Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ten Suggestions For Bourbon Beginners.

You don't have to start with Jack and Jim if you don't want to, and you shouldn't start with George T. Stagg or Pappy 23, even if you can. Here are ten bourbons, each from a different distillery or recipe, that should give you a good introduction to the bourbon landscape. (They are in no particular order.)

1.  Maker's Mark. (Beam Inc.) The brand that made the others possible by showing that you can successfully position bourbon as a quality product on par with any of the world's great distilled spirits. Wheat rather than rye in the mash makes it sweeter and milder than a typical bourbon but it has enough depth and richness to satisfy sophisticated sippers.

2.  Knob Creek. (Beam Inc.) Launched more than 20 years ago and the leader in its segment, Knob is Jim Beam juice aged for nine years and bottled at 50% ABV. It has a thick, smoky flavor with touches of anise, clove, and bitter lemon, and finishes surprisingly clean.

3. Woodford Reserve (Brown-Forman) The picturesque distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, uses Scottish-made pot stills but your bottle contains both bourbon made there and at the company's conventional distillery near Louisville. Rich, warm vanilla fudge with plum and white pepper.

4.  Eagle Rare Single Barrel (Sazerac) It's ten-years-old, 45% ABV, and single barrel, all packed into a beautiful bottle. The whiskey has a huge mouth feel, lots of caramel and vanilla, with a hint of licorice.

5.  Bulleit. (Diageo) It's a family name, pronounced like the projectile. It's bourbon, so mostly corn, but not shy about its rye, containing about twice as much of that spicy and flavorful grain as any other bourbon, giving it an earthy sharpness on top of a silky corn base. No age statement, 45% ABV.

6.  Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage. (Heaven Hill) If you want to taste the best whiskey Parker and Craig Beam made in any given year, this is the place to find it. It varies from year-to-year and barrel-to-barrel, but always has a hearty flavor with plenty of tobacco and dark fruit, with a hint of mint. Nine-years-old, 43.2% ABV.

7.  Russell's Reserve Bourbon. (Campari America) Named in honor of veteran Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, this bourbon is 10-years-old and 45% ABV. It offers rich, buttery caramel overlaid with earthy pipe tobacco, cumin, lemon, and black pepper, and is probably the best introduction to the Wild Turkey family.

8.  Ridgemont Reserve 1792. (Sazerac) Made at the only distillery within the city limits of Bardstown, the self-proclaimed Bourbon Capital of the Known Universe, it is eight-years-old, 46.85% ABV, with a full, round, sumptuous body and slightly nutty flavor that comes from the high percentage of malt in the mash.

9.  Four Roses. (Kirin) Known as yellow label to distinguish it from the single barrel and small batch expressions, it is full beneficiary of the distillery's unique practice of making and mixing together ten different bourbon recipes. No age statement, 40% ABV.

10.  Weller 12-Year-Old. (Sazerac) Often in short supply, and with good reason, it substitutes wheat for rye like Maker's and Old Fitzgerald, but with a lot more wood time. Good thing, because the wood tannins balance a sweetness that might be too much without them. Bottled at 45% ABV.

If you've already had all these, congratulations. You're no longer a beginner.


weller_tex said...

Great list (although I am not fond of Eagle Rare). Depends on where you live, but in most places these are all < $30. Just goes to show you what a great value Bourbon is.

Lazer said...

Great list, and just in time for mother's day! ;)

David J. Montgomery said...

This is a great list -- probably the best of its kind that I've seen. I'm going to post about this on Professor Cocktail, probably tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for creating and sharing.

Anonymous said...

Great sampling across a selection of distillers. Surprised you added Bulleit based on your previous comments, but I agree with it's inclusion.
I'll use this this list people that want affordable but good quality sampling.

Hoke Harden said...

Good compilation. Out with the Bulleit. In with Old Rittenhouse Rye. Could add Elmer T. Lee SB.

Vern said...

Thank you! I'll compare this to the one in your book on pages 67 to 72! Meanwhile I'll print it and take it to the nearest Total Wine store .... Vern

Imbibe Hour said...

great list! Even a few on here that I've sort of let slip on my radar, but now I feel a reason to go back to again. Thanks!

Christian said...


I just came across your blog and it's great! I appreciate that you encourage people to sample a variety of good whiskey to develop their own preferences. I think a few follow-up lists would be excellent: "Ten Suggestions For Rye Beginners" and "Ten Suggestions for Bourbon Veterans" or some such things. Also, I would link to this post (and perhaps others like it) specifically on the side. I know "Top Ten Lists" are rightly dismissed as antithetical to the point of your blog, but this is a great introduction to your site!