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A Whiskey Writer Names The Best Bottles Of Bourbon He’s Ever Tasted

Christopher Osburn has spent the past fifteen years in search of “the best” — or at least his very favorite — sips of whisk(e)y on earth. He’s enjoyed more drams than his doctor would dare feel comfortable with, traveled to over 20 countries testing local spirits, visited more than 50 distilleries around the globe, and amassed a collection of bottles that occupies his entire basement (and infuriates his wife).

In this series, he cracks open his worn “tasting diary” and shares its contents with the masses.


Picking favorites is tricky. As you gain more and more experience, your tastes shift. Everything becomes subjective. Perceptions are filtered through your imperfect memory and reshaped by nostalgia. Once you hit your mid-20s, even shouting out your most beloved movie or song is tough.

Naming your favorite bourbon — when the very act of drinking is tied to sense memory? That’s agony.

Don’t worry, I’m still going to do it. Ranking whiskeys is the gig, after all. In fact, I’m picking my thirty favorite bourbons, then ranking them. But it should be noted: Though one bottle will be slotted 30th and one will take the highly coveted top spot, I enjoy all of these expressions. Some for personal, sentimental reasons and some because they’re just flat out tasty.

As you might expect, you’ll find some of the big boys of the bourbon world represented (Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace, etc.). But there are also some lesser-known brands and even a few not from Kentucky (gasp!). I’m also more than a little influenced by price, making sure to keep a solid number of entry-level expressions in play. Don’t worry, snobs, the expensive drams get shine, too.

Check my picks below and let me know how much you hate my list (and therefore everything else about me) in the comments.

30.) Old Bardstown

ABV: 50.5%

Price: $36.49

The Story:

This small-batch, estate-bottled bourbon comes from Willett. It’s double-distilled and aged for ten years. It’s complex, rich, and mellow. It also happens to be surprisingly cheap, at around $35. A bargain bottle that belongs in your liquor cabinet.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of fresh mint, charred oak, and buttery caramel. The first sip is filled with dried cherries, molasses, creamy vanilla, and toasted wood. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a final flourish of salted caramel.

29.) Ancient Age

ABV: 40%

Price: $10

The Story:

Produced since 1946, this is a true throwback bourbon. This 80-proof whiskey is as consistently good as it is ridiculously affordable. It’s the kind of bourbon you’ll want to tell your friends about. Buy a bottle (or three) and stock up your liquor cabinet for the impending holidays and beyond.

Tasting Notes:

If you take a whiff or two, you’ll find scents of caramel corn, sugar cookies, and subtle sweet cinnamon spice. The first sip brings you flavors of sticky toffee pudding, sweet corn, candied orange peel, and spicy rye. The finish is long, lingering, and ends with a nice final hint of caramelized sugar.

28.) Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon

ABV: 44%

Price: $34.99

The Story:

Even though most bourbon expressions are made in Kentucky, it doesn’t need to be made in the Blue Grass State. The folks at Wyoming Whiskey know this better than most. Their flagship, small-batch bourbon has won so many awards that even the most ardent Kentucky loyalist would be charmed by it.

Tasting Notes:

The first aroma that fills your senses is that toasted vanilla beans. This is followed by subtle wildflowers and brown sugar. The first sip emphasizes hints of sweet cream, spicy cinnamon, cloves, and sweet caramel. The finish is long, slightly warm, and ends with a combination of caramel candy and cinnamon spice.

27.) Maker’s Mark 46

ABV: 47%

Price: $39.99

The Story:

What begins as fully matured Maker’s Mark becomes something totally different when seared French oak staves are added to the barrel and the juice is aged for one more season.

The result is a bolder, more pronounced bourbon with extra caramel and vanilla sweetness.

Tasting Notes:

Take a deep draw of this bourbon before sipping and you’ll be met with sweet caramel, charred oak, and toasted vanilla. Flavors of English toffee, creamy vanilla, and spicy cinnamon dance on your palate. The finish is long, mellow, and ends in even more caramelized sugar.

26.) FEW Bourbon

ABV: 46.5%

Price: $49.99

The Story:

This three-grain bourbon from FEW in Illinois is made with corn, rye, and barley. It’s prepared in small batches and aged in charred oak casks. The result is a complex, flavorful whiskey that will make you rethink any biases you have again bourbon made outside of the Bluegrass State.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of spicy rye, sweet vanilla, sugary nuts, and buttery caramel. Take a sip and you’ll find flavors of sticky toffee, cloves, licorice, and brown sugar. The finish is long, very warm, and ends with a final kick of peppery spice.

