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A Whiskey Writer Names The Absolute Best Bourbons For Mixing

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.

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


While we’re more likely to sip a bourbon neat, we understand that the flavors work perfectly in an old fashioned, Manhattan, old pal, or boulevardier. But you probably don’t want to mix those up with too expensive a bottle of bourbon. It’s excessive.

On the flip side, you wouldn’t enjoy the flavors of a drink whose base is bottom shelf swill. The key is to find the middle ground — a whiskey that’s good enough to sip, but not so pricey that you’ll regret tempering the flavors with bitters, simple syrup, herbs, juices, and other ingredients.

To highlight those mid-range bourbons — sippable and perfect for mixed drinks — I cracked open my whiskey journal and picked eight beloved bottles. Check my picks below and add any I’ve missed to the comments!

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%

Price: $23.99

The Story:

Buffalo Trace’s flagship bourbon is 90 proof and, although it carries no age statement, it’s assumed to be between 8-10 years old. That’s a pretty long time maturing for a whiskey that can be purchased for under $40. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better priced, high-quality bottle to mix with.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find notes of sweet vanilla, subtle herbs, and a whole lot of brown sugar. The sip is filled with sweet cinnamon, charred oak, dried cherries, and licorice. The finish is long, warming-yet-mellow, and ends with a nice kick of caramel sweetness.

Bottom Line:

This is like the Swiss Army Knife of bourbons. Mix it into any whiskey-based cocktail and you’ll be more than happy with your decision.

Evan Williams Single Barrel

ABV: 43.3%

Price: $27.99

The Story:

Sure, you can’t go wrong with Evan Williams Black Label. But for only a few more dollars, you can get one of the best and most reasonably priced mixing (and sipping) bourbons on the market. This single barrel whiskey is aged at Heaven Hill for 7-8 years. The result is a complex, smooth bourbon — two qualities that make it ideal for mixing.

Tasting Notes:

You’ll find toasted marshmallows, creamy vanilla, and just a hint of spice on the nose. The sit delivers caramelized sugar, toasted wood, sweet vanilla, and spicy cinnamon. The finish is medium, full of warmth, and ends in a nice kick of cracked black pepper.

Bottom Line:

While it’s well-rounded enough to sip on its own, it shines in drinks like the old fashioned or sidecar, and it makes a very distinct whiskey sour.

Jim Beam Bonded

ABV: 50%

Price: $26.99

The Story:

This bonded, 100-proof whiskey is like the bolder, spicier cousin of Jim Beam White Label. While that expression is also great for mixing. If you’re looking for your cocktails to remain high in alcohol content and flavor even, after adding a few ingredients, this is the whiskey for you.

Tasting Notes:

The nose features nuanced aromas of charred oak, molasses, and toasted vanilla beans. Cinnamon, nutmeg, sweet almonds, dried fruits, and brown sugar all show up on the palate. The finish is long, full of heat, and ends in a nice final flourish of cinnamon spice.

Bottom Line:

The best aspect of this whiskey, besides its complex flavor, is its high proof. It stands out well in cocktails with multiple ingredients like a mint julep or a whiskey cobbler.

Old Forester 100

ABV: 50%

Price: $33.99

The Story:

Old Forester 100 is a real bargain for the value. Made in the prohibition-style, this 100-proof whiskey is made from barrels hand-selected by the master distiller. It’s bold, rich, subtly spicy, and perfect for mixing into your favorite cocktails.

Tasting Notes:

Enjoy the aromas of caramel corn, sweet chocolate, and toasted oak before welcoming the flavors of spicy cinnamon, cocoa powder, dried mint, and candied orange peels. The finish is long, warm, and ends with hints of butterscotch and vanilla.

Bottom Line:

Even with the high proof, this whiskey is surprisingly smooth. It works well in classic drinks like the old pal or the brown derby.

Rebel Yell

ABV: 40%

Price: $16.99

The Story:

Is there a better value than Rebel Yell? With its corn and high-wheat mash bill, it’s sweet, warming, soft, and full of classic bourbon flavors like caramel, vanilla, and charred oak. It can be sipped neat, but it shines when used as the base for your favorite cocktails.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find floral hints mixed with clover honey, brown butter, and dried fruits. The first sip is filled with candied orange peel, caramelized sugar, sweet vanilla, and subtle spice. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a final kick of sweet butterscotch.

Bottom Line:

This bourbon is bargain barrel cheap. Don’t be afraid to experiment with this whiskey. Mix it into a nice, holiday punch and have yourself a merry little socially distant Christmas.

1792 Small Batch

ABV: 46.8%

Price: $34.99

The Story:

If you didn’t know it already, 1792 was the year Kentucky officially became a state. This small-batch whiskey is made with the brand’s high-rye recipe. The result is a sublimely balanced bourbon with a great mix of sweet and peppery spice.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is surprisingly complex, featuring aromas of cracked back pepper, buttery caramel, and sweet vanilla. The palate is filled with caramelized sugar, sweet corn, nutty sweetness, and just a dash of cinnamon. The finish is medium, full of warmth, and ends with a final flourish of spice.

Bottom Line:

1792 Small Batch is so good you might not even want to mix with it, and that’s okay. If you do, mix it into a simple drink in which it can shine, like an old fashioned or a Manhattan.

Larceny

ABV: 46%

Price: $24.99

The Story:

Like Pappy and other big names in the bourbon world, This small-batch bourbon uses a mash bill that’s heavy on wheat instead of rye. Specifically, Larceny is made with winter wheat. The result is a softer, more well-rounded, and slightly sweeter whiskey, well suited for mixing into your favorite mixed drinks.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is filled with hints of walnuts, caramel, and brown sugar. The palate carries those aromas into flavors of spicy cinnamon, charred oak, buttery vanilla, and just a hint of peppery spice. The finish is medium, warm, and ends with a nice final bit of sweet heat.

Bottom Line:

If you’ve never tried Larceny, now’s the time. Add this bottle (and the barrel proof version) to your liquor cabinet to mix into all of your favorite holiday drinks. Spike some hot cider with it, you’ll be pretty delighted that you did!

Old Grand-Dad Bonded

ABV: 50%

Price: $20

The Story:

Old Grand-Dad is one of the most underrated whiskeys on the market. It’s bold, complex, and perfect for mixing. It’s one of Jim Beam’s series “The Olds,” along with Old Overholt, and is filled with sweet corn, buttery vanilla, and toasted oak flavors.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of dried orange peel, caramel corn, charred oak, and sweet vanilla. The palate skews toward subtle black pepper, spicy cinnamon, brown sugar, and molasses. The finish is long, full of pleasing heat, and ends in a nice kick of pepper.

Bottom Line:

Instead of Scotch, use Old Grand-Dad Bonded as the base for your seasonal hot toddy. The high proof and subtle spices work perfectly with hot water, honey, and lemon.

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