Sunday, June 16, 2024

What’s The Best Bourbon Whiskey

The 30 Best Bourbons For Every Budget

The 10 SMOOTHEST Whiskeys (this nearly broke us…)

Bourbon continues to rank among the most popular distilled spirits in the United States and its not just sales seeing a spike. As the number of producers in the country goes from strength to strength, so too does the range of styles in the category, with distillers turning to innovative fermentation and aging techniques, as well as left-field grains to stand out.

The tasting for VinePairs 2022 edition of our annual bourbon roundup offered great insight into how broad and deep the category has grown. Among the more than 150 bottles considered, we sampled brands from across the country, and encountered more craft expressions than ever before.

Speaking of craft, a large portion of the bottles considered this year came from independent brands that source their whiskey from Indiana . While this practice has been looked down upon by some in the past, the majority of brands employing that strategy now are increasingly transparent about their whiskeys origins. Producers in that field who made it onto this list did so by taking the spirit in a new direction via a finishing technique or proprietary aging process, or by blending with their own whiskey and achieving harmonious results.

With all that said, here are 30 of the best bourbons to drink in 2022.

What Makes For Good Bourbon Whiskey

While everything from ingredients, equipment, climate, distillation methods, and more can play a role when distinguishing one bourbon from the next, most good bourbons are the result of proper aging. Specifically, the highest-quality, top-shelf bourbon is usually aged no less than 7 years, and no more than 12. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule , but generally speaking, 7-12 years of aging allows the distillate to suck up a perfect amount of flavour and texture from the oak, without resorting to overkill. In turn, the bourbon retains a beautiful colour of dark or golden amber, while deftly balancing flavour, smoothness, and texture that you would expect from a high-end bourbon whiskey.

That said, not all the best bourbons are automatically smooth per se, at least not in the traditional sense. Indeed, some of the foremost whiskey brands mark their respective territory by way of robust flavour, ample spice, and a high proof. As a result, theres going to be some heat present on every sip, the kind of which you can feel in your chest. Nevertheless, the spirit still qualifies for the list of what is good bourbon, sometimes even top bourbon. Its when the whiskey goes down hot, lacks complexity, and retains thin texture, then its likely bourbon of low quality. This most commonly occurs when the distillate isnt aged for a long enough period of time, or when an expert isnt overseeing the whole process, to begin with.

Heavens Door Tennessee Bourbon

Co-created by iconic American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, this Tennessee bourbon spends eight years harmonizing in oak before release. Vibrant red fruits lead its nose, followed by spicy cloves and black pepper aromas. The palate is equally fruity and spiced, with dried berry flavors adding sweetness. Average price: $50.

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Four Roses Small Batch

Price: roughly $38 per 750 ml

Distillery: Four Roses Distillery

ABV: 45%

Flavor Profile:

The scent of spicy cedar and fruit will greet the nose. The palate has sweet oak and vanilla notes with hints of caramel, stone fruit , and floral notes.

Why We Like It:

Four Roses Bourbon is one of the smoothest small batch bourbons we have ever tasted in this price range. We like the balanced flavors of Four Roses, and the alcohol is not very imposing. The spice notes are also average, making Four Roses a delicious bourbon for sipping on the rocks and mixing.

Evan Williams Black Label

Legend has it that when all three are brought together...a good time is ...

If you prefer easy-drinking spirits, Evan Williams Black Label might be just what you are looking for. It has almost no heat at all and the vanilla and caramel aromas dominate the flavor profile from beginning to end.

Some would argue that this bourbon lacks complexity. However, that is a matter of personal preference and it doesnt make Evan Williams less desirable.

This bourbon can be tough to get your hands on. Check here to see if it is available.

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Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

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With Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, youll initially pick up on hints of honey, chocolate, and toasted oak. Then once you sample the bourbon, youll taste the peppery spices, along with a nuttiness that results in a full-bodied drinking experience. What you end up with is a uniquely flavorful bourbon with a lot of character.

A strange concoction that bears corn bread, stone fruits, walnut, along with menthol and mint, the delicate balance will never yank your tastes in any one direction. Though quite a high wire act, Basil Haydens Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is silky and smooth in your mouth, that finishes off light, with no clingy aftertaste.

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The Best Bourbons Under $50

Broken Barrel Whiskey Co. California Oak Bourbon

Distilled in Kentucky, this high-rye release is finished using a mix of virgin French Oak staves and California Cabernet wine cask staves. The process has a noticeable and enjoyable influence on the final whiskey, imparting a prominent vanilla note and juicy red berry flavors. If youre a regular wine drinker looking to explore bourbon, this is the bottle for you. Average price: $31. Rating: 91.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The eponymous release from the Buffalo Trace distillery, this expression remains among the most widely available and easily obtainable from the brand. That doesnt mean it should go overlooked, though. This is a solid entry-level bourbon with enjoyable caramel, brown sugar, and spice notes. It also performs valiantly when used in cocktails. Average price: $35. Rating: 91.

