Best Bourbon For Beginners
For those over the age of 50, whiskey and bourbon are a luxury to be savored at the end of a long day. For those under the age of 30, bourbon may not even be on your radar. Even though it should be. Bourbon can be an excellent way to get the night started, relax, or even an ideal addition to your BBQ recipe. However, as a beginner you may have no idea what makes a great bourbon. Below are 5 of the best bourbons for beginners.
Whether you prefer something smooth and mild or something with a little more of a punch, there is a bourbon for you to fall in love with.
Ready to find out more? Keep reading!
What Is Bourbon?
Before we begin exploring the different bourbons on the market, it is important to understand what bourbon actually is. We have all heard “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon”. So, what makes bourbon so special?
- Bourbon must be distilled to a maximum proof of 160, barreled at a maximum proof of 125, and bottled at a maximum proof of 80.
- Only water can be added to bourbon.
- Only whiskey made in the US can be called bourbon.
- For a least of two years, straight bourbon must be matured in fresh, charred oak barrels.
- At least 51% of the grains used to make bourbon must be maize/corn.
Each of these regulations is what gives bourbon its distinctiveness and ability to be so versatile unlike the majority of whiskeys.
1. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
As a beginner, it is likely that the taste of bourbon has never graced your lips or if it has you have not enjoyed the intensity. Buffalo Trace Bourbon is known for its sweetness. Making it a lot easier to enjoy than others that maybe a little too dry and powerful.
Buffalo Trace Bourbon is known for its expensive taste with remaining sweet and traditional. With notes of roasted white oak, cinnamon, and vanilla, this bourbon is smooth and perfect for sipping or even spicing up some cocktails!
Its 90 proof offers its character when combined with traditional bourbon drinks, but sipping it neat won’t overwhelm a novice’s palate either.This whiskey matures in new oak barrels for years in century-old warehouses after being made from the finest corn, rye, and barley malt.
Made with the finest ingredients. Buffalo Trace Bourbon is a bourbon that you can rely on. Its taste will never change, although its price tag might.
- Flavor. With notes of roasted white oak, cinnamon, and vanilla, this bourbon is sweet and mild. Perfect for those new to the flavor profile of bourbon.
- Versatility. Enjoy your Buffalo Trace Bourbon neat, with a mixer, or even in a cocktail as it delivers a gorgeous smooth flavor to your taste buds.
- Ingredients. Made with the finest corn, rye, and barley malt, you know that this bourbon will taste delicious with every bottle.
- Price. Buffalo Trace Bourbon has an expensive taste and comes with an expensive price tag. However, it is known to be worth the investment.
2. Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon
We all know Jim Beam for its incredible self-labeled whiskey. But were you aware of their bourbon? Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon is one of the brand’s most successful releases.
Although this Knob Creek brand is frequently considered to be the benchmark for powerful whiskeys, novices shouldn’t be put off by this libation.
This dram has a rich body with notes of caramel, dark chocolate, and rye spice. It has a creamy vanilla finish that is lengthy and drying. This bourbon has a wonderful flavor profile that is the perfect welcome into the world of bourbon.
The distillers continue to lift the bar and deliver on their promise of rich taste as each barrel ages patiently in white oak.
This bourbon is made to be savored. Whether you enjoy your bourbon in solitude or share with friends, this dream will leave you feeling warm inside and ready to take on whatever challenges life throws your way.
- Brand. From the Jim Beam brand, you can relax knowing you are purchasing a high quality bourbon with excellent ingredients.
- Flavor Profile. With hints of layered caramel, dark chocolate, rye spice, and smooth vanilla, this bourbon has a robust flavor profile perfect for beginners and novices.
- Process. Using the finest grains and aging in white oak barrels, this small batch bourbon comes out perfect and delicious every time.
- Strength. The Knob Creek bourbon starts at their 9 year bourbon whiskey with proof of 100. It is a strong bourbon with a gorgeous smooth finish.
3. 1792 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
1792 have perfected the art of smooth sipping with their Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey. On the palate, it is cozy and buttery with a hint of cinnamon flavor. Up until the long, mellow finish, the peppery trend persists.
This expression has a mash bill with a significant amount of rye, which produces a flavor profile rich in herbal spice in addition to the traditional aromas of caramelized sugar, buttered corn, and toasted wood found in fine bourbons.
