Picking the absolute best bourbon of 2020 is an incredibly onerous task. There are a lot of great bourbon whiskeys out there. Tons. Seriously, soooo many. With new expressions dropping all the time. Naming one “the best” of them all is nothing more than a matter of opinion and personal taste at the end of the day.
Still, we drink a lot of the stuff around these parts and trust our own palates highly. So we’re happy to take a shot at it. We’ll even rank our favorites in order.
This year was a solid year for bourbon, all around — both in terms of new expressions and yearly releases of classic bottles. For us, the great definer of who landed where on this “best of” list is simple: How does it taste? Price in the bourbon world is all too inclement to change. Relatively accessible bottles like one of the expressions from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection carry a $99 MSRP (suggested retail) but hit shelves marked at $500 per bottle or more. Still, we wanted to keep things sort of reasonable, so our list spans prices from $25 to… a whole lot more than that.
In the end, the ten bottles below are simply bourbon whiskeys we loved this year. Whether you’re looking for something new to try during the holiday season, eager to treat yourself after a generally sh*tty 2020, or just curious about how an old standard holds up, our ranking will help you find the perfect dram of bourbon as the year draws to a close.
10. Old Tub
Average Price: $24
Old Tub is a throwback to Jim Beam’s early days, when the whole brand was actually called “Old Tub.” The juice is an unfiltered version of the best-selling bourbon in the world, bottled at a higher proof (also a throwback). It used to only be available in half-bottles at the distillery, but this year Beam decided to take it nationwide in full-sized bottles — a win for us!
Kettle corn covered in salted caramel greets you on the nose, alongside classic bourbon vanilla with a small dose of oak. The taste delivers on those notes and amps up the flavors with sharp spice and sweet apples. The oaky bitterness comes in late and adds a chew to the shortish end of the sip.
For around $20, you really can’t beat this bourbon. It’s a workhorse that’ll help your shots, cocktails, and highballs shine.
9. Baker’s Single Barrel 7 Year
Average Price: $60
This is a brand-new release from Beam’s high-end line. It’s also the first single barrel release from Baker’s, which intends to phase out its small-batch expressions in favor of this bottle. The juice comes from hand-selected barrels from specific spots in the Beam warehouses, with whiskey that’s at least seven years old.
The bottle has also been redesigned, adding a nice heft and a cork that makes it clear you’re drinking something special.
This is a single barrel expression so there’ll be variation. Expect big bourbon notes of spice and vanilla with a real sense of the oak with a slightly musty edge. Our bottle leaned into the vanilla and spice and accented it with savory herbs, mild fruitiness, and a hint of tobacco smoke. The end was medium-length with footing in the vanilla, spice, and oak quadrants until the very end.
This is just a nice, easy-sipping bourbon. It’s also inexpensive enough for single barrel cocktails like a Manhattan or Brown Derby.
8. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon
Average Price: $400
This year’s Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch is a hand-selected blend of four different bourbons made at Four Roses (they actually make ten different bourbons in-house). The whiskeys were between 12 and 19 years old and leaned into yeasts that highlighted “delicate fruit” and “mild spice.”
Fruit orchards full of apples and oranges mingle with fresh honey and clear bourbon vanilla on the nose. The apple then becomes more pear and bushels of peaches arrive on the taste with light touches of red berries and dusty spice. The end embraces the spice, fruit, and oak as it slowly fades out, calling you in for another sip.
Four Roses always delivers with their whiskeys. This is a dram you should sit with. A nice hit of water will help it bloom into its full beauty.
7. Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon
Average Price: $58
Waco, Texas’ Balcones remains one of the most interesting craft distilleries in America. A big reason is their masterful use of locally sourced and sustainably grown blue corn. Their Texas Blue Corn Bourbon is a yearly limited release that just keeps getting more refined every year.
Cornbread dripping with butter and honey draws you in, with a sense of mint, tobacco, and white pepper. The palate dances between Red Hots, bitter black tea, campfire roasted marshmallow, and a bold note of bitter-yet-sweet orange marmalade. The corn and cinnamon hold on through the long end; toasted oak arrives late on the gradual fade.
This is a “what’s that?” bottle that delivers as a workhorse whiskey worth sipping with water, mixing into a cocktail, or using for your new favorite highball.
6. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
Average Price: $75
This small-batched barrel proof whiskey has been delivering year after year since 2013. The draw with this expression is that you’re getting exactly what was in the barrel without any water added or filtration. This is pure whiskey and it rocks.
