The Rarest Bourbons In The World

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Bourbon is a whiskey unlike other whiskeys, given its specific requirements of preparation — according to the American Bourbon Association, your liquor isn't a true bourbon unless it's made from "at least 51% corn" and aged in a "new charred oak" barrel.

These rigid constraints result in a special style of whiskey, one that's mandated away from additives, with a sweeter kick thanks to the corn. Even the way bourbon ages is different, with most bourbon barrels often stored sideways instead of upright.

The required rituals of bourbon have created a rarefied space of craft that has yielded high-dollar bottles for those who've made it best. The following offerings are the rarest bourbons you'll find, if you can find them, issued from distilleries that put a premium on performance and take patience with aging. For the whiskey purist with a healthy bank account, these exceptional bourbons will undoubtedly be some of the best to ever caress your palate.

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve Straight Bourbon

This brand of bourbon is so rare that in some states, you'll need to win a lottery to buy it. According to TribLive, in January 2021, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) kicked off a statewide drawing for 23 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle's 23-year-old Family Reserve Straight Bourbon, setting aside 18 bottles for individuals and five for businesses.

Priced at $399.99 per bottle by the PLCB, Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve is likely to cost you far more if you don't win the annual lottery. Per TribLive, demand for Pappy Van Winkle bourbons is so great that sellers have jacked up prices in secondary and tertiary markets. In other words, the manufacturer's suggested retail price, which is actually $299.99, may only be the starting point of negotiation, and odds are you'll have to pay dearly to secure a bottle. But buyer beware, because according to Esquire, bourbon secondary markets for Pappy Van Winkle are a minefield of greed and fraud — to the point where some sellers have sold cheap whiskey in Pappy Van Winkle bottles on Facebook.

Orphan Barrel Whoop & Holler 28-Year-Old American Whiskey

This elderly bourbon swoops through the whiskey marketplace like a lost comet. Last bottled in 2016, per The Bourbon Concierge, Orphan Barrel Whoop & Holler bourbon is a codger of a whiskey with 28 years of barrel aging under its belt.

With all that time mired in oak, you'd expect a taste that's swamped with it. But according to The Whiskey Wash, what you'll actually get is a nuanced nose of "marzipan, beeswax ... [and] light molasses" that's surprisingly not oak-heavy, while your palate faces notes of "cooked corn, pineapple rind, and fresh chili" on the pull.

Available on The Bourbon Concierge for $1,159 at the time of this writing, this variety is so rare that its remaining quantity is finite. With 2016 intended as "a one-time release," all of the Whoop & Holler 28-Year-Old you'll ever see has already been bottled. Whether and when the supply vanishes is up to you, your bourbon budget, and your fellow bourbon drinkers. 

Buffalo Trace Double Eagle Very Rare Bourbon

Hailing from Frankfurt, Kentucky, this sparsely made bourbon spends 20 years in the barrel and comes out presented in a silver presentation box with a crystal decanter, per the Buffalo Trace Distillery

According to Beverage Dynamics, Double Eagle gets its name because it's aged twice as long as Buffalo Trace's original Eagle Rare bourbon. In addition, the complementary decanter is designed with a pair of crystal-carved eagles. The eagles' wings are captured mid-flight, providing the necessary majestic imagery one should expect when partaking in a bourbon so rare it amounts to an event. One of the eagles is perched on top of the stopper; its mate is submerged at the bottom of the bottle. 

As far as taste goes, Buffalo Trace insists you'll experience notes of vanilla and caramel swimming through a balanced oaky body. As far as cost goes, the suggested retail price of Double Eagle Very Rare is $1,999 for a fifth (via Beverage Dynamics).

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon

For more than 20 years, Old Forester has issued a Birthday Bourbon on September 2nd of each year in honor "of founder George Garvin Brown's birthday," according to Oldforester.com. The 2021 version clocked in at 104 proof and was aged in 119 barrels for 12 years.

For the 2021 edition, Old Forester discloses an aroma of red raspberry, blackberry, and strawberry that is balanced out by notes of "vanilla creme brulee, subtle pecan, rich maple syrup, and cocoa." As far as taste goes, Old Forester promises notes of "caramel, burnt sugar, and a touch of fresh baked linzer cookie," while the finish ends in a warm, spicy fashion with a touch of dryness.

When this rare bourbon arrives once a year, it's always a new bourbon. According to Robb Report, each bottling of Birthday Bourbon features a different flavor profile than the year before — setting Old Forester not only apart from other bourbons, but from other vintages within its own distillery.