25.) Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%

Price: $23.99

The Story:

Buffalo Trace is the flagship (and bargain-priced) whiskey for the distillery of the same name. It’s made from corn, barley, and rye, and aged in new, charred, American oak casks. It’s known for its smooth, rich, easy-drinking flavor.

Tasting Notes:

If you spend time nosing this whiskey, you’ll find aromas of chocolate, toasted wood, and caramel. The first sip brings you flavors of buttery vanilla, walnuts, sweet toffee, and subtle rye spice. The finish is long, mellow, and ends with a final mouthful of creamy caramel.

24.) Wild Turkey 101

ABV: 50.5%

Price: $24.49

The Story:

If you’re not open-minded, you might wonder why a whiskey like Wild Turkey 101 belongs on this list. Well… it’s my list. And if you ask me, not every enjoyable bourbon is $150. This is a high rye bourbon aged in extra-charred barrels and bottled at barrel proof. It’s bold, rich, and perfect for sipping or mixing.

Plus just look at the price!

Tasting Notes:

For such high rye, high proof whiskey, the nose is rather mellow with hints of caramel corn, sweet cinnamon, and subtle cracked black pepper. The first sip is filled with charred oak, toasted vanilla beans, brown sugar, and buttery caramel. The finish is long, robust, and ends with a final kick of peppery spice.

23.) Noah’s Mill

ABV: 57.1%

Price: $53.99

The Story:

A bourbon produced by the Willett Distillery, this is made in small batches and bottled at a robust 114.3 proof. It comes in a no-frills bottle and is shrouded in a bit of mystery. But that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most underrated bourbons on the market.

If you spot it in the wild, buy it.

Tasting Notes:

The complex nose is full of hints of maple sugar, dried cherries, and rich leather. The palate is velvety sweet, with notes of cooking spices, toasted walnuts, caramelized sugar, and subtle pepper. The finish is medium, warm, and ends with a final kick of white pepper.

22.) Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel (September 2020)

ABV: 47%

Price: $49.99

The Story:

You can’t go wrong with any whiskeys from Elijah Craig. But one of its newest releases is one of its best. Toasted Barrel dropped in the fall. It’s the brand’s award-winning small-batch bourbon that’s given a second maturation in proprietary toasted new American oak casks. The result is a more mellowed, sweet, caramel-filled bourbon.

Tasting Notes:

Give this whiskey a proper nosing before diving in to take a sip. You’ll find aromas of charred oak, toasted marshmallows, and caramelized sugar. The first sip is filled with spicy cinnamon, cracked black pepper, sweet vanilla, brown sugar, and just a hint of campfire smoke. The finish is warming, long, and ends with a nice flourish of spice.

21.) Old Grand-Dad Bonded

ABV: 50%

Price: $20

The Story:

On top of being a fantastic, well-rounded, high-proof whiskey, Old Grand-Dad Bonded is surprisingly cheap. Perfect for sipping or mixing into an old fashioned or whiskey sour, let’s hope the folks at Jim Beam never wise up and realize they could be charging a lot more for this bottle.

Tasting Notes:

Your nose will be treated to the delightful fragrances of candied orange peels, robust cinnamon spice, and sweet vanilla. On the palate, you’ll find hints of peppery rye, charred wood, sweet caramel corn, and brown sugar. The finish is medium in length, full of heat, and ends with a nice combination of sweet and spicy.

20.) Knob Creek 9-Year Small Batch (2020)

ABV: 50%

Price: $39.99

The Story:

Knob Creek is one of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Bourbons (along with Baker’s, Booker’s, and Basil Hayden’s). From 1992 until 2016, Knob Creek had an age statement of 9-years. It was removed because the brand said they could no longer guarantee every batch would be at least 9 years old, due to a lower inventory.

In 2020, the classic, 9-year small-batch returned to shelves and, as you can see, I like it.

Tasting Notes:

This whiskey’s nose is extremely complex with hints of cinnamon sugar, caramelized sugar, sweet vanilla, and subtle rye spice. The first sip will fill your palate with hints of dried orange peels, caramel, honey, and more spicy cinnamon. The finish is medium in length, warming, and ends with a nice combination of sweet and spice.

