Bourbon whiskey is an alcohol that is purely American. As a slightly more accessible to its cousins like scotch whiskey, bourbon is a must-have for your home liquor cabinet.
Because bourbon can be pretty mellow, it’s a really versatile liquor. You can enjoy a shot or two on the rocks as well as diluted with a bit of water or club soda. Bourbon is also a great base for tons of classic cocktails, like the mint julep, old fashioned, highball, or Manhattan.
However, just because bourbon is versatile doesn’t mean that there aren’t bourbons out there that are complex. An outstanding bourbon can stand up to any other liquor in flavor and variety.
With so many brands available, though, how can someone new to bourbon know what to try? That’s why we’re here to help.
Read on for our list of the best bourbon whiskeys you can get anywhere!
Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
Evan Wiliams is the second-largest bourbon brand in the United States, and their bottled-in-bond variety is well-regarded by bourbon newbies and experts alike.
Evan Williams is a value brand, which means you can expect to spend a little less.
That said, their bottled-in-bond is on the higher end of its offerings and has enough flavor to compete with the competition.
“Bottled-in-bond” means that the bourbon has aged for at least four years before being bottled. That means that you’re getting a more complex, aged flavor than a younger whiskey. That means it’s best as a sipper than in a cocktail.
Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel Bourbon
Henry McKenna is known for bourbon.
This bourbon whiskey has won “Best Bourbon” titles in the last few years, earning it a rightful spot as one of the best bourbons available.
It’s gotten a bit more expensive with popularity, but it’s still not too expensive for a top-shelf bourbon.
Bourbon experts love the McKenna 10 Year Bourbon for its tasting notes of cinnamon, oak, and butterscotch.
It goes down smooth, with a sweet and slightly spicy, peppery finish. A must-try for bourbon lovers.
Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whisky Bourbon
If you like a great story behind your bourbon, Old Forester 1910 Old Fine could be the one for you.
A 1910 fire at Old Forester’s distillery forced the company to move its aging barrels to a second barrel, which worked out so well that it became an Old Forrester’s staple. That same idea still holds true today.
Moving to a second barrel enables the bourbon to mellow and absorb more wood sugars, leaving a bourbon that’s a little lower in alcohol but higher in sweetness.
Notes of chocolate and caramel make the 1910 a great sipping whiskey.
Four Roses Single Barrel
Four Roses Single Barrel is highly well-regarded among bourbon fans and is an excellent introduction to the whiskey for anyone who hasn’t tried it.
This brand has been winning awards in whiskey competitions worldwide nearly annually since 2008. It’s an extremely high-quality bourbon.
This bourbon has a large amount of rye in the recipe, adding a little bit of body and smoothness to the final product.
The aging process takes 7-9 years, which helps smooth the boozy bite a lot and leaves your bourbon with a long finish that you’re sure to love. It’s excellent on the rocks!
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
For a fantastic example of how sometimes the most straightforward preparation can be the best, try Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.
Elijah Craig barrel-ages their bourbon for at least 12 years, then bottles straight from the barrel. With no extra flavors and no filtering, you’re getting the purest bourbon around.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has glowing reviews from publications like Whisky Advocate and Esquire. It also won Whisky Advocate’s 2017 Whisky of the Year in the Barrel-Aged category.
With a rich caramel taste and notes of fruit, this is a bourbon best enjoyed on its own.
You might first recognize Maker’s Mark for their signature, hand-dipped red wax tops.
You’ve almost certainly seen it in your bar or store of choice. But it’s not just the look that’s distinctive, but the flavor. That’s why it’s one of the most popular brands around.
A Maker’s and Ginger, made with just bourbon, ginger ale, and a squeeze of lime, brings out the best flavors in the bourbon but cuts it with the ginger and lime.
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Woodford Reserve is one of the oldest brands out there and has been in operation since 1812.
Since then, their process has remained much the same. Simple ingredients and thoughtful aging result in a bourbon whiskey that’s terrific no matter how you choose to enjoy it.
The mint julep is usually the first cocktail you think about for the Kentucky Derby, but you’ll want to try Woodford Reserve’s official Derby drink, the Woodford Spire.
