Well, I know there are innumerable lists like this out there, so I don’t expect to be blazing any trails here. Hopefully, you’ll find something here that you haven’t tried before and give it a shot. If nothing else, let this simply be a reminder that you don’t need to be a Rockefeller in order to enjoy a world-class bourbon.
My list, in no particular order:
- W.L. Weller Antique – I’m honestly surprised I don’t see this on more of these type of lists. It can be a bit tricky to find, but I managed to score a couple of bottles again this year, without too much work. In my area, this is still a ~$25 bottle, even given the ridiculous surge in popularity for all things Weller/Van Winkle. It has wonderful notes of cherry, cinnamon, brown sugar and barrel. The palate is much the same – pepper, orange, cinnamon and smoke. It’s a wonderful bourbon, if you can find it, and would be worthy of double the price tag.
- Evan Williams Single Barrel – 10 year old bourbon for sub-$25? Sign me up! This year’s bottle (2006 vintage) is just as deserving as the previous years. It’s got lots of fruit (orange and pineapple), plus honey, vanilla and cinnamon. Another example of a wonderfully complex whiskey at a bargain price. Challenging enough for seasoned tasters, but approachable enough for novices.
- Elijah Craig – What’s better than a 10 year old bourbon? Well, a 12 year old one, of course! Thankfully this bottle is still easy to find, unlike it’s older brother the 18yr. The nose on this bourbon is STRONG, much bigger than you’d expect from 94 proof. If you allow it to settle you’ll get great honey and vanilla, however. The alcohol is always up front, but the heavy, buttery mouthfeel is great and leads you to lovely citrus and rum butter flavors. The syrupy finish is in a class of its own. This one is probably not the best choice for beginners.
- Four Roses Small Batch – I like this bourbon more than it deserves, probably. Four Roses was one of my very first forays into anything that wasn’t Maker’s or Jim Beam. This bottle is a wonderful bourbon, IMO. Lots of caramel and rye spice with a little bit of floral note at the end of the nose. Caramel and rye dominate the palate, as well, but are accompanied by some very nice pepper, nutmeg and oak. It finishes long with flavors of toffee and caramel. You could drink this whiskey all night and keep picking up different things in the nose and palate. A very underrated bourbon, IMO.
- Pure Kentucky – I bought a bottle of this at the suggestion of my “bourbon guy” at my local liquor store. I was not disappointed, to say the least. This one has everything you have come to expect from a good bourbon – rye spice, oak and toffee are the major players and this whiskey is incredibly smooth in spite of the 107proof. The finish is long, sweet and slightly floral.
- Woodford Reserve – OK, so not exactly out on a limb with this one. It’s just so good! Oak and rye on the nose, with unexpected notes of green apple and pear. The palate is all spice and fruit with a light finish that doesn’t linger. This is a great bourbon to use as an introduction for folks trying bourbon for the first time.
Well, kids, there it is. Far from earth shattering, but hopefully there’s something in there that you haven’t had, or haven’t had in a while. Maybe this little post will spur you to try one of the above for the first time, or again.
Feel free to add your thoughts below.