Mark Twain once said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” To that end, we’ve compiled a list of a few of the best bourbon whiskeys, including a sampling of the best bourbon under $50. These are sure to elevate your home bar, after-hours cocktail order, or reputation for home entertaining. Whether you’re a seasoned bourbon lover or a budding whiskey enthusiast, these bourbons will definitely bring out your taste for the finer things. Read on for eight of the best bourbon whiskeys to keep at your home bar or give as a gift.
What is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is distilled from a corn mash. It's distinctly made in America, commonly in Kentucky. Bourbon legally has to be aged in a charred white oak barrel and it cannot be distilled any higher than 160 proof to retain more flavor from the grains.
While we’re in love with the small-batch and single-barrel variations, even the flagship iteration of Four Roses is a stellar addition to any home bar. This is one of the best bourbons under $50 hands down, and while it’s ideal for simple mixed drinks, it’s also smooth enough for sipping on the rocks. Look for light notes of pear, raw honey, and apple. And if you doubt that bourbon is an art form, consider that at 130 years, Four Roses has been in business longer than most Swiss watchmakers.
A true bourbon lover’s bourbon, Booker’s is rife with dark, rich tasting notes like leather, oak, caramel, and spice. Bartender Colin Longstaff of Wolf & Long notes, “If you’re a bourbon drinker like me, someone who likes a drink that is sweet, smoky, and flavorful but that could also strip paint off the side of your house, I would go with a glass (or bottle) of Booker’s. At around 120 proof, the high alcohol doesn’t hinder the rich oak, chocolate, and toffee flavors. An excellent choice for any occasion.”
One of the top bourbon whiskeys at a very fair price point, Willett Pot Still Reserve is an ideal addition to any home bar. With elements of lightly fragrant citrus and warm vanilla, this is one for the rocks. (And the bottle alone is worth putting this bourbon on your shelf.)
If you tend to gauge the best bourbon whiskeys by how cool the bottles are (and who can blame you), Blanton’s is a must. Beneath a top that looks like a missing Monopoly game piece, this bourbon carries luscious notes of burnt sugar, orange peel, and cloves. Enjoy it neat or with a single large cube of ice to open up the fragrance and flavors.
At $18 a bottle, Old Forester provides one of the best affordable bourbons. Bring this to your next get together or give it as a gift. Its smooth, mild flavor contains notes of caramel, cherry, and clove, making it a great pairing for a winter or holiday drink.
Sometimes the best things come in small packages, and Hudson Baby Bourbon is no exception. While the majority of bourbons are associated with distilling in Kentucky, this is the first New York–aged whiskey to be made since Prohibition, giving it a historical edge with contemporary appeal. Tasting notes include smoky caramel, marzipan, and rich oak.
Strong but not overpowering, Buffalo Trace is full-on Kentucky straight bourbon. With notes of toffee, candied fruit, and vanilla, this is an ideal bourbon for classic cocktails like Old Fashioneds and Paper Planes. At over 200 years old, Buffalo Trace hails from one of the oldest (and most award-winning) distilleries in the United States.
With an ultra-smooth, unobtrusively sophisticated profile, this is one of the best bourbon whiskeys to add to your collection. Unlike a number of more citric whiskeys, Basil Hayden’s carries tasting notes of dark fruit, walnut, cinnamon, and a touch of mint. While you wouldn’t guess it from the bottle, it’s also one of the best bourbons under $50.
What makes Angel's Envy Bourbon unique is its port barrel finish, lending this bourbon a complex yet balanced palate—think vanilla bundt cake, mint, orange, and cinnamon with whispers of burnt sugar. And, like a good port, the finish is long, with flavors of walnut and oak.
Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.
Fort Worth-based craft distillers Firestone & Robertson make their bourbon using local grains and a proprietary yeast strain from a Texas pecan, lending flavors of dried fruit, sweet spice, and floral notes. This bourbon is smooth and sells fast.
Noah's Mill bourbon is lush and rich, with aromas reminiscent of walnuts, prunes, and floral notes. On the palate, a similar profile mixes with lavender and is offset with just the right amount of acid and a burnt caramel finish.
As a bourbon aged for at least 10 years at its Kentucky distillery, Eagle Rare Bourbon Whiskey is part of Buffalo Trace's flagship whiskey collection. It's complex on the nose, with toffee, leather, honey, and citrus aromas, while the taste is nuanced with candied almonds and rich cocoa notes.
In another departure from standard bourbons, High Wire Distilling's features bourbon made from a variety of corn (Jimmy Red), once on the brink of extinction. The effect on the palate means a sweeter, nuttier, complex profile—a unique characteristic of a bourbon made entirely from corn.
Jefferson's is known for innovative, small-batch blends, and its 2018 release features a bourbon aged in flash-charred barrels for optimal oaky flavor. The oak also offers the palate a balanced, simultaneously sweet and spicy profile with a medium-length finish of cedar and tart lemon.
Drinking American Prairie bourbon is like sipping on rich and earthy goodness, with welcoming notes of honey, sweet corn bread biscuits, and a dash of Granny Smith apple. Plus, a portion of every bottle purchased is donated to American Prairie Reserve, a non-profit committed to the stewardship of the country's natural resources.
This Columbus, Ohio-based Watershed Distillery adds spelt grain to make their bourbon, or a version of wheat that is rarely used in distilling. Cool, but how does it taste? Think grassy and oat flavors, with an added sweetness that might be honey, or gingerbread. Take a sniff, and you'll get notes of cedar and pine.
Those in the know are aware that Heaven Hill's steal of a bourbon, while almost exclusively found in Kentucky, is a great sipping and mixing bourbon for the price. This bourbon touts notes of cinnamon spice and sweetness, as well as apple, brown sugar, and peanut flavors on the palate.
For a fruitier bourbon (think mango chutney and soft vanilla notes), Koval's organic corn and millet-based bourbon is a top-notch choice. Bourbon aficionados seeking experimental or unusual whiskeys have been known to put this bourbon at the top of their lists.
After falling out of popularity and closing operations in the '90s, I.W. Harper is back making their sweet, corn-rich bourbons. Spices like nutmeg enhance a bready flavor profile of shortbread or cookie dough with a lingering, oaky finish. Fun Fact: During Prohibition, the company was one of only 10 distilleries allowed to make medicinal bourbon.
This Kentucky-produced bourbon invites imbibers to inhale notes of vanilla, orange, and oak. On the palate, taste notes of charred orange, brown sugar, and dried fruits with slight astringency on the finish.