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Spectacular And Affordable Bourbon Whiskeys For Christmas 2020

There may not be a better time of year to sip on a dram of whiskey than this week. Even if you don’t have a tree in the house and aren’t mainlining eggnog, having a good bourbon on hand for a little letting loose as 2020 winds down certainly isn’t a bad thing. We could all use a drink after this (very) long year.

That’s why — in a season filled with bourbon — we’re going back to the literal and metaphorical well to call out the best bourbons for Christmas. There’s no real preamble necessary here, beyond that we like the way these bourbon whiskeys taste. Expect a lot of “vanilla” and “baking spices” flavor notes in line with the holiday, but we also sought out a fair bit of variation, to account for differing palates.

With the government only kicking $600 in assistance everyone’s way, we also decided to focus on accessibility. The most expensive bottle below is only $60. The cheapest is close to $20. Clearly, you don’t need to break the bank to enjoy these picks over the next week or two.

Pinhook Bohemian Bourbon

Pinhook Bourbon

ABV: 47.5%
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Pinhook Bourbon made a pretty big splash this year with a deep bench of well-made bourbons and ryes. The shingle brings a wine sommelier’s sense to the world of Kentucky whiskey and the results are worth tracking down.

This particular juice is a fairly low-rye mash bill (only 15 percent) bourbon from Castle & Key Distillery.

Tasting Notes:

Clear notes of pecan pie with hints of orange oils and dark spices greet you. The palate builds on those notes, with whispers of juicy tropical fruits, salted caramel, and a pinch of marzipan. The end is short and sweet.

Bottom Line:

This is a very young bourbon that’s only going to get better in the years to come. For now, it makes a great candidate for cocktails, highballs, and sipping on the rocks.

Woodinville Whiskey Straight Bourbon

Woodinville Whiskey

ABV: 45%
Average Price: $42

The Whiskey:

While we’ve been raving about the Woodinville Port Cask a lot this year (it was our favorite bourbon of 2020), their entry-point bourbon is also a winner. The whiskey is a true grain-to-glass experience with the corn, rye, and barley all coming from a local farm in Washington State. The juice is barreled and stored on the leeward side of the Cascade Mountains, where temperatures vary more drastically, adding to the maturation process.

Tasting Notes:

There’s vanilla pudding with caramelized sugar up top plus a hint of barrel char and bitterness on the nose. A matrix of Christmas spices arrives on the palate — with a bit of soft cedar and more of that caramel and vanilla. A little water reveals a dark chocolate character with a clear note of orchard fruitiness. The end is long and full of spices, vanilla, and caramel.

Bottom Line:

This is a pleasant surprise. While the price sort of says, “Hey, you can use me as a mixer,” the actual juice works as a nice sipper with a rock or little water.

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Woodford Reserve

ABV: 45.2%
Average Price: $56

The Whiskey:

Woodford Reserve is already matured in heavily-charred oak, giving the juice a lot of depth. This expression ups the ante by transferring the whiskey to twice-toasted barrels with a low char for additional nine-months of finishing. The result is a damn fine example of Woodford.

Tasting Notes:

That classic hint of fruit-meets-caramel from Woodford is there on the nose, with a drop of honey next to marzipan. The palate embraces the fruit and gets a little dry while Christmas spices, candied fruit, vanilla, and fatty nuts build on the tongue. The sip has a nice linger that feels rounded and warm but never hot. A little water brings out a spiced caramel apple nature that just works.

Bottom Line:

This is a fine sipper with a little ice or water. It also works really well in eggnog.

Old Tub Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Jim Beam

ABV: 50%
Average Price: $22

The Whiskey:

This throwback was another of our favorite bourbons of the year. The juice used to only be available in half-bottles at the distillery in Louisville. This year, Jim Beam took in nationwide with a limited release.

The juice is classic Jim Beam that’s only cut down to 50% (100 proof) and bottled with no chill filtration. In essence, you’re getting more of the beauty that’s in the barrel with little to no fuss.

Tasting Notes:

Vanilla, cornmeal, caramel, sweet honey, and a woodpile of freshly chopped wood greet you. That vanilla takes hold and hints of caramel kettle corn comingle with apples stewed in brown sugar and plenty of spice, along with an oaky edge. The end is long-ish and carries a sense of minerality as dark chocolate oranges arrive when a bit of water is added.

