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Best bourbon brands

18 Best Bourbon Brands to Drink Right Now

Additional reporting by Jacob Osborn and Nick Hall

Having spent more money than sense on tasting the best bourbon whiskey brands over the last decade, we’ve put together a definitive list of our favourite brands. Of course, there are plenty of household names here, including Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, and Pappy Weller because they’re readily available, generally affordable, and delicious. However, if you want to explore this caramel bananery goodness, you’ll want to check out some of the lesser-known brands that our drinks experts have selected below.

Best Bourbon Whiskeys at a Glance

Highlights from our list of the best bourbons include the following options:

Now you’ve read our favourites, let’s check out the complete list.

RELATED: Looking for a budget bourbon? These are our favourite bottles for under $100.

Bookers bourbon
Booker’s | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

1. Booker’s

Price: from AU$74.95

Named after its own creator, Booker Noe (grandson to Jim Beam), Booker’s was the first mainstream label to offer drinkers a taste of pure, uncut bourbon which is why we’ve stuck it towards the pointy end of our list. Specifically, the brand refused to water down its whiskey when it launched back in 1988, subsequently giving birth to a barrel-proof craze that’s more popular today than it ever was. Even with a slew of labels following suit, the originator still holds its own by way of a smooth, sweet and spicy body. Yes, this might be a little brash for beginners, but it balances sweet and spicy flavours to perfection with powerful oak, chocolate, vanilla, and even a touch of peanut towards the back of the palate. Simply delicious, and even a little collectable with batch numbers on the bottle (we tried 2023-01E).

Manufacturer: Beam Suntory
Origin: Kentucky, USA

Buffalo trace basic bourbon
Buffalo Trace | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

2. Buffalo Trace

Price: from AU$56.95

If one brand had to hold the crown as the world’s best bourbon brand, it’s Buffalo Trace. Know for producing legendary drams like Pappy Van Winkle and WL Weller, the stock standard release is still a certified winner in our books. A workhorse in every sense of the word, the core expression features a mash bill that is slightly lower in rye content, giving it a much sweeter finish that pairs perfectly with soda.

It’s one of the best choices when you’re looking for a great value-for-money bourbon, and that’s echoed by our third-party whiskey expert Aaron Shuttleworth, who verified this selection for us. “My top brand has to be Buffalo Trace, the most highly awarded distillery in the world (of any spirit),” he said.

“The distillery is home to some of the best bourbons on the market, including Willet, Van Winkle, Eagle Rare, George T Stagg, Blanton’s, Ancient Age, as well as its eponymous label.

Location: Frankfort, Kentucky
Founded in: 1775
Best-known expression: Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight

Knob creek bourbon
Knob Creek 9-Year-Aged | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

3. Knob Creek

Price: from AU$96.99

One of the most well-known expressions in Jim Beam’s small batch line of whiskeys (alongside Booker’s, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden) is Knob Creek. This brand is known for its high-quality, high-end bourbons and ryes that are all aged in heavily charred American oak barrels for a smokier, harsher, classic style compared to our fan-favourite Booker’s. One of the most interesting aspects of this line of whiskeys is the high alcohol level. Besides its 90-proof Smoked Maple, there are no expressions under 100-proof.

Location: Clermont, Kentucky
Founded in: 1992
Our favourite expression: Knob Creek 9-Year

Yellowstone | Image: Supplied

4. Yellowstone

Price: from AU$107.99

Yellowstone is a newcomer in Australia, but the brand has fast become a favourite of ours for its easy-drinking flavours of spicy rye toast and cinnamon with melted butter, and leathered cherries. Don’t let the easy-drinking nature fool you because this is an established brand with a heritage dating back to 1872 when it was crafted to be a whiskey for the people. The spirit is a blend of two Kentucky straight bourbons, one aged four years and another aged seven years, and you can thank the latter for the tangy finish with burnt brown sugar and cloves. In our testing (speaking as seasoned bourbon drinkers) we think it could be a little stronger and proof heat on the finish, but fresher palates will probably approve the smoothness.

