My Recommendations: 5 Bourbons for Beginners

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.

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My Bourbon Review: Speakeasy

Bourbon: Speakeasy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (94.4 Proof) produced by Willett Distillery

Cost: $27.99

Appearance: Light Caramel – appears to be very young

Nose: This one isn’t too fancy. Lots of corn and a sweet vanilla finish

Feel: Light and soft. Gets off the tongue quickly.

Taste: Immediately hits the front of the tongue. Moves back into the body upon swallowing. The first thing you taste is corn. After it mellows predominate flavors are cherry, citrus, and vanilla.

Finish: Medium long finish with spice undertones. Predominate medicinal burn.

Rating: In all honesty, I enjoyed this bourbon much more on ice than I did neat. The water and coolness from the ice brought out some fruity undertones that were unnoticeable drinking straight. That being said, this is a solid product given the price range. I don’t necessary recommend stocking your bar with this, but it’s worth a try at your local watering hole especially if you are a fan of young tasting, flavorful bourbon.

MY FINAL RATING: 3

 

 

 

Scale:
1 – A terrible pour. Not good at all. Not worth polluting your body with.
2 – A decent pour. Would drink if there were limited options available.
3 – A solid pour. Worth trying at your local watering hole.
4 – An awesome pour. Recommend stocking your home bar with.
5 – An amazing pour. Reserved for the best of the best. Would buy multiple bottles and hoard them. 

 

My Bourbon History

My personal history with bourbon didn’t start as the romantic discovery that many people come to inherit from their parents and family.

My view started like that of many college students. Alcohol was all about getting drunk for as quickly and cheaply as possible. Natty Light and PBR were, of course, the typical vehicle for weekend destruction. All night parties typically saw shots of flavored vodka, Jägermeister, and tequila. But on one glorious night, I was introduced into the bourbon world via shots of Wild Turkey 101. This would later become my shot of choice during college, along with Jim Beam. Neither of which was meant for actual enjoyment but rather an escape from the typical shots. Plus, I did go to school in Kentucky, and bourbon was cool there.

My next big bourbon “life event” took place during a night out in San Diego after graduating college. The company I worked for was having a party at a restaurant somewhere near Long Beach. Of course, I was throwing back Rum and Cokes like a recently removed college kid when someone passed me his drink. “Try this”, our office Lothario suggested. It tasted great – for straight brown-burning-water. I dismissed it and went back to my drink. What I didn’t know is that I had just had my first taste of the most sought after bourbon in the world, before it was even cool.

The final milestone along my journey occurred when I was in Vegas for my bachelor party. We stumbled (literally) upon a bar in our hotel that had a great selection of beer. A few of us ordered a beer, one of my future brother-in-laws ordered a Crispin, but a few were undecided. Upon opening the menu, a few of the guys  saw that the bar served something called “Pappy”. Three of them promptly ordered it off of the menu, neat, with ice on the side. I tried my brother-in-law’s drink and immediately fell in love. From that moment forward I was a bourbon drinker.

                              pappy2 pappy1

I made sure to have a bottle of bourbon just for the groomsman to drink during my wedding. After all, they without a doubt are the ones that ultimately pushed “us” together.

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