Finding the best bottle of bourbon isn’t a hard task. There’s a lot of the stuff on the shelf and a lot of it is good with a fair amount being damn good if not great. It’s a good time to be a bourbon drinker is what we’re getting at. But, not all of the stuff is created equally or gets the same amount of attention as other, high-profile brands. So, that’s why we’re here to shout out some under-hyped or underrated bourbons.
What do we mean when we say “underrated”? Well, we’re talking about bottles that you don’t hear about constantly about. Maybe they’re not on every bartender’s list of great bourbons and we think they should be. Or maybe, they’re the bottles from big brands that get overshadowed by their bourbon cousins from the same distillers. Or maybe they’re just bottles that don’t get all the awards love.
The through-line of this article is simple. Does it taste good? If yes, it’s on the list. The ten bottles below are bottles we think could use a little more love. That in no way means that you might not have heard of them before. You may well have. But for one reason or another, these bottles aren’t getting the love we think they deserve. Please call out your favorite under-appreciated bottles of bourbon in the comments.
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac)
Average Price: $12
Buffalo Trace has been racking up awards and love for a while now. But, their bottom shelf bottle is something you don’t hear too much about. What’s wild is that Ancient Age is made from the same mash bill as Blanton’s over at Buffalo Trace’s facility. Granted, Blanton’s is a single barrel project but these two bourbons start out as the same thing with this expression costing about one-sixth the price. If that doesn’t get you at least curious about the whiskey, we don’t know what will.
There’s a real sense of the corn next to classic bourbon notes of vanilla and caramel right up top. The oak does play a role but it’s only in the background. There’s a very mild spice from the medium-rye content in the mash. The sweetness leans into buttery toffee as a final note of citrus arrives on the short end.
It’s bananas that this stuff costs less than $15. Buy a case and forget that you ever heard the names “Evan Williams” or “Old Grand-dad.”
KOVAL Single Barrel
Distillery: KOVAL Distillery, Chicago, IL
Average Price: $50
There are a lot of great, interesting independent craft distillers out there. Hell, this list could be just that. However, KOVAL does stand out from the crowd for us. Their bourbon has a unique mash bill of corn and millet. The spirit then spends over four years in the barrel until it’s deemed fit enough to bottle.
There will be slight variations in each single barrel expression. The most recent one we tasted had a classic bourbon opening with plenty of vanilla and oak. A distinct whiff of smoke arrived (think more old brisket smokers than a campfire) while tart apples covered in caramel mixed with a bright berry burst. The sip has a velvet body that really embraces the bitterness of charred oak staves with an almost graham cracker maltiness lurking in there.
You should try this simply for the uniqueness of the mash bill. The brightness makes it a great candidate for highballs and simple cocktails.
Four Roses Single Barrel
Distillery: Four Roses Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY (Kirin Brewing Company)
Average Price: $50
This single barrel expression from Four Roses also utilized a single recipe/mash bill. Four Roses use ten different mash bills — that’s two mash bills (one high rye, one low rye) that then use five different yeast strains. This is recipe number one which uses a fruity yeast strain with their high-rye mash bill. The juice is then aged until it’s deemed ready to drink pretty much straight from the barrel.
We were lucky enough to taste some Four Roses over the last weeks, and this bottle was a standout. The classic Four Roses mix of tart and sweet fruit was ever-present but dialed in. There was a warming spice that complimented the wood while dark and oily espresso beans mixed with dark chocolate powder, especially when water is added. There’s a softness at play that really allows this one to shine as it fades back through all that fruit.
$50 for a single barrel that’s this easy to drink is a great deal. While drinking this one on the rocks is a solid play, don’t sleep on making a Manhattan with it.
Wild Turkey 101
Distillery: Wild Turkey Distilling, Lawrenceburg, KY (Campari Group)
Average Price: $25
Wild Turkey is a great shingle full of stellar expressions. But Wild Turkey 101 gets a lot of static for being just … strong and nothing else. That’s the wrong way to look at this expression. Interestingly, this bourbon is actually pulled from the barrels at an even higher proof and then cut down with that soft Kentucky limestone water to keep the complexity of this one high enough to be versatile.
This really is a classic bourbon. There are notes of bourbon vanilla next to caramel and oak. The high rye mash bill brings about a clear, sharp spiciness that warms as you drink. A hint of tart apple sits in the background as the oak, spice, and vanilla continues to take center stage. The sip fades slowly and warms your body as it does.
This is a great cocktail base given the higher ABV. It’ll make any Sazerac or old fashioned shine. Though, I also use it in highballs with nice and soft mineral water.