Hirsch Selected Whiskeys The Horizon

Hirsch combines a blend of two rye-forward Indiana-distilled bourbons for this release. The first, and majority component, is a little under 5 years old, while the second made from an even higher-rye mash bill is aged more than 6 and a half years. Unsurprisingly, rye is notable throughout, lending a black pepper spice to the nose and a sharp bite to the finish. Notes of red petals and dried cherries lend further complexity. Average price: $38. Rating: 92.

Russells Reserve 10 Years Old

Pinhook Bourbon Heist

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Russells Reserve 10 Years Old

Price: roughly $40 per 750 ml

Distillery: Wild Turkey Distillery

ABV: 45%

Flavor Profile:

The flavors transition from sweet caramel to creamy vanilla to cocoa and pine. It holds an earthy oak undertone with clove and an allspice finish.

Why We Like It:

It is a full-bodied bourbon with complex flavors. The spice notes are not very strong, but it gives the drinker the traditional flavors. The tawny color gives the liquor an attractive look. It is not a perfect drink, especially with the bitterness in the mid-palate. However, this is still a great bourbon because of the complexity of the flavors that shifts instantly from sweet to floral and then earthiness.

The Maturation Or Aging Process

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Many distilleries use up to 55-gallon barrels for aging their spirit. When the spirit is poured into the charred, oak barrels, it is about 62.5 percent alcohol by volume or 125 proof. This is another guiding principle when it comes to the production of bourbon.

Water is then added to the spirit to bring down the proof, if necessary. Then, the plug or bung is hammered into the bung-hole did you even know that was where that came from? and the maturation process begins.

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Koval Single Barrel Bourbon

Chicago distiller KOVAL shakes things up with the mash bill for this single-barrel release. On top of the requisite 51 percent corn, the remainder is made up of millet. The left-field recipe creates a unique, fruity bourbon, which has a sweet profile and great concentration of flavor. Average price: $54.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight

Easygoing and approachable, this bottling proves bourbon can have character without being in your face. The aromas start off floral and slightly fruity, followed by sweet candy notes. The palate is robust and offers a well-rounded mix of dried fruit, baking spices, oak, and black pepper notes. Average price: $30.

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Best Bourbons To Use In Your Old Fashioned

Ordering an old fashioned is a bold statement in a way, you’re telling the bartender you’re sophisticated yet want a cocktail that packs a punch. The whiskey, bitters, sugar, traces of orange, and maraschino cherries dance together in a glass. The outcome is sweet yet the bourbon keeps the cocktail honest. The old fashioned is a classic for a reason yet the one question everyone wants to know is … what bourbon should you choose when ordering Don Draper’s favorite drink?

Although an old fashioned is a simple drink to make getting the mixture just right takes a talented mixologist to concoct. For better or worse, the best old fashioned tends to be accompanied by a large, single ice cube, although even this step in the old fashioned making process is subjective.

Nevertheless, finding the right bourbon for an old fashioned is a never-ending liquid journey. You crave a whiskey that doesn’t have too much bite, yet you still desire to know it’s there not everyone likes an extremely sweet old fashioned. In an attempt to put this dilemma to rest, here are the 12 best bourbons to use in your next old fashioned.

Blade And Bow Kentucky Straight

The 5 Best Single Barrel Bourbons Available Now

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A curious creation by Diageo to revive the Stitzel-Weller distillery, Blade and Bow calls back all the notes of summer that made Stitzel-Weller a household, homespun name. Expect caramel apples, banana, oak, and cinnamon to come bounding in, begging you to play with them.

Aged 8 years in white oak barrels, Blantons distinctive bottle actually houses a sedate everyman bourbon thats vanilla and rye able to appease the rookie palate as much as the purist. Its the lingering sweetness that seals the deal.

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Wl Weller Special Reserve

Gone are the days when this bourbon presented affordable insight to the lauded Van Winkle lineup. While this expression is still produced at the same distillery and comprises the same wheated mash bill as Pappy, its almost impossible to find Weller Special Reserve at its MSRP of around $20. Regardless, this bottle remains an enjoyable wheated offering, serving apples and cranberries on the nose, mixed with vanilla, caramel, and cedar wood. The palate is lean and fruity, with accents of spice and decent complexity. Average price: $60.

How Is Bourbon Made

Bourbon is made with grains, primarily corn. The milled grains are cooked to make a porridge-like mash. The mash is fermented for a few days and then distilled. The distillate is then put into charred oak barrels and aged.

Bourbon must be at least 51% corn. Almost all bourbons contain malted barley, and most have rye or wheat as a secondary grain. Once the ground grains are mixed with water and cooked, the sour mash is cooled before entering a fermenter where yeast is added. The yeast feeds on the sugars in the mash, turning them into alcohol. The distilleries I visited ferment the mash for three or four days.

The fermented mash is essentially beer. The “beer” goes to the still from the fermenters, where it is heated to extract the alcohol. The distilled spirit is known as “white dog.” The white dog goes into new charred oak barrels and is aged for between a few months and several years.

