12 Best Bourbons That Aren't Produced In Kentucky

If bourbon mythology is to be believed, Elijah Craig opened a distillery in Kentucky, where he aged his corn whiskey in charred oak barrels. Now, this story may not be verifiable, but it did give birth to the idea that whiskey is only bourbon if it's distilled and created in the Bluegrass State. Yet many distilleries across the U.S. are also known to create mythically fine bourbons.

After all, while some bourbon rules are set in stone — such as a mash bill that must be at least 51% corn — it's a misconception that whiskey must be distilled in Kentucky to be bourbon. Bourbon cannot be labeled "Kentucky straight whiskey" unless it's distilled in the state, of course. But many people don't realize that some of their favorite Kentucky bourbon started as what's known as Midwest Grain Product (MGP) bourbon – a spirit that's distilled elsewhere before being bottled or blended and aged in Kentucky.

The existence of high-quality sourced bourbon refutes the notion that the best bourbon comes exclusively from Kentucky. We don't mean large, out-of-state distilleries are churning out copycat bourbon, either. Distillers from coast to coast are utilizing local grains and small-batch offerings to make some delicious bourbon whiskey. If you're searching for a spirit from a different terroir, we've assembled a list of some top-notch bourbons made outside the state's borders to help get you started. Here are 12 exceptional bourbons that aren't produced in Kentucky.

FEW Spirits Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Illinois

FEW Spirits – with its slogan "Fortune fancies the bold" — is a relatively newer distillery founded in Evanston, Illinois in 2011 by Paul Hletko. The name comes from the initials of a famous activist and former president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (Frances Elizabeth Willard). This ironic gesture to a staunch supporter of Prohibition is present in the upstart character of its small-batch bourbon, which appears to use predominantly corn in its mash bill — as much as 70%, in fact (or much more of the ingredient that all bourbon is distilled from).

This is a strong, spicy bourbon that tastes and smells of corn when the bottle is first opened. Since it's a very young whiskey, many of the complex flavors found in other offerings aren't present here. Still, it has tasting notes of vanilla and caramel, with small hits of sour and bitter notes on the finish.

Because it is young and strong (like the distillery from which it comes), many bartenders favor this type of bourbon for cocktails. The bourbon flavor shines through even sweet mixers without disappearing, and the addition of bitters and juices smooths out the rough edges of this youthful spirit from Illinois.

Jimmy Red Straight Bourbon Whiskey — South Carolina

Jimmy Red Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the lovechild of revivalists invested in bringing heirloom grains back to the South. Although this jewel-toned corn was cultivated by indigenous people across the Midwest, the story of this bourbon starts in 1910, when Richard Humphries of Screven, Georgia brought the corn to South Carolina.

When industrial agricultural production forced Jimmy Red corn nearly to extinction, a local farmer named Ted Chewning saw what was happening and began cultivating the grain. In 2015, it was added to the Slow Food Ark of Taste – a list of endangered foods considered important to a region's culinary heritage — and High Wire Distilling was allowed to cultivate its own Jimmy Red corn for distillation. In other words, this bourbon's 100% corn mash bill makes sense, as does the initial tasting notes of buttered popcorn and caramel.

The nose is complex and shifts as the bourbon is exposed to air. Aromas of spice, coffee, lemon, and honey are present, plus oak from the barrels it's aged in. The lack of barley or rye means all of the flavors come from the corn and the barrel in which it's aged, and the Jimmy Red corn's beautiful complexity shines clearly in the taste and nose. With a long finish on the palate that continues to change from the first taste to the last, you'll surely enjoy this bourbon.

George Dickel Bourbon Whiskey – Tennessee

If you'd expect a Tennessee whiskey to come out of George Dickel instead of a bourbon, you wouldn't be off the mark. Although it doesn't have the same national guidelines that govern bourbon, Tennessee law states Tennessee whiskey must go through a specific distillation process to earn that label. This includes filtering the whiskey through charcoal instead of distillation by gravity (as is done with bourbon).

