My Favorite Bourbons, 2015 Edition

september-national-bourbon-heritage-monthDid you know that September is National Bourbon Heritage Month?

In celebration of this wonderful month, I thought I’d share my favorite bourbons.

I only started enjoying bourbons within the last few years, so my evolution in enjoying this fine domestic product is still very very young.

I love scotch but we aren’t married. I can love bourbon too. 🙂

What I enjoy most about bourbon, besides the much lower price (it’s domestic, so none of those pesky import duties and fees), is that you can play around with the mashbill. It’s another factor you can adjust to get the flavors you want. With single malt scotch, it’s 100% malted barley. With bourbon, it’s 51% corn and the rest is up to you. While there are several tried and true ratios, in theory you could do anything.

So which ones are my favorite in 2015?

Here they are and since I’m a novice, most are generally available in your corner store. I haven’t gotten into more boutique, smaller batch stuff.

Basil Hayden’s
basil-hayden-bottleYears ago, my friend Dave gave me a bottle of Basil Hayden as a gift and it really opened my eyes to how good bourbon could be.

Until then, I had the somewhat snobbish impression that bourbons were cheap for a reason (they are, but not for the reason I thought). When I had Basil Hayden, it changed my perception. Gone were the memories of doing shots of Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam back in college. In its place, a sweet peppery flavor that has a depth you can only appreciate if you sip it.

My first ever scotch was Glenlivet, which has a spiciness to it, and so this bourbon was a nice little reminder of Glenlivet (on that score) but still 100% bourbon with the sweetness from the corn. I think it helps that its aged quite a bit so it’s smoother and it’s bottled at 40% abv.

This guy will set you back around $40-$45.

Four Roses Bourbon
four-roses-small-batchWhen I first had it, I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t appreciate it enough. It was the Small Batch, 45% abv, and the slight increase in alcohol gave it a bit of punch I wasn’t ready for.

When I had it a few more times, trying Single Barrel and Small Batch at other points, I really started to appreciate the richness behind the sweetness.

I looked up the mashbill of the small batch and it’s 75% corn and 25% rye. The rye gives it the spiciness and corn gives it the sweetness. It would take several bourbons before I’d learn that I really enjoy a higher rye mashbill because of the spiciness (I enjoy spicy foods, so this is no surprise).

Price tag for this guy is between $35-$40.

Elijah Craig 12
Elijah-Craig12-bottleElijah Craig is named after the Reverend Elijah Craig, who claimed to have invented bourbon whiskey by being the first to age it in charred oak casks. I say claimed because there’s really no proof and Heaven Hill, the manufacturer, uses that claim in all of its marketing to the chagrin of everyone else in the world. 🙂

No matter what you think of history, the Elijah Craig 12 is 47% alcohol and easy to drink. It won a Double Gold Medal in the 2008 SF Spirits Competition and one of my favorites. It’s also really affordable, you can probably find a bottle of less than $25.

Bulleit Rye
bulleit-rye-whiskey-bottleThis last one is technically not a bourbon because a bourbon must be at least 51% corn.

Bulleit Rye is 95% rye and 5% malted barley. If you want spicy, this baby is spicy because it’s practically all rye.

Price on this baby is around $20.

One Glaring Omission (or four)
One company I want to put on this list but can’t is Buffalo Trace. Arguably one of the most well regarded bourbon distilleries, Buffalo Trace didn’t make my list not because I don’t like them but because I haven’t had enough of it.

I’ve enjoyed Eagle Rare once (it was solid) and a glass of Pappy Van Winkle 10 (it’s not the one that goes for thousands of dollars… and it was delicious) before but that’s about it – not enough to think of them in my list of favorites.

In the coming years, I hope to learn more and expand my experiences… and make this list much better. 🙂

25 thoughts on “My Favorite Bourbons, 2015 Edition

  1. Basil Hayden’s is one of my favorites too. Booker’s is highly regarded, but a bit too aggressive for me, however from the same consortium, Baker’s is excellent!

  2. Although it is a standard – its certainly not a bad one. Especially if you like bourbons with softer taste: Maker’s Mark

    From the ones in your list I would prefer the Elijah Craig 12 and Bulleit Rye – both being excellent bourbons and great value for the money.

    You prefer the Small Batch Four Roses over the Single Barrel?

  3. Buffalo Trace is a very good choice to add to your list, for sure. I’ve been drinking bourbon for 35+ years and was a Jim Beam guy. However, I have expanded my horizons in the past 2 years trying various other bourbons, and Buffalo is one of my two favorites. The other is Makers Mark #46. Although, I do have 2 others that I will fall back on sometimes. Jefferson’s Reserve is a high quality small batch bourdon, and, on the low-priced side, check out Evan Williams’ small batch bourbon 1983. It’s surprisingly good for the price.

