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Bourbon craze: a primer


Spring arrives subtly but persistently, like a guest who starts off a stranger only to become a fast friend. As the seasons change, we set our tables and fix our drinks differently, a desire for summer's need for refreshment replacing comfort. For bourbon lovers, there's no other time like it. Each autumn prior, boutique batches are released with much fanfare, showcasing distillers at the very top of their trade. Here are some you will absolutely want to try:

You're Asking: What's the Fuss?

Pappy Van Winkle. Does every bourbon have countdowns to the exact hour, minute and second of their release date? Not likely. "Pappy,"as it's known, does--thanks to its limited run of only 7,000 cases per year and persistent cult-favorite status. This is a great option for those who are willing to splurge a bit and for anyone who wants to find out if the hype is worth it. But by no means will you need to spend hundreds of dollars or even download an app to find great bourbon--there are plenty of other new releases that can match Pappy for quality.

You're Seeking: Something Special for 2015

Four Roses 2015. This is a truly memorable year for this well-loved brand. According to The Bourbon Review, this is the very last batch for Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, who retired after nearly 50 years with the company. Each bottle will be hand-numbered, as usual, but now with an even greater story behind it.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. True bourbon can only come from the U.S., making most bourbons pretty special already. Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is extraordinarily so. This Kentucky bourbon comes out only once a year and from just one specific day of production, ensuring 2015 has the potential to become another award-winning edition.

You Desire: Exceptional Character

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Arriving with a detailed history of the lot and with several versions to choose from, this pick is in a league of its own. The Drinkhacker blog called the 2014 bourbon offering in the collection (called George T. Stagg), "the hottest bourbon that isn't named Pappy."

You Love: Doing Good

Parker's Heritage. In 2014, any purchase of Parker's Heritage benefited the fight against ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It's an incredibly worthy cause, but bourbon purists take note: This year the offering won't be bourbon at all, but an 8-year-old malt whiskey. As one blogger smartly noted: "Maybe this is a smart ploy to lure whiskey lovers over to the bourbon world."

How to Choose

There are plenty of fantastic options out there, so don't be afraid to explore and try different kinds of bourbon. The move away from Scotch whisky doesn't seem to show any signs of slowing down--The Wall Street Journal reported recently that global imports of Scotch whisky fell more than 7% in 2014, mostly thanks to the appeal of bourbon and other American whiskeys.

Pick Your Price

The great thing about bourbon is that despite its popularity, you can find exceptional offerings at almost every price point. Each one of the above options should arrive in September or October and come priced at between $60-$90 a bottle, except for Pappy, which can sometimes go for hundreds of dollars per bottle. If you're still unsure, try shopping a well-curated selection at a store you trust first--that way you know that no matter what you decide to purchase, you know it's going to be of great quality.

Go Beyond the Manhattan

Now you have to drink your bourbon! The Manhattan is an iconic way to showcase the spirit's excellent qualities, but don't stop there. Once you have a great bourbon in your home, it can be used in many delicious cocktails or even as a cooking ingredient--chocolate-bourbon cake anyone?