Location: Lebanon, Kentucky
Founded in: 1872
Best-known expression: Yellowstone Select Bourbon Whiskey

Angels envy
Angel’s Envy | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

5. Angel’s Envy

Price: from AU$129.99

Lesser known in Australia than it is state-side, Angel’s Envy is regarded for its ‘secondary finishing’ technique whereby the brand matures its whiskeys in charred oak barrels before it’s transferred to secondary finishing casks where flavour complexity and smoothness are added. We tested the most popular ‘Port Finish’ release and found the mouthfeel a little light for our tastes, but we could see how a younger palate would find this soothing amongst the slew of 100-proof bourbons. Again, seasoned drinkers might find the flavours only surface deep at this heat level, but we think they’re delicious nonetheless with notes of vanilla, whipped cream, toffy, caramel, and a bit of black pepper on the finish.

Pappy van winkle 23 year old
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old | Image: Ben McKimm / Man of Many

6. Pappy Van Winkle

Price: from AU$1,699

When it comes to bourbon brands, there are few as well-known and sought-after as Pappy Van Winkle. The ultimate unicorn brand, the Buffalo Trace-produced line of Pappy Van Winkle is named for bourbon pioneer Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. The line today includes Old Rip Van Winkle as well as Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve which are typically easier to find. There are few more awarded, hard-to-find expressions than those of Pappy Van Winkle, and if you get a chance to try some, don’t hesitate. You might never get another chance. This is our pick of the bunch when you’re shopping for a top-shelf collector bottle of whiskey.

Location: Frankfort, Kentucky
Founded in: 1994
Best-known expression: Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year

Kentucky owl

7. Kentucky Owl

Originally founded in 1879 by pharmacist Charles Mortimer Dedman on the banks of the Kentucky River, the Kentucky Owl we know today is the brainchild of great-grandson Dixon Dedman. He revived the brand after a few strong years at the helm of the family’s Beaumont Inn hotel on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, spending 6 years working on his small-batch blend with the end goal of creating a flavour profile reminiscent of his great grandfather, but with plenty to offer modern whisky drinkers too. Their core range consists of ‘The Wiseman’ with straight rye and straight bourbon to honour the original name of the Dedman family whiskey.

Right now, we’re sipping on the Kentucky Owl Maighstir Edition (pronounced May-stir) which is a collaboration of two great whisky brains: Kentucky Owl Master Blender, John Rhea and Scotch Whisky Master Blender, Maureen Robinson. Shut your eyes, and it could be Scotch. Nose the glass, and it’s clearly Bourbon with a balance of malted barley with a hint of sweet caramel. 50% ABV is perfect with a soft caramel/vanilla that comes through on the finish.

Location: Bardstown, Kentucky
Parent organization: Stoli Group USA, LLC
Founded in: 1879
Our favourite expression: Maighstir Edition

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Eagle Rare | Image: Supplied

8. Eagle Rare

Price: from AU$85

Fans know all about Eagle Rare. This highly coveted brand has won countless awards over the years and there might be no more aptly named bourbon brand. This small-batch drink is known just as much for its high quality as it is for its difficulty of being found in the wild. While its 10-year-old expression isn’t tremendously difficult to stumble upon online and at liquor retailers, its 17-year-old and Double Eagle Rare bourbons are almost impossible to find without paying ridiculous secondary market prices.

Location: Frankfort, Kentucky
Founded in: 1975
Our favourite expression: Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old

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George T. Stagg

9. George T. Stagg

Price: from AU$999

Another Buffalo Trace-produced brand, George T. Stagg is named for the man who built one of the biggest distilleries of the 19th century (now known as Buffalo Trace). This uncut, unfiltered, barrel-proof bourbon brand named for the whiskey innovator comes in two different expressions. The first, George T. Stagg, was matured in new, charred oak casks for a minimum of 15 years. The result is a bold, complex whiskey with hints of raisins, pipe tobacco, vanilla, and charred wood. The second, George T. Stagg, Jr, was aged for at least eight years and carries flavours of dried cherries, honey, and toasted vanilla beans.

