The 20 Best Bourbons To Buy Right Now

Jene J. Long

Let’s cut to the chase: there are so many bourbons on the average liquor store shelf right now that they can’t all be good. A lot of it is white labeled bottles (brands that buy booze and label it their own) containing juice from the big distilleries, but there are just as many iconic brands from yesteryear on those shelves too. Some are truly great, a lot of it is just fine, and too much of it is pretty much trash.

You used to be able to kind of tell by price point where to find the “good stuff,” not these days, there are plenty of $20 to $80 crafty and white-labeled bottles that are “meh” at best. And yet the same bracket also encompasses some true gems that outshine bottles twice and even three times that price. A whiskey lover could waste a lot of money trying to figure out which is which.

To help you sort all of this out, I’m conducting a random blind taste test. This is random in the sense that you’d see pretty much all of these bottles at a good liquor store on the mid-tier and top shelves and behind glass behind the register. A few might require a trip to a specialty whiskey shop. The point is, these are generally bottles you’ll see when you go into a store. Moreover, I tried not to repeat brands (though some of these come from the same parent company/distillery).

All of that aside, this blind taste test is meant to be like a long, in-store tasting that you might not have the time for, in order to help you find the bottle that you actually might want to take home.

Our lineup today is:

  • Widow Jane 10
  • Noah’s Mill
  • Evan Williams Single Barrel 2011
  • Redemption High-Rye Barrel Proof 10-Year Bourbon
  • Woodinville Port Cask Finished Bourbon
  • Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A121
  • Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
  • Garrison Brothers Small Batch
  • Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
  • Baker’s Single Barrel 7-Year
  • Knob Creek 12
  • Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon
  • George Dickel Bottled in Bond, Fall 2008
  • Jefferson’s Reserve Very Old
  • A. Smith Brown Cask Strength Virginia Bourbon
  • Larceny Barrel Proof A121
  • Jack Daniel’s Bonded
  • Weller Special Reserve
  • Booker’s “Bardstown Batch”
  • Peerless Small Batch Bourbon

Let’s dive in!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months

The Ranking

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

20. Redemption High-Rye Barrel Proof Bourbon 10-Year — Taste 4

Redemption Bourbon

ABV: 57.2%

Average Price: $92

The Whiskey:

Redemption has a knack for sourcing some of the best barrels from MGP Indiana. This multi-award-winning bourbon is a marriage of a minimum of 10-year-old barrels that come together to make a highly sippable bourbon experience.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

This has a lot of woody vanilla next to tiny whiffs of dried florals with soft leather and toffee candies backing up the nose. The palate ebbs and flows between black peppercorns, sweet caramel sauce, and what feels like washed-out lemon pepper sprinkled over plain pork belly. The mid-palate leans back toward more classic notes of creamy vanilla and cherry with plenty of that black pepper and a whisper of chili powder but, ultimately, the finish dies a little and just kind of disappears on the tongue.

Bottom Line:

Had this nailed the finish, it’d be ranked much higher. Part of that is that my bottle is nearly kicked and has been open for a while, so there may be a little oxygenation at play. Still, this was the least compelling sip of the day, hands down.

19. Larceny Barrel Proof A121 — Taste 16

Heaven Hill

ABV: 57.4%

Average Price: $193

The Whiskey:

This is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after wheated bourbons on the market. The mash amps up the wheat with 68% corn supported by 20% wheat and 12% malted barley. The juice then spends six to eight years maturing in Heaven Hill’s vast warehouses. It’s then small-batch blended and bottled with zero fussing at barrel proof.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

This opens with soft oak and dried apricots that give way to a spicy and almost savory pumpkin pie filling with plenty of dried ginger and cinnamon with a slight touch of oatmeal cookie. The palate really leans into the spice with a Red Hot vibe that’s cooled down by vanilla pudding and a hint of maple syrup. The end has a spicy tobacco feel with old cedar and more of that dried fruit.

Bottom Line:

This is where the “that’s fine” section starts. This is perfectly good for what it is but it feels more like a cocktail base than anything else today.

18. Jefferson’s Reserve Very Old — Taste 14

Castle Brands

ABV: 45.1%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Jefferson’s Reserve is a masterclass in the power of blending. This expression is a marriage of only eight to 12 barrels from three different bourbons which are, for the most part, very old. How old you ask? There are 20-year-old barrels in the mix.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

There’s a lot of honey and nutmeg on the nose that’s tempered by old oak staves, worn leather, and green apples with a slight tartness. The palate is a little washed out with mineral water muting cinnamon sticks in apple cider, almonds, toffee candy, and vanilla tobacco. The end leans into the spice, wood, and tobacco but ends pretty quickly that’s to that watery proofing.