If you are looking for a bourbon to pour over a few ice cubes, sit on your porch, and watch the sun set, then the 1792 Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey is simply perfect.
This bourbon has a finishing hint of cinnamon and citrus which gives it a brightness that is often lost with sweeter notes. You can easily pair your bourbon with a variety of meals to serve as a delicious accompaniment. Your dinner parties have never been so sophisticated!
Although, you may have to sacrifice quite a bit of your dinner party budget in order to purchase the 1792 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
- Flavor Profile. To begin the flavors of this bourbon are warming and deep, ending with a spicy cinnamon top note.
- Pair With Meals. Most bourbons are enjoyed on their own. Pair this bourbon with a meal for a full rounded experience.
- Proof. With a proof of 93.7% this bourbon is strong and powerful.
- Price. This bourbon is on the more expensive side of the market making it not suitable for everyone’s budget.
- Strong. This bourbon is strong and by no means subtle. It may not be suited to everyone’s tastes.
4. Wild Turkey 101
Wild Turkey is a known favorite among bourbon lovers. You can often find it located on the shelf of your local bar and in the homes of many bourbon enthusiasts. This one may be a little bit of a wild card.
Some beginners may find this bourbon as being too harsh, however, pour over a few ice cubes and you have a wonderful drink that you can fully enjoy.
It has a balanced sweetness from the vanilla, caramel, and maple syrup, topped with peppermint and cinnamon spice aromas, despite having a high rye percentage.
With over 60 years of experience, Wild Turkey knows what their customers like and how to satisfy them. For extra character, this bourbon is matured in American white oak barrels with the deepest char than is legally required.
With the 101 proof, this bourbon is the perfect way to step up your game and really invest in your bourbon loving journey. Not to mention it is on the cheaper side of the bourbon and whiskey market.
- Process. Aged for longer than legally required in white oak barrels, this bourbon is known for its quality.
- Proof. With an iconic 101 proof you know you are getting a strong bourbon with a sweeter taste.
- Price. Wild Turkey 101 is a high quality, inexpensive bourbon perfect for those wanting to dabble without too much investment.
- Flavor Profile. Vanilla, caramel, and maple syrup are the base notes of this delicious bourbon, topped with peppermint and cinnamon for a brightness.
- Harshness. At first this bourbon can be rather intense and harsh meaning beginners may not instantly fall in love.
5. Four Roses Bourbon Single Barrel
This award-winning single barrel bourbon should be on every bourbon enthusiast ‘must try’ list. Beginner or not.
With flavors of apple, vanilla, and caramel, this one is surprisingly mellow and approachable for a single barrel. This bourbon can easily be enjoyed neat by even the most inexperienced bourbon drinker. Or enjoy it in a cocktail or over ice for a less intense flavor.
Four Roses’ commitment to excellence. The fact that they are one of the few manufacturers employing non-GMO corn in their production speaks much about Bourbon. They really are ready to be the best.
With a deep, fruity flavor this bourbon is perfect for making the classic Kentucky Lemonade or Hot Toddy on days when you are feeling a little under the weather.
Four Roses has created a bourbon that is sweet, spicy, and full of flavor. It is meant to be enjoyed by everyone, no matter their preferred tastes.
- Versatility. Used in cocktails or enjoyed neat or on the rocks, this bourbon is versatile and flexible. Perfect for those still finding their feet.
- Non-GMO Corn. This ingredient is fresher and more natural giving a sweeter flavor for you to enjoy.
- Strength. With 100 proof this bourbon is strong, without being too overpowering. Anyone can enjoy it.
- Price. Four Roses Bourbon is extremely expensive making it out of most consumers’ budgets.
Whiskey and bourbon, unlike other spirits, are extremely complex and diverse. Meaning understanding what you like can take some experimenting and spending. However, finding your perfect bourbon does not mean purchasing bottle after bottle.
Below is a simple buyer’s guide to help you understand what goes into making a bourbon and allows you to identify which flavors you enjoy. Let’s get into it!
How Is It Bottled?
There are various ways that bourbon can be bottled. The most common ways to bottle bourbon are:
- Single Barrel Bourbon: While single-barrel bourbon is produced, aged, and barreled similarly to ordinary bourbon, its primary distinctions have a significant impact on the end product’s flavor character. While single-barrel whiskeys live their whole life in one barrel, traditional bourbons are often prepared by blending whiskeys from several barrels.
