We don’t know whether you’ve noticed or not (Hey, some of you might live under a rock somewhere — we’re not the judgmental types), but bourbon is in the middle of a huge resurgence right now. It seems everywhere we look, everybody is hopping on the bandwagon. And frankly, the bourbon bandwagon is one we’re happy to be on, so long as we ain’t the ones steering the horses.
In order for something to qualify as bourbon, it needs to meet a few requirements:
- It needs to be produced in the U.S. (No, not all bourbon comes from Kentucky).
- Its mash bill needs to be at least 51 percent corn.
- It needs to be aged in charged virgin oak barrels.
- It can’t be distilled to more than 160 proof, must enter the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof and must stay in that barrel for at least two years.
- Finally, it must be bottled at least 80 proof or higher.
Aside from the above, however, bourbon is a really wonderful and diverse spirit that comes in all different shapes and sizes, and with flavor profiles ranging from mellow, vanilla-y, and caramel-y, to more spicy and oaky, and everything in between. It can be as mild or as wild as you prefer, and it’s actually this kind of diversity that makes it our favorite booze going.
If you’re not a bourbon guy yet, we think now might be the time. Here are 10 Bourbons For Every Man’s Wet Bar:
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year
Pappy Van Winkle is a unicorn among bourbon aficionados. Distilled and bottled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, Pappy Van Winkle — particularly the coveted 20 Year — gained its notoriety as one of the best bourbons in the world sometime over the last 10 years. It won a Best-In-Class Gold Medallion at the 2008 International Wine and Spirits Competition, and it essentially started taking off from there.
The late Anthony Bourdain said the 20-year was, “the most glorious bourbon on the face of the planet” in an episode of On The Table, and since then, dozens of the world’s top food and booze critics have shared similar sentiments.
Even though a bottle of the stuff only technically MSRP’s for 170 bucks or so (Which still ain’t exactly cheap), the average retail price of a full bottle is somewhere in the $2,000 range. No, that’s not a typo. The first time we had a pour of Pappy, it was in a Philadelphia whiskey bar, and we paid nearly $75 just for a 1.5-ounce pout. And let us tell ya, it was worth every penny.
Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey
Hudson Baby Bourbon came to us as a recommendation from our good friends over at BroBible.com, while we were down on another whiskey trip in Nashville.
We’d heard about this New York bourbon — the first of its kind since Prohibition — before, so when the recommendation came, we knew we had to take advantage of the opportunity. And boy, were we impressed.
This small-batch bourbon is aged in two-gallon barrels that are actually — we kid you not — “agitated” by booming bass notes from EDM music blasted through massive shaker speakers mounted to the outside of their distillery.
The bourbon’s music-based aging process is unique, to say the least, but it works. And the finished product is absolutely stellar.
Four Roses Single Barrel
Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon is an excellent, lower-proof bourbon that’s exceptionally mellow and easy for any bourbon person to enjoy. Their Single Barrel expression, however, is a bourbon man’s bourbon through and through.
This 100 proof expression is complex and full-bodied, and while there’s the obvious bite of a 100 proof bourbon there, it’s still on the smoother side and exceptionally manageable. Because of the higher proof, it’s a little spicier and fruitier than a lot of other bourbons out there, so be warned that this ain’t your typical huckleberry. Either way, it’s a winner.
Buffalo Trace are the people responsible for the Van Winkle bottles, W.L. Weller and George T. Stagg, so naturally, their signature line of bourbon is excellent, too.
It clocks in at 90 proof, won’t break the bank at around $30/bottle, and can go well in everything from cocktails to Sunday sipper rocks glasses. This particular bourbon has a harsher sip than other bourbons out there, but quickly washes away to yield strong notes of caramel, vanilla, nutmeg and even a little stone fruit thrown in for good measure. All in all, it’s one of our go-to’s.
Another common gem from the folks at Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare is an award-winning aged Kentucky bourbon that lends itself to a more oaky, smoky flavor, with a distinctive stone fruit, citrus, toffee and even a little leather thrown in for good measure.
It’s also on the less expensive end of the bourbon spectrum and can be found nationwide. In fact, we’ll go on record as saying as Eagle Rare is our preferred everyday drinker, and something we love sharing with aficionados and newbies alike. It’s an excellent introduction to everything everyone loves about the liquid gold that is bourbon.
If bourbon were sounds, it’d be difficult to tell whether Noah’s Mill would be a beautiful symphony, or a blistering cacophony. We believe the former, but we know plenty of people who’d find it the latter.
This bourbon is not for the meek, as it comes in at an impressive 114 proof. However, what we love about it is that it’s a special and highly secretive blend of what we believe is four other bourbons, ranging in age from four to 20 years.
There’re also some pretty valid rumors about that it’s a combination of a few different types of mash bills, including everything from high corn, to soft wheat and even spicier rye — and we believe it. This bourbon carries distinctive notes of spice and seasoned oak, but also eventually gives way to some vanilla, burnt sugar, etc. It’s a bourbon drinker’s bourbon, to say the least.
Maker’s Mark Private Select
Maker’s Mark is a fine common bourbon that you can get your hands on in most liquor stores across the country. But if you want a real treat, hunt down some of their Private Select. The stuff is pretty tough to find outside Kentucky, but the juice is definitely worth the squeeze if you can find it.
It’s another heavy hitter at 112 proof, but it’s surprisingly smooth enough for less tempered palates. Though the blend varies bottle by bottle, you’ll commonly find heavy vanilla and toffee, with notes of coffee and toasted oak on the nose, with strong sweet vanilla on the tongue and wheat, wood and tobacco on the finish.
We obviously haven’t tried all the flavor variations to this exceptionally unique bourbon, but we can tell you we really, really enjoyed the stuff we’ve had.
Booker’s is the “no bullshit” bourbon brand. They take great joy in not spending money on advertising or social media marketing, and they know that if you’re seeking out their unique blend of small-batch bourbon, you’re in the know to one extent or another.
Every single batch of Booker’s is completely different from the last, so it’s tough to give you an honest flavor profile on the stuff. What we can say is that these guys really, really care about their juice. If the opportunity to own some of this stuff — or even sample some of this stuff — arises, take it without regret or hesitation.
Bulleit Barrel Strength
Even if you’re not a bourbon guy, you’ve likely heard of Bulleit. Their famous “Frontier Whiskey” has left indelible marks all over the bourbon world since it first started making its way onto shelves in the late ‘90s.
However, Bulleit Barrel Strength is another potent sipper that we absolutely cannot — we repeat, cannot — get enough of. Even though it comes in at 119 proof, it is an exceptionally palatable whiskey that offers that sweet corn-y flavor you’d expect, but also a pleasant spice indicative of a high rye mash bill.
There’s the exuberant bite of alcohol, but that’s quickly suppressed by hard notes of vanilla and even a touch of citrus, if you can believe it. Overall, if you want to delve into some barrel strength stuff and spot a bottle of this on the shelf, definitely do yourself a favor and grab it. You deserve it.