Bottom Line:

This feels like it could be a lot more had it not been proofed down so much. There are a lot of great notes lurking under that water. Shame.

17. Baker’s Single Barrel 7-Year — Taste 10

Beam Suntory

ABV: 53.5%

Average Price: $53

The Whiskey:

This is the first single barrel release from Baker’s, which has phased out its small-batch expressions. The juice comes from hand-selected barrels from specific spots in the Beam warehouses from whiskey that’s at least seven years old. In this case, we’re talking an eight-year-and-seven-month-old barrel.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

Old cellar beams with cobwebs mix with equally old leather, dried cherries, and rich vanilla ice cream on the nose with a hint of muted dried herbs. The palate is part vanilla frosting from the can and partly dried cherry tobacco with old reeds, moss, and fennel seeds rounding out the taste. The finish leans into the dried herbs as apple cider and cherry tobacco lurk in the background.

Bottom Line:

This was funky and cool but didn’t quite stick the landing. It felt like a great idea that needed a little something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

16. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked — Taste 9

Brown-Forman

ABV: 43.2%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This expression takes the standard bourbon above and gives it a finishing touch. The bourbon is blended and moved into new barrels that have been double toasted but only lightly charred. The juice spends a final nine months resting in those barrels before proofing and bottling.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

Wet leather and woody spice are tempered by soft marzipan, dark yet tart berries, and a slight sense of honeycomb and tobacco on the nose. The taste is all about the creamy vanilla and nougat with the berries layering onto a soft tobacco leaf and the wood taking on a slight mulled wine feel. The finish is equal parts vanilla cream sauce and softly spiced and almost sweet oak.

Bottom Line:

This was really nice, but that was about it. Again, I can see this working wonders as a layer in a cocktail or an on the rocks sipper in a pinch.

15. Noah’s Mill — Taste 2

Screen-Shot-2021-06-02-at-10.12.59-AM.jpg
Kentucky Bourbon Distillers

ABV: 57.15%

Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This is the bigger and bolder sibling of Rowan’s Creek bourbon (also from Willett), both are made with Willet’s low-rye mash. This bottle is comprised of barrels ranging from four to 15 years old. Brass tacks, it’s the same small-batch juice as Rowan’s Creek that’s simply not proofed down as much.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

Pecan pancakes covered in maple syrup and butter greet you on the nose with a hint of old oak, old library leather, dried cherries, and a drop of rose water. The taste mix stewed plums, caramel apples (with a hint of tartness), and cherry tobacco with sweet oak and more old leather. The finish has a spicy cherry tobacco vibe next to a very soft yet leathery dark fruit feel.

Bottom Line:

It’s always amazing how far some of these really good whiskeys fall off when tried against bigger hitters. Still, this feels very much in the “yup, it’s good” category. Classic, but basic.

14. Evan Williams Single Barrel 2011 — Taste 3

Heaven Hill

ABV: 43.3%

Average Price: $29

The Whiskey:

This is Heaven Hill’s hand-selected single barrel Evan Williams expression. The juice is from a single barrel, labeled with its distillation year, proofed just above 43 proof, and bottled as is.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

Again, this is just a classic AF bourbon. Caramel apples from the county fair, rich vanilla pods, old leather, soft oak, and a hint of spice all mingle on the nose. The palate really delivers on that nose while layering honey tobacco, eggnog spices, rich vanilla creaminess, and a hint of cherry bark. The end is sweet and smooth with a nice mix of dry sweetgrass bundled with cherry tobacco dipped in eggnog.

Bottom Line:

I feel like I could drink this all day. It’s so well-rounded, but just that. There are no bells or whistles here — and there doesn’t have to be. It’s not that exciting, even though it’s amazingly drinkable.

13. Booker’s “Bardstown Batch” — Taste 19

Booker's Bardstown Batch
Beam Suntory

ABV: 62.75%

Average Price: $120

The Whiskey:

The whiskey in the bottle is the classic Jim Beam mash bill of 77% corn, 13% rye, and 10% malted barley. The barrels were aged for exactly six years and five months before the juice went into the bottle untouched at cask strength.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

This is both classic and hot, even on the nose. Old cherrywood, dry vanilla-laced tobacco leaves, old leather, dry cedar, and chewy caramel candies round out that nose. The palate leans into cherry root beer served with apple sauce cut with cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg (and a touch of anise and black licorice) next to wet cornmeal, marzipan, and bitter dark chocolate. The ABVs really kick in late and lightly mask the cherry tobacco and vanilla pudding vibe.