Rich caramel mingles with tart apple, orange oils, and a dose of toasted oakiness. The palate brings about a rich vanilla creaminess with toffee hints and plenty of fruit, spice, and oak, keeping the taste steady. The spice becomes a mix of peppery and cinnamon-forward notes, as the vanilla and toffee slowly fade away — leaving you warm and fuzzy inside.
This is a hot sipper that needs some time to open up with water. But it’s well worth the wait. It’s also one hell of a cocktail base, thanks to the deep flavors and high proof.
5. William Larue Weller — 2020 Antique Collection
Average Price: $700
This year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection was another stellar roll-out of whiskey. Our standout was their 12-year-old William Larue Weller. This wheated bourbon slaps. The juice was aged on very specific floors on specific spots of the Buffalo Trace warehouses, where 73 percent of the whiskey was lost to the angels, leaving this wonderous elixir behind.
There’s a mildness that draws you in on the nose — alongside creamy vanilla, spicy oak, and caramel. The taste leans into the vanilla and adds warmth, with a note of cherry and dark cacao powder bringing a coffee bitterness, especially with a few drops of water. The spicy oak kicks in as the sip slowly fades through your senses with that vanilla, cherry, and dark chocolate lingering.
The MSRP on this bottle is only $99. Sadly, you’re never going to find it for that price. That being said, if you could find it for $99, this would likely be our favorite all-around whiskey of the year. It’s just so f*cking sippable and always brings a smile to our faces.
4. Barrell Bourbon Dovetail
Average Price: $115
This year’s release of Dovetail was another smashing success. The juice — from the bespoke Louisville blending house — marries whiskeys from three different barrel programs. The core is ten-year-old whiskey aged in Dunn Vineyards Cabernet barrels, blended with an eleven-year-old finished in blackstrap rum barrels and port casks.
The results are a well-rounded dram with serious depth.
There’s a creamy vanilla pudding that’s counterpointed by oily nuts, leather, and spice. The vinous notes come through on the palate with dried fruits, Christmas spice, black pepper, mild savory herbs, and a hint of molasses. The end is just long enough and hits on the nuts and sweetness but adds in an almost eucalyptus note mingled with some dark chocolate when you add water.
This is as tasty as it is unique. You really only need a little water to open this one up and then just sit back and enjoy the ride.
3. Michter’s 10 Year
Average Price: $199
Michter’s continues to hit it out the park with this limited edition release. This year’s single barrel 10-year bourbon release was another masterpiece from the Lousiville shingle. The barrels are all hand-selected from their warehouses for their well-accentuated bourbon-iness (it’s a thing!) and bottled with little to no fuss.
There’s a maple syrup sweetness next to a deeply toasted oak nature on the nose. The palate edges towards oily bourbon vanilla with a rush of buttery toffee and sharp spice next to musty oak and worn leather. The end touches back on the maple syrup as it quickly fades through the old wood.
This is just a good goddamn dram of whisky. It’s complex, opens nicely with a little water or ice cube, and will wow any whiskey lover.
Yes, it’s a little pricy. But as a holiday gift, it’ll be a winner.
2. Basil Hayden’s 10 Year
Average Price: $74
This whiskey just dropped. Well, it drops every year just in time for the holiday shopping season. This year’s release is another classic 10-year-old expression in a bottle. The juice is aged six years more than the standard Basil Hayden’s bourbon, giving it a well-aged and well-crafted depth that doesn’t break the bank.
There’s a subtly at play that’s super enticing. Old oak, rich vanilla, and mild spice fill your senses on the nose. The taste leans into the oak, with a toasted nature next to a little library mustiness. Worn leather, peppery spice, and creamy vanilla also pop in. The sip opens up with water, adding in a dark cacao edge with minor notes of caramel, more spice, and more of that musty oak as it slowly fades away.
This wins for its price. This bottle could easily cost twice as much and people wouldn’t know the difference. It’s a fine whiskey that is an easy sipper but still cheap enough to pour into a cocktail.
1. Woodinville Bourbon Port Cask
Average Price: $50
This whiskey from Seattle is raking in the awards for their bourbon. This expression is their award-winning five-year-old bourbon that’s finished for six to 12 months in port casks. The result is a finely crafted bourbon that suits this time of year almost perfectly.
Candied fruit, roasted nuts, and bourbon vanilla entice you into the sip. Those notes lead right into a Christmas cake full of dried fruits, spice, nuts, and plummy sherry depths. The end shines in all of those notes, adding a warming feeling that revels in all the candied fruit, cake, spice, nuts, and oak while it slowly fades away.
This is one of our favorite whiskeys of the year. Maybe our even favorite. It’s just so good — a great sipper with a little water or ice and a world-class cocktail base for a Manhattan, Sazerac, or boulevardier.