Distillery: Willett Distillery, Bardstown, KY
Average Price: $60
Noah’s Mill comes to use from Willett’s much-adored and lauded stills. And given that this isn’t labeled “Willett,” you don’t have to pay a premium for this excellent juice.
There’s an interesting marrying of nuttiness with florals on the opening. The sip adds spices and citrus to that mix with the florals leaning more clearly into spring wildflowers. Browned butter and toffee arrive late as the sip embraces the nuttiness and spice on a long fade.
This is a well-crafted sipping whiskey that costs at least half of bottles from the same still and warehouses. That’s a win.
Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon
Distillery: Balcones Distillery, Waco, TX
Average Price: $30
This expression marries Kentucky’s bourbon with a Texan grain-to-glass experience. The mash bill combines Texas blue corn, Texas wheat, Texas rye, and malted barley. The juice is then aged in the Balcones rickhouse in Waco for 24 months before it’s cut down to 46 percent ABV with soft Texas Hill Country water and bottled.
Worn leather mingles with tart yet sweet apples, popped corn covered in browned butter, and dried firewood. The leather carries on as the sweetness leans into corn-syrup drenched pecan pie with a buttery crust and a dollop of clotted cream on top. A hint of spice comes in late to accent that oakiness as the sip lingers and warms the senses.
This is a great workhorse bourbon at a shockingly good price. I like to use it in highballs and cocktails mostly but have been known to sip in on the rocks.
Belle Meade Bourbon
Distillery: Nelson Green Brier Distillery, Nashville, TN (Sourced)
Average Price: $45
Belle Meade’s signature bourbon expression is proof of what great blending can do to create a great bottle. The bourbon is a mix of high-rye mash bills that comes together under the watchful eye of the Nelson Green Brier team in Nashville. The result is a bourbon that shines in every way.
The sweetness of this one leans more into real maple syrup territory as notes of citrus sit next to wildflowers. Vanilla arrives early and is supported by a stone fruit presence and a slight hint of caramel. The spice distinctly becomes cinnamon-forward as a cherry candy fruity-sweetness helps the sip fade out quickly.
This is another great workhorse whiskey. I like it in cocktails mostly — think Sazeracs, Manhattans, boulevardiers — and in highballs with nice mineral water.
Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon
Distillery: Brown–Forman, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $60
Old Forester was one of the ten distilleries that actually stayed open during Prohibition. This particular expression was created to mimic the bourbon they would have been selling during that time as “medicinal” whiskey.
Maple syrup is here again! There’s also a sense of brandied cherries dipped in dark chocolate next to plenty of oak and caramel and we’re still only talking about the nose of this one. The sip has a cedar bark depth that counterpoints the rich caramel sweetness and apple pie, buttery crust, and nutmeg and cinnamon filling. A peppery spice arrives late to counter all that sweetness as the sip fades towards a wisp of smoke on the very end.
The high ABVs mean that this is a solid choice for a cocktail, especially a toddy or a smash. But, I really dig it just on the rocks.
High West American Prairie Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: High West Distillery, Park City, UT (Sourced)
Average Price: $35
Utah’s High West is another example of the power of sourcing to create a solid whiskey. In this case, a two-year-old, six-year-old, and 13-year-old bourbons are blended by the High West team to create a distinctly western feeling bourbon. The whiskey also funnels part of the profits from this bottle to help fund the American Prairie Reserve, which is working to create the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48.
Fairground caramel apples and pods of vanilla lead the way. The sip dives into pans of cornbread with melting butter mingling with a slight bailed hay presence that’s then counterpointed by a creamy nougat full of dark spices. The dram then circles back around to that caramel apple and vanilla as it slowly fades while it warms.
This is a strong contender at this price range. It’s complex enough to drink on the rocks but really shines as a cocktail base.
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $18
Yes, Jim Beam in under-appreciated. Yes, it’s also ubiquitous. Still, this classic bourbon is a classic for a reason. But, right now it’s more hip to say you prefer Evan Williams or even Old Grand-Dad (which is made by Jim Beam). Look, Jim Beam is cheap and it actually a quality bourbon. What more could you want?
The caramel sweetness is bold up top with the vanilla, corn, and fruit making appearances. The oak is lingering in the background but never pronounced next to the caramel corn and vanilla. The spice arrives late as the sip fades quickly with a lightness that’s pleasant.
This is always going to be cheap and accessible. It’s also perfectly fine for making cocktails at a party when you don’t want to spend $50 on a bottle of booze. It’s fine for shots with a beer back and it works in a highball.
from UPROXX https://uproxx.com/life/underrated-bourbons/