If you’re a fan of whiskey, specifically bourbon, you know that each year is littered with limited releases, new bottles, upstart brands, and different, special batches. You might collect some of the rarer, sought-after bottles if you have the disposable income. Some of these expressions might cost you the equivalent of a mortgage payment (or more). You might also splurge on a more middle-of-the-road expensive offering for a birthday or a special occasion. But, if you’re a big bourbon drinker, you have a few classic, reasonably-priced bottles on hand at all times.
That’s the best thing about bourbon. While there is a glut of highly coveted, hard-to-find, overly expensive bottles like Pappy Van Winkle, Weller, Elmer T. Lee, E.H. Taylor, and Stagg (among others), there are also countless bargain-priced bourbon bangers available almost anywhere. We’re talking about names like Maker’s Mark, Elijah Craig, Wild Turkey 101, Knob Creek, Old Grand-Dad Bonded, and Michter’s.
It would behoove anyone with a home bar cart or liquor cabinet who plans to do any entertaining to purchase a few of these bottles. They’re reasonably inexpensive and serve well as a mixer or neat or on the rocks (in most cases). Keep scrolling to see ten of our favorites.
Knob Creek is a big name in the bourbon world. One of Jim Beam’s small batch bourbons, its most popular expression is Knob Creek 9. This 100-proof whiskey was matured for a minimum of nine years in charred American white oak barrels. Crafted in the pre-prohibition style, this rich, complex, sipping whiskey is known for its nose of vanilla, toffee, and oak. Sipping it reveals flavors of charred wood, leather, caramel candy, toasted vanilla beans, and dried fruits.
Wild Turkey is a brand that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. But ask bartenders and bourbon drinkers to tell you their favorite value whiskey and you’ll get a lot of people singing the praises of Wild Turkey 101. As the name suggests, this bourbon is a potent 101-proof. But it’s not remotely harsh. Aged in deep alligator char American oak barrels between six and eight years, this high rye bourbon is known for its aromas of cinnamon and vanilla and palate of vanilla beans, wintry spices, candied orange peels, and toffee finish.
When it comes to underrated bourbons, you’d have a hard time beating the price and appeal of Buffalo Trace. The flagship expression from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, this straight bourbon whiskey doesn’t carry an age statement, but it is believed to be made up of whiskeys between six and eight years old. A complex nose of mint leaves, toasted vanilla beans, and butterscotch greet you before your first sip. Drinking it reveals notes of winter spices, raisins, pipe tobacco, and toffee.
If you’re not a bourbon drinker, you might turn your nose up at the sight of Jim Beam White Label. Yes, it’s cheap, but it’s much more complex than you’d think. For the price, you’d have a hard time finding a better mixing whiskey. It’s also the kind of bottle you always want to have in a pinch for a reasonable sipper as well. Made the same way since 1795, it’s matured for at least four years in new, charred American oak barrels. The result is a surprisingly complex whiskey with a spicy, sweet, vanilla-centric nose and a palate of sticky toffee, vanilla, and oak.
While it doesn’t have the name recognition of some of the other bourbons on this list, you should always have a bottle of Evan Williams Black Label for mixing and sipping. Inexpensive, yet full-flavored, this award-winning straight bourbon is matured between four and seven years in charred American oak barrels. Named for the man who opened Kentucky’s first distillery in 1783, it’s known for a nose of vanilla and mint and a mellow palate of charred wood, toffee, vanilla, and gentle spices.
No whiskey collection is complete without at least one bottle of Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The brand’s flagship expression is aged between seven and eight years in charred American oak barrels. This award-winning staple of the whiskey world is beloved for its nose of tobacco, vanilla, mint, orange peels, and chocolate. Drinking it brings forth flavors of dark chocolate, cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla, and spices. It’s the kind of whiskey you’ll want to sip slowly on a cool evening.
Another Jim Beam whiskey, Old Grand-Dad Bonded might have been enjoyed by your own grand-dad. That’s because it’s been distilled the same way since its inception in 1882. The image on the bottle is none other than Basil Hayden who you might recognize from another whiskey brand. This 100-proof bourbon was matured for at least four years in charred oak barrels. This creates a complex, flavorful high-rye whiskey loaded with hints of wintry spices, cinnamon sugar, toffee, and vanilla.
When it comes to value to price ratio, Maker’s Mark is in a league of its own. Always reasonably priced and complex, this wheated bourbon is matured for between five and six years in new, charred American oak barrels. This creates a rich, slow-sipping whiskey that begins with a nose of candied nuts, dried fruits, oak, and vanilla and moves into a palate of butterscotch, vanilla, oak, tobacco, and wintry spices.
Named for the man who some believe invented bourbon, Elijah Craig Small Batch is matured in level 3 charred oak barrels. This award-winning whiskey is a mix of honey, toffee, charred oak, vanilla, and spices. It’s a nice mix of sweetness and spice and deserves a spot on your home bar cart. Use it as a base for an old-fashioned or whiskey sour, sip it neat or on the rocks, or just buy a bottle (or three). You’ll be glad you did.
When Michter’s says its US-1 Bourbon is a small batch, they aren’t messing around. Batched from a holding tank that fits no more than twenty barrels, it’s matured in fire-charred, new American oak barrels. It carries a nose of oak, vanilla, and raisins and a palate of butterscotch, dried fruits, oak, light smoke, and gentle baking spices. If you only buy one bourbon on this list, make it Michter’s US-1.
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