Location: Frankfort, Kentucky
Founded in: 2002
Best-known expression: George T. Stagg

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Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

10. Woodford Reserve

Price: from AU$63.90

Smack dab in the middle of Kentucky’s horse country, Woodford Reserve gets its name from the county (Woodford) it’s located in. With its roots beginning in 1812 (although the brand didn’t launch until the ‘90s), the distillery is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Well-known for its small-batch whiskeys the brand makes straight malt whiskey, double oaked, rye whiskey, and various other limited-edition and experimental expressions. Obviously, its roots are firmly entrenched in bourbon and that’s what it does best.

According to Woodford Reserve master distiller Chris Morris, the best stock comes from Warehouse C, one of the oldest maturation spots in the house. “I love to hear people say that Warehouse C is where the ‘magic’ happens. In some respects that statement is true,” he said.

“The science of maturation has been studied for decades as has the impact of the oak barrel. While we now know a lot about the results of oak exposure and the maturation process, temperature changes, length of time in barrel, barrel entry proof and more – there is still some mystery about how it happens. We just do not know. So, maturation is best described as being both art and science.”

Location: Versailles, Kentucky
Founded in: 1996
Best-known expression: Woodford Reserve Straight

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W.L. Weller 12-Year-Old | Image: Buffalo Trace Distillery

11. W.L. Weller

Price: from AU$129.99

Buffalo Trace has a habit of naming brands after whiskey pioneers and W.L. Weller is no different. Named for William Larue Weller, a whiskey salesman and a man who once hired Pappy Van Winkle to work for him, the brand consists of seven of the most sought-after whiskeys on the market. This includes unicorn bottles like W.L. Weller 12 Year, W.L. Weller Special Reserve, William Larue Weller, and W.L. Weller C.Y.P.B. There are few brands with more hard-to-find, iconic expressions than W.L. Weller.

Location: Frankfort, Kentucky
Founded in: 1849
Our favourite expression: W.L. Weller 12-Year

6 russells reserve
Russell’s Reserve 10-Year-Old

12. Russell’s Reserve

Price: from AU$84.99

Wild Turkey is well-known in the whiskey world. But its offshoot, Russell’s Reserve, is the brand that’s received all the acclaim in the last decade. If you’re a fan of bourbon, you’ve heard of whiskey legend Jimmy Russell, the longtime master distiller of Wild Turkey. But his son Eddie has more than thirty years of experience of his own. This is why he created Russell’s Reserve as a way to pay tribute to the over 90 years of distilling experience between the pair. First released in 1998, the brand has grown to include multiple different bourbons and ryes, including the much sought-after Russell’s Reserve 13-Year-Old.

Location: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Founded in: 1998
Our favourite expression: Russell’s Reserve 13-Year-Old

7 makers mark
Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight

13. Maker’s Mark

Price: from AU$55

If you’ve ever stumbled into a dimly lit cocktail bar and asked for a whiskey cocktail, chances are you’ve already tried Maker’s Mark. A staple of barrooms across the globe, the spirit is one of the most versatile on the market, making it the ideal accompaniment for cocktails. Specifically, Maker’s Mark uses wheat as a flavouring grain in the mash bill instead of the usual rye, giving a softer finish that is far more palatable for the novice drinker. We’re big fans of the Maker’s 46, arguably the label’s most iconic release, due to its use of different proprietary wood staves, which ultimately deliver a far more balanced flavour.

Founder: T. William Samuels Sr
Founded: 1953
Our favourite expression: Maker’s 46

15 elijah craig
Elijah Craig Small Batch 1789 | Image: Supplied

14. Elijah Craig

Price: from AU$93.99

While it’s likely just a story, some believe that Elijah Craig, a former Baptist minister invented bourbon when he decided to age his corn whiskey in charred oak barrels. Whether or not this legend is true, it doesn’t really matter since he still has a line of bourbon and rye whiskeys named after him. The signature dram is Elijah Craig Small Batch, a hand-selected, award-winning readily available whiskey.