Bottom Line:

This really has no business costing $20. It’s also a workhorse that’ll make a fine cocktail, highball, or sipper on the rocks. You can’t beat that.

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

Heaven Hill

ABV: 47%
Average Price: $32

The Whiskey:

This much-beloved bourbon from Heaven Hill is an easy whiskey to get into. The whiskey is small-batched from 200 barrels in the eight to 12-year range. The idea is to dial-in the bourbon notes from those barrels into a final, sippable product.

Tasting Notes:

The dram greets you with hints of classic bourbon vanilla next to ripe stonefruits and a very distant hint of fresh mint (more so when water is added). The Christmas spices kick in right away as the fruit, caramel, and vanilla marry to a sense of nuts and charred wood. The end lasts as the sweetness fades to spicy warmth, and is accented by a mild billow of smoke.

Bottom Line:

This bourbon probably doesn’t get as much love as it deserves. It’s really tasty and very easy drinking, which makes it a winner for us.

Legent Bourbon

Beam Suntory

ABV: 47%
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Japan meets Kentucky in this collab bottle from Beam Suntory. The juice is made in Kentucky under the watchful eye of legendary Master Distiller Fred Noe and is made up of Beam that’s aged for five years. The whiskey then goes into California red wine casks and sherry casks for a finishing touch.

Finally, the whiskey is blended by Suntory’s legendary Master Blender Shinji Fukuyo.

Tasting Notes:

The nose draws you in with hints of orchard and stone fruits and a slight vinous nature next to classic bourbon vanilla and caramel. Those last two notes thicken on the tongue as vanilla pudding creaminess arrives with a toffee-meets-plummy-nutty underbelly. The finish is just long enough, with a little bitterness next to spicy warmth, oak, and more sweet fruit.

Bottom Line:

This on the rocks is a win every time you pour it. Take your time and let the water open it up. You won’t be disappointed.

Eagle Rare 10 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Buffalo Trace’s Eagle Rare 17 grabs a lot of the spotlight when it comes to this line. That’s fine. It’s a damn fine whiskey, albeit a very hard to find one. On the other hand, Eagle Rare 10 is both easy to find and damn delicious while also being affordable. That makes this a very good whiskey to track down.

Tasting Notes:

The age shows on the nose with a hint of musty oak and worn leather that counterpoints the rich toffee, vanilla, and honey. The palate is subtle with a marzipan roundness next to a little Christmas spice, orange oils, and dark chocolate. The end lasts as it fades through all those notes again, leaving you with a warm Kentucky hug.

Bottom Line:

One rock, one pour. Take your time and really let this one bloom in the glass.

Maker’s Mark 46

Beam Suntory

ABV: 47%
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

This amped up juice from Maker’s Mark makes for an interesting sip of whiskey. The wheated whiskey is aged like a classic Maker’s. Then, ten seared virgin French oak staves are put into the barrels for the last nine weeks of maturation.

The result is a unique whiskey that deserves a moment of attention as the year winds down.

Tasting Notes:

Toasted wood, rich caramel, and sweet fruits greet you. That wood really makes its voice heard, with a lumberyard vibe as big hits of caramel sweetness are met with plenty of vanilla and a wisp of smoke. The end holds onto the toasted wood as a hint of spice meets fruit on the finish.

Bottom Line:

This is a nice departure from the usual vanilla-caramel-fruit bourbons at this price point. If you’re into the woody and sweet bourbons, this will be your jam.

Weller Special Reserve

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 47%
Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This wheated bourbon is the originator of the acclaimed Pappy Van Winkle line of wheated bourbons. The juice in the bottle is an entry-point bourbon for those looking to get into wheated bourbon with real accessibility.

Tasting Notes:

Sweet fruits meet caramel on the nose. The palate basks in notes of buttery toffee next to honey and a hint of soft wood. There’s a floral note near the end that feels like an orange blossom as the sip fades away at a medium pace.

Bottom Line:

This is a really great cocktail base that works as a sipper in a pinch. It’s also probably going to be the hardest to find on the list. Good luck out there!

Bulleit Bourbon Blenders’ Select

Bulleit Frontier Whiskey

ABV: 50%
Average Price: $62

The Whiskey:

Part of this year’s course correction for Diageo’s Bulleit Bourbon was to highlight the BIPOC women running the show and making the whiskey at Bulleit. Case in point, this new release is Master Blender Eboni Major’s first limited release.