Now, since George Dickel uses this process, its whiskeys aren't generally labeled as bourbon. In fact, as of February 2024, the George Dickel Bourbon is one of just two whiskeys sold by the distillery with the bourbon label. With a mash bill consisting of 84% corn and an approximate age of 8 years, George Dickel's bourbon leads with strong notes of vanilla that give way to bright dried fruit and mild oak. Sweet flavors predominate as you sip, with hints of caramel, banana, and coconut coming to the forefront and washing away any tiny amount of spice and peppermint.

One of the best aspects of George Dickel Bourbon is its more affordable price point. There are no bold flavors or sharp zing of alcohol, either, making this an accessible offering for novice bourbon drinkers. Consequently, it's not particularly complex, so keep that in mind if you're looking for something with a broader variety of tasting notes or a dynamic composition.

John J. Bowman Single Barrel — Virginia

The origin story of John J. Bowman Single Barrel begins in Virginia when four brothers (who were militia officers) moved to Madison Family County, Kentucky in 1779. When a great, great grandson purchased a farm in Northern Virginia and found himself with a surfeit of corn, wheat, and rye after Prohibition was repealed, he opened the A. Smith Bowman Distillery. Today, the distillery is an hour's drive from its original location, offering its first bottles in 1991. John J. Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon takes its name from Colonel John Bowman, and the mystique behind this bottle is the stuff of legends.

An (unconfirmed) rumor has it that John J. Bowman is a sourced bourbon that's first distilled at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky ... before A.Smith distills it twice more in a copper still and ages it on-site. The distillery is mum on everything from its mash bill to the age of its bourbon. But if the sourcing rumor is true, John J. Bowman shares the rarified air occupied by the likes of E.H. Taylor and Eagle Rare: Two exceptional Kentucky bourbons also produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Either way, this is a classic bourbon with notes of vanilla, caramel, and spice. These carry through to the finish, which is long and pleasant. Since this is not what you'd call an overly complicated bourbon, it makes for a great introduction to bourbon in general.

Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon — Texas

Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon is as big and bold as the state from which it comes. Named for the Balcones Escarpment — a geographical feature that determines where the South ends and the West begins – this distillery combines the natural landscape with the cultural one, producing spirits (bourbon is just one) that embrace the independent spirit that is cultivated in the existence between the Texas Coastal Plain and the West Texas Hill country. The distillery uses a 100% blue corn mash bill and ages each bottle for at least 38 months.

This bourbon is a higher-proof spirit (127-proof or 63.5% ABV when bottled) that is distilled using a pot still. Because it's aged in uncharred oak casks, there is some debate as to whether this spirit belongs on a bourbon list. But that's splitting hairs. This bourbon has the characteristic vanilla and toffee bourbon notes and a rich mouthfeel. The high ABV doesn't translate into a hot sip — in fact, from beginning to end the taste and aroma are sweet and light.

In the end, Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon finishes with richer flavors of cedar and pepper, with hints of oak. Subtle notes of citrus and caramel popcorn linger, too. The complexity of this bourbon is a tribute to how much flavor a plain oak cask can impart (and what a difference the variety of corn makes). Add a few drops of water to get the full effect.

Redwood Empire Pipe Dream Bourbon Whiskey — California

Some bourbon drinkers are snooty about blended whiskey, but Redwood Empire is here to change that. The area referred to as the Redwood Empire reaches from San Francisco to the Oregon border. Here, giants of the forest tower, with protected groves of Muir Woods and Humboldt Redwoods standing sentry. Redwood Empire is as committed to protecting these primeval trees as they are to making delicious bourbon — for every bottle sold, this distillery plants a tree (to the tune of just over 1,136,000 trees planted so far).

