Just because something is popular, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. But it also doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. In their rush to celebrate the new and the underrated, people sometimes forget the latter aspect. That’s why today we’re taking a look at some of the best-selling American whiskeys. These are the brands that even non-whiskey fans know. The barroom mainstays and liquor cabinet staples.
The expressions we’ll be drinking today include one well-known Tennessee whiskey and five Kentucky bourbons. And though I’ve had all of these drams more than enough times to last me, I sipped them all again for this occasion. While drinking, I detailed took notes — ranking the whiskeys based on flavor, mixability, and overall value.
You won’t be shocked to know that Jack Daniel’s, Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Bulleit, Maker’s Mark, and Evan Williams are the brands we’re tasting. But you might be shocked to see how I ranked them.
(I’ve put them from worst to best to add to the suspense!)
6.) Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon
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Distillery: Wild Turkey
You might know this bourbon by its former name “Wild Turkey 81.” It’s a classic turkey-adorned bottle that has a permanent spot on many bars and inside many liquor cabinets across America. Aged in charred American white oak casks using the company’s proprietary No.4 “alligator” char, this rich, easy sipping whiskey is one of the best-selling brands for a reason.
Like Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s, this brand has its rapid fanbase devoted to its whiskeys. Plenty of young people grow up knowing that grandpa or grandma insists on Wild Turkey at all gatherings.
The first aromas you’ll be met with are those of Christmas spices, charred oak, and creamy vanilla. The first sip yields spiced apples, brown sugar, caramel, and vanilla beans. The finish is long, warm, and ends with hints of leather and cinnamon spice.
Sometimes Wild Turkey doesn’t get the respect it deserves. While it’s not on the level of Elijah Craig or Four Roses, this is a highly sippable bottle. It also shines in a hot toddy or whiskey sour.
5.) Jim Beam White Label Bourbon
Distillery: Jim Beam
Like Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam White Label is an iconic bottle. This high corn bourbon just celebrated its 225th birthday. It’s Jim Beam’s flagship bottle — aged for four years in charred American oak barrels.
It’s cheap, highly mixable, and always there — available at every liquor store from Tacoma to Tampa. Seriously… it’s the top-selling bourbon in the world.
Begin your tasting experience by giving this whiskey a good nosing. You’ll be met with hints of sweet corn, dried orange peel, and subtle vanilla. The first sip is filled with charred oak, sweet honey, toasted caramel, and brown sugar. The finish is long, warming, sweet, and ends with a final kick of cinnamon spice.
You can sip any whiskey, but you’ll be happier using this one as a mixer. You don’t have to mask all the flavors with myriad ingredients, though. It works well in a simple old fashioned or mixed with ginger ale.
4.) Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
Distillery: Jack Daniel’s
Even if you know nothing about whiskey, you’ve heard of Jack Daniel’s. The sour mash Tennessee whiskey is the best-selling American made whiskey in the world. Referred to as “Old No. 7”, this whiskey is well known for being filtered through sugar maple charcoal before being matured in charred American oak barrels.
If you’re the type of person who usually uses Jack Daniel’s as a mixer, you might not take the time to nose it first. If you do, you’ll get acquainted with subtle smoke, cinnamon, and rich vanilla. The first sip brings hints of almonds, toasted oak, and sweet caramel. The finish is long, warming, and filled with more charred oak and cinnamon.
Sure, you can sip Jack Daniel’s. If you’re on a budget, you might be more than happy with a glass of Jack on the rocks. But truth be told, this whiskey is best suited for mixing into your favorite drinks.
(Also, Jack and Coke is a top 10 underrated cocktail.)
3.) Bulleit Bourbon
Distillery: Four Roses
This award-winning bourbon was made to pay homage to a whiskey originally produced by Augustus Bulleit more than 150 years ago. This high rye (28%) bourbon is known for its mix of spicy and sweet — appealing to both bourbon and rye whiskey fans. It also makes it a great whiskey for cocktail fans.
From the first nose, you’re met with the subtle peppery spice of the rye. This is followed by hints of toasted oak and sweet vanilla. The first sip brings up flavors of Christmas spices, maple syrup, rich caramel, and cinnamon. The finish is long, creamy, warming, and filled with more spicy white pepper.
There’s a reason this whiskey is such a big seller. It’s bold, smooth, and easily drinkable. It deserves to be enjoyed over a few ice cubes in a rocks glass on a cool evening.
2.) Maker’s Mark Bourbon
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Distillery: Maker’s Mark
If Jack Daniel’s is the most well-known American whiskey, Maker’s Mark is the most well-known bourbon. The bottle itself, with its red wax-covered top, is iconic all on its own. The bourbon inside is made with corn, red winter wheat, and barley. The mash bill doesn’t contain any rye, making it extra mellow and drinkable.
Little known fact: To pay homage to its Scottish heritage, the brand omits the ‘e’ in whiskey, calling theirs “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky”.
Before taking your first sip, you should always give this bourbon a proper nosing. The first scent you’re met with his of the charred barrel itself. This is followed by sweet cream and rich, toasted vanilla. The first is very light with hints of wood, subtle cinnamon spice, and caramelized sugar. The finish is short, very warming, and ends with a nice kick of spicy heat.
This whisky is lighter than you’d expect from such a well-known brand and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s smooth, very mellow, and perfect for sipping in a rocks glass over a few ice cubes or mixed into a mint julep or old fashioned.
1.) Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon
Distillery: Heaven Hill
Whiskey drinkers know all about the value of a bottle of Evan Williams. It doesn’t have the name recognition of a Jack Daniel’s or Jim Beam, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better bargain than the classic Evan Williams bourbon. Distilled by Heaven Hill, this bourbon is aged for a minimum of four years in charred American oak barrels. It’s the kind of bottle everyone should have on their liquor cabinet shelves for sipping and mixing.
From the first nose, you’ll be met with a subtle herbal aroma mixed with sweet cream, cinnamon, and butterscotch. The first sip brings up charred oak, salted caramel, and cooking spices. The finish is long, very warming, and ends with a great deal of vanilla and subtle spice.
While you can enjoy Evan Williams Black on the rocks quite easily, this whiskey really shines best when used as the base for a Manhattan, old fashioned, or literally any whiskey-based cocktail you enjoy.