How To Choose The Best Bourbon For NYE: A Guide From An Expert

If you’re anything like us, you’re going to be enjoying an alcoholic beverage (or six) this New Years Eve. Obviously, when the ball drops in Times Square (or wherever you live) and Anderson Cooper, Ryan Seacrest, or your local newscaster chants his or her way into 2018, you’re going to be sipping on some tasty bubbly. But before that, roundabout the time when Mariah Carey is lip syncing her way into the new year, you’re going to want to imbibe something with a little more heat.

If your spirit of choice is bourbon, you’re confronted with an immediate question: How do you determine the right bottle to buy for NYE? There are so many different styles that buying a bottle is almost as dizzying as the buzz you get from drinking it. Perhaps your New Year’s 2018 solution should be to finally learn to navigate the differences between small batch, craft, special batch, single barrel, barrel proof, bottled in bond, bonded, and limited-edition bourbons. That way, you can start your year looking impressive and refined (until 10am New Year’s Day, when you’re double fisting breakfast burritos).

We turned to Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell for an education on the spirit he loves. He was happy to oblige, telling us that this is the best time ever for the bourbon fan.

“There’s so much out there,” he says. “Everyone’s palate is different and always evolving so trying them all is the best way to find your taste profile.”

Russell was kind enough to give us a refresher on some of the Bourbon terms you might be unfamiliar with. Learning these will make purchasing bourbon much easier during the holiday season and beyond:

Small batch

RUSSELL SAYS: “There is no federally regulated definition within the industry for small batch. Typically it connotes bourbon that’s made in smaller batches from hand-selected barrels, but it’s not beholden to this. There is no a max because there isn’t a regulated definition for small batch. Some bottles will include the number of barrels or bottles produced on the label, but it’s not necessary.”


RUSSELL SAYS: “Craft is another term that’s not very well defined, but is often used to describe smaller, local distilleries. Craft isn’t a term you can bank on for quality or flavor because there’s not one definition of craft that distilleries are beholden to. What’s more important is how it’s crafted.”

Single barrel

RUSSELL SAYS: “Yes, the liquid in a bottle of single barrel bourbon comes from one barrel. Because of this, not all single barrels will taste exactly the same. We make a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon and Single Barrel Rye that are great examples of this style. It’s important to note ‘single barrel’ is not the same as ‘barrel proof’. With a single barrel, water may still be added to reach a desired proof. Whereas barrel proof means that barrel is poured, filtered, and bottled without adding any water.”

Cask strength

RUSSELL SAYS: “A cask strength or barrel proof bourbon is when we pour a barrel, filter it, and bottle it without any water added. Our Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a cask strength Bourbon so the proof changes with each release. Our new release clocked in at 116.8 proof.”

Bottled in bond

RUSSELL SAYS: “This is an old term that came about from the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, which was basically a guarantee by the US government that bourbon sold under the ‘bottled in bond’ label was authentic. To be labeled as bottled-in-bond or bonded: Only spirits produced in the United States may be designated as bonded. Liquor must be the product of one distillation season and one distiller at one distillery. It must have been aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. All of our warehouses bear the bonded label (Bonded Warehouse A, B, etc.) The bottled product’s label must identify the distillery where it was distilled and, if different, where it was bottled.”


RUSSELL SAYS: “They should be looking for where it was made and bottled as it could be two different places. The difference sometimes happens if the distiller isn’t making their own ‘juice’ (the Kentucky term for bourbon) so it’s something to look for when getting to know different brands.”

Age statement

RUSSELL SAYS: “If it’s a bourbon it should be aged for at least four years. The higher the age number, the bolder the flavor in most cases. This happens because the longer the liquid stays in the barrel, the more smoky flavors from the wood it picks up, often creating a bold flavor.”

Look at the ingredients

RUSSELL SAYS: “More liquor stores these days are sorting their shelves into white corn, corn, and rye whisky for their customers. White corn whiskeys are much softer than regular corn bourbons. Remember that the product must be made with at least 51% corn to be labeled bourbon. Then you have your rye whiskeys which need to be made with 51% rye. The high rye count makes these spicier, or hotter, than bourbon. Rye has really grown in popularity lately, especially amongst the younger generation of whiskey fans.”


According to Russell, the easiest way to learn about bourbon is to do your research… firsthand.

“Fact or fiction, there’s a story behind every bottle and that’s part of the fun,” says Russell. “So come visit us in Kentucky. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a fascinating look at the distilleries who have been producing whiskey for hundreds of year. It’s a great way to experience bourbon and learn the history and lore of this great American spirit.”