The Scottish have their scotch and the Canadians have their rye, but today we’re going to talk about the American pride and joy: bourbon.
Like wine before it, the world of whiskey is a wild and diverse one. Incorporating flavors as varied as dark chocolate and drifting smoke, the differences between types of whiskeys are something to be celebrated and bourbon is no exception. While generally sweeter than its northern and European cousins, the best bourbons can fit into a handful of different categories but there are still a few specific requirements for a drink to be considered bourbon in the United States:
Bourbon must be produced in the USA
Needs to contain 51% corn mixture
Has to be aged in new, charred oak barrels
Cannot be distilled beyond 160 proof (80% ABV)
Now that we’ve got the particulars out of the way, let’s investigate the best brands of bourbon that can add some cultural American heritage to your beverage program.
Best Bourbon to Drink Neat
If you want to savor a delicate mix of berries blending with spices on your palate, uninterrupted by any dilution from water or ice, then pour a few fingers of Four Roses Small Batch Select. Blended by selecting six of Four Rose’s ten whiskeys that have already spent six years in the barrel, before being combined and mixed with a splash of water to reach an ABV of 54%. It’s as refreshing as a bourbon can be.
Best Unique Bourbon
How about a bottle of bourbon that was birthed from the mind of none other than Matthew McConaughey? Inspired by the thespian’s Kentucky and Texas roots, Wild Turkey Longbranch is a small batch collaboration between Matthew and master distiller Eddie Russel. Refined with mesquite and charcoal and containing 8 year old bourbon, this nectar boasts aromas of caramel and toffee with a taste of sweet honey and orange spice.
Best Bourbon for Cocktails
Old fashioned, Manhattan, John Collins—there are plenty of famous cocktails that benefit from bourbon. But whether you’re spicing up an old favorite or adding to a new concoction, the bourbon you want to use should be strong and flavorful. Elijah Craig Small Batch fits the bill nicely with its warm spice and subtle smoky flavor, adding sweet and pleasant touches to anything you pair it with.
Best New Bourbon
Blended by Marianne Eaves, Kentucky’s First Female Bourbon Master Distiller, Sweetens Cove burst from its barrels onto the scene in 2020 and quickly sold out its 13-year supply. When they released a second blend a little later, those bottles were more readily available, giving more eager connoisseurs a taste of its fruity notes and deep flavors. Spearheaded by football legend Peyton Manning and former tennis world No.1 Andy Roddick, this bourbon is more than just a celebrity flash-in-the-pan.
Best Expensive Bourbon
If you’ve got half a grand to drop on a bottle of amber nectar, then you’d do well to spend your hard-earned cash on Willett Family Estate 5 Year. While $500 isn’t quite topping the list of some other expensive bourbons, it’s still a bit more of an investment but you wouldn’t be the only one: the complex woody and honeyed flavors of this bourbon has made it a rare bottle to come across. If money’s not an option and you’re looking to beef up your bar, grab a bottle if you can.
Best Affordable Bourbon
The list of affordable bourbon is long and winding, with a great amount of drinkable bottles to be found under $20. Evan Williams comes in strong as one of the most affordable and world’s best selling bourbons. Staking its claim as Kentucky’s 1st distiller, Evan Williams produces this affordable drink to give you a light taste with a touch of vanilla. And at 43% ABV, it’s slightly stronger than some of its 40% affordable bourbon counterparts.
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