19.) Booker’s “Boston Batch” (July 2020)

ABV: 60-65%

Price: $129.99

The Story:

Booker’s is a bold and brash bourbon. It’s one of Jim Beam’s small-batch bourbons and it’s known for its unfiltered, uncut, robust flavor. This expression was aged between six and eight years and bottled between 120 and 130 proof. Yet it remains surprisingly smooth and sippable.

A truly unique bottle that belongs in your liquor cabinet.

Tasting Notes:

After the first whiff, you’ll realize why this whiskey has such a bold reputation. Charred oak, rich leather, and salted caramel are very prevalent. With the first sip, your tongue will mingle with flavors like toffee, clover honey, and spicy cinnamon. The finish is long, very warm, and ends with more charred oak and a kick of spicy rye.

18.) Rowan’s Creek

ABV: 50.05%

Price: $45.99

The Story:

Just like Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek is shrouded in mystery. It’s labeled as being bottled by Rowan’s Creek Distillery, but it’s assumed that it’s actually owned by Willett and sourced from another distillery (maybe MGP). It’s bold, high proof, made in small batches, and completely refined and nuanced.

Tasting Notes:

The nose has hints of cinnamon, buttery caramel, and a subtle herbal backbone. The palate is filled with caramelized sugar, sweet vanilla, and just a hint of spicy black pepper. The finish is long, mellow, and ends with a nice final kick of that spicy rye.

17.) Old Forester 1920

ABV: 57.5%

Price: $59.99

The Story:

Named for the Volstead Act of 1920, which began Prohibition in the US, Old Forester 1920 is a throwback to a bygone era. To pay tribute to those days, Old Forester bottles its 1920 expression at a robust 115 proof. It’s also designed to have a similar flavor profile as those made a century ago this year.

The result is a bold, rich, complex whiskey worth savoring.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of cocoa powder, spicy cinnamon, dried cherries, and charred oak. The first sip will bring you hints of almond cookies, caramelized sugar, butterscotch, and subtle spice. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a nice, lingering sweet vanilla flavor.

16.) Four Roses Single Barrel

ABV: 50%

Price: $49.99

The Story:

This award-winning, high-rye bourbon sits at a robust 100 proof. It was aged in new, charred American oak barrels for a minimum of 7-9 years. The result is an extremely well-rounded, complex whiskey that’s a bargain for just under $50.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is spicy, with hints of clove and cinnamon tempered by sweet vanilla and maple candy. On the sip, you’ll find buttery caramel, dried orange peel, milk chocolate, and just a hint of peppery rye spice. The finish is long, full of pleasing heat, and ends with some white pepper heat.

15.) Jefferson’s Ocean Aged Cask Strength

ABV: 56%

Price: $83.99

The Story:

If you’ve never tried Jefferson’s Bourbon because you think the whole “aged at sea” thing is simply a gimmick, now’s the time to get over your hang ups. This is a great bourbon, trust me on that. Especially the cask strength expression.

This bottle is a blend of small-batch bourbons that were put on a ship and crossed the equator four times while visiting five continents. It’s seen the world, man.

Tasting Notes:

If you take time to nose this bottle, your nostrils will be filled with the aromas of toasted marshmallows, candied orange peels, spicy cinnamon, and sweet vanilla. The first sip is heavy on the toffee candy, dark chocolate, cinnamon buns, and brown sugar. The finish is medium in length and ends with a nice burst of herbal flavors.

14.) Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel

ABV: 45%

Price: $299.99

The Story:

While this bourbon carries no age statement, it’s believed to be at least 12 years old. It’s a single barrel bourbon that uses Buffalo Trace’s #2 mash bill (the same higher rye mash used in Blanton’s and Ancient Age) and is named for former Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this expression is full of classic bourbon flavors like baking spices, dried leather, spicy cinnamon, and caramelized sugar. The first sip brings hints of clover honey, buttery vanilla, shortbread cookies, and dried fruits. The finish is long, full of gradually warming heat, and ends with a nice jolt of rye.

13,) 1792 Full Proof

ABV: 62.5%

Price: $60

The Story:

The name ‘Full Proof’ might seem a little confusing as this expression isn’t barrel proof. It’s 125 proof and carries no age statement. But internet sleuths believe that it’s around eight-years-old. Honestly, we don’t care about age statements when the juice is this good.

