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Bartenders Name The Best Bourbons For Absolute Newcomers

Someone once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In this case, the journey is becoming an expert (or at least semi-knowledgable) bourbon drinker and the person making the aforementioned trip is you, the bourbon beginner. The good news? You definitely won’t have to travel a thousand miles to start your bourbon odyssey (that is until you get the bug to travel to the distilleries you love).

In a marketplace loaded with reasonably-priced, well-made, flavorful beginner whiskeys, diving into the bourbon world couldn’t be easier than it is today. And all you need to do is peruse the aisles of your local liquor store or scroll through an online retailer to find them. To help you get started, we asked a handful of our favorite bartenders to tell us the best bourbons for absolute newcomers. They gave us a variety of bottles at different price ranges (but most are fairly inexpensive), all well suited to the palates of newcomers.

Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey 101
Wild Turkey

Steven Hirschauer, bartender at The Responsible Glutton in San Diego

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $26

Why This Whiskey?

Wild Turkey tastes like you expect bourbon to taste. If you’re trying it out, you can scale up on proof from 81 to 101 to cask strength versions, and even Russell’s Reserve to find your sweet spot. If I had to pick one, it would be Wild Turkey 101. There’s no better quality to value bottle on the market.

It’s high proof, but mellow with caramel corn, vanilla, and slight spice.

Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve
Woodford Reserve

Aaron Ramirez, lead bartender at The Restaurant at Mr. C Beverly Hills in Los Angeles

ABV: 43.2%

Average Price: $35

Why This Whiskey?

The best bourbon for novice drinkers is Woodford Reserve. This is because it is soft and sweet on the palate with just a bit of spice to intrigue you and turn a new corner into a whiskey drinker. What more could you ask for in a beginner bottle?

Basil Hayden Toast

Basil Hayden Toast
Basil Hayden

Christopher Rodriguez, lead bartender at Lucy Restaurant & Bar in Yountville, California

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $50

Why This Whiskey?

I would tell a novice drinker to try something smooth and easy to drink. Specifically, I would tell them to try the Basil Hayden Toast. It is aged in toasted oak barrels that add a very light, smooth taste with a vanilla flavor. It is quite accessible and affordable.

Angel’s Envy

Angel’s Envy
Angel’s Envy

Nick du Mortier, lead mixologist at Bar Pendry in Chicago

ABV: 43.3%

Average Price: $50

Why This Whiskey?

Since we’re talking about trying one, not buying one, I’ll pick Angel’s Envy. It’s a slightly expensive but non-aggressive introduction to drinking bourbon straight up or in a cocktail. It has vanilla and maple notes which aren’t off-putting to most new bourbon drinkers.

EH Taylor Small Batch

EH Taylor Small Batch
Buffalo Trace

Josh Curtis, bar director at the Malibu Beach Inn in Malibu, California

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $150

Why This Whiskey?

E.H. Taylor Small Batch has a wonderfully light sweetness that blends into an aftertaste of pepper and tobacco. It has a delightful complexity. The only problem is that it’s not very easy to find at the suggested retail price.

Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace
Buffalo Trace

Mark Phelan, beverage director at 16″ On Center in Chicago

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $30

Why This Whiskey?

I think Buffalo Trace is a great entry-level bourbon to showcase the general flavor of the category to a novice drinker. It is softer on the palate but has a nice balance of vanilla, oak, and spice flavors for a solid introduction to America’s native spirit.

Four Roses Small Batch

Four Roses Small Batch
Four Roses

Jamie Shaw, beverage manager at Stella of New Hope in New Hope, Pennsylvania

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $39

Why This Whiskey?

I usually recommend Four Roses Small Batch or Jefferson’s Ocean to novice bourbon drinkers. Neither of these will break the bank, and they’re a little on the sweeter side so they won’t come across too harsh to anyone. If I had to pick one, it would be Four Roses because of its caramel, vanilla, and oak charred flavors.

Bulleit

Bulleit Bourbon
Bulleit

Federico Doldi, bartender at Gansevoort Meatpacking in New York City

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $32

Why This Whiskey?

Bulleit bourbon is a classic. This is a great bourbon that’s perfect for novices. It’s oaky and smoky at the right point with incredible smoothness.

Blanton’s Single Barrel

Blanton’s Single Barrel
Blanton

Victor Gallardo, bartender at Society Cafe in New York City

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $119

Why This Whiskey?

Blanton’s Single Barrel bourbon is my pick. It is perfect for a new drinker because it is not as smoky as the traditional bourbons we are used to. It is a high-corn-based bourbon that allows for a sweeter flavor, which I believe would pair nicely with a new drinker.

Evan Williams Single Barrel

Evan Williams Single Barrel
Evan Williams

Lee Noble, lead mixologist at Art in the Age in Philadelphia

ABV: 43.3%

Average Price: $30

Why This Whiskey?

Evan Williams Single Barrel is nice and smooth with a surprising chocolatey note that would make it easy for a beginner. It’s great for mixing or sipping and surprisingly well-priced for such a well-made whiskey.

Russell’s Reserve 10

Russell’s Reserve 10
Wild Turkey

Zach Wilks, bartender at Anthony’s Chophouse in Carmel, Indiana

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $39

Why This Whiskey?

I think Russell’s Reserve 10 tastes like bourbon is supposed to taste. It’s the quintessential bourbon for me. It’s big and caramelly with a wonderful vanilla flavor and the oak and the spice bring everything together. It’s definitely one of my favorites.

Basil Hayden

Basil Hayden
Jim Beam

Andrew Bone, manager at Devereaux in Chicago

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $45

Why This Whiskey?

When I first started in the industry as a barback, I worked with a curmudgeonly old bartender who poured me the first whiskey I actually enjoyed, Basil Hayden. It’s a bit mellower but with a touch of black pepper.

All in all, it’s a solid sipper that won’t overload you with charred oak.

Michter’s US-1 Small Batch

Michter's US-1 Small Batch
Michter

Andres Bedoya, bartender at The Apothecary 330 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

ABV: 45.7%

Average Price: $45

Why This Whiskey?

A must-try bourbon for a novice drinker has to be Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon. It has a bold flavor profile. Anyone who tries it will understand why Michter’s has endured to the test of time and continues to inspire generation after generation of bourbon distillers.

Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark
Maker’s Mark

Cassie Stockbridge, bartender at the Lobby Bar at The Godfrey Hotel in Boston

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $30

Why This Whiskey?

Maker’s Mark is a great choice for novice drinkers to dip their toes into the bourbon world. This smooth and soft bourbon has delicious notes of caramel and vanilla. Maker’s Mark is on the slightly sweeter side and has an approachable price point.

Old Forester 100

Old Forester 100
Old Forester

John “Fitzy” Fitzpatrick, spiritual advisor at Warren American Whiskey Kitchen in Delray, Florida

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $25

Why This Whiskey?

Old Forester Single Barrel 100 might be one of the best bourbons for the buck on the market. The classic butterscotch, vanilla, caramel, and toffee are all present at elevated levels and there is little or no heat.

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