Bourbon and Christmas are natural bedfellows. Not just for the cozy, warming feeling you get from the famous “Kentucky hug” a good bourbon gives, but also because of the flavors. You’ll often hear bourbon reviewers shouting out “Christmas spices” to reference cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, star anise, and ginger. It’s a great catch-all term for complex notes imparted via grains and cereals in the mash bill while also hinting at all that oaky mellowing done in the rickhouse.
The ten bottles of bourbon below are great sips to have on hand this time of year. They’ll work wonders next to a warm fireplace or under the Christmas tree. They also add depth when mixed with your favorite wintry drink. And — perhaps most importantly — they’re made to be shared, with most costing between $25 and $70 and readily available around the country.
OLD GRAND-DAD 114
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The Olds — part of the Jim Beam’s portfolio of booze — is a great line of refined rye and bourbon whiskeys to have on hand. Old Grand-Dad 114 is a high-proof Kentucky straight bourbon that was created by bourbon distilling legend Colonel R.B. Hayden in honor of his grandfather, the iconic Basil Hayden. The high-rye mash bill and high ABV make this a great Christmas dram.
Juicy mandarin oranges, leather, and whiffs of incense open this one up. There’s a rich, spicy edge that carries the sip through notes of florals and crisp and slightly tart apples covered in caramel. A hint of smoke circles back around as the Christmas spices peak with a warm and slightly dry finish.
BASIL HAYDEN’S AGED 10 YEARS
Speaking of Basil Hayden, this holiday release from Jim Beam has a high-rye distinction that has come to define Basil Hayden’s bourbon. That high-rye content lends a litany of spiciness to the dram that partners with decking halls and sleigh bells very well. The ten years it spends aging in charred new American oak shines through with an idea of time imparted in the sip.
Vanilla and rye spice mingle with charred oak and hints of bananas and cloves lurking in the background. The Christmas-y rye spices dominate the sip with notes of apple, caramel, and vanilla all making appearances. Finally, the rye spice marries a light smokiness from the barrel char to bring around a dry and warming end.
MICHTER’S TOASTED BARREL FINISH BOURBON
This expression from Michter’s was one of our favorite sips of the year. The Kentucky straight bourbon goes through secondary aging in toasted, not charred new American oak barrels. This adds a depth and complexity to the sip that makes it both a great dram overall and a great Christmas bottle to have on hand for spiking your eggnog.
Christmas spices and nutty pies sit next to sweet candied fruits and a note of smoke on a cold day. Apples and pears baked in those holiday spices, brown sugar, and butter mix with classic bourbon notes of vanilla and caramel. The toasted oak comes in late alongside the spices to bring about a lush finish that slowly wanes, leaving a satisfied feeling and an echo of a Christmas tree.
OLD FORESTER SINGLE BARREL
It’s the holidays, which means you should definitely splurge on single barrel iterations of your favorite bottles. There’s nowhere to hide in a single barrel expression. The beauty and craftsmanship of the distiller shine through in each sip. In this case, Old Forester’s Master Taster Jackie Zykan hand-selects a barrel and bottles around 240 bottles from a single barrel. That’s a special, one-off bottle of booze to try at an accessible price point.
Orange zest, vanilla, and toasted oak greet you on the nose. Caramel, butterscotch, and cinnamon mix with the orange and vanilla while light rye spiciness lingers. That spice leads to a hint of hazelnuts, tart berries, and a whisper of smoke.
BAKER’S 7 SINGLE BARREL
Baker’s just released their Single Barrel expression in time for 2019’s holiday season. As with all single barrels, this is a unique bottling of a well-crafted bourbon where no two are exactly the same. This means the nuances of the barrel, the location of the barrel in the rickhouse, and even the weather will dictate exactly what’s in the bottle.
As we mentioned, there’ll be nuances in taste with a bottle like this. But you can expect bright fruit, vanilla, and caramel on the opening. Roasted nuts, toasted oak, slight bitterness, and bourbon vanilla will carry the sip. The end will be warm with Christmas spices and those fruits yet again.
1792 SINGLE BARREL
1792’s Master Distiller Ken Pierce hand-selects each barrel for this bottling. The high-rye mash bill Kentucky straight bourbon is selected specifically for its exceptional flavor straight out of the barrel. This is a high-water mark for the brand with a masterful depth in ideas and taste.