Bottom Line:

Well, that’s twice now that a Booker’s didn’t land for me in a blind. This was pretty good, it just felt a little washed out by the high proof. Had this been on a rock, it likely would have been top 10 easily.

12. Widow Jane 10-Year — Taste 1

Widow Jane

ABV: 45.5%

Average Price: $79

The Whiskey:

This is sourced from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee bourbons. The hand-selected barrels are sent to New York where they’re blended in small batches (no more than five barrels), proofed with New York limestone water, and bottled. What you’re paying for here is the exactness of a whiskey blender finding great barrels and knowing how to marry them to make something bigger and better.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

This opens with a classic and rich nose full of creamy vanilla, dark orange oils, a hint of soft caramel, and a whisper of Irish Spring. The palate is all mulled wine spices, supple marzipan, and brandy-soaked cherries covered in dark chocolate. The mid-palate has a woody maple syrup vibe as more dark cherry, dark chocolate, and dark spices dominate the finish.

Bottom Line:

This would be a stone-cold classic if not for the Irish Spring note on the nose. Still, I like this for a solid middle-of-the-road pour but maybe a little more as a mixer in a very simple cocktail that lets the whiskey shine.

11. Garrison Brothers Small Batch — Taste 8

Garrison Brothers

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

Garrison Brothers is a true grain-to-glass experience from Hye, Texas. The juice is a wheated bourbon made with local grains. That spirit is then aged under the beating heat of a hot Texas sun before the barrels are small-batched, proofed with local water, and bottled.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

Raw leather dominates the opening on the nose and then leads into very sweet and raw grains with a yellow masa vibe, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and a hint of caramel apples. Those raw, wet, and sweet grains really drive the palate as angel food cake, vanilla frosting, and orange-laced shortbread mingle on the palate. The cinnamon and oak really kick in on the finish with a Red Hot warmth and dry wood vibe.

Bottom Line:

This is a pretty unique dram thanks to all those sweet grains. That makes it feel a little undercooked, but still delicious. All of that said, this feels like something I’d layer into a big cocktail than sip on its own.

10. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A121 — Taste 6

Heaven Hill

ABV: 61.8%

Average Price: $215

The Whiskey:

This Heaven Hill expression is released three times a year (generally) and has been winning award after award. The whiskey in the bottle is generally at least 12 years old and bottled with no cutting down to proof or filtration whatsoever. This expression is all about finding the best barrels in the Heaven Hill warehouses and letting that whiskey shine on its own.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

This started off rich and classic on the nose and then veered into a berry bramble after a fresh spring rain with tart and sweet red berries, green leaves, prickly stems, and soft black dirt that’s damped with mineral-rich rainwater as a cedar box full of orange and spice tobacco lingers in the background. The palate keeps those promises on the taste with a truly silky mouthfeel that warms you to your soul as creamy dark chocolate sauce mixes with buttery toffee and more of that spicy orange tobacco. That spice plays second fiddle to the berries which stay sweet and tart as they float in a high-fat vanilla-laced cream on the finish.

Bottom Line:

This is definitely a bifurcation point: the bourbons above are all perfectly fine for what they are but don’t really grab or hold your attention. This is where the list starts getting interesting, unique, and deeply layered. This is great whiskey but still a long way from the top of this list.

9. Jack Daniel’s Bonded — Taste 17

Jack Daniel's Bonded
Brown-Forman

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $35

The Whiskey:

This whiskey is from Jack’s bonded warehouse. The mash of 80% corn, 12% barley, and eight percent rye is twice distilled before it’s run through Jack’s very long Lincoln County process of sugar maple charcoal filtration. The spirit then goes into the barrel for at least four years — per bonded law — before it’s batched, and cut down with that Jack Daniel’s limestone cave water, and bottled.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

This opens with a big burst of apple candy mingled with cherry tobacco, plenty of vanilla beans, new car leather, a touch of orange vitamin c tabs, and a distant hint of mineral-rich potting soil with sweetgrass. The apple candy drives the palate toward bear claws and maple bars fresh from the doughnut shop fryers as winter spices and wet brown sugar mix with sweet yellow grits with butter. That all circles back around to the sweet apple with clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg next to a hint of cherry root beer and vanilla frosting on the finish.

Bottom Line:

This was the sweetest dram by far. But it works because that sweetness is always tied to a distinct flavor note. Overall, this was just an easy sip that stood out from the (very big) crowd.