It’s well balanced and filled with a nice amount of peppery rye spice. (I’m noticing that rye is a common thread in this list. Never really picked up on that before!)

Tasting Notes:

Enjoy a nosing before your first sip. You’ll enjoy aromas of peppery rye, toasted oak, creamy vanilla, and salted caramel. Take a sip and you’ll get flavors of caramelized sugar, espresso beans, rich leather, and cracked black pepper. The finish is long, warming, and filled with hints of brown sugar and spicy cinnamon.

12.) Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon

ABV: 66.9%

Price: $219

The Story:

You might not think about Texas when you think of bourbon, but the folks at Garrison Brothers are making some pretty amazing stuff. One of their best is the flagship Cowboy Bourbon. It’s bottled at cask strength and uncut and non-charcoal filtered to create a bold, burly whiskey that gives off serious Lone Star State energy.

Tasting Notes:

Take a whiff of this epic bourbon and scents of toasted tobacco, espresso beans, sweet caramel, and vanilla will fill your nostrils. The first sip is loaded with dried fruits, sugar cane sweetness, toasted marshmallows, and honey. The finish is long, warming, and ends in a nice mix of caramel sweetness and peppery spice.

11.) Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

ABV: 45.2%

Price: $47.99

The Story:

You can’t go wrong with any offering from Woodford Reserve, but its Double Oaked Bourbon is one of its best. It’s twice-barreled (hence the name). The first is a regular charred oak cask and the second is a “deeply” toasted and charred barrel.

The result is a softer, sweeter, more well-rounded whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

Take time to nose this whiskey and you’ll find hints of toasted marshmallow, dried cherries, clover honey, and caramel. When you taste it, expect almonds, Christmas spices, creamy vanilla, and caramel apples. The finish is velvety, mellow, and ends with a nice “Kentucky hug.”

10.) Eagle Rare 10

ABV: 45%

Price: $34.99

The Story:

This 90-proof bourbon has received countless awards and for good reason. Aged for ten years in charred American oak barrels at Buffalo Trace, this one uses the distillery’s #1 mash bill — believed to be low rye and high wheat. If you can find it at cost, you’re looking at one of the best bargains on the market.

If not, it’s still probably worth the price.

Tasting Notes:

The first scents you’ll notice are those of candied fruits, sweet honey, and rich toffee. The palate features nutty sweetness, rich leather, toasted oak, and creamy vanilla. The finish is long, full of pleasing heat, and ends with a nice final hint of cinnamon.

9.) Henry McKenna Single Barrel

ABV: 50%

Price: $99.99

The Story:

Back in 2019, Henry McKenna Single Barrel won “Best in Show Whiskey” at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. This led to its addition to the whiskey hype train and made a $30 bottle one of the hardest to find on the market. But just because it became wildly popular, that doesn’t mean McKenna Single Barrel is already overhyped. I’ll happily hop on the bandwagon for a dram this good.

Aged for ten years and bottled in bond, this 100-proof bourbon is worth all of the accolades it’s received.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is filled with sweet caramel, mouth-watering vanilla, and subtle cinnamon. The first sip brings charred oak, spicy rye, brown sugar, and clover honey. The finish is spicy, warming, and ends with a nice pleasing hit of caramelized sugar.

8.) Michter’s 10

ABV: 47.2%

Price: $299

The Story:

Michter’s is well-known for making some pretty great bourbons (and ryes). One of its best is its 10-year-old bourbon. This single barrel bourbon is made in limited quantities and aged in fire-charred American oak barrels for a decade. The result is a bold, rich whiskey, filled with caramel and vanilla.

Tasting Notes:

Give this whiskey the nosing it deserves, and you’ll be treated to aromas of toasted wood, vanilla beans, and cocoa powder. The first sip yields sweet cinnamon, candied orange peels, buttery toffee, and chocolate cake. The finish is medium in length, warming, and ends with a nice hit of black pepper.

7.) Barrell Bourbon Batch 009 (2016)

ABV: 56.05%

Price: $79.99

The Story:

Batch 009 is one of the most sought-after Barrell expressions in the county, for a variety of reasons. It’s the oldest (aged for 13 years) and lowest proof (still pretty high, at 112.1 proof). It’s also a very unique whiskey, having spent time aging in both Tennessee and Kentucky.

