The Best Everyday Bourbons to Drink Right Now
Cheers to American whiskey that’s versatile, modestly priced and readily available
As enthusiasts, we very much enjoy the thrill of seeking out the best new bourbons the moment they hit shelves. We love choosing the perfect pour for a Friday night after a long week, and we especially love pulling out one of our most prized bottles — the more highly allocated the better — when the occasion calls for it. But not every night qualifies as such, and it’s a good thing because drinking rare bourbon on the regular would get really expensive real quick. This is why it’s equally important to find a bottle or ten to serve as your everyday bourbon.
So what makes for the best everyday bourbon? It’s fairly simple:
- It needs to be readily available in your area. No hunting required.
- It needs to be affordable. For our purposes here, we’re going to apply a limit of $40 for a standard 750ml bottle.
- It should fall into the sweet spot of 90-100 proof. No one needs to be drinking barrel-strength bourbons on a Tuesday.
With all that said, we give you our choices for the 10 best everyday bourbons, from well-known distilleries like Wild Turkey, Makers Mark, Four Roses and more. And by the way, these are among the best bourbons for an Old Fashioned as well.
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 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.
Introduced