Getting into bourbon can be an expensive hobby. When I first started stocking my bar I bought my fair share of bottles that were terrible. Many of which I pawned off on unsuspecting guests at parties and events. I typically relied upon a brand’s marketing scheme or what a biased store employee was trying to push on me.
Below are my top 5 recommendations for any new bourbon drinker looking to stock their home bar. I kept my recommendations to easily-obtainable bottles that can be found with little or no effort.
1.) Bulleit Bourbon (45% ABV, ~$25 750ml, no age statement)
Bulleit is a Diageo product that is currently being product by Four Roses (shhhh!). This bad boy is heavy on the rye, around 28%, which makes this a fantastic cocktail bourbon. I also really enjoy this during the summer on ice.
2.) Four Roses Small Batch (45% ABV, ~$25 750ml, no age statement ~4-6 years)
This is the middle of the pack product offered by Four Roses. In my opinion this also the most well balanced product they produce. Very mellow and smooth with a slight sweetness of caramel. This product is comprised with 4 different mash bill recipes and blended before bottling. It is great neat or with ice. One of my favorite every day bourbons.
3.) Old Weller Antique or W.L. Weller Reserve (53.5% or 45%ABV, ~$25, no longer an age statement)
This one might be a bit tougher to find depending on where you live. Both of these bourbons are “wheated” style produced by Buffalo Trace. For those unfamiliar, a “wheated” bourbon simply uses wheat grain instead of rye, which produces a softer, sweet, and less spicy taste. Both of these have strong citrus characteristics. The Antique is a bit more complex and has deep vanilla notes which makes it my bourbon of choice for old-fashioneds. If you are unable to find either of these, a great secondary choice is Old Fitzgerald or Maker’s Mark.
4.) Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel (45% ABV, ~$30, no age statement)
Probably my all time favorite starter bourbon. However, due to the recent passing of this bourbon’s namesake, it is getting harder and harder to find. Full of fruit, honey, vanilla, and leather, this makes the perfect sipping bourbon. If there is ever a bourbon to acclimate yourself to drinking neat, this is it. If you have a hard time finding this one there are two other Buffalo Trace products that are similar. Blanton’s, uses the same recipe as ETL, but is significantly more expensive (~$50). Marked as “the original single barrel” it is slightly “spicier” due to the higher alcohol content. For a less expensive option I recommend the Buffalo Trace flagship brand, which is a little lighter on rye but still just as delicious.
5.) Woodford Reserve (45.2% ABV, ~$35, no age statement)
This bourbon is is probably the “woodiest” of the bunch. It still has a great sweetness to it, and probably has the most predominate corn flavor of the bourbons listed on this page. Dark chocolate notes come off towards the finish that is long and dry. Definitely best when served neat. The main reason this one is in the list is because it’s aged different than “typical” bourbons. The fermented mash is stored longer than any other bourbon, and the barrels are aged in rick-houses that are temperature controlled, rather than using mother-nature.