A basket of fresh, juicy, and tart fruits greet you with an emphasis on pineapple, pears, oranges, and bananas shining through. Notes of butterscotch, toffee, and vanilla mingle with those fruits as a mild level of Christmas spices arrive late in the game. Those spices carry the sip towards a luscious and slightly dry finish.
HEAVEN’S DOOR TENNESSEE BOURBON
Bob Dylan’s signature whiskey is a masterclass in what great bourbon can be. The multi-grain juice spends eight years mellowing in charred new American oak, or about twice as long as the average bourbon. This longer aging process makes for a deeply complex dram that’s worth seeking out.
Brandied cherries, maple syrup, and oaky char shine through immediately. A mix of pine trees, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves arrive and mix with vanilla and rich toffee. The spice carries on with an almost Christmas cake depth as the sip fades gently.
EVAN WILLIAMS SINGLE BARREL VINTAGE
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Despite the relatively lower proof, I love #evanwilliamssinglebarrel. Such a great bang for your buck. Under $30 bucks and very easy to find sitting on the shelf here in Hawaii. Also very happy to add this 5th anniversary bottle to the cellar coming in at 105 proof! This one is for you Jai Guy @subfreerec
Evan Williams is a great go-to bottle of very affordable booze to have one hand (a bottle usually costs ten bucks on sale). Their Single Barrel Vintage expression is a shockingly delicious bottle of bourbon at the most accessible price-point on this list. Each barrel is hand-selected to impart a specific set of aromas and flavors, so no two vintages will be exactly the same.
Expect an opening with notes of caramel, toasted oak, tart and sweet fruits, and hints of char. Spices, honey apples, and orange zest mix with and herbal and ever-so-slight umami edge. The fruit and spices combine for a finish that lingers with a sweet end.
RUSSELL’S RESERVE SINGLE BARREL BOURBON
The crew at Wild Turkey have upped their game with Russel’s Reserve. Each bottle of this single barrel bottling is hand-selected from the rickhouses of Wild Turkey to represent the best of the best the distillery has to offer. The end result is a nuanced and deep bourbon that’ll leave a smile on your face after the first dram.
Toffee laced with vanilla dance with big notes of Christmas cake loaded with spices, orange zest, and candied fruits. The spices are supported by a herbal feel with plenty of vanilla, fruits, and florals present. Finally, all that Christmas cake depth peaks with a finish that touches on fruit and nut pies with a whisper of bitter dark chocolate.
BELLE MEADE BOURBON SHERRY CASK FINISH
Belle Meade’s Sherry Cask Finish is the perfect Christmas bourbon. After all, the best eggnog is made with both sherry and bourbon (or rum or brandy or all four). So, having a small batch bourbon like this — that can support the sherry component of killer eggnog — is a great way to add depth to any wintry drink.
Florals and dried fruits mix with a clear note of caramel. Stone fruits and more dried fruit carry the taste as caramel gives way to a sharp rye spiciness that mingles in the Christmas spice matrix. Brown sugar, vanilla, and fruits support the spices as cinnamon-spike dark hot chocolate arrives with a whisper of fire-roasted nuts and a warming finish.
EDITOR’S PICK: OAK & EDEN — BOURBON & VINE
Oak & Eden’s whiskeys — infused with flavors thanks to an oak spiral resting in the bottle itself — aren’t for everyone. It’s undoubtedly a gimmick, though one that makes perfect sense. You can’t really believe that juice sitting in an oak barrel would change the taste of a spirit without also admitting that a oak resting directly in the bottle would do the same.
This pick is one of the more interesting interpretations of Oak & Eden’s central conceit. The wood in the bottle has been soaked in cabernet sauvignon and those wine notes are readily evident.
Christmas for me is a very European holiday. It makes me want to be in Austria or Germany or Northern Italy. And one of the great joys of European Christmas is glühwein. This is basically glühwein bourbon. It’s almost blood-colored, the nose is both oaky and vinous, and baking spices carry throughout the sip. You get a lot of dried stone fruit and some nice oakiness here, chestnuts on the fire and all that. The finish is wine-silk meets bourbon-warmth. To me, that’s Christmas in a glass.