When it comes to aging bourbon whiskey, many people believe that the sweet spot is ten years. It’s just enough time for the charred oak and corn-based whiskey to mingle and meld together and the barrel to begin breaking down to create those well-known toasted oak, buttery caramel, and delicate vanilla flavors that deepen the sweet corn notes the spirit is known for.
This is all great news for most of us because, in general, 10-year-old bourbons aren’t crazy expensive. In fact, they’re often quite affordable. And, when it comes to the big brands, 10 years are often widely available without getting caught up in crazy after-market hysteria.
Since 10 years is the sweet spot, we decided to do a blind tasting of bottles that are (mostly!) easy to find. As always, the results surprised us… but also some of them didn’t — with an award-winner grabbing the #1 spot. Check our winners and see if they surprise you — if you feel inspired to buy a bottle the prices are linked!
Part 1: The Taste
In order to get the most out of this taste test, I selected eight of my favorite 10-year-old bourbons. While you can’t guarantee anything based on the allotment and where you live, all are fairly easy to find at your local liquor store or online. On top of being eight of my favorites, these are also some of the most widely awarded whiskeys on the market. It’s a very mainstream list, is what we’re saying!
- Russell’s Reserve 10
- Eagle Rare 10
- Michter’s 10
- Widow Jane 10
- Rebel Yell Single Barrel 10
- Basil Hayden’s 10
- Bulleit 10
- Henry McKenna 10
Ready? Let’s go!
Right away, I noticed that the aromas were a little muted for a ten-year-old expression. While I noticed long woody, oak scents and just a hint of vanilla, that was about it. There was more going on with the flavor on the palate, as I noticed hints of raisins, caramel corn, and just a wisp of smoke.
All in all, not a terrible whiskey. It was just a little thin for my liking.
I was struck by the depth of aromas on this whiskey’s nose. I found candied orange peels, light oak, buttercream, and sweet toffee. The flavor followed suit, with notes of wood char, buttery caramel, clover honey, and just a hint of cinnamon sugar at the very end.
Overall this was an extremely memorable sip.
The first thing I noticed on the nose was the earthy, nutty, sweet caramel aromas. This was followed by candied orange peels and the toasted vanilla beans that so many bourbon drinkers expect (especially when you’ve been in the barrel 10 years). The palate was similar with a lot of sweet corn, vanilla, and buttery caramel flavors that all lead into a nice kick of charred oak.
Overall, this felt like a very well-rounded dram.
There’s a lot going on with this nose and I really enjoyed it. Upfront, I found a good deal of cinnamon and sugar mixed with dried fruits, wood char, and sweet caramel. The flavor is spicier than most bourbons on the market with notable hints of ginger and cracked black pepper. But there was also the caramel and vanilla I expect in a well-aged bourbon.
All in all, a very complex, unique flavor that deserves extra attention.
Immediately, I was struck by how fruity the nose was. While I expected more corn sweetness, there were ripe berries and sour cherries that melded into toasted vanilla beans. I have “a very unique nose” written in my notes.
One taste revealed cinnamon sugar, citrus zest, and buttery caramel. There are also more ripe fruit flavors dancing on the palate, as well. All in all a decent sipper. That being said, the overall fruitiness of this bourbon isn’t exactly what I’m looking for in a sipping whiskey.
This nose was massive. I found hints of clover honey, caramel, cinnamon, and candied orange peels. The flavor was similar with more citrus zest, vanilla beans, and the addition of maple syrup and almond cookies. It ends with a nice, elegant oaky, caramel flavor that I definitely savored.
This whiskey had a veritable bouquet of aromas like spicy cinnamon, buttercream frosting, caramel corn, and just a hint of smoky, charred wood. Taking a sip propelled me into a world of candied orange peels, more cinnamon sugar, maple candy, almond cookies, and a nice oaky finish. This is a complex, easy-to-drink whiskey that I’d gladly sip all summer long.
Nosing this whiskey immediately made me think I was nosing a rye whiskey as opposed to a bourbon. On top of cracked black pepper, there was a ton of oaky, vanilla, and buttery caramel flavors usually associated with bourbon. The flavor was more of the same, with butterscotch and cinnamon joining in. But while I enjoy a nice rye whiskey, the peppery flavor was a little overwhelming for a summer sipper.
Part 2: The Ranking
If you just went by label alone, there would be no surprises. Your preconceived ideas about the juice inside would make unbiased opinions impossible. That’s why blind taste tests are the only real way to pick the best 10-year-old bourbon sipper. The best part? No labels mean there are bound to be some unexpected twists.
Here’s how things panned out:
8) Basil Hayden’s 10 (Taste 8)
Average Price: $76
When it comes to beginner bourbons, you can do a lot worse than Basil Hayden’s. One of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection whiskeys, Basil Hayden’s is a staple in home bars throughout the country. If you want to step it up, you’ll grab a bottle of its 10-year expression. Released every fall, it has the same high-rye recipe as the original but is aged for a decade in charred, American oak casks.
