The 12 Best Bourbons to Drink Right Now, From Basil Hayden to Wild Turkey
If bourbon is your whiskey of choice, we've got you covered.
Barrell Craft Spirits
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If you’re in the market for the best bourbon you can find, there are some factors to consider—even though the category is rigidly defined, there are differences in style, cask finishes, alcohol content and even mashbill to take into account. The good news is that there are so many excellent choices of bourbon brands out there for you, so we’ve put together this list to help steer you towards some of the best bourbons to buy in different categories. Happy hunting, and cheers.
Original Knob Creek, part of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection, is a truly excellent nine-year-old bourbon. But the limited-edition 12-year-old, first released a few years ago, is even better. It’s made from the same mashbill, bottled at the same 100 proof and has the same complex flavor full of vanilla, caramel and spicy notes. But those extra three years in barrels have given it some more complexity. The 15 and the new 18-year-old Knob Creek bourbons are tasty as well, but the 12 occupies a middle zone that makes it one of the best out there.
“Wheated” bourbon means that wheat is used as the secondary flavoring grain instead of the usual rye. Some more famous examples include Maker’s Mark and the legendary Pappy Van Winkle. But this small distillery in Texas makes wheated bourbon that stands with the best. Garrison Brothers Small Batch is an annual release, and the 2022 edition shines. It’s a deep reddish-brown color with notes of chocolate, oak and caramel for days, along with just a hint of wood smoke. Sorry, Kentucky, but Texas is truly a whiskey state now, and this bourbon is one of the best.
There are more barrel-proof bourbons to choose from these days than you can possibly try, but that wasn’t always the case. Booker’s is one of the OGs of this category, an uncut and unfiltered whiskey (except for barrel char) that is high in ABV and full of flavor. Booker’s is part of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection, and is released in four batches per year with the whiskey usually somewhere around seven years old and about 125 proof. The latest release is called Charlie’s Batch, named after the guy who designed the wooden boxes the bottle comes in. This release clocks in at just over seven years old and 126.6 proof, a fantastic bourbon to sip neat or add a little water to if you want to bring the intensity down a bit.
Angel’s Envy is one of the best known and widely available cask-finished American whiskey brands you can find. The core expression is a four to six-year-old bourbon finished in port wine barrels for up to half a year, giving the whiskey a dark color and syrupy notes of candied fruit. There’s an annual cask strength expression of this bourbon as well, which is released in limited numbers. The 2022 release marked 11 years of cask strength bourbon from Angel’s Envy, and continues to be an extremely popular bottle that usually sells out pretty quickly upon its release. You can still find some bottles online, but be prepared to pay a premium. This bourbon, finished in port wine barrels like the original, is worth it if you can afford a bottle. And at 119.8 proof, it’s very drinkable for a barrel-proof whiskey.
Buffalo Trace’s WL Weller bourbon exploded in popularity a few years ago when people released that it was close enough to Pappy (this is also a wheated bourbon and the two share a mashbill), but unlike Pappy you can still find a bottle of Weller Special Reserve for less than $100 in most places. “The Original Wheated Bourbon,” as it says on the label, is bottled at 90 proof and has a pleasant fruitiness on the palate, along with some vanilla cream and just a touch of spice even without the use of rye in the recipe.
Not only is Wild Turkey 101 one of the best bourbons you can find for under 50 bucks; it’s just one of the best bourbons, period. The higher than average proof, the hint of spice from the healthy dose of rye in the mashbill and the signature Wild Turkey nuttiness on the palate all make this a fantastic affordable whiskey. By all means use this in any cocktail you can think of, but please consider sipping it as well for an unpretentious and entirely dependable whiskey experience.
Nicole Austin has made a huge impact on the quality of the whiskey released by the Cascade Hollow Distilling Co., the home of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky, since she joined the team there. There have been a series of bottled-in-bond whiskeys, a rye collaboration with Colorado distillery Leopold Bros., and her boutique Cascade Moon collection. But one of the best whiskeys she came up with was Dickel Bourbon, a fantastic choice for mixing up your favorite cocktails. This eight-year-old whiskey meets the same production criteria as Tennessee whiskey, but Austin thought the flavor profile was closer to a classic bourbon. Whatever you want to call it, keep this bottle on your home bar to use in your next Old Fashioned.
