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The Rise of 'Hazmat' Bourbon

Updated: Sep 10

hazmat bourbon

I remember when I was first getting into bourbon, I had a bottle of Bookers that was high proof, which, let's be honest, what of theirs doesn't have some heat on it - Booker's goes into the barrel around 125 and most of their stuff comes out not far off from that mark. We used to joke at the time though that the Booker's pour was "jet A." That of course was a reference to jet fuel and the burn that came along with that particular experience. Most everything else that was on my shelves at that juncture was much tamer, mellower, and few if any bottles were barrel proof. That stands at a stark contrast to today where the number of bottles that say "barrel proof" "batch proof" "cask strength" or "full proof" have increased rather significantly. For a full run down on proof, be sure to check out the Bourboneur Guide to Bourbon Proof Ranges.

An Argument for Drinking High Proof

When you see the labeling on a bottle that reads "barrel-proof" or "cask strength" you know that that particular liquid which you're drinking has not been cut with water. You have the ability to then control the dilution - if so desired - of your pour. After all you can put water in, but you can't take it out. I keep eyedroppers around the Bourboneur bar which friends and guests can use if they feel the need to tame something a bit on the warmer side. You're coming as close as possible to drinking a bourbon that's essentially straight from the barrel. In some ways you can feel that you're having a more authentic experience drinking your bourbon this way. To a degree, you can also say that drinking high proof bourbon also ramps up the flavor.

What is Hazmat Bourbon?

Sometimes you may hear someone call a bottle of bourbon a "hazmat bottle." Rest assured, these bottles have not been exposed to some level of nuclear radiation and are in fact, completely safe to drink- but - if you're worried about the proof level, send it along this way and we'll be happy to take care of it for you at the Bourboneur garage bar! Hazmat is a term used to signify that the bottle is above 140 proof. Not many bourbons reach what is certainly a more legitimate "jet A" status, but high-octane bottlings include such things as some George T. Stagg bottlings (you'll have to go back to 2016 for the last hazmat release of their line) and Jack Daniels Coy Hill (similarly, alcohol by volume varies on either side of the hazmat line). Interestingly, hazmat bourbon is illegal to fly with given the proof point, just one of a number of Fun Bourbon Facts to Impress Your Friends.

Most Popular Hazmat Bottles on the Secondary Market

Thousands of bottles trade hands every day on the Secondary Bourbon Market. The bottles below are among the trendiest at the moment in terms of number of bottles selling and in particular being marketed specifically in relation to their proof.

Jack Daniels Coy Hill

Jack Daniels Coy Hill Tennessee Whiskey

Jack Daniels has been a regular fixture here lately on the Bourboneur blog as they've continued to push the envelope on a number of fronts. The Coy Hill bottling just hit the market in 2021 with proof's that went as high as 150 - last year's release went as high as 155. Their Coy Hill release comes from the highest point in elevation on the Jack Daniels property and from the top floor of the rickhouse in what's referred to as the "buzzards roost." Given the height in the rickhouse, you get more evaporation with the angels taking a higher share resulting in some elevated proof barrels.

Augusta Buckners 13

Augusta Buckners 13 Single Barrel Cask Strength

Augusta Distillery made headlines this year at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition after their Buckner's 13 Single Barrel bottling was crowned "the world's best bourbon." Bottled at cask strength, there's some bottles floating around that clock in at 142 to 147 proof. Compared to the typical bottle that pours at 123.2 proof these hazmat's are not only getting a lot of attention, but the pricing is fetching a 2x multiplier (or more) on the secondary market compared to the already pumped-up pricing on the regular bottle. Eventually the hype will wear off but expect to still have an outlay to get one of these with some heat on it.

A. Smith Bowman Cask Strength

A. Smith Bowman Cask Strength

"Bold," "memorable," and "delicious" are all words that have been used to describe both the first and second batch of this particular bottling. It's of course super unavailable, but that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone as the bourbon game is a hot one. Clocking in at 144.5 this is rumored to be a bottle that's found its way to center while not letting the proof carry it off. Unfortunately, I haven't tried this, and I don't have more money than sense yet, so I won't be shelling out the twelve hundred Benjamin's this is going for on the secondary to give it a try!

Bourbon Blue Book

Each week we update the Bourbon Blue Book, which takes thousands of recent secondary sales prices and puts them into a searchable database showing you what the low, high and average price for over 1,500 bottles of coveted bottles of brownwater are going for. There's nothing as accurate and detailed like it on the web!

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