If you’ve read even one article about bourbon, you already know that to be considered a bourbon the juice must be made with a mash bill of a minimum of 51 percent corn. It also must be aged (for at least two years to be called “straight bourbon”) in new oak barrels that have been charred to varying degrees. Obviously, there are other regulations. But when it comes to the flavor, these two components are pretty damn important.
The latter, aging in charred oak barrels, give the juice the unique vanilla character that many bourbon drinkers crave. As the spirit rests in the cask, the alcohol burrows into the charred wood and extracts vanillin from it. That vanillin is then imparted into the juice. It’s a chemical reaction resulting in a flavor that feels at once rich and familiar.
While all bourbons have this flavor profile in some respect, they’re not all built or blended to be bursting with prominent vanilla notes. That’s why we decided to find ten bottles that are full of enough vanilla that you’d think a toasted vanilla bean was actually placed in the barrel. Or maybe that the final product was mixed with vanilla essence. Don’t get it twisted — that’s not actually the case. These are simply vanilla-centric bourbons that owe their vanilla nature to the wonderful alchemy of wood, spirit, and time.
Henry McKenna Single Barrel
Average Price: $59.99
This single barrel, bottled-in-bond, bourbon took the whiskey world by storm a few years ago. The price was driven up and it became the must-have bottle for bourbon drinkers. The price has returned to normal, but it still isn’t easy to find.
This whiskey is aged for ten years, giving it a rich, sweet, well-balanced flavor.
Take a whiff and you’ll find aromas of charred oak, vanilla beans, and fruity, floral notes. The first sip is filled with sweet brown sugar, rich malts, buttery caramel, and more creamy vanilla. It all finishes with a nice hint of dried cherries and a return to the vanilla beans.
A lot of hardcore whiskey drinkers tend to collect higher-proof expressions. If you’re one of these drinkers and you still want a vanilla bomb, this is the whiskey for you.
Average Price: $53.99
One of the most underrated bourbons on the market, Noah’s Mill is high-proof and made up of Willett whiskeys ranging from 4 to 20 years old. This small-batch bourbon is tirelessly blended together to create a distinct, sweet, mellow flavor profile.
On the nose, you’ll find aromas of almonds, toasted oak, and dried fruits. On the palate, you’ll taste hints of buttery caramel, peppery spice, and gentle, sweet vanilla undertones. The finish is long, full of heat, and ends with a nice combination of cracked black pepper and toasted vanilla beans.
Bourbon aficionados know all about Noah’s Mill, now you do too. Grab a few bottles of this vanilla bomb before it becomes unattainable.
Maker’s Mark 46
Average Price: $39.99
Everyone has heard of Maker’s Mark. It’s one of the most popular bourbons in the world for a reason. It’s soft, mellow, and full of caramel sweetness. That vanilla-caramel flavor is only ramped up in its Maker’s Mark 46 expression. In fact, that’s literally the reason why Bill Samuels, Jr, created it.
Cask strength Maker’s Mark is finished with the addition of seared virgin French oak staves, therefore increasing the vanillin extracted.
Take a few moments embracing the aromas and you’ll be greeted with hints of charred oak, caramelized sugar, and sweet treacle. Take a sip and you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of French oak wood, buttery caramel, molasses, and rich vanilla cream. The last sip is mellow, lingering, and wraps up with more toasted vanilla.
For fans of ramped-up vanilla flavor, this is a steal at around $40. If you’re already a Maker’s Mark drinker, up your game with a bottle of Maker’s Mark 46.
Average Price: $16.99
This iconic brand got a well-deserved rebranding a few years ago. Luckily, even though it got a new label and a new image, they didn’t change the recipe or the extremely low price. This soft, mellow, very sweet, highly sippable bourbon sticks to the original recipe with a mash bill of corn, wheat, and barley.
Your nose will be met with aromas of clover honey, sweet butter, and dried cherries. Take a sip and you’ll find hints of raisins, sweet cinnamon, brown sugar, and sweet vanilla. In the end, you’ll find nice, gentle warmth with just a hint of spice.
For under $20, this is the kind of bargain, mixing whiskey that belongs in your liquor cabinet at all times. Great for a bourbon and Vanilla Coke combo.
Average Price: $52.99
Angel’s Envy has gained a cult following in the last few years because of its unique finishing choices. Its flagship bourbon is finished in port wine casks to give it a rich, complex flavor profile well suited for fans of vanilla, caramel, and literally anything sweet.