Not every craft distillery is making good whiskey, although most should be commended for their creativity and innovation. Nevada’s Frey Ranch checks all of these boxes, however, and this five-year-old, grain-to-glass bourbon stands with the best of the old guard. This whiskey is made from a four-grain mashbill of corn, rye, wheat and barley, and at 90 proof has all of the complexity and flavor you are looking for in high-quality bourbon.
Basil Hayden is another member of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection, and differs in that it’s known for its high-rye mashbill, meaning more rye is used in the recipe than in most bourbon. The 10-year-old expression surpasses the core whiskey by leaps and bounds, with those extra years in barrels turning this cocktail-friendly bourbon into something worth sipping and savoring. And that high rye mashbill means there’s a nice hit of spice to complement the vanilla, caramel and signature Beam nuttiness.
By its very nature, single barrel bourbon varies in flavor depending on which cask it came from. But that’s also the joy of drinking whiskey that literally comes from one individual barrel instead of the blend of many barrels that go into a distillery’s core expressions. Kentucky’s Four Roses is unique in that it makes ten different recipes using two mashbills and five yeast strains. For its single barrel release, just one recipe is selected, usually aged between seven and nine years, and bottled at 100 proof. This is a bourbon that is consistently good no matter which barrel you get.
Gone are the days when “blended” was a bad word in bourbon, with producers like Barrell Craft Spirits sourcing and blending whiskey from various sources and making the sum better than its parts. BCS releases its Barrell Bourbon in batches throughout the year, with the latest being Batch 34. This blend of straight bourbon whiskeys comes from Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky (as do virtually all of the batches), consisting of six- to 15-year-old barrels. It’s bottled at cask strength of 114.62 proof, and is one of the best bourbons out there overall.
This year’s release of Michter’s 10 Year was the first since 2021, and fans are happy to see this fantastic single-barrel, decade-old bourbon back in the mix. Given that it’s a single barrel whiskey, there will be variation between release year and individual bottles. But the bourbon is usually pretty excellent, so if you’re looking to splurge on some whiskey consider this. Given the age of the whiskey, it was sourced and not distilled at the Michter’s distillery. But the master distiller and master of maturation have done a fantastic job selecting barrels, some of which are more than 10 years old, resulting in a deep and complex sipper that you will not regret dropping some cash on.
There are some key requirements for a whiskey to be called bourbon. It must be made in the USA from at least 51 percent corn and aged in new charred oak containers (virtually always barrels). No color or flavor may be added. It cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof, cannot go into a barrel at more than 125 proof and must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof. If there’s an age statement, it must list the youngest whiskey in the bottle. Straight bourbon means it’s been aged for at least two years, and if it’s less than four years old the age must be on the label.
How should you drink bourbon?
The short answer is however you like it. There is no wrong or right way to enjoy bourbon. If you prefer cocktails, there are plenty of options and bourbon goes well with other ingredients. But consider trying bourbon on its own as well to explore the flavors. A Glencairn glass is a good way to nose and taste bourbon neat, and some people like to add a splash of water. A tumbler works just fine if you’d like to add some ice. Just remember to drink it in the way that you like best.
How did we choose the bourbon on this list?
We considered different factors when picking these bourbons, with the emphasis being on taste. Because after all, despite a bottle’s availability or the hype surrounding it, that is the most important thing. Tasting bourbon involves a combination of sensations, including the nose, palate, mouthfeel and finish. And each category has different characteristics, so part of the process is to consider how an individual pick fits into its style overall. The bottles on this list represent the best bourbons based on all of these options, providing a good overview of selections you can easily purchase in person or online that are good examples of each individual category.
Why should you trust us?
Jonah Flicker has been writing about whiskey and other spirits for nearly a decade, visiting distilleries around the world to meet the people behind the bottles and find out more about their stories. He is a judge for the John Barleycorn Awards, and his work has appeared in many national other lifestyle outlets besides Robb Report, including Esquire, Food & Wine, CNN, USA Today and more.