Single-Barrel Bourbon often has a much more unique and intense flavor profile. It also allows the producer to really hone in their product to create something incredible. Although, that often comes with a much higher price tag.
- Small Batch Bourbon: Small batch bourbon is distinct from regular and single-barrel varieties. Although there is no official legal classification for this type of whiskey, the word was created by the industry to describe the bourbon’s more nuanced and controlled nature.
Small Batch Bourbon bottling often allows producers to create around 10-15 bottles at a time, however, they can also create up to 200 bottles depending on their barrel quantity.
Small batch bourbon has a rounded, richer flavor with softer overtones, like vanilla and strawberry, as contrasted to the characteristic tobacco and leather profile of single-barrel bourbon.
Flavors And Aromas
When selecting your bourbon, the flavor profile and aroma is often the most important element. No one wants to spend their cash on a bottle of bourbon they won’t enjoy. It is crucial to consider which flavors and scents you enjoy.
- Spicy: Often bourbon will have a top note of something spicy. Whether it is through a dash of cinnamon or a finishing note of pepper. Whatever ingredient you choose, ensure you enjoy it as this is often the last ingredient you will taste as you sip. It is often what catches in our throats and determines if we enjoy the bourbon or not.
If you do not enjoy spice, opt for a cinnamon top note to keep things bright and subtle.
- Sweet: All bourbons have a sweet base note which is what makes them more appealing to beginners than whiskey. Bourbons will commonly use vanilla, maple syrup, caramel, and dark chocolate, in order to ensure their bourbon is deliciously sweet and blends perfectly with that dash of spice.
- Smoky: The smokiness of your bourbon will come from the barrel that it is left to age in. White oak barrels add a hint of smokiness for a nice depth while remaining light and sweet.
Bourbon can also be made even smokier through the type of corn. A smoky bourbon is generally enjoyed more by a more experienced bourbon drinker.
Whether you order a bottle for yourself or take a more budget friendly option by ordering a glass at a bar, you can really get a sense of the flavors and aromas. Before you take your first sip, swirl the glass and take a deep sniff.
This can often tell you a lot about the bourbon before the glass touches your lips.
Categories Of Bourbon
Bourbon is divided into six categories that make it easier to price mark and sell. We already discussed Small Batch Bourbon and Single Barrel Bourbon above, below are the 4 remaining categories:
- Cask Strength: Most bourbons are again reduced with water before bottling in order to reach the required proof for the distiller. Not this one. These bourbons are potent and will make your breast hair stand up. Cask-proof or barrel-strong These are made directly from the barrel, thus the flavor profile is usually spice-forward with hints of the burn and char from the barrel.
- Wheated: Also known as “wheaters” this type of bourbon uses wheat as the secondary ingredient. As a result, the flavor is less flowery, sour, and peppery. These bourbons are often praised for tasting nutty and smooth (phrasing).
- High Corn: High corn bourbons have a higher corn content than the required 51%. They are sweeter than other bourbons but should not be mistaken for corn whiskey.
- High Rye: As we now know, rye, barley, and maize are the three main components of all bourbon. A few bourbons go over the traditional 10% rye content in order to achieve a stronger, hotter flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Smooth Bourbons More Affordable For Beginners?
Overall, yes smooth bourbons are more affordable for beginners. Each bourbon on the list above is below $100 with some even being less than $50!
How Do You Drink Bourbon As A Beginner?
The finest way to taste whiskey and completely experience all of its complex scents and flavors is straight or neat. Although they are sometimes used interchangeably, tidy and straight have a slight distinction. Neat refers to the absence of water or ice.
You can also add bourbon to some cocktails for a deeper, richer flavor and to slowly introduce yourself to the intensity of the spirit.
Bourbon is a sophisticated, delicious drink that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Although, as a beginner, it can be a little bit intimidating.
When venturing into the world of bourbon, it is important to understand what you enjoy without ruining the experience forever.
Above are 5 of the best bourbons for beginners. Smooth, mild, and sweet, these bourbons have so much flavor to offer even the most inexperienced of bourbon lovers.
Open your taste buds to something truly incredible and discover your new love!
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