This might as well be a dessert whiskey.
Take a moment to give this whiskey a proper nosing and you’ll be greeted with scents of maple candy, charred oak, and port wine. The first sip is ripe with sticky toffee pudding, dried orange peel, buttery vanilla, and sweet berries. It all ends in a crescendo of cinnamon and toasted vanilla beans.
Finishing in port wine barrels gives this bourbon a unique flavor that deserves to be sipped slowly over ice while you watch snow silently fall outside your window. Hurry and try this before the spring melt!
Garrison Brothers Small Batch Texas Bourbon
Average Price: $89.99
Over the past few years, Garrison Brothers has made the world realize that great bourbon can be made in Texas. Its Small Batch Texas Bourbon is made with a mash bill of sweet corn, red winter wheat, and two-row barley. There’s no rye so it’s mellow, smooth, soft, and sweet.
On the nose, you’ll find hints of caramel apples, clover honey, and charred oak. The first sip yields flavors of leather, spicy cinnamon, buttery toffee, creamy vanilla, and dried orange peel. The finish is literally reminiscent of sugar cookies and vanilla-toasted almonds.
You don’t have to be a cowboy to enjoy this small-batch offering from Garrison Brothers. Although, after one glass of this 94 proof whiskey you might rethink your ability to pull off leather cowboy boots.
Larceny Small Batch
Average Price: $24.99
This small-batch bourbon has been racking up awards for years because of its exceptional, nuanced flavor. It’s soft, smooth, and utilizes wheat instead of the usual rye as the third grain in the mash bill. The result is a mellow, creamy, effortlessly sweet sipping bourbon.
On the nose, you’ll find hints of brown sugar, toffee, and fresh-baked bread. The first sip is filled with subtle floral notes that pair perfectly with sweet clover honey, rich treacle, subtle cinnamon, and cream-soda flavored with vanilla beans. The length of the finish is fairly long and ends with the soft, sweet flavor butterscotch.
This award-winning whiskey has a crazy low price, making it a value buy. If you’re thinking of grabbing a bottle buy two or three. You won’t regret it.
Hudson Bright Lights Big Bourbon
Average Price: $48.99
If you liked Hudson Baby Bourbon, you’ll love Bright Lights, Big Bourbon. The mash bill is 95% corn and 5% malted barley. That’s it. It was aged for three years in new, charred oak barrels giving it a mellow, soft, sweet flavor filled with caramel, vanilla, and honey.
Take a moment to breathe in this whiskey’s aromas and you’ll find hints of charred oak, brown sugar, and molasses. The first sip is full of dried cherries, caramel corn, creamy vanilla, and a nutty sweetness. It all ends with a final note of warming butterscotch.
Since this is a reasonably new expression, you might be hesitant to give it a try. If you’re a vanilla fan you don’t want to miss out on this corn-filled bottle.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
Average Price: $47.99
Woodford Reserve is known for its high-quality, award-winning bourbons. One of its best is its Doubled Oaked. As the name might tell you, this whiskey is matured in two different charred oak casks. The second barrel is toasted longer to give it an even greater char. The result is a sublimely sweet, mellow whiskey.
On the nose, you’ll find notes of charred oak, caramel apples, and rich honey. Take a sip and find flavors of creamy vanilla, buttery caramel, toasted oak, leather, and subtle cinnamon. The finish is long, full of warmth, and ends with a final kick of baking spices and caramel sweetness.
This expression from Woodford Reserve has a cult following due to its mellow, easy-to-drink flavor. Grab a bottle and savor every drop.
Wyoming Whiskey Bourbon
Average Price: $34.99
I know what you’re saying, “Bourbon from Wyoming?”
Well, this brand is proving that the boundaries of great bourbon are constantly widening. This small-batch bourbon is the flagship offering from Wyoming Whiskey. It’s an independent, family-owned brand and it’s distilled, aged, and barreled in Kirby, Wyoming.
Take time to give this whiskey a proper nosing. You’ll find scents of floral sweetness, dried orange peel, and soft vanilla. The palate is overflowing with flavors of caramel corn, citrus zest, sugar cookies, and butter-toasted vanilla beans. The finish is gentle, lingers, and closes out with a final flourish of buttery vanilla.
If you’re on the lookout for a truly independent, high-quality, vanilla-forward whiskey, grab a bottle of Wyoming Whiskey Bourbon as soon as possible.