Location: Bardstown, Kentucky
Founded in: 1986
Our favourite expression: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

16 michters
Michter’s Straight Rye | Image: Supplied

15. Michter’s

Price: from AU$125

Michter’s history dates back to 1753 when Swiss Mennonite brothers Michael and Johann Schenk opened the distillery that would later be known as Michter’s. Today, the brand is best known for its single-barrel and small-batch whiskeys, with its US-1 range being its most well-known. These include sour mash, rye, American whiskey, and bourbon.

The brand also makes a handful of limited edition whiskeys including 10, 20, 25, and various special releases, the latter of which Shuttleworth believes is a must-buy. “Michters Distillery, established in 1753 and one of the best-aged options on the market. If you see the 20 or 25-year-old, grab it and run,” he says.

Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Founded in: 1753
Our favourite expression: Michter’s 10 Year

18 1792
1792 Barrel Select | Image: Supplied

16. 1792 Bourbon

Price: from AU$84.99

1792 Bourbon is a well-regarded brand in the whiskey world. Known for its hand-selected barrels and high-rye recipe, the classic 1792 Small Batch is robust, rich, and a great combination of vanilla beans, butterscotch, and spicy cracked black pepper. Besides the Small Batch expression, the brand also produces limited-edition expressions like Sweet Wheat, Aged 12 Years, High Rye, and Full Proof.

Location: Bardstown, Kentucky
Founded in: 2002
Our favourite expression: 1792 Small Batch

20 e h taylor jr
E.H. Taylor, Jr. | Image: Supplied

17. E.H. Taylor, Jr.

Price: from AU$179.99

You won’t find many bourbons more difficult to find than E.H. Taylor (besides Pappy Van Winkle). Named for whiskey innovator Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., this line of whiskeys is actually aged in barrelhouses built by E.H. Taylor himself. These mellow, easy-sipping, very limited whiskeys include E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch, E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel, E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof, and a few others.

Location: Frankfort, Kentucky
Founded in: 2013
Our favourite expression: E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

Wild Turkey | Image: Dan Murphy's
Wild Turkey | Image: Dan Murphy’s

18. Wild Turkey

Price: from AU$53

Besides Jim Beam, there are few names in the world more well-known than Wild Turkey. Sometimes referred to as the “Buddha of Bourbon”, the brand’s longtime master distiller, Jimmy Russell, has been crafting high-quality and other whiskeys for over 60 years. The distillery makes a wide range of bourbons and rye whiskeys from bargain expressions like its classic Wild Turkey 101 to its award-winning Master’s Keep range of whiskeys.

Alternatives to These Bourbon Brands

The bottles listed at the top of our list focus on the highest levels of value for money and availability, however, there are several brands that also need your attention. They include the following:

  • Old Forester (from AU$59.99): Its name is very appropriate because no bourbon has been continuously distilled, bottled, and sold longer than Old Forester. On top of that, Old Forester was the first brand to sell its expressions in sealed bottles in 1870. Founded by a former pharmaceutical salesman named George Garvin Brown, Old Forester is a brand that has one foot in the contemporary distilling world while having another firmly planted in the past. It’s well-known for its prohibition style that’s crafted to taste the same way it did over 100 years ago when the brand was founded.
  • Kings County Distillery (from AU$90.99): A lesser-known name in the bourbon whiskey scene, Kings County Distillery is a true love letter to American distillation. A favourite amongst our bourbon experts, the brand is best known for crafting unique drops the old-fashioned way, following practices carved out over centuries in Kentucky. In a rare move, this brand also offers a peated bourbon option, which walks the line between Islay Scotch and traditional Kentucky releases. “Kings County Distillery began as the smallest commercial distillery in the US before moving to its current home at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2012, ” he explains. “Scottish copper pot stills, open fermentation and local grain make for a singularly unique take on the category.”
  • Four Roses (from AU$109.99): The story of Four Roses revolves around its founder, Paul Jones, Jr. and a southern belle who shows up at an elegant ball wearing a corsage of (you guessed it) four roses. He decided to name his brand in honour of this woman who stole his heart. Like Wild Turkey and other brands, Four Roses has a nice range of bourbons that start relatively inexpensive and work their way up beginning with its bargain-priced yellow-labelled Four Roses Kentucky Straight and ending with various limited-edition expressions.
  • Parker’s Heritage: This line of whiskeys, named for the late Master Distiller Parker Beam, is known for its special, limited-edition, highly coveted expressions. Currently in its 15th iteration, over the years, the releases have been rye, wheat whiskeys, and, most often, bourbons. While the 2021 version was a wheat whiskey, the 2020 version was a ten-year-old highlighted by notes of candied orange peels, maple candy, vanilla, and oaky wood char.
  • Old Fitzgerald: With a name like Old Fitzgerald, you can assume this brand has more than a century of history. This award-winning, long-aged range produced by Heaven Hill gets its notable, soft, mellow flavour from the addition of wheat instead of the usual rye in the mash bill. Part of the appeal of this brand is the fact that it isn’t always readily available (besides the 80-proof version). Every fall and spring, a new bottled-in-bond expression is released and they are always heavily sought-after by bourbon fans.
  • Jefferson’s Bourbon (from AU$86): While many of the bigger brands have long histories, Jefferson’s has only been a brand since 1997 when Trey Zoeller and his bourbon historian father Chet launched it. To say that the brand is known for experimenting and pushing the envelope is a bit of an understatement. While it makes other whiskeys, Jefferson’s is most known for its Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea. This whiskey is actually aged at sea. It’s matured in barrels on a ship as it travels around the world. The newest version will be aged as long as eight years on the open ocean.

We get it, given all the different brands, thinking we could make a list of just a few best bourbons is hard to fathom. Obviously, there is no way to make a definitive list free of argument. But we like to think even the most ardent purists would agree with at least most of these selections. If you disagree, let us know.

Why You Should Trust Our List

Exploring the wide world of bourbon whiskey is among the most rewarding hobbies an adult male can pursue. Indeed, what’s better than a hobby that combines the thrill of the hunt with an array of flavours and the warm touch of inebriation? Nothing, that’s what (okay, almost nothing). And if you disagree, then you probably haven’t tried the world’s best bourbons yet. Or maybe you’ve tasted some of them, but not the one that will change your life. While there are myriad great bottles produced in far-flung states like Wyoming, California, Texas, and even New York. If you’re an aficionado, you won’t be surprised by this as giant distilleries like Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, and Buffalo Trace are all located there.

What is Bourbon Whiskey?

While you might be a fan of the flavour, it may surprise you to know that not all bourbon whiskies are created equal, despite some fairly strict regulations. Whiskey is a spirit distilled from fermented grain mash, and bourbon is a form of whiskey.

As Shuttleworth explains, there are some key differences between this drink and other whiskey products, such as Scotch or Australian whisky. “Bourbon is a far more rigidly defined category, whereas Australian whisky is currently the Wild West,” he says.

According to the whiskey expert, to qualify specifically as bourbon, the whiskey must contain a mash bill (the mix of base grains) of at least 51 per cent corn. In addition to the corn, the mash bill will usually consist of grains such as malted barley, rye, or wheat. When this drink is made using wheat instead of rye, it’s ‘wheated’. All bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels, and all “straight” bourbon must sit in those barrels for at least two years.

Quick Facts

Bourbon can be a confusing spirit, so it’s worth getting your basics down pat. Unlike Scotch, it isn’t subject to the same stipulations, however, it does have some specifics that separate it from all others.