8. A. Smith Bowman Cask Strength — Taste 15

Sazerac Company

ABV: 70.55%

Average Price: Limited Availability

The Whiskey:

This release from Sazerac is all about the boldness of the Virginia spirit. The juice is from a few hand-selected 10-year-old barrels from Master Distiller Brian Prewitt from the lowest ricks in warehouses A and A1 at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery. The juice is vatted and then bottled as is, at what is clearly an extremely high cask strength.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

Fresh firewood and cherry candies lead the way on the nose with pecan pie, brown butter, plenty of winter spice, and woody maple syrup. Woody cinnamon sticks stuffed into an old leather pouch with some spicy cherry tobacco drive the palate toward vanilla whipped cream over a banana cream pie with a lard crust. The mid-palate dries out with more of that firewood leading to dark espresso beans dipped in dark chocolate with a cherry/cinnamon tobacco bringing the heat to the finish.

Bottom Line:

This was bold and those ABVs certainly coated my whole mouth with a nice buzz, but the high proof didn’t wash out any of the flavors. This was a pretty nuanced bourbon for such a bold proof. Still, this needs a rock to cool it down and let those flavors really bloom.

7. Peerless Small Batch Bourbon — Taste 20

Kentucky Peerless Distilling

ABV: 54.65%

Average Price: $86

The Whiskey:

Kentucky Peerless Distilling takes its time for a true grain-to-glass experience. Their Single Barrel Bourbon is crafted with a fairly low-rye mash bill and fermented with a sweet mash as opposed to a sour mash (that means they use 100 percent new grains, water, and yeast with each new batch instead of holding some of the mash over to start the next one like a sourdough starter, hence the name). The barrels are then hand-selected for their taste and bottled completely un-messed with.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

There’s a real soft feeling to this nose with hints of blackberry patches next to old leather gloves, vanilla toffees, and moist pipe tobacco. The taste holds onto all of that while layering in lush vanilla, bitter espresso beans covered in dark chocolate, and dry cedar bark with a hint of sweet pitch. The end comes along and marries all of those notes into a larger whole while sugar pie, berry compote, soft eggnog spice, and old wicker round out the finish.

Bottom Line:

This is damn near a masterpiece. It delivers on a deep flavor profile while still being fairly easy to drink, even neat. That said, I kept going back to how I wanted this in a Manhattan so it’s a little lower on this list, but not much.

6. Weller Special Reserve — Taste 18

Sazerac Company

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

Buffalo Trace doesn’t publish any of their mash bills. Educated guesses put the wheat percentage of these mash bills at around 16 to 18%, which is average. The age of the barrels on this blend is also unknown. We do know that they cut down those ABVs with that soft Kentucky limestone water.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

“Classic” comes straight to mind from the first whiff as cherrywood, vanilla pods, floral apple, and old leather mingle on the nose. The palate is all about cream soda and apple pies filled with walnuts, raisins, and plenty of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice with a hint of ginger. The mid-palate veers into a cherry cough syrup vibe as the vanilla layers into soft and silky pipe tobacco with a hint of raw leather and old oak lingering in the background.

Bottom Line:

This was just good all around. It’s not reinventing any wheels but it doesn’t need to be when the refinement level is this high.

5. George Dickel Bottled In Bond Fall 2008 — Taste 13

Diageo

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $43

The Whiskey:

Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This year’s release is a whiskey that was warehoused in the fall of 2008. 11 years later, this juice was bottled at 100 proof (as per the law) and sent out to the wide world where it received much adoration.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

The nose opens up with a mix of old wood that’s been dipped in maple syrup next to cherry candy and root beer with a bit of anise, clove, cinnamon-apple chips, and this very tiny whisper of cumin. The palate has a little old leather next to rich vanilla that leads to black Necco Wafers with freshly baked apple pecan cinnamon rolls with a white sugar frosting rounding out the mid-palate. The finish leans into dark cherry cough syrup, anise, more of those Necco Wafers, and a small dose of apples sauteed in brown butter with winter spices.

Bottom Line:

“Refined” and “unique” come to mind, which makes sense as this is a Tennessee whiskey and benefits from that Lincoln Country Process with sugar maple filtration. That aside, this is just really easy to drink and rewarding with a deep flavor profile.

4. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit — Taste 7

Wild Turkey

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $59

The Whiskey:

Jimmy Russell hand selects eight to nine-year-old barrels from his warehouses for their individual taste and quality. Those barrels are then cut down ever-so-slightly to 101 proof and bottled with their barrel number and warehouse location.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

The softness of this whole sip — from nose to finish — is beautiful. This opens with a mix of woody spices next to oily vanilla beans, soft nutmeg, old wine-soaked oak staves, apple and cherry pie filling, and a buttery pie crust that’s been drizzled with toffee sauce and dusted with instant mocha coffee powder. The palate follows suit while adding in rose-water heavy marzipan laced with orange oils, dark berries covered in dark chocolate, a hint of old wicker that’s been rained on too much, and old leather gloves. The finish leans into the nuttiness and soft spices as the toffee and dark fruit linger the longest.

Bottom Line:

This might be one of my all-time favorite classic bourbons. This kind of feels like everything Kentucky bourbon is meant to be that you can also (still) get.

3. Woodinville Bourbon Port Cask Finish — Taste 5

Woodinville

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $52

The Whiskey:

This expression is the brand’s award-winning five-year-old bourbon taken up a notch. That means you’re getting that grain-to-glass experience of local Washington craft along with the bespoke barreling process on those snowy Cascade Mountains. The juice is then finished for six to 12 months in port casks, adding a whole new dimension to the bourbon.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

This nose runs deep with raw leather, stewed stone fruits with hints of ginger, nutmeg, clove, and saffron, dark and leathery prunes and dates, and soft, wine-soaked oak staves with a hint of vanilla husks. The palate combines all of that to create a rich, moist, and well-spiced Christmas cake brimming with candied and dried fruits, fatty nuts, plenty of dark spice, a line of black molasses, and a hint of espresso bitterness than leans towards dark cacao nibs. The end is lush and soft silk on the tongue while slowly fading back through that whole flavor profile, leaving you with a smile.

Bottom Line:

F*ck, this is so good! I hadn’t had this in a while but as soon as it hit my lips, I knew I was in a for a long and comforting hug. I kind of never wanted it to stop, which also means the top three are basically tied for first.

2. Knob Creek 12 — Taste 11

Beam Suntory

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $79

The Whiskey:

This is classic Beam whiskey with a low-ish rye mash bill of 77% corn, 13% rye, and 10% malted barley. The juice is then left alone in the Beam warehouses for 12 long years. The barrels are chosen according to a specific taste and married to create this higher-proof expression.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

The nose has this mix of old cherry tobacco that’s spent a lot of time in old cedar boxes next to old vanilla pods, wintry spices, an old leather chair, and a hint of dried mint. The taste veers away from that toward a dark berry crumble with clove, allspice, and nutmeg and covered in plenty of brown sugar and buttery streusel, drizzled with salted caramel, a dusted with dark cacao powder next to old floorboards and a whisper of dried chili flake. The finish leans into green cattails, more of that chili flake, and a mix of berry pie filling and cherry tobacco with a creamy dark chocolate sauce tying it all together.

Bottom Line:

When I saw this was Knob Creek 12, I said, “of course.” This whiskey rules, especially for the price point and availability. This might be one of my favorite everyday pours that’s classic while feeling a lot more refined and just… special.

1. Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon — Taste 12

Michters Distillery

ABV: 45.7%

Average Price: $449

The Whiskey:

This is where things get interesting. Michter’s originally dropped this back in 2014. The juice is standard bourbon that’s then finished in a toasted barrel from the famed Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville. They build these barrels by hand from 18-month air-dried white oak and then lightly toast the inside before the aged whiskey goes in.

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Blind Tasting Notes:

Oak char gives way on the nose to a fresh pile of douglas fir firewood with a hint of pitch, black soil, forest moss, pecan shells, candied orange peels, vanilla oils, and stringy cedar bark all swimming in dark Karo syrup. That sweet syrup drives the palate to campfire-singed marshmallows (nearly cotton candy) while saffron-stewed pears mix with clove and nutmeg, more of that candied orange, vanilla pound cake, and creamy and sweet caramel/chocolate sauce. The wood kicks back in late with that sappy firewood and old cedar as the pear, vanilla, and marshmallow come together on the long finish.

Bottom Line:

This is worth seeking out, though you should be able to find it at some very high-end liquor stores (for a price). For me, this was the perfect balance of something familiar and classic that’s also 100% unique and interesting. This taste went somewhere and took me along for a ride. You can’t beat that.

Final Thoughts

Random Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

I don’t think I tasted a bad bourbon today. There were some that certainly are more suited to mixing than sipping, sure. But overall, this was a good group.

Glad handing aside, the top 10 are where things got interesting and the top three especially were all impeccable. The Knob Creek (ranked second today) is going to be the easiest to find and best-priced (by far). But don’t let that stop you from tracking down a bottle of Woodinville (third) or that Michter’s in the number one spot. They really do live up to the hype.

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