Tasting Notes:

Give this bourbon a quality nosing before your first sip. You’ll find aromas of candied orange peels, caramelized sugar, almond cookies, and molasses. Sip it to find sweet butter cookies, brown sugar, and subtle, spicy cinnamon. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a nice mix of tangy citrus and sweet caramel.

6.) Blanton’s Single Barrel

ABV: 46.5%

Price: $199

The Story:

If you talk to whiskey fans, you’ll get a ton of opinions on Blanton’s. While many love it, they all say it’s not priced right. But just because the price might be a little inflated, that doesn’t change the fact that this ten to twelve-year-old bourbon is extremely well-made and nuanced.

Hell, it practically made my top five.

Tasting Notes:

If you give this a nosing, you’ll be treated to scents of sticky toffee, vanilla beans, and cinnamon. The first sip is full of candied orange peel, sweet honey, velvety caramel, and brown sugar. The finish is long, warming, and ends with caramelized sugar and just the tiniest hint of spice.

5.) Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (October 2020)

ABV: 60.2%

Price: $289

The Story:

Bourbon aficionados love cask strength whiskeys and Angel’s Envy makes one of the best. It’s port-wine cask finished and a limited release, with less than 18,000 bottles available. But it’s finally available nationwide which makes it at least slightly easier to find.

The retail price is around $200, so expect to pay a lot more for the aftermarket. But again, this is a special dram. If you can afford it, pay whatever you have to.

Tasting Notes:

Give this whiskey a nice nosing and your senses will be treated to hints of caramelized sugar, charred wood, dried cherries, and subtle cinnamon spice. The first sip rolls deep with salted caramel, candied orange peel, sweet vanilla, and spicy cinnamon flavors. The finish is long, full of warmth, and ends on a current of brown sugar.

4.) Widow Jane The Vaults 2019 (August 2019)

ABV: 49.5%

Price: $199.99

The Story:

In 2019, Widow Jane dropped a limited release of its rarest and oldest bourbons. The blended bourbons are a minimum of 14 years. After aging, this expression was finished in 8-year, air seasoned American oak barrels. This created a unique, rich, mellow whiskey that’s so good, you’ll eagerly await the new release (dropping soon).

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of toasted oak, subtle mint, sweet caramel, and spicy cinnamon. The palate shifts gears, with flavors of creamy vanilla, dark chocolate, butterscotch, and subtle cracked pepper. The finish is long, very warm, and ends in hints of dried fruits, cover honey, and more cinnamon.

3.) Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch

ABV: 50%

Price: $83.99

The Story:

Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr is known as one of the founding fathers of the bourbon industry. Hand-selected barrels make up this small batch bourbon that’s known for its velvety, smooth flavor profile well suited for slow sipping.

Tasting Notes:

Maple syrup, spicy cinnamon, and charred oak greet you on the nose. The first sip is filled with fall spices, caramel apples, brown sugar, and sweet anise. The finish is lingering, soft, and ends with a wave of warm pepper.

2.) George T. Stagg, Jr.

ABV: 64.2%

Price: $59.99

The Story:

This is the second whiskey named for George T. Stagg (one of the founders of the distillery now called Buffalo Trace). The first is uncut, unfiltered, and aged for 15 years. This second expression, Stagg, Jr, is the same uncut and unfiltered bourbon, but it was aged for just about a decade.

In all honesty, that’s enough time to rach perfection. This whiskey is smooth, refined, and highly sippable.

Tasting Notes:

Make sure to give this hard-to-find bourbon a proper nosing. You’ll find charred oak, leather, and brown sugar. The first sip morphs those notes into salted caramel, clover honey, toasted wood, and rich milk chocolate. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a nice hint of maple sugar and spicy cinnamon.

1.) W.L. Weller 12

ABV: 45%

Price: $299

The Story:

While Pappy Van Winkle is almost impossible to find, unless you’re willing to pay a ridiculous sum, W.L. Weller 12 (known as the “poor man’s Pappy”) is slightly easier to track down (and much cheaper). Like Pappy, this 12-year-old bourbon is wheated, soft, and extremely mellow.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is filled with dried orange peel, creamy vanilla, and subtle cinnamon spice. The first sip has flavors of rich maple syrup, sweet caramel, cooking spices, and candied fruits. The finish is long, full of warmth, and ends with more maple sugar candy and cinnamon.

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