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Our Favorite Bourbons For Mixing Up Classic Cocktails

Mixing a great cocktail takes a great base spirit. Look at it this way — the cheaper and thinner your base, the cheaper and thinner the cocktail is going to be. That’s not to say you can’t make a solid bourbon cocktail with an inexpensive bourbon. You certainly can. It’s more that if you want your cocktail to really wow people, you need a “wow” bourbon as the foundation.

So what makes a great bourbon for mixing? We’d say two things are crucial. One, the bourbon has to be interesting. We’re talking solid flavors that step outside the classic vanilla/oak/spice matrix and add a little something new. Two, it needs to be somewhat affordable. We don’t want to be making $40 Manhattans (okay, maybe we do… but can we afford it?). You need a bourbon that’s less than $100 but not from the bottom shelf. The $30 to $60 range feels right for making quality bourbon cocktails.

The nine bottles below hit both of our parameters. They’re unique, tasty, and won’t break the bank. Plus, you should be able to find these bottles at pretty much any spirits retailer and they’re all easy to find online for delivery.

Legent

Legent

ABV: 47%
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Legent marries Kentucky bourbon craft with California wine barrelling and Japanese blending. The whiskey is made and aged in Kentucky in California wine and sherry barrels before master blender Shinji Fukuyo steps into blend the barrels into the final, stellar (and affordable!) whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

Bourbon vanilla and caramel lead the way towards a plummy and vinous underbelly. The sip has a creaminess with the vanilla that counterpoints a grape essence and oaky spice. In the end, this complex sip lingers for just the right amount of time while wallowing in all that creaminess, spice, plummy jam notes, and vanilla.

The Cocktail: Manhattan

This is made to be mixed in a Manhattan. Get the recipe on UPROXX Life’s IG!

Four Roses Small Batch Select

Four Roses

ABV: 52%
Distillery: Four Roses Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY (Kirin Brewery Company)
Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This is on the higher end of the price range for cocktails. But we’d argue that this is a killer base and worth the price. The juice is a blend of small-batched bourbons with spicy, fruity, and herbal yeasts in play. It’s also bottled at a higher proof, which is always a great starting place for mixing up cocktails.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a mix of dark and tart berries next to Christmas spice up top. The sip has a classic bourbon depth with vanilla, caramel, and oak at play against the fruit and spice. There’s a velvet texture to the sip that helps it slowly fade as it warms the senses.

The Cocktail: Old Fashioned

The herbal punch of some good bitters accentuates the berries, and the brightness of the orange zest matches the Christmas spices.

Belle Meade Reserve Bourbon

Belle Meade Bourbon

ABV: Varies
Distillery: Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, Nashville, TN (Sourced)
Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This sourced juice is a testament to how good aging can make for a great bourbon. The juice is a blend of high-rye bourbons that rest in the barrel for seven to eleven years. The whiskey is then masterfully small-batched from only seven barrels per bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Spicy cinnamon mingles with bourbon vanilla and fresh tobacco. The sip marries cinnamon-laden apple pie with tart and sweet berries while the oak and spice ebb and flow. The sip ends on a lingering note of campfire roasted marshmallow next to the aforementioned fruit and spice.

The Cocktail: Boulevardier

This bourbon can truly stand up to the big herbal and bitter notes of Campari and the sweet, herbal nature of dark vermouth.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Wild Turkey

ABV: 58.4%
Distillery: Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY (Campari Group)
Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This is a strong bourbon on its own. The juice is a small-batch blend of Wild Turkey’s famous high-rye bourbon that’s been aged for six, eight, and 12 years. The result is a bourbon that bourbon fans adore — definitely a stellar pick for your forays into bartending.

Tasting Notes:

Kettle corn and cinnamon-spiced candied apples mingle with tobacco, black pepper, vanilla, and milk chocolate. The creaminess of the sip leans that chocolate into milkshake territory as the spice peaks and the tobacco looms.

There’s a thin hint of tart fruit at the very end, especially when water is added.

The Cocktail: Whiskey Sour

The lusciousness of an egg white and the bite of citrus really helps this bourbon shine.

Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled-In-Bond

Heaven Hill

ABV: 50%
Distillery: Heaven Hill Bernheim Distillery, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This is just a solid whiskey all around. The single barrels are hand-picked from the Heaven Hill’s rickhouses after spending ten long years resting in oak. The juice is then cut down to bottled-in-bond proof and bottled with no more fussing.

Tasting Notes:

Christmas cake cut with plenty of orange zest and vanilla dance on the nose. A clear dose of fresh mint sprigs meets vanilla, caramel, spice, and more orange on the palate. Finally, the sip slowly fades out as the oak and a wisp of bitter smoke appear at the last second.

The Cocktail: Whiskey Smash

Muddling some mint and lemon with sugar and topping it with bourbon is a great use for this minty bourbon. It also works wonders in a mint julep.

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Knob Creek

ABV: 50%
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $35

The Whiskey:

This small-batch bourbon from Jim Beam is meant to highlight how simple good bourbon can be. The juice is small-batch bottles from bourbon barrels that are an average of nine-years-old. It’s higher proof is also an excellent reason to use it in cocktails.

Tasting Notes:

Notes of old saddle leather meet bourbon vanilla beans, plenty of oak, zesty orange, and a hint of popped corn with butter and salt. The sip edges into a mild and dark spice as the oak, vanilla, and honey base dominates. The dram lingers for just the right amount of time, giving you plenty of that citrus zest, spice, vanilla, and oak as it fades.

The Cocktail: Brown Derby

This classic cocktail leans into the honey and grapefruit and that’s the perfect accompaniment for this bourbon.

Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Heaven Hill

ABV: 50%
Distillery: Heaven Hill Bernheim Distillery, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

We already have one Heaven Hill whiskey on the list. So why not two? This juice is aged for a minimum of seven years from the distillery’s signature mash. The juice is then small-batch bottled at the required 100-proof.

Tasting Notes:

Cinnamon meets toffee on the nose. The sip then leans into caramel, brown sugar, more spice, vanilla, and a touch of worn leather. Finally, the black pepper spiciness kicks in as a fruity finish draws the sip to a close.

The Cocktail: Highball

Let this one shine with some soft bubbly water and ice.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $30

The Whiskey:

This is just a great bourbon to have around in general. The low-rye mash bill has a nice nuance to it at an attainable, everyday price tag. There’s a good reason we named it our favorite “everyday” bottle to have on hand.

Tasting Notes:

Classic notes of vanilla mix with hints of fresh mint and dark molasses. The sip has a nice balance of fresh berries, toffee richness, and an oaky bitterness. The finish is subtle and short with a sweet edge.

The Cocktail: Horse’s Neck

Ginger ale, bitters, and orange zest help this bourbon shine — lightening and loosening those rich flavors.

Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon

Balcones

ABV: 64.5%
Distillery: Balcones Distillery, Waco, TX
Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

This is the most expensive bottle on the list but probably the most unique too. The juice is made with blue corn in the base of its mash bill. It’s aged in new oak under the hot Waco sun and bottled at barrel proof, making it a high-ABV powerhouse for spiking cocktails.

Tasting Notes:

Cornbread dripping with butter and honey marries tobacco, mint, and white pepper on the nose. The taste leans into a bitter black sweet tea with hints of Red Hots and orange marmalade. The dram ends with a dose of the oak with a peppery base and flourishes of fire-roasted sweet corn.

The Cocktail: Bourbon Sweet Tea

Texas sweet tea spiked with this bourbon is a win all around. Add in some Hill Country brisket and you’ll be set.

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