  • Does all bourbon have to be made in Kentucky? – While the Kentucky Distillers’ Association claims that 95 per cent of the world’s supply comes from Kentucky, it’s not a requirement. Under the regulations set out by federal standards, bourbon can be produced more or less anywhere, however, the federal standards governing the identity stipulate that it’s a ‘distinctive product of the United States’. Further to that, ‘the word “bourbon” must not be used to describe any whiskey or whiskey-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States’.
  • What is the difference between bourbon and whiskey? – Put simply, it’s a type of whiskey, so there isn’t a major difference between the two, however, there are some characteristics that are exclusive to this dram. Specifically, all bourbons must be made from a mash that contains at least 51 per cent corn and contains no additives. Furthermore, it must be distilled at 160 proof or less and stored in charred new oak barrels.
  • What does bottled-in-bond mean? – Bottled-in-bond refers to the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. Under these guidelines, the spirits must be the product of one distilling season from one distillery and bottled at 100 proof. It must also be aged for at least four years in a federally bonded warehouse.


Bourbon whiskey is a type of American whiskey, with its origins dating back to the 1820s, with consistent use beginning in Kentucky in the 1870s, according to the University of Kentucky. The name derives from the French Bourbon dynasty, however, the exact inspiration for this whiskey’s name is unknown; likely candidates include Bourbon County, Kentucky and Bourbon St, New Orleans, both also named after the French Royal House of Bourbon. While American whiskey is now made anywhere in the world, it is strongly associated with the American South – in particular, Kentucky.

What to Look For When Buying

When it comes to buying bourbon for the home liquor cabinet, there are some major considerations to keep front of mind. Whether you are looking for something specific and rich with unique flavour notes, or simply a classic bourbon for cocktail making, it pays to know your product, whiskey expert Aaron Shuttleworth says. According to the spirits veteran, quality research never goes astray.

“Any booze is a vastly subjective pursuit and my taste might be very different to yours,” the bourbon whiskey expert reveals. “Brands that have history and pedigree are a good bet. Just because their entry-level costs less than the craft brand doesn’t negate quality; they have built scale and consistency over the years that newer distilleries struggle to compete with. There are always exceptions to the rule, though.”

While everything from ingredients, equipment, climate, distillation methods, and more can play a role when distinguishing one dram from the next, most good bourbons are the result of proper aging. Specifically, the highest-quality, top-shelf is usually aged no less than seven years, and no more than 12. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule (including some entries on our list above), but generally speaking, 7-12 years of aging allows the distillate to suck up a perfect amount of flavour and texture from the oak, without resorting to overkill. In turn, the drink retains a beautiful colour of dark or golden amber, while deftly balancing the flavour, smoothness, and texture that you would expect from a high-end bourbon whiskey.

That said, not all the best bourbons are automatically “smooth” per se, at least not in the traditional sense. Indeed, some of the foremost whiskey brands (Wild Turkey for instance) mark their respective territory by way of robust flavour, ample spice, and a high (or relatively high) proof. As a result, there’s going to be some heat present on every sip, the kind of which you can feel in your chest. Nevertheless, the spirit still qualifies for the list of what is good, sometimes even top-shelf. It’s when the whiskey goes down hot, lacks complexity, and retains a thin texture, then it’s likely a dram of low quality. This most commonly occurs when the distillate isn’t aged for a long enough period of time or when an expert isn’t overseeing the whole process to begin with.

More Great Whisky Articles to Read

If you’re not quite aboard the bourbon train or looking for something a little different in the whiskey scene, why not check out our articles on some of the other great drams from across the world?

Other Whisky Types

How to Use Bourbon in a Cocktail

General FAQs

What is the top-selling bourbon?

While production records do indicate that Jim Beam ‘White Label’ is the world’s top-selling bourbon, new data from online marketplace Drizly suggest that Bulleit Bourbon is the top-selling. The brand reportedly topped Drizly’s most-sold list for 2020.

What are the best bourbon brands?

Some of the best bourbon brands are Jim Beam, Four Roses, Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark and more!

What is the most expensive bourbon in the world?

Michter’s Sour Mash Whiskey Celebration is the most expensive bourbon in the world, costing up to $40,000 USD per bottle. Plenty of Pappy Van Winkle bottles also eclipse the $5000 mark.