This bourbon, cranberry, and lemonade concoction is sweet, tart, and refreshing. It’s great as a pitcher drink on a warm day.
Michter’s has been around since 1753, and the Michter’s US1 is their entry-level bourbon.
Michter’s produces the US1 in small batches, so each bottle will taste slightly different.
While Michter’s doesn’t disclose how long their bourbon ages, the mashbill features high-quality corn. That corn is a great base.
With the US1, Michter’s has produced a bourbon that’s mellow, earthy, and a bit sweet. It’s great as an everyday kind of bourbon, and it works exceptionally well as the base for your favorite bourbon cocktail.
I particularly like to use Michter’s when I’m making a Manhattan. It adds a subtle sweetness that’s tough to beat.
Barrell Dovetail Bourbon
Some bourbons are best for special occasions.
That’s definitely the case with Barrell Bourbon’s Dovetail.
This barrel-aged variety is exceptionally well-regarded and has won prizes at huge industry events like the Ascot Awards, the John Barleycorn Awards, the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, and the New York International Spirits competition.
The key to Dovetail’s success is its aging process. Each small batch ages on a combination of rum, port, and cabernet wine barrels.
That aging imparts deep flavor with a buttery finish, making Dovetail a great sipper. Savor this one for a big celebration, and you’ll be delighted.
Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Buffalo Trace is another bourbon brand with a ton of history.
They’ve been making bourbon the same way for more than 200 years, with aging happening in century-old warehouses.
Buffalo Trace is one of the more well-known brands, but it’s also one of the most awarded, including a gold medal at the 2020 Whiskey Masters.
The bourbon is aged for a minimum of eight years, meaning that you’re getting a lot of aged, oaky, and caramel flavors.
It’s an outstanding entry-level bourbon for those new to it. Buffalo Trace also offers a lot of other premium bourbons that are great as well!
Fistful of Bourbon Whiskey Blend
Some bourbons and other whiskeys get bottled straight from a single barrel.
However, other bourbons get blended together, so you get the best of all possible flavors. That’s where Fistful of Bourbon gets its name.
Fistful of Bourbon is an excellent liquor for a mixed drink, and they’ve even provided some of their own twists on signature cocktails.
My personal recommendation is Cowboy Coffee. It’s a shot of Fistful of Bourbon and a shot of espresso.
If you like your cocktails with a bit of an extra kick of booziness and caffeine, this is one for you.
Hillrock Solera Bourbon
Hillrock Distillery is the newest bourbon maker on our list, only having been around since 2012. However, they’re already changing the game in bourbon with their Solera.
The Solera process involves using several bourbon barrels at once, taking some out of more aged barrels, and replacing it with younger bourbon.
It’s a more commonly used process for wines and spirits, but Hillrock is the first to do it with bourbon.
As a result, Solera is complex, and every batch tastes slightly different. But, with the bourbon racking up award after award, Hillrock is quickly becoming a big brand.
What is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a distinct kind of whiskey, like scotch or Canadian whiskey. So, all bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbons.
Bourbon originated in Kentucky. There’s a misconception, though, that bourbon has to be made in Kentucky to be considered bourbon. So while Kentucky distilleries are responsible for almost 95% of bourbon production, it can be made anywhere.
What makes bourbon unique is its ingredients. Unlike other whiskeys that primarily consist of different grains, bourbon must be at least 51% corn. That corn flavor gives the bourbon a lot of its mellow sweetness.
In addition, bourbon must be distilled at less than 160 proof, stored in new oak barrels for aging at less than 125 proof, and not contain additives at any point. A liquor that doesn’t meet one of those objectives is a whiskey, but it’s not considered a bourbon.
Bourbon doesn’t have a strict aging requirement, but any bourbons aged for less than four years must have a statement on the label. Like other liquors, a bourbon that’s aged for longer tends to have a deeper flavor.
Compared to other whiskeys, bourbon tends to have a smoother flavor and finish. That’s just one of the reasons why enthusiasts love it!
Bourbon is one of the most versatile liquors, but that doesn’t mean that all bourbon is the same.
Every bourbon on our list is excellent, and you can’t go wrong picking up a bottle of any of them. Some say that bourbon is best enjoyed with friends, so make your favorite drink, kick back, and enjoy!