Sourcing from distilleries in California, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, Redwood Empire blends bourbons aged between four and 12 years to produce a bottle with notes of maple candy, dried fruit, and sugar cookies. It is a delicious example of the traditional bourbon flavor profile and mouthfeel, with buttery, smooth notes and body. The finish is clean, with hints of black pepper and some fresh fruit. It's the perfect introduction to bourbons for someone looking for a way into the sometimes overwhelming flavor profiles of bourbons with stronger ABV and more complex notes.

Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Indiana

Remus Repeal Reserve is one of the fine bourbons coming out of this Midwestern distiller. This annual tribute to the repeal of Prohibition is a limited-release bourbon whiskey that's different every year. It's named for "King of the Bootleggers" during Prohibition (George Remus). Produced in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (a city nicknamed Whiskey City) by Ross & Squibb Distillery, Remus Repeal pays tribute to one ingredient that makes it special: water. The city sits atop the Great Miami Aquifer. Distilling with naturally limestone-filtered water reduces the sulfur and iron that can produce off-tastes in whiskey.

While every year in this series is slightly different, most bottles share some characteristic tastes and aromas. The initial aroma is heavily wooded, with oak and cedar coming in first, followed by the sweetness of honey and brown sugar. Tasting notes are of fruit, with things like citrus, cherry, and even dates at the first sip. Throughout the glass, rich flavors of spice tempered by vanilla keep each sip smooth and mellow. At its finish, brown sugar and buttery rich toffee flavors linger, as do deeper notes of tobacco, oak, and even leather.

One of the best ways to drink bourbon (and bring out its flavor) is to add a few drops of water, and that's a good idea here. Additionally, each version of bourbon in this annual series sells out quickly, so keep an eye out and act fast when you see it.

Widow Jane 10 Year Bourbon Whiskey — New York

Widow Jane's 10-Year Bourbon Whiskey is routinely showered with accolades. Perhaps one reason is that it starts in the birthplace of bourbon before being aged in barrels in Red Hook, New York. Although its mash bill and originating distillery remain undisclosed, what is known is that this bourbon is consistently delicious, with a smooth, complex flavor profile that's developed over a minimum of six years of aging (and in this case, a full decade).

Widow Jane is the oldest of whiskies at the distillery, made in small batches and proofed with water from the Rosedale Mines (a.k.a. the Widow Jane Mines) of New York. The result is a beautifully smooth bourbon with tasting notes of vanilla, cinnamon, cherries, and spice. It's also considered a lower-proof bourbon at 91-proof, so there's no sharp ethanol smell. The nose is of oak, corn, vanilla, and the charred barrels in which it's aged.

Pepper and oak are present on the finish, which flares hot and then subsides. It's worth considering the high price point of this single-barrel bourbon. It has a solid traditional bourbon flavor, but if you don't want to pay more than $70 per bottle, there are similar bourbons to be had for less.

Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Washington

When you're a start-up distiller looking to bring back the art of small-batch bourbons produced with locally grown grain and barreled in barrels coopered nearby, you want to make sure the product honors the ingredients and is done properly. That's why Woodinville Whiskey founders Orlin Sorensen and Brett Carlile worked with David Pickerell, the master distiller at Maker's Mark for 14 years, when they started their journey toward this bourbon.

The corn, rye, and barley for this bourbon are locally grown in Woodinville before it's turned into white lightning and sent over the Cascade mountains to age for 18 months. But it's not just the bourbon that's the story. This distillery pays attention to the detail of the barrel. The oak for each barrel is seasoned for 18 months, and exposed to the elements to mellow the tannins that are present. The wood is then coopered and slowly toasted, charring the barrel slowly.

The result of this attention to detail from grain to barrel is a bourbon with exceptionally creamy flavors of vanilla, caramel, and toasted oak. It finishes more deeply, with earthy flavors of leather, brown sugar, and more of that toasty oak. The lower proof means the taste is not too complex, but it's a remarkably enjoyable, award-winning spirit that is easy to sip.

Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon— West Virginia

Smooth Ambler's Contradiction Bourbon is like the state it comes from: deeply down-home, but influenced by the states outside its borders. In the case of Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon, the distillery blends whiskey from Indiana and Tennessee with its own wheated bourbon distilled in West Virginia. This bourbon is the perfect metaphor for the can-do spirit that lives in Appalachia. It's an upstart in a region that is known more for moonshine, and it's winning awards (including a prior gold medal at the World Whiskey Awards).

This blend combines 27% of a Smooth Ambler 2-year-old wheated bourbon and 73% of a 9-year-old high-rye sourced bourbon. These are blended and then barreled in the original barrel for another three months. This four-grain bourbon smoothes out the rough edges of the wheated bourbon, the taste of which pops forward on the first sip, followed by notes from the older bourbon. The characteristics of the wheated bourbon then become more forward, resulting in spicy heat that can be intimidating.

This bourbon finishes dry, with lots of wood. Although there are sweet notes of green apple and vanilla, this bourbon is not a traditional bourbon in either the nose, the taste, or the finish. If you are not an experienced bourbon drinker, this may not be the best place to start. For those who like something a little different, an ice cube opens up more complexity and can make it a more enjoyable experience.

Kings County Peated Bourbon — New York

Scotch drinkers who appreciate the smoky taste of peat will love it in this small-batch, young bourbon. Peated whiskey gets its distinct flavor by burning the peat under the whiskey vats, and this bourbon from Kings County Distillery follows this method. Not only does this bourbon meet all of the requirements of bourbon whiskey in its mash bill and aging, but this distillery also exposes it to peat smoke and uses malt that is grown and kilned in Scotland. These two traditions blend seamlessly to produce a spirit that satisfies two sides of the whiskey coin: those who prefer Scotch and those who drink nothing other than bourbon.

The burning peat and peat-smoked malt shine through with a distinct note of campfire smoke complementing the sharp bourbon flavor. Smoke results in less sweetness than a regular bourbon, and the nose and taste are reminiscent of toasted marshmallows and sea salt. It has a full body with hints of smoke throughout but also complex changes as you sip, encompassing everything from traditional vanilla notes to leather and even rubber.

That may not sound appetizing to the bourbon drinker, but this gold medal-winning tipple is worth a try. Grab your favorite scotch drinker and have a side-by-side comparison of the two types of whiskey to get a better idea of how one influences the other.

Dry Fly Straight Bourbon 101 Whiskey – Washington

Another great bourbon from Washington state, Dry Fly Distilling appears to use a straightforward mash bill that contains 55% corn and 45% triticale (a hybrid grain that marries wheat and rye). Triticale is a man-made grain that's used in just a handful of whiskies in the U.S. The result of this non-traditional grain combination is a light-colored spirit with a big punch of flavor.

Dry Fly Straight Bourbon 101 Whiskey weighs in at 101-proof — a high-proof tipple that was the first of its kind produced in Washington. On the nose, big orange aromas and sweetness from the wheat are present, as are floral notes. The orange makes an appearance on the first taste, too, with vanilla present. There is bread in the finish, a testament again to the wheat.

Wheat seems to be the big story here, as it beats some of the other more subtle flavors. To be clear, though, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The fullness of citrus rounded out by bready flavors and aromas makes for an unusual sip that's a pleasant departure from the traditional.


We assembled this collection of high-quality, non-Kentucky-made bourbons by first compiling a list of well-known whiskeys that fit this distinction. Then, we whittled the list down to 12 exceptional bourbons available for purchase in 2024 based on a variety of factors. This included a bourbon's flavor notes on the palate and aroma notes on the nose, its overall taste, affordability, and availability.

This list of recommended bourbon whiskeys (which are not distilled in Kentucky) is based solely on the opinion of the writer of this article. The recommendations were largely informed by the writer's first-hand knowledge and expertise regarding bourbon, our impression when tasting some of these spirits, as well as the price and general availability of each bourbon whiskey.