A great all-around bottle of bourbon is illusive. Some bourbons are crafted to be used in cocktails while others are specifically made for sipping. That means you generally need to have more than one bottle on hand. We’d argue that you really need six bottles of bourbon on your shelf.
There’s some debate as to how many bottles of bourbon you need on your shelf. Minimalists will say you only need one bottle for sipping and mixing. There seems to be some consensus around five bottles. That usually centers around a “daily bottle,” a “cheap mixer,” a “weekend bottle, ” a “bottle to wow your friends,” and a “celebration bottle.” We’d argue that that list is missing a crucial component: A good mixer. It’s pretty easy, folks, a shitty base bourbon is going to make for shitty cocktails.
So, to help you figure out which six bottles to stock on your shelf for all of these occasions, we’re calling out six bottles we think work in these six categories. Generally speaking, most of these bottles are readily available and buyable at your neighborhood shop. Let’s get into it.
The Daily Bottle — Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac)
Average Price: $30
This is a solid workhorse bourbon. The low rye in the mash bill helps this feel more like a classic with a real softness to the juice. It’s also very affordable for the quality of the whiskey in the bottle, making this a good bottle to keep stocked.
Vanilla and molasses mingle on the nose with a hint of fresh mint sprigs lurking in the background. A toffee sweetness with mild notes of spice counterpoint charred oak and dark berries. The softness of the juice really takes hold as it slowly fades out with a focus on the sweetness.
A dram of this on the rocks after a long day at work is the play. You can also use this is a solid cocktail base.
The Cheap Mixer — Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: Four Roses Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY (Kirin Brewery Company)
Average Price: $20
This whiskey is a blend of a high-rye mash bill and a lower rye one. The juice is aged for a minimum of five years before it’s cut down to 80 proof and bottled.
Apples and wildflowers mix with mild spices and fresh honey up top. The sip relishes in the tart apples and sandy pears while sweetness ebbs into caramel territory with a hint of vanilla and oak. The end is a subtle reminder of how easy-drinking bourbon can be as it quickly fades out.
This whiskey is crafted to be a cocktail mixer. Four Roses advertise it as “Perfect for Cocktails.” Use it that way — especially in an old fashioned — and you won’t be disappointed.
The Real Mixer — Legent Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $40
This whiskey is the marrying of Jim Beam’s Kentucky bourbon country with California’s wine country and Japan’s style of blending whisky. The juice is aged in Kentucky in new American oak and California red wine and sherry barrels. Then legendary master blender Shinji Fukuyo gets his hands on it to blend all those whiskeys. The end result is a bit of a masterpiece.
Dark dried fruits dance with a sense of fermented grapes and a buttery edge. Crème brûlée spiked with plenty of vanilla comes to mind as a plummy depth arrives. The sip wallows in all that creaminess, vanilla, and plumminess as it slowly warms you up from the inside.
This is going to take your cocktail game from just alright to solid. It’s especially good for Manhattans and Sazeracs.
The Weekend Bottle — Wild Turkey Longbranch
Distillery: Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY (Campari Group)
Average Price: $40
Master distiller Eddie Russell teamed up with Matthew McConaughey to create this tantalizing bourbon. The juice marries Kentucky’s bourbon with Texas. The Kentucky juice is filtered through Texas mesquite and oak charcoals before bottling. This extra step adds serious flavor and depth that’ll give you something to think about while you sip.
There’s a sense of corn syrup laden pecan pie next to an old leather chair that’s heavy with pipe tobacco. Tart apples dipped in toffee caramel with plenty of vanilla leads toward another billow of smoke with a hint of cedar bark. The sip fades out slowly as you’re reminded of all its complexities, leaving you with a fleeting sense of that tobacco smoke and tart apples.
This is crafted to be a sipping whiskey that’ll help you forget about the previous work week. I like it with a single rock (or a splash of water) to help open up the flavor profiles.
The Impressive Bottle — Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Bourbon
Distillery: Nelson’s Breen Brier Distillery, Nashville, TN (Sourced)
Average Price: $65
Belle Meade’s Cask Strength continues to wow whiskey lovers. The juice is a blend of seven to eleven-year-old whiskeys that have a high rye mash bill. Each bottling only uses seven barrels for the final product, so you know you’re getting something special here.
Each batch is going to vary slightly. Expect a classic sipping bourbon with clear notes of vanilla, dark spices, sweet caramel, and plenty of tart and sweet berries.
This one is a little harder to find nationwide. That means there’s a bit more of a “wow” factor when you break it out. It’s also an excellent sipper with a splash of water.
The Celebration Bottle — Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey 10 Yrs. Old
Distillery: Michter’s Distillery, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $200
Michter’s Singel Barrel Rye is aged for ten long years. This a limited production of whiskey so there’s not a lot of it on the market. It’s also one of the most beloved whiskeys at the moment, so don’t expect the price to stay accessible for much longer.
Tasting Notes (from UPROXX Life’s Expression Session):
“Toffee, almond, and vanilla dance with chili pepper. The sip takes on a candied cinnamon edge (not unlike an all-natural Red Hot) that helps usher in a flourish of orange oils. The roasted almonds and chili linger as the hefty vanilla creates a svelte mouthfeel with an embracing warmth.”
If you’re celebrating a milestone in your life, it’s time to drink something of this caliber. I drink it with a single rock.