Bourbon

Bourbon (Photo by Joost Crop on Unsplash)

For the discerning drinker, there’s nothing quite like a well-aged, luxury bourbon. It’s a spirit that embodies tradition, craftsmanship, and a smooth, complex flavor profile unlike any other. But with so many premium options on the market, from small-batch releases to coveted limited editions, where does a true bourbon aficionado even begin? This guide dives into the world of top-shelf bourbons, exploring the nuances of taste, the prestige of rare labels, and the rich heritage behind each bottle. Whether you’re a seasoned bourbon connoisseur or a curious newcomer seeking a luxurious sip, this guide will help you navigate the world of premium bourbons and discover your new favorite pour. StudyFinds has the top seven best luxury bourbon brands most recommended by experts. We compile our lists by combing through existing consumer rankings and weeding out the consensus recommendations. Did one of your favorites not make the cut? Let us know in the comments below!

1. Woodford Reserve

The experts’ top pick for best luxury bourbon? “Woodford Reserve is one of those whiskeys that seems to be everywhere, and with justifiable reason: It consistently offers excellent bang for the proverbial buck, it’s a lovely sipper both neat and on the rocks, and it makes a terrific base for an Old Fashioned,” says Food & Wine. “The distillery traces its roots back to 1812 and is registered as a National Historic Landmark. The classic Distiller’s Select is crafted from a mash that supplements corn with 18% rye and 10% malted barley, but the rest of the range is also worth sipping your way through, including the Double Oaked and the Master’s Collection Historic Barrel Entry series, the latest of which, the Winter 2022, hit the barrel at 100 proof (a nod to 19th century whiskey production) and tastes of Halloween candy corn, roasted and maple-covered walnuts, and dried black cherries joined by singed mint leaf through the long, silky finish.”

Luxe Digital recommends the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, calling it the best Kentucky straight bourbon. “Woodford Reserve’s large bourbon collection can be bought at various price points, but it’s worth paying the extra dollars for an unrivaled taste. Smooth, woody, and with quality, Woodford Reserve’s Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon is made up of a wonderful mellow spice flavor.”

Esquire favors the Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight, saying it’s the best for newbies. “If we’re recommending the best entry-level bourbon, it’s always Woodford Reserve. But not for a lack of complexity; the palate offers up sweet vanilla, cinnamon, clove, dark berries and white pepper that hit every high note for our panel. A creamy finish coupled with lingering rye spice makes it versatile enough to sip straight up or enjoy in a bourbon sidecar.”

2. Old Forester

Bourbon experts like Old Forester because it “presents a broad fleet of bourbons and whiskies.” “Old Forester runs pretty light in the ABV department. The original is a breezy 86 proof, while other prominent bourbons in the line tend to stick to 100 or below — in our opinion, right around the sweet spot,” writes Tasting Table. “While a couple of higher 105s and mid-110s show up, it’s a bit of a surprise when the barrel-proof, single-barrel bottle drops in like an atom bomb at 130. Dang, Old Forester, did you just ‘She’s All That’ us?”

Old Forester Bourbon
Old Forester Bourbon (oldforester.com)

This bottle’s reputation precedes itself. “The history of bourbon as we know it is inextricably tied to the history of Old Forester, which was the first brand to offer its precious liquid in sealed bottles, as opposed to the standard-at-the-time barrels,” notes Food & Wine. “It’s been crafted since way back in 1870, and from their 100 proof straight bourbon to their fascinating Whiskey Row Series and their Birthday Bourbon – which is cause each year for collectors to go into fits of whiskey bliss – Old Forester is well worth a place on the shelf.”

Liquor Laboratory is a fan of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. “Every September 2nd, Old Forester releases a 12-year-old vintage expression in a limited edition to honor the founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday. This high-end bourbon is a must-try if you want to experience a rare handcrafted bourbon. It has a beautiful symphony of dessert components and berry on the nose with balanced notes of dried herbs and vanilla. It also has rich and inviting caramel, burnt sugar, and freshly baked cookie notes with a lengthy and dry finish.”