Michter's Limited Release 25-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon

A complex bourbon that clocks in at 116 proof, Michter's Limited Release 25-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon is the kind of whiskey that will leave "thick legs up the sides" of your glass, according to The Whiskey Wash.

Several sources have confirmed the excellence of this whiskey, and also its rarity. According to Maxim, it's believed that fewer than 400 bottles of this bourbon exist. A tiny batch among small batches, Michter's Limited Release 25 Year also generates a hefty price tag, typically going for over $1,000 per bottle on the primary market, while fetching upwards of $13,000 per bottle on secondary and tertiary markets.

For your expense, you can expect a nose of graham cracker, vanilla, and ginger, while experiencing a silky oaked essence through a palate ride of "buttered toast, pecan pie bars, and vanilla cake with a brown-sugar glaze" that ends with a hint of "almond brittle ... spiced apples, and cinnamon" (per The Whiskey Wash).

Parker's Heritage Collection 1996 Cask Strength Small Batch Straight Bourbon

This rare bourbon punches like a thunderbolt with an ABV of 61.3%. And if you can tame this high-proof member of the Parker's Heritage Collection, then according to Whisky Magazine, you should experience notes of cherry and cedar wood on your journey. The tasters at Whisky Magazine also complimented this 1996 Cask Strength Straight Bourbon for its extended finish, which one professional taster described as "Long and warming."

But like most rare whiskeys, this one also comes with sticker shock. An inaugural release from the Parker's Heritage Collection fetches over $1,900 on Whiskey Auctioneer at the time of this writing. Need further evidence that this bourbon is hard to procure unless you're willing to dig deep into your wallet? When bottles went up for auction at Christie's in 2020, the winning bidder was expected to shell out between $3,000 to $4,000 for three of them.

A.H. Hirsch Reserve 1974 16-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The A.H. Hirsch Reserve 1974 16-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey is so rare that there's a book about its scarcity. Titled "The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste," the 108-page book by Charles K. Cowdery covers the immense history of a distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, that "dates back to the 1750s."

The tumultuous tale described by Cowdery serves up a fraction of A.H. Hirsch's mystique, as what makes this bourbon truly rare is that only 400 barrels were in the batch when it was distilled in 1974. According to The Whiskey Wash, the distillery that made this bourbon eventually slid toward bankruptcy, so it was acquired by Gordon Hue in 1989. The bourbon was then bottled by Julian Van Winkle III as A.H. Hirsch Reserve.

A bourbon that's survived a shifting life in the barrel, this vanishingly finite whiskey should please enthusiasts both for the thrill of the hunt as well as the opportunity to take part in the continuing story of A.H. Hirsch Reserve.

William Heavenhill 13-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Barrelled at Heaven Hill's Bernheim Distillery, this rare bourbon comes from a facility that ironically possesses the second-largest bourbon inventory in the world, according to Caskers. It's "also the only remaining family-owned distillery in Kentucky," an establishment that pairs quality with care, as it perennially wins awards such as Distillery of the Year 2019 at the SF World Spirits Competition. 

Regarding the taste of this bourbon, according to For Whiskey Lovers, the palate is "sweet with vanilla, caramel, and oak notes, followed by a touch of spice."

The William Heavenhill 13 Year is a limited edition, as for its 2020 release, the Heaven Hill distillery issued just 35 barrels. When the small batches are bottled and hit the market, the price they fetch typically spans between $500 to $800. Not as expensive as some of the bourbons in this rarified space, the William Heavenhill 13 Year could be considered a relative discount that fits nicely on the shelves of any bourbon aficionado.

Old Rip Van Winkle 25-Year-Old Bourbon

Old Rip Van Winkle 25 Year comes with a recommended retail price of $1,800, per Whisky Advocate, but given its immense popularity with consumers coupled with its rarity, this bourbon often sells for far higher than the price of a new sedan. At the time of this writing, a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 25 Year can entertain a pricetag going as high as $60,000, per Wine-Searcher.

According to Whisky Advocate, the Old Rip Van Winkle 25 Year is the oldest Van Winkle variety to date. If you're looking to buy a bottle, know that only 710 decanters of Old Rip were released. Their packaging is almost as special as the spirit itself: wooden boxes with lids made from the staves of the barrels that the bourbon was once stored in. Each bottle also comes with a numbered certificate of authenticity that's signed by Julian Van Winkle, grandson of Julian P. "Pappy" Van Winkle.

2017 Four Roses Al Young 50th Anniversary Bourbon

Listed for $2,599 on Bourbon Concierge, the 2017 Four Roses Al Young 50th Anniversary is already no longer available on store shelves. To purchase this bourbon, you'll need to seek secondary markets and travel into the territory of rare spirits.

This specific bourbon is named after the late, legendary Al Young, who was a member of the Four Roses team for 52 years. A member of the Kentucky Distillers' Association's hall of fame, Young was considered a "bourbon evangelist" to those who knew him, according to WLKY. Fifty years into his dedicated tenure, Four Roses paid Young homage with a 2017 bottling of his namesake bourbon, which, according to Four Roses, delivers "aromas of sweet caramel and floral honeysuckle" while tempting the palate with "peaches and apricots" before finishing its bite with "a hint of mint."

This limited-edition small-batch whiskey clocks in at 107.6 proof and comprises a blend of bourbons aged a minimum of 12-23 years.

John E Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Arriving in a batch of just 12 barrels, according to The Whiskey Jug, John E Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve is as rare as its name implies. A product of Heaven Hill Distillery, this bourbon entered the barrel in 1992 and then migrated to steel tanks in 2013 to prevent over-aging. The bourbon was released in 2015 and bottled in 375 ml decanters with a gold and platinum key graphic etched onto the bottle.

Bottled at 90 proof, the alcohol content might be middle of the road, but this may leave more room for a fuller mouthfeel. According to The Whiskey Wash, the barrels of John E Fitzgerald VSR "were not chill-filtered," so the resulting whiskey "retains more of the natural esters and fatty acids" during the aging process, culminating in what outlet describes as a "richer mouthfeel." Along the palate, any lucky imbiber should experience notes of "cocoa and vanilla."

Angel's Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Madeira Casks

Spending its final year of aging in a Madeira wine cask found on the Madeira islands off the coast of Portugal, Angel's Envy bourbon clocks in at 100 proof and carries "deeper wood notes and an extra layer of complexity," according to The Whiskey Wash.

And if you ask Angel's Envy, what makes aging in Madeira casks unique is that prior to holding bourbon, they stored Madeira wine and "were heated during the aging process," throwing residual flavors into this bourbon that should recall sherry and tawny port wines.

Per Angel's Envy, the nose should be reminiscent of "caramelized banana, brown sugar, freshly baked raisins, almonds, and faint cherry," while the palate should detect "notes of toasted oak, grass, smoke, leather, chocolate, and dried cherries." This results in a finish that the distiller describes as "satisfying," adding that it "lingers with notes of almond and hazelnut."

Milam & Greene: The Castle Hill Series 13 Year Old Bourbon

Named after the Texas Military Institute, aka "The Castle," Milam & Greene's Castle Hill Series 13-Year-Old Bourbon is a blend of whiskeys created by master blender Heather Greene. With only 20 barrels put into circulation, this rare bourbon runs at "a suggested retail price of $119.99" but can fetch up to $350 on the secondary market. All things considered, for the scarceness of this spirit, the price is reasonable relative to other rare bourbons, especially compared to any variety bearing the name "Van Winkle."

If you can get your hands on this sparse bourbon, then according to Milam & Greene, you should expect scents of "vanilla, almond, citrus, chocolate, oak, and tobacco" on the nose upon opening, while tasting spice and traditional "bourbon sweetness" as it glides to a warm finish on the palate. A truly rare whiskey, it's actually "the most limited of" Milam & Greene's boutique offerings, according to The Whiskey Wash.

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection: George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Arguably one of the best bourbon distilleries on the planet, Buffalo Trace continues churning out hits barrel after barrel. For its George T. Stagg offering, it placed a minimum of 15 years on the bourbon's barrel aging, according to the Buffalo Trace website. In addition, this whiskey comes to the consumer straight out of the barrel, resulting in a taste that the distiller describes as "powerful, flavorful, and intense."

As far as tasting notes, Buffalo Trace guarantees "toffee sweetness and dark chocolate with hints of vanilla, fudge, nougat, and molasses." And these notes seem to resonate, as renowned whiskey taster Jim Murray dubbed the George T. Stagg "one of the whiskeys of the year, easily."

As an annual release, the George T. Stagg variety from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection continues dominating the rare bourbon scene, banking on a history that's draped with gold medals and a bottle on the secondary market that can go for $1,299.