The 5 Best Everyday Bourbons to Drink Right Now
Cheers to American whiskey that’s versatile, modestly priced and readily available
What is an “everyday” bourbon?
Is it the whiskey you associate with the “lower-middle shelf”? Should these bottles be “interesting enough to sip neat, versatile enough to mix in cocktails, and cheap enough to splash in a pan of caramelized onions”? Or, is it what noted whiskey guru Fred Minnick suggests, that “these are bourbons you can actually buy in your local liquor store.”
The answer here is … yes. To all of that.
First, apologies to New York’s Cooperstown Distillery, which literally makes an Everyday Bourbon — we haven’t tried it, so it won’t make our list.
As for the criteria: An everyday bourbon should be affordable, versatile, good on its own and actually available for the majority of drinkers. So this discounts many craft distilleries, limited releases and probably anything over 100 proof. And using our own budget as a guide, we’ll also want to keep any suggested bottle under or around $40, or guilt will set in when we use the whiskey to make cocktails (or caramelize onions).
We’ll be a bit more strict on the bourbon part: No ryes, no Tennessee whiskeys (whether they legally fit the bourbon definition or not), no American single malts or other domestic whiskey releases that don’t fit the TTB requirements of bourbon (at least 51% corn in the mashbill, aged in charred new oak containers, etc.)
You can certainly find more suggestions on everyday bourbons via subreddits like r/bourbon, r/whiskey and r/affordablewhiskey, which will definitely include the Maker’s Mark, Old Grand-Dad, Russell’s Reserve and Buffalo Trace releases you’ll get annoyed aren’t represented below. Part of the reason for their exclusion? In another tip of the hat (well, glass) to Reddit, we’re keeping the number of recommended bottles to five, in honor of the site’s ever-popular “You really only need five bottles of bourbon at a time” argument.
One editor here suggested that this list could simply start, end and only feature Wild Turkey 101 — and he’s not wrong. The Russell family has presided over a remarkable run for the bourbon brand for six decades and won many, many awards for their premium/limited-edition releases, but 101 is still my favorite, offering notes of vanilla, baking spices, oak and orange peel, with a bit of kick from the rye. Given that cheaper bourbons sometimes suffer from a lack of maturation, the aging on 101 (between 6-8 years) certainly levels out the flavors. This also makes for a solid Boulevardier.
A Jim Beam distillery small batch release (Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s and Booker’s would be the others), Knob Creek ages their pre-Prohibition style bourbon nine years (and longer) and at a higher proof (with one exception, it’s 100 or higher). Besides the extra aging, this is a bit more oak-forward than the other expressions on the list. (The oak and leather notes become more apparent on the 12, though there’s always a nice level of vanilla).
A defunct East Village whiskey bar I used to frequent made solid Old Fashioneds with the even cheaper Evan Williams Green Label ($10/bottle), but that one’s a bit thin when asked to do any heavy lifting in other drinks. Instead, invest a few dollars more in the white label release, which conforms to all the Bottled-in-Bond requirements set forth back in 1897 and features that ABV ideal of 50% — which lifts up cocktails, makes for a mean shot and settles nicely with an ice cube.
Sure, the Double Oaked release is a standout, but the core release from this Brown-Forman’s brand, makes for an incredibly balanced bourbon, thanks to its incredibly balanced mash bill (72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley). This is also the brand and bottle you’ll most associate with the Kentucky Derby.
Four Roses — our 2021 Distillery of the Year — crafts all of their expressions from 10 recipes, aka a combination of two mash bills across five proprietary yeast strains. Their flagship FR utilizes all ten, but the Small Batch concentrates on mingling four of ‘em, concentrating on notes of rich fruit and baking spices.
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