Christopher Osburn
22 Best Bourbon Whiskey Brands: Top Shelf to Affordable | Man of Many
Best Bourbons in the World
Exploring the wide world of bourbon whiskey–not to mention trying the best bourbons–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 bourbons produced in far-flung states like Wyoming, California, Texas, and even New York, the eighteen best bourbon whiskey brands (in our opinion) all come from Kentucky. If you’re a bourbon 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.
Best Bourbon Brands
Best for: Top Shelf
1. Van Winkle
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.
2. George T. Stagg
Best for: Overall Bourbon
3. Buffalo Trace
Best for: Value for Money
4. Woodford Reserve
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.
5. W.L. Weller
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.
6. Russell’s Reserve
Best for: Cocktails
7. Maker’s Mark
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 bourbons that are crafted to taste the same way they did over 100 years ago when the brand was founded.
8. Old Forester
Bourbon 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 bourbon brand 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.
9. Eagle Rare
Besides Jim Beam, there are few names in the bourbon 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 bourbon and other whiskeys for more than 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.
10. Wild Turkey
This line of whiskeys, named for 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 bourbon highlighted by notes of candied orange peels, maple candy, vanilla, and oaky wood char.
11. Parker’s Heritage
While many of the bigger brands have long histories, Jefferson’s Bourbon 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 bourbon 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.
12. Jefferson’s Bourbon
The story of Four Roses revolves around its founder Paul Jones, Jr. and a southern belle who showed up at an elegant ball wearing a corsage of (you guessed it) four roses. He decided to name his bourbon brand in honor 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-labeled Four Roses Kentucky Straight bourbon and ending with various limited-edition expressions.
13. Four Roses
One of the most well-known expressions in Jim Beam’s small batch line of whiskeys (along with Booker’s, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden), Knob Creek is known for its high-quality, high-end bourbons and ryes that are all aged in heavily charred American oak barrels. One of the most interesting aspects of this line of whiskeys is the high level of alcohol. Besides its 90-proof Smoked Maple bourbon, there are no expressions under 100-proof.
14. Knob Creek
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 bourbon is Elijah Craig Small Batch, a hand-selected, award-winning readily available whiskey.
15. Elijah Craig
Michter’s traces its history 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 most known for its single barrel and small batch whiskeys with its US-1 range being its most well-known. They 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 some of the best-aged bourbons on the market. If you see the 20 or 25 year old, grab it and run,” he says.
16. Michter’s
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 flavor 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.
17. Old Fitzgerald
1792 Bourbon is a well-regard brand in the bourbon 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.
18. 1792 Bourbon
Best for: Affordability
19. Jim Beam
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 that were 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.
20. E.H. Taylor, Jr.
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. 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.
21. Booker’s
A lesser known name in the bourbon whiskey scene, Kings County Distillery is a true love affair to American distillation. A favourite of bourbon expert Shuttleworth, 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 explians. “Scottish copper pot stills, open fermentation and local grain make for a singularly unique take on the category.”
22. Kings County Distillery.
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