When the aged bourbon is ready, it’s filtered and usually “proofed down” by adding purified water to lower the alcohol percentage.

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Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style

As the longest-running bourbon maker on the market, Old Forester has a vast reservoir of craft and tradition to cull from. That brings us to its celebrated Whiskey Row Series, which can vary from one statement to the next in terms of quality or complexity. Standing head and shoulders above its peers is Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style. It layers dark caramel, graham cracker, peppercorn, oak, and spice in a dense, complex body, and finishes on notes of light apple and smoky marshmallow. Dont be deterred by the 57.5% ABV, as this spirit delivers too many great flavours to ignore, making it one of the best tasting bourbons in the world.

Manufacturer: Brown-Forman

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Courtesy of Old Forester

ABV: 52% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, Dark chocolate, Almonds, Dark cherry

Forget Pappy. This is the bourbon worth a months rent. Though the blend is different every year, the quality is always top-notch. Each annual release is a blend of barrels that were laid down on one particular day. This year, for example, the bourbon is comprised of spirit created on April 16, 2009.

While the official MSRP is a bit over $100, youd be hard-pressed to find that in the wild unless you have a really great working relationship with your local state-run liquor store. If you are able to snag a bottle or have the cash to secure one at the market price, pour yourself a tasting glass and savor it. Sniff, sip, add a dash of water to bring out the nuanced flavorsreally enjoy the event. And if youre looking for a birthday gift for us, why not pick up a second bottle.

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Heaven’s Door Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Many of the top bourbon whiskeys have a long and painful history behind them. There is often a story about the people who struggled to establish the distillery during hard times. And generations of their ancestors acting as caretakers for this legacy of bourbon greatness. The force behind Heaven’s Door Bourbon is known for celebrating these struggles, but not for making whiskey.

This award-winning American bourbon is made in collaboration with Bob Dylan. Its smooth and lasting flavors of vanilla and warm spice are accented with caramel. The distinctive bottle features a design inspired by Dylan’s ironmaking hobby.

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Wild Turkey Masters Keep Revival

Master distiller Eddie Russell handpicks the oloroso sherry casks to finish off this well-aged bourbon . Given its age and dedication to high quality, the taste you get is almost unrivaled. You can expect to pay a hefty price too. There are other bottles on our list of the best bourbon whiskeys that will run you less, but there aren’t many that will compete on taste.

The first sip hits you with bold dried fruit aromas, followed by a touch of nuts and citrus. Masters Keep is exceptionally smooth, almost creamy, and the sherry casks provide it with a distinct savory character. At 50% ABV, it is quite powerful, yet subtle and nuanced enough to impress any aficionado.

While not for everyone, this expensive bourbon is gift-worthy if you want to impress.

This super-premium bourbon is available online, but the supplies are limited. You can order a bottle by .

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Double Eagle Very Rare Bourbon

Courtesy of Buffalo Trace

The ornate crystal decanter is something to behold, but its whats inside the bottle that makes this rare offering from the Buffalo Trace Distillery so special. The 20-year-old bourbon is matured twice as long as the standard Eagle Rare, and even after two decades, what emerged from the barrel is a surprisingly smooth and balanced 90-proof spirit. Hints of vanilla, toasted oak and caramel lead to a finish marked by tobacco and leather notes. Only 299 of these bottles were produced, so be prepared to pay top dollar on the secondary market. And be sure to insist on the individually numbered letter of authenticity included with each bottle sold.

Best Wheated: Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch

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Region: Wyoming | ABV: 44% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Orange, Espresso

Wheated bourbons swap in more wheat on the grain bill, usually in place of more rye. The Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon presents a superior value compared to more famous names, is a robust 88-proof, and is versatile with food pairings including barbecued ribs, honey-garlic mushrooms, and even dessert. Aged five years in oak barrels, it’s full of creamy vanilla and caramel elements accented by floral nectarine flavors.

âIâve never been much of a fan of anything wheat…Hefeweizen beer, wheat bread, et cetera,â says Vitacca. âUntil I tasted thisâit blows away the competition.â

Region: California/Indiana | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Peanut, Vanilla, Apple

Named after the 14th tallest tree on the planet, Pipe Dream is built around a high-corn mash bill, is aged for four to 12 years, and emerges with maple aromas, complex roasted pecan flavors, and a nice golden hue. Besides its classic bourbon palate, you also get to enjoy the tasty benefit of helping the planet: For each bottle sold, the distillery plants a tree in partnership with Trees for the Future.

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Why Only A Few Distilleries Keep Their Whiskey In Underground Warehouses

So, you may be curious by now and be asking yourself Why doesnt everybody keep their aging whiskey in underground warehouses where temperature can be regulated or remain the same? That is a good question.

You see, the variation of temperature is actually a good and necessary thing. As the temperature rises and falls, the wooden barrels also expand and contract correspondingly. This action sucks in the whiskey and then pushes it back out. It is this steady ebb and flow that enables the aging spirit to absorb as much wood-sugars as it can from the oak barrels.

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