3. Wild Turkey

Coming in third on the best luxury bourbon list is Wild Turkey. Liquor.com specifically recommends Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. “If you want to talk about incredible bourbons that slide under the radar, this is definitely one of them. This is a single-barrel bourbon that comes to us courtesy of the same team that makes Russell’s Reserve and Wild Turkey, both outstanding whiskeys in their own right, and it appropriately comes in at the 101 proof that we love so much.”

Esquire calls the Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon the best all-around bourbon. “If you’re new to bourbon, then Wild Turkey is your safest bet. We’re yet to find anyone that doesn’t get on with the mellow flavours of white pepper, caramel and clove, coupled with a smooth, honey-sweet finish. The classic blend was taken up a notch to 58.4% ABV recently, but it’s managed to maintain the easy drinking quality that has so many bourbon buffs returning to this bottle.”

Luxe Digital says Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon is the best bourbon for beginners. “Wild Turkey 101 refuses to compromise on standards of excellence. This iconic bourbon is perfectly aged for a minimum of five years in American White Oak barrels with a level 4 char. Also called the Alligator Char, it is obtained after 55 seconds of fire. The barrel begins to crack and peel in a rough, shiny pattern that looks like alligator skin. The result is a deep color and spicy flavor profile to the bourbon. Expect tastes of cherry pie, raisins, and nuts, with an intense finish of tropical fruit. With a 101 proof, it finishes nicely with a subtle aftertaste of spice.”

4. Blanton’s

Another popular choice among experts is Blanton’s. “It seems everyone is looking for a bottle of Blanton’s to add to their collection, and there’s a good reason why: It’s outstanding. After all of these years, it’s nice to see the original single-barrel whiskey is still on top,” Erick Castro, proprietor of Polite Provisions and Raised by Wolves in San Diego and Boilermaker in New York City, told Liquor.com.

This is a great choice for any bourbon connoisseur. “If its character and complexity you want without totally draining the wallet for a premium bourbon, Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel Bourbon Whiskey is remarkable,” recommends Cool Material. “For a bourbon that’s only aged about six years, there’s a lot to love here. The high ABV is apparent, but it’s not off-putting at all. The strength on the nose is also accompanied by caramel, cinnamon, apricot, orange, and some mild toasted oak. The palate is full of vanilla, spice, toasted nuts, and honey for a positively delightful experience. The unfiltered and uncut bourbon is single barrel, so nothing gets blended out. Tons of character and strength make for rich sipping, and it’s best consumed with a few drops of water or just plain neat.”

Food & Wine favors Blanton’s Single Barrel. “This is increasingly difficult to find, as seems to be the case with so many standout Bourbons these days. But it’s well worth picking up several bottles if you happen to come across any. It was the first to be marketed as a single-barrel expression, and since its introduction in 1984, it’s become a beloved standard.”

5. Michter’s

Coming in fifth on the best luxury bourbon list is Michter’s. “There is an easy answer as to why Michter’s has assumed a position atop the pyramid of premium American whiskey: it crafts an exceptional array of limited releases, doing so only when the time is right. Point in case, this brand new expression of quarter-century old bourbon, which the distillery hasn’t offered in over three years,” writes Observer about Michter’s 25-Year-Old Bourbon. “This iteration is awash in dark-chocolate covered berry fruit. It’s sweet yet soulful, with an impossibly lengthy finish. Nevertheless, there’s no sense in sugarcoating it—finding it at retail would be something of a Christmas miracle.”

Liquor Laboratory is a fan of Michter’s U.S. 1 Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon. “It has a unique and notable flavor profile because of the second toasted barrel maturation. Michter’s US1 Toasted Barrel Finish bourbon has persistent notes of campfire and cinnamon. It also includes notes of pecan and candied fruit with a lingering finish of vanilla and marshmallows.”

Cari Hah, bar manager at Big Bar in Los Angeles, recommends Michter’s 10 Year to Liquor.com. “This bourbon is like velvet in your mouth, with wonderful buttery toffee notes finishing spicy and balanced.”