Major hand-selected three minimum nine-year-old bourbons available at Bulleit to create this signature blend — needless to say, we’re big fans.

Tasting Notes:

Salted peanuts coated in sugar mingles with oily vanilla, cedarwood, and Christmas spices. The palate delivers on those notes while adding rich toffee and spicy tobacco next to worn leather and wood. The end is velvety and long with plenty of spice, wood, and toffee.

Bottom Line:

This is one of the most solid sippers on the list. Add a little water or an ice cube and take your time with it.

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch Bourbon

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 50%
Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This expression from Buffalo Trace is crafted to be sipped. The bourbon is a small-batch blend of barrels that are hand-selected from Warehouse C (the one actually built by whiskey legend E.H. Taylor, Jr.) for their exactness and what they bring to the final product.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a real sense of a spicy caramel kettle corn dancing with hints of butterscotch on the nose. The palate carries on that path, adding in dark and peppery spices with a sweet tobacco vibe and a well-rounded nature. The end lingers and brings about a hint of licorice when you add water, which really plays well with the tobacco and sweetness.

Bottom Line:

Sip this whiskey slowly. This does work wonders in a Manhattan, but it really shines with a little water or ice and slow sipping.

Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon Whisky

Balcones

ABV: 46%
Average Price: $30

The Whisky:

This whisky from Waco, Texas is one of the most unique picks on the list. The hot Texas Hill Country days and cold nights help this juice intensify as it rests in the barrels. The end result might not be for everyone but it’s certainly an outlier that’ll expand your whiskey palate.

Tasting Notes:

Saddle leather, toasted oak, kettle corn, and sweet apples greet your senses. The palate has a pecan pie edge with a vanilla whipped cream body that touches on more leather, apple, and oak. That soft vanilla carries onto the end with hints of sweet applewood smoke and a final note of tobacco spice.

Bottom Line:

This is a great sipper to pair with a pie after a big holiday dinner, especially if we’re talking about a pecan or apple pie.

Wild Turkey Longbranch

Campari Group

ABV: 43%
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Although this whiskey has been around for almost three years, it was really 2020 that it caught the attention of America. Part of that’s due to Matthew McConaughey (Wild Turkey’s Creative Director and co-creator of the expression) being everywhere in the news recently. The juice in this bottle is Kentucky meets Texas.

The end result is another unique whiskey, certainly worth giving a shot when you’re getting toasty over the break.

Tasting Notes:

Christmas spice, creamy vanilla, and rich caramel draw you into the sip. The palate has a matrix of orange oils, tart red berries, toasted oak, leather, and mild butterscotch. The sip lasts a while on the sense as that dark spice and creamy vanilla fade out with a final note of mesquite smoke gently billowing through at the very end.

Bottom Line:

This sip feels like a cold winter’s day next to an outdoor fire with a pile of vanilla sugar cookies for pairing.

Heaven’s Door Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Heavens Door

ABV: 46%
Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This whiskey from Bob Dylan’s whiskey line from Nashville, Tennessee, is classic bourbon that works really well at this price point. The juice is a small-batched blend of around seven-year-old bourbons made in Tennessee. The blend is proofed with soft Tennessee spring water and bottled. The bottles are then adorned with a wrought-iron gate design, created by Dylan.

Tasting Notes:

Honey notes meet freshly baked bread with a buttery edge that leads toward butterscotch sweetness. There’s a little orchard fruit lurking in there, with hints of kettle corn covered in caramel and a whiff of dark spice. The end is medium-length and leaves you with a sweetness on the tongue and warmth in your chest.

Bottom Line:

This is a very sippable whiskey that also is a conversation starter given the cool look of the bottle and the legend behind the brand.

Belle Meade Bourbon Whiskey

Nelsons Green Brier

ABV: 45.2%
Average Price: $45

The Whiskey:

This revival from the Nelson brothers of Nelson Green Brier has become an almost instant classic. The juice is a high-rye bourbon that’s small-batched from only four barrels per bottling. The juice is then proofed with that soft Tennessee water and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

Florals and citrus mix with light maple syrup and a sense of caramel. The palate carries on that caramel path and adds rich vanilla, plenty of sharp rye spice, and a nice dose of apricot. The finish is long and with a little water brings about dark candied cherries inside a spicy, rich, nutty, and plummy Christmas cake.

Bottom Line:

This really vibes with the season. Pour it in some eggnog or mulled wine or make Boulevardiers with it.

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