Tasting eight well-made whiskeys and ranking them isn’t easy. The only thing that made this whiskey drop to the last spot was the high rye flavor. If I wanted this much rye in a sipping whiskey, I’d grab a bottle of actual rye whiskey.
7) Bulleit 10 (Taste 1)
Average Price: $49.99
Like Basil Hayden’s, Bulleit is a great beginner bourbon that you’ll continue to purchase as a mixer for the rest of your life. But just like Basil Hayden’s, you can take a step up to the brand’s 10-year-old expression. This smooth, highly-awarded bourbon was aged for ten years in charred, American oak casks.
The lack of nuanced, bold flavors makes this whiskey more of a mixer than a sipper. For that reason, I couldn’t possibly rank this very high.
6) Rebel Single Barrel 10 (Taste 5)
Average Price: $79.99
First released in 2016 (and rebranded this year), Rebel (formerly called Rebel Yell) is a sourced whiskey. But even though Lux Row doesn’t disclose where this bourbon came from, that doesn’t mean it should be disregarded.
Aged for ten years, every bottle of this bold, rich, 100 proof bourbon lists the bottle number and when the whiskey was bottled.
While this is a very complex whiskey that ticks all of the bourbon boxes, there are almost too many berry and cherry flavors. For me, that made it taste more like a dessert whiskey than a bold, 100 proof sipping bourbon.
5) Russell’s Reserve 10 (Taste 3)
Average Price: $35
Wild Turkey is a big name in the bourbon world. But sometimes it doesn’t get the respect it deserves. This is why it launched Russell’s Reserve a few years ago. The shining star of the brand is its 10-year-old expression. This 90-proof, high-corn bourbon is the culmination of almost 100 years of distilling experience between father and son duo Jimmy and Eddie Russell.
Ranking these whiskeys is starting to get really tricky. I loved my Russell’s Reserve 10 sip. But compared to some of the higher-ranking whiskeys, it was a little sweeter than I would like for a daily sipper.
4) Henry McKenna Single Barrel 10 (Taste 2)
Average Price: $59.99
Interest in Henry McKenna 10 exploded a few years ago when this previously little-known bourbon was named as the best whiskey in the world at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Named for a whiskey-making Irish immigrant, this bottled-in-bond bourbon is known for its spicy, bold flavors.
A spicy bourbon isn’t always an easy sell for me. If it’s more of a one-trick pony, that doesn’t fly. But, this whiskey not only has bold cinnamon and cracked black pepper flavors, but it also has mellow caramel and sweet vanilla notes.
3) Widow Jane 10 (Taste 7)
Average Price: $69.99
“Sourced” shouldn’t be a bad word in the whiskey world and brands like Widow Jane are proving it. Its 10-year-old expression has won numerous awards over the years. The brand’s flagship bourbon, this expression is a marriage of Widow Jane’s rarest and most exciting sourced whiskeys.
Produced in 5-barrel batches, it’s unfiltered and proofed with locally sourced mineral water.
At first, I was surprised that this whiskey landed so high on the list. But then I remembered that I’ve always enjoyed the whiskeys produced by Widow Jane (including The Vaults). This 10-year-old expression would be a welcome addition to any home bar for the summer months.
2) Eagle Rare 10 (Taste 6)
Average Price: $79.99
One of the most highly regarded 10-year-old bourbons on the market, Eagle Rare 10 has been distilled, aged, and bottled the same way since its inception in 1975. This award-winning (and audience favorite) bourbon was aged for ten years in charred, American oak barrels. The result is one of the most mellow, easy-to-drink bourbons on the market and a bargain if you can manage to grab it for retail.
This pour was really hard to beat. It was so smooth and rich that I went back for a second sip after the blind taste test. If you can get your hands on a bottle, use it as your end-of-the-day sipper all season long.
1) Michter’s 10 (Taste 4)
Average Price: $199
It might be surprising that a 10-year-old bourbon would be so sought after. But Michter’s 10 is regarded as arguably the best 10-year-old bourbon produced today. Besides the bold, rich, caramel, vanilla, and subtly spicy flavor, the reason it’s garnered such attention and become such a popular bottle is the fact that this single barrel bourbon is only produced in extremely limited quantities.
This bottle, of the whole bunch, is the one where the actual price is sure to outpace MSRP.
This highly complex, bold whiskey is truly something unique. Everything you could ever want in a whiskey is included in this bourbon. There’s the mellow corn sweetness and vanilla flavors, but they’re tempered with a good deal of spice.
With tons of layers and nuance, my palate seemed to side with the whiskey hypebeasts on this one. It’s a hell of a dram.
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