Drinking with Dad: 5 Father’s Day Bourbons to Consider

Editor’s Note: The Whiskey Wash welcomes Stephanie Stewart-Howard to our writing team.

Buying your dad (or, hey, the guy who’s been a dad to you) gifts always seems that smidge tougher than your mom. Sure stores fill up with suggested presents, but honestly, does Dad really need another gift pack of golf balls, cheesy grilling apron, novelty t-shirt – or, god forbid, tie? In an era of consumer-driven buying holiday frenzy, it’s hard enough making decisions for birthdays or Christmas, without having to navigate myriad others. If, however, your father happens to be a bourbon drinker, you can easily find a pleasing gift – and maybe achieve a bonding moment, as you sip together.

The only conundrum is “which bourbon?” Chances are your father has a brand he’s been loyal to, and buying him that is never a bad choice.

Father's Day bourbons

There’s lot of bourbon to choose from for Father’s Day (image via Kentucky Distillers Association)

If you have a local distillery, micro or macro, setting up a tour and tasting can also be a bonding moment. Given the number of small distilleries popping up all over the country, though many of them are new enough to be sourcing rather than distilling their own, it’s increasingly easy to find a place to tour.

Some of those places (I’m thinking of the wonderfully innovative Corsair, in Nashville and Bowling Green), provide a bit more – like a bar where you can sample cocktails made with the product, or even microbreweries (as newcomer Alltech does in Lexington, Kentucky).

If you want to give your Dad a bottle, you can go with his familiar fave, or if you have an unlimited budget and know where to find it, provide him with a coveted bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.

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Should you want to challenge your Dad’s tastes, and give him something new to enjoy – well, the possibilities lately are endless. The following list is by no means definitive – you know what your Dad likes, and good salesperson in your favorite liquor store is going to be able to help guide you to match his tastes.

But if you want to go outside the usual, or find him something a little different, these should make Dad happy. Most have deep family ties, and what better on Father’s Day than to share one of these Father’s Day bourbons whose very creation lies in the passed path of distilling from parent to child over generations?

1. Booker’s – produced by Jim Beam, Booker’s is late master distiller Booker Noe’s gift to the bourbon world. Noe was the sixth generation in a line of descent back to Jim Boehm (“Beam”), and his straight-from-the-barrel efforts signaled a new era in the contemporary bourbon world. Booker’s might just have been the first time in a century a bourbon right out of the barrel found its way into the U.S. market. It’s also rich in father-son relationship tales, as Noe and his son Fred (who’d eventually take over as master distiller at Jim Beam), traveled the country promoting it.

It helped pave the way, Fred Noe told me, for the revival of bourbon and classic cocktail culture we’re seeing today. Fred of course, can be credited with Basil Hayden’s, my own bourbon of choice. Booker’s coffee notes always make me think it’s a good after dinner sipping bourbon – pair with a little pecan or caramel-apple pie.

2. Noah’s Mill Small Batch BourbonNoah’s Mill is put out by Willett (also known as Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.), and Willett also keeps a family distilling tradition alive. The family traces its distilling history back to John David Willett, who made a name for himself in the post-Civil War era. Today, his direct descendant Martha Willett Kulsveen and her husband Even run the family business with their adult children and their spouses. Willett’s products remain authentically small batch – which makes them a little scarcer, but well worth hunting down (there are distributors nation-wide).

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This particular bourbon has notes of mocha, leather, coffee, and fruit, and the caramel taste of oak without too much sweet. Nice mouth feel, and not a lot of heat, considering it comes in at somewhere around 57% alcohol. If your dad likes a cigar after dinner on occasion, pairing Noah’s Mill Small Batch with a good box of cigars is a pretty superb gift.

3. Belle Meade Bourbon – Produced by Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery in Nashville, Belle Meade is currently still a sourced product, but aged in their facility. I truly have high hopes for the forthcoming shift when their own product is properly aged, but in the meanwhile, Charlie and Andy Nelson, with their general manager James Hensley, have done a grand job in putting out a microdistillery product worth building on from a sourced distillate. Nelson’s Greenbrier is a revived family business – prior to Prohibition, Greenbrier was a producer as broad and bold as Jack Daniel’s or Cascade Springs (George Dickel).

The Nelson brothers aim to build on their great-great grandfather’s legacy. Belle Meade Bourbon’s high rye content gives it some spicy notes, including a hint of cinnamon. If your dad also likes a classic Manhattan on occasion, as well as a straight finger or two, you couldn’t pick much better.

4. Blanton’s Original Single Barrel – When I polled my bourbon drinking friends who are also dads, this came out at the top of the “wanted for Father’s Day” list. Blanton’s is one of host of good bourbons made by Buffalo Trace (also one of those tours you ought to take at some point). It’s a super-smooth single barrel with a good creation story; it’s said to be made only of the “center cut” barrels from historic Warehouse H on the Buffalo Trace campus.

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There’s a citrusy note in there – orange or tangerine- and a touch of peppery and clove-scented spiciness. This is one for the dad known for drinking his bourbon straight (I add a single ice cube in summer – call me a heretic, if you will). If you’re a fan of Buffalo Trace’s fine bourbons, Eagle Rare 10 Year, won’t disappoint your “drink it straight” dad in the least either – so consider this a Buffalo Trace two-fer.

5. Town Branch Bourbon – Produced by Alltech in Lexington, Kentucky, Town Branch Bourbon shows its Irish roots to perfection. This is the one my dad’s getting, because he also loves Irish whiskey, and there are favorable comparisons to be made in the tasting notes and finish. I am unabashedly a fan of the company, probably best known for Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, that’s currently building a thriving following.

Founder Dr. Pearse Lyons trained at Guinness, and Alltech on a grand scale is really about all kinds of yeast fermentation (Lyons has a doctorate in that particular subject matter). If you haven’t tried Town Branch yet yourself, seek this one out. Smooth and sweet, with plenty of brown sugar, leading to a long and complex finish, it’s an American bourbon that shows its British roots – and that’s a good thing.

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Stephanie Stewart-Howard