasts who think nothing in this world should rise above $150 or so. Yes, this is because the entire Weller lineup is a double beneficiary/victim of its own quality and commonality with the Van Winkle line.

What this amounts to is nobody has any idea what 2019's ongoing Weller Full Proof bottling is actually worth, except for Buffalo Trace, who is kindly underpricing this at $50. With a price differential of a couple of hundred bucks even in, say, the tightly bound tristate New York area, you could actually justify a day trip to shave off the expense while you kick back on a train with a book. But definitely call the shop to confirm before you visit. The important thing is once you swallow the bitter pill of speculation and word-of-mouth, you've still got a fine bourbon not priced so far out of bounds that you're terrified to drink it.

And drink it you must. It's a new Weller, buddy. If you want a wheater, here's one for the ages. And it's non-chill filtered, because that is the pattern for estimable brands in this list, though you could certainly find some eye-level bourbons, maybe even restored to full proof, that follow the same smart practice without costing your firstborn. But, none would be the one Breaking Bourbon calls the standard for such a combination.

Wild Turkey Master's Keep Bottled in Bond 2020

Wild Turkey has its own cargo cult that carries the brand through the whiskey community as an identity within an identity. At its best, it faithfully proselytizes while recognizing the bourbon's highs and lows realistically, and has high standards. And yet, nobody thinks it's overrated. Among the general reviewers, it still draws hefty acclaim and a stance that Wild Turkey is accurately positioned and lauded.

All of which is to say that when Rare Bird 101, an avowed Wild Turkey blog, waxes wondrously on Master's Keep Bottled in Bond 2020, it's not saying "Wild Turkey is best and this is the best Wild Turkey," it's saying, "Look, this is why so many people say Wild Turkey is the best." And Forbes is prone to agree. If it's not the best Wild Turkey, it's the best Master's Keep, impressing both critics and diehard loyalists who already expected the moon — although The Whiskey Shelf is disheartened by the astringency.

Unfortunately, due to both, this is one of the more expensive bottles: a little bit under a grand, but arguably the best that's ever come out the door.

Willett 8 Year Wheated Bourbon

If you're fast, you might still get this autumn-released purple top, which has collectors pulling back the throttle on the normally soaring Willett releases. Perhaps because, as Foodsided reports, while praising its non-chill filtered juice, it's not branded a Willett Family Estate single-barrel, cask-strength release.

Mixed reviews, while agreeing it's a good bourbon, question its inclusion in the series, and Malt Review's comprehensive rundown says it's often a real up-and-down proposition, with this bottle resting on the latter, mostly due to outsized retail price.

Still, because it's Willett, the price soars even when it's easier to find. So here we have a bottle that really might be more for owning and investing than drinking. If you get it at anything approaching the middle or lower three figures, that's a good investment. And frankly, it's all a bit of a shame, what with wheated bourbons enjoying some deserved popularity over the past decade. Compared with our 2022 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection ranking, it just seems like last year was a whiff for typically well-regarded wheat mash bills. That's okay, wheat. Lots of people had a subdued 2022. You'll be back before you know it.

Willet could have been The Chosen One, a contender to the Pappy throne, at least for 2022. Instead, we're all here staring at our shelves and thinking, "Well, speculators and investors are collectors, too, technically." But the truth is, it's still a bottle anyone would be glad to own.