  4. Jim… there IS a Bulleit Bourbon… so why would you mention the Bulleit Rye in an article about Bourbon? Do you like their Rye better than their Bourbon offering?

  5. Great list. My favorite is Bookers, it’s cask strength but still incredibly smooth and complex. I compare it in quality to Aberlour A’bunadh…

  6. Hi Jim,

    I am a HUGH fan of Bourbon! Like you, I am somewhat of a “newbie” to Bourbon over the last four or so years. My being a BUDGET kind of guy, I tend to seek out Bourbon under forty dollars. My favorites are : EAGLE RARE, WILD TURKEY 101,
    OLD GRAND DAD BONDED. Not to be missed (if you can find it) is perhaps THE best Bourbon deal on the Planet. I speak of the VERY reasonable priced (usually UNDER twenty dollars) W.L.WELLER SPECIAL RESERVE (Wheater) Bourbon. I bought as many bottles as I could find while the getting was good. On the flip side (about forty dollars) WILD TURKEY RARE BREED 112.8 Proof is OUTSTANDING!

    Tom Patrick

  7. See a couple of my faves on your list. A couple of my faves are Woodford Reserve ( it’s all about those ever famous Mint Juleps) & Buffalo Trace,, it’s very budget friendly.

  8. Don’t forget Tennessee Whisky….(and I am not talking about Jack Daniels)
    George Dickel #12 is smooth with bold flavors. In my opinion, it is better than Maker’s Mark 46 or many over priced bourbons. And it is under $20 in some places. I’d recommend this hidden gem to anyone.

  9. You must buy the Willett Pot Still Reserve. The bottle looks great on display but the bourbon is smooth and is a treat for all the senses

  10. A few days exploring the Bourbon trail is well worth the time and efforts. I found I prefer wheat bourbon to rye bourbon so Makers Mark and Blanton’s rate very highly. I have a special bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 12 y.o. and the spicey and cinnamon flavor is unbelievable.

  11. I like Jim Beam devils cut its on the cheap side but I like the little bite that comes with it.
    or buffalo trace tried some in vegas as liked it.

  12. Try Hancock’s Reserve from Buffalo Trace like better than Basil Hayden and definitely better than Booker’s also try Angels envy or Woodford Reserve have you ever tried theses scotches – Battlehill glentauchers 17yo single malt or Berrys 14yo from dailuaine distilery excellent single malt scotch

  13. Basil Hayden and Elijah Craig 12 are both good, I have a few 23 year old bottles and the 23 year old is a work of art. Jefferson’s Ocean is definitely worth mention with a very unique flavor you will remember, it’s the Bourbon equivalent to the Bruichladdich unpeated Laddie Classic with the Ocean flavor.

  14. I’ve been on a bourbon conquest myself lately however lovely in Dubai has really reduced my tasting choices. However one of my all time favourite a is Makers 46, its far above and beyond regular makers mark.

  15. I came from a family of bourbon drinkers…mostly cheap brand bourbon drinkers… who used it for Highballs. I am familiar with all the brands, but just am not crazy about drinking it neat. I like rye a little better….but not that much better.
    I did make a very complimentary comment about Evan William on Facebook, which I think is a terrific bourbon for the price….and they thanked me on Facebook, and said that they would send me a hat. Finally the box came…and instead of just a hat, they sent me a whole box of cool stuff…and made me feel like Raphie Parker’s old man when he won his big award…the leg lamp! I like their long neck bottle which is great for pouring….so for me, Evan Williams is my house bourbon…so shoot me. HA!
    I would suggest for anyone into bourbon to take the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and visit all the distilleries. That was one of the best vacations my wife and I ever had….and she is not really a drinker….but could not wait for her free sample at the end of the tour. 😉

    • Evan is an under-appreciated brand. The Evan Williams 1783 is a real bargain, it’s usually a few bucks cheaper than my former favorite, JBB but smoother.

  16. Cheap Bourbon is still good Bourbon. One of the cheapest out there is the best kept secret: Henry McKenna, has the oldest recipe and makes a fine bourbon for the money, not your top shelve shelf but a respectable Bourbon. When you try it you won’t believe what you paid for it.

  17. Some great bourbons listed. Basil Hayden for sure, many of the beam offerings. Did not care for the Elijah Craig 12yo not sure why. Like the wild turkey rare breed, Old Grand dad bottled in bond is really tasty. Larceny, Weller 12yo, Four roses, some many good drinks and not very pricey at all.

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