What spring is to fashion, summer to blockbuster movies and Christmas to toys, fall is to bourbon.
Fans line up to get their names in lotteries for the annual Pappy Van Winkle release, but it's hardly the only name on the wish lists of bourbon geeks.
Most Kentucky distillers are coming out with something. Some are annual releases, others are special releases, and a few are launches of new lines. September is National Bourbon Month (and Kentucky Bourbon Month), and visitors to the Bardstown Bourbon Festival often use their annual pilgrimage as a chance to try the new offerings and stock up while they can.
Here are some you can look for, coming to liquor stores and local watering holes soon:
Alltech: In addition to the Town Branch Bourbon and Rye, Lexington distiller Alltech is launching two rums in late fall/early winter.
Labadee Gold is an amber, medium bodied blended rum distilled from sugar cane juice in copper pot stills. Labadee Dark is a dark, full-bodied, blended rum distilled from sugar cane juice in copper pot stills. Pricing and proof are not available yet.
Angel's Envy: The Louisville brand will release in late fall its annual Angel's Envy Cask Strength bourbon matured in port casks. In limited supply, the Cask Strength is 119.3 proof and has a suggested price of about $170.
Buffalo Trace: Every year since 2000, Buffalo Trace has released an Antique Collection that has become a cult favorite of whiskey lovers. Five more older whiskies will hit the shelves in late September/early October. Price suggested at $80 each. Limited quantities.
This year's collection features:
■ A George T. Stagg, uncut and unfiltered, distilled in spring 1998. The 138.1 proof bourbon tastes of dark chocolate, vanilla, coffee and dates, according to the tasting notes.
■ A William Larue Weller, uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon, distilled in spring 2002. At 140.2 proof — the strongest Weller release ever — this bourbon has bold flavors of dark molasses, plums and toffee.
■ A Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, an uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey, distilled in spring 2008, weighs in at 129.2 proof, with flavors of Christmas cake, allspice, coconut and clove.
■ A 17-year-old Eagle Rare that tastes of oak, leather, cinnamon and tobacco.
■ An 18-year-old Sazerac Rye with flavors of all-spice, molasses and hints of mint, along with a long, dry finish.
Buffalo Trace also will be sending out very limited quantities of the vaunted Pappy Van Winkle in October. Suggested retail prices range from $80 to $250, but bottles go for much more on the secondary market.
Brown-Forman: The Louisville spirits company, parent of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, also has built a major following for its premium bourbon, Woodford Reserve. Around Nov. 1, it will release the ninth Woodford Reserve Master's Collection, which marries the bourbon to another of Brown-Forman's brands: Sonoma-Cutrer. Woodford Reserve was aged in used pinot noir barrels, giving this 90-proof bourbon a fruity, Burgundian flavor, according to tasting notes. Priced about $100.
And for the 13th year, Brown-Forman released a special Old Forester Birthday Bourbon to mark the Sept. 2 birth date of founder George Garvin Brown. This 12-year-old, 97-proof bourbon is priced about $60.
Old Forester, the company's oldest brand, is seeing a resurgence in popularity among craft whiskey drinkers. Later this year the company is expected to have news on Old Forester 1870 Original Batch.
Diageo: The British spirits giant makes everything from Bulleit and Johnny Walker to Guinness and Baileys. This fall, the company plans to release the fourth in its Orphan Barrel series. Strongbox will join Barterhouse, Old Blowhard and Rhetoric. No details on when the whiskey will be available.
Four Roses: The Lawrenceburg distillery usually has two special releases a year — a single barrel selection in the spring and a small batch released ahead of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September. The 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch, a blend of four of the distillery's mashbills, will be barrel-proof, at about 60 percent alcohol by volume. According to the tasting notes, it has notes of orange zest, glazed maple and fresh spearmint. It hits shelves across the country by mid-October, priced around $99.
Heaven Hill: This Bardstown distillery, owned by the Shapira family, has two big releases coming this fall, and both are getting a lot of industry buzz.
The first is Elijah Craig 23-year-old Single Barrel, which is hitting store shelves now. This limited release has a suggested retail price of about $200 and probably will sell out fast.
The second is the eighth annual Parker's Heritage Collection release, honoring master distiller emeritus Parker Beam. This one is a bit different. It's a 13-year-old straight wheat whiskey that actually was part of the first run of what eventually became the unusual Heaven Hill's Bernheim Original Straight Wheat Whiskey. Why unusual? Because it isn't a wheated bourbon, it's a wheat whiskey with soft winter wheat as the primary grain and less corn than in bourbon. Some barrels of the original batch have been bottled at cask strength, about 136 proof. Coming this month, Parker's Heritage Original Batch Wheat will be priced at about $90.
Another release to keep in mind: the final release this year of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, a cult favorite, comes out in September and will fly off the shelves. Priced at about $45. Three more releases are set for 2015, as the company plans to make this a recurring but very limited release.
Jim Beam: The Clermont distillery has three big releases hitting stores in September.
Jim Beam's Signature Craft Bourbon line is getting some major additions. The first is Jim Beam Signature Craft Quarter Cask, the third release. This small batch, limited edition starts out as a bourbon aged at least five years and then is finished with a variety of bourbons aged in smaller, quarter-cask barrels for at least four years. Bottled at 86 proof, it has a suggested retail price of about $40.
Beam also is adding two Harvest Bourbons to the Signature Craft line: A Soft Red Wheat Bourbon and a Brown Rice Bourbon. Both are 90 proof and have been aged for 11 years. The wheat version has gentle spice notes with the sweetness of light brown sugar, and the rice version has a taste of toasted grain and rich vanilla, according to the tasting notes. Four more special grain expressions are coming in 2015: Rolled Oat, Triticale, High Rye and Six Row Barley. All are limited quantities. Suggested price about $50.
Maker's Mark: Also owned by Beam Suntory, Maker's Mark in Loretto often does special labels but doesn't do special releases. Until now. The premium bourbon is releasing Maker's Mark Cask Strength, a limited bottling at the distillery. It's Maker's Mark straight from the barrel — uncut, unfiltered — with even more front-of-the-palate flavors that Maker's drinkers know and love, according to the distillery. Proof will vary by batch but usually will be 108 to 114; priced about $50 at the distillery.
Michter's: Although the Louisville brand's distillery isn't fully operational, the company has a thriving line of craft bourbons. Michter's Toasted Barrel Finish, 91.4 proof, joins in late September/early October. It's Michter's standard US*1 bourbon finished in a second barrel made from wood that is air-dried for 18 months and then toasted but not charred. Priced at about $48.
Wild Turkey: The Lawrenceburg distillery made this the Year of Jimmy Russell and released Wild Turkey Diamond in the spring in honor of the master distiller's 60th year in the business. The pricey bourbon (about $125) has been on sale at the distillery's new visitors center for a while and heads to stores this fall.
But that's not the only new release: Coming in November, the Campari-owned distillery is taking flavored whiskey into some new territory with American Honey STING, a 71-proof blend of Wild Turkey bourbon, honey and ghost pepper. According to the company, the ghost pepper used to heat up STING is 400 times hotter than Tabasco. Priced at about $22.
Willett: The Bardstown craft distillery is launching this fall a line of Exploratory Cask Finish releases. According to a label approved this summer, the first looks to be a 7-year-old rye finished in Grand Marnier casks. (Another release might be rye aged in Curaçao casks.) Possibly only 6,000 100-proof bottles will be available; no pricing or release date has been announced.