6. Elijah Craig

Bourbon fans picked Elijah Craig for its complex mellowing. “Level up to Elijah Craig’s 18-Year Single Barrel and you’re in for something truly incredible,” says Cool Material. “For what should be a very hard-to-find premium bourbon, it’s a surprise that you can get this Elijah Craig iteration without looking too hard. The drinking experience is easily commensurate with the price–18 years of maturation has imbued it with complexity rather than a simple mellowing. Fruit, spice, chocolate, honey, roasted nuts, oakiness, and even a bit of mint show up in various combinations that surprise you at every sip. Also consider the fact that Elijah Craig, himself, was the first to age bourbon in new charred oak barrels back in 1789, which is almost reason alone to grab a bottle for yourself.”

“While you wouldn’t be upset to find yourself holding the regular edition, even if it’s no longer a bonafide 12-year after losing its age statement, the real get is the barrel proof,” notes Tasting Table. “After earning the title of ‘Whisky of the Year’ in 2017, the rye-worthy heat has never left this label, and everyone loves to compare the releases throughout the year to find the best one to seek out.”

Food & Wine writes, “Elijah Craig is best known for its excellent 94 proof Small Batch Bourbon, which tastes like it costs a lot more than it actually does and rings with maple-pecan pralines and peanut brittle…The non-chill-filtered Barrel Proof Bourbon is also delicious. A recent tasting of Batch A123 showed a powerful, mineral dram with plenty of autumn orchard fruit, orange oils, and a hint of ginger, all of it pulsed along with woodsy spice and salted caramel.”

7. Four Roses

Rounding out the top seven is Four Roses. Luxe Digital named Four Roses Single Barrel the best overall bourbon of 2023. “With notes of caramel, vanilla, raisins, and a hint of charred oak, you’ll want to savor the taste of this premium Single Barrel again and again. This whiskey covers a lot of ground with a floral, spicy, woody, and fruity aroma, a medium color, and a lingering finish. It’s complex, full-bodied, and surprisingly smooth, with a delicate, long finish that’s unbelievably mellow.”

“Four Roses Small Batch Barrel Limited Edition features bright notes of crisp green apples, apricot, and sweet cherry,” recommends Liquor Laboratory. “It contains peach jam, light oak, and magnolia blossom notes on the nose. Four Roses have elegantly balanced flavors of fresh nutmeg, delicate ripe fruits, and spiced vanilla with a lingering finish on the palate.”

Cool Material writes, “The flagship Four Roses is a quality affordable bourbon you can find just about anywhere, but this bottling is special. Four of the 10 Four Roses bourbon recipes were blended to create the 2022 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch. It uses two 14 years, one 15, and one 20. The result is a bold and complex combination that expresses the four recipes in a new way. Vanilla, raspberry, and butterscotch show up on the nose, followed by a taste of cocoa, brown sugar, apricot, and cinnamon. The mouthfeel is velvety and rich. The finish could be better because it’s a bit dry and short, but most of the journey is delectable. It’s a different experience than most of Four Roses offerings, but it’s well worth it based on the intensity and complexity.”

Common Bourbon Tasting Notes:

Bourbon is known for its rich and complex flavors, which can vary depending on the brand, aging process, and ingredients used. Here is a list of some of the best bourbon flavors you might encounter:

  • Caramel: Bourbon often has a prominent caramel flavor, which comes from the charred oak barrels used in the aging process.
  • Vanilla: Bourbon can feature vanilla notes, which are derived from the oak barrels and sometimes from the grains used in the mash.
  • Oak: A strong oak flavor is a hallmark of bourbon, as it spends years aging in new, charred oak barrels, imparting woody and sometimes smoky notes.
  • Honey: Some bourbons have a sweet, honey-like flavor that adds a pleasant sweetness to the overall profile.
  • Spice: Many bourbons have spicy notes, including hints of cinnamon, clove, and black pepper, which can provide a nice contrast to the sweetness.

Sources used to create our list:

Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.

About Matt Higgins

Matt Higgins worked in national and local news for 15 years. He started out as an overnight production assistant at Fox News Radio in 2007 and ended in 2021 as the Digital Managing Editor at CBS Philadelphia. Following his news career, he spent one year in the automotive industry as a Digital Platforms Content Specialist contractor with Subaru of America and is currently a freelance writer and editor for StudyFinds. Matt believes in facts, science and Philadelphia sports teams crushing his soul.

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