If you asked a spirits expert a quarter century ago to name the most important bourbons ever made, they might have wondered whether America’s home-grown whiskey deserved such analytical consideration. Bourbon was in the doldrums, unappreciated and underdrunk. But today, thanks to a boom that shifted into high gear around the turn of the century, bourbon is arguably the most talked-about, most obsessed-over and most in-demand spirit in the world. To better assess how we got here, we consulted with 23 bourbon experts, including distillers, journalists, authors, whiskey-bar owners and one whiskey-centric-liquor-store proprietor. Each participant named five to ten bourbons that made a difference—not their favorite bourbons, or the ones they thought tasted best, but those bottles that were influential, innovative or otherwise held a significant place in bourbon history. They were allowed to reach way back to pre-Prohibition years, cite bourbons they could never have tasted, and yes, in the case of distillers, include their own creations. (One self-serving endorsement would not land them a spot on this list, however, as every bourbon here received multiple votes.) The final order was determined strictly by the votes received. There were a number of ties in the lower rankings. In those cases, editorial judgment determined final rankings. In a few instances, the panelists indicated complete lines of bourbons that bore the same name, not just a single bottling. In other cases, panelists pointed out different bottlings within a single line. As the arguments behind these choices were often similar, these votes were sometimes combined and placed within the rankings as a bourbon label’s complete line. (Sound complicated? Well, so is today’s bourbon market.) Without further ado, here’s the list. A visceral debating of the results is expected, even encouraged. We only ask you do your arguing with a bourbon in one hand and leave the other hand free for volatile gesturing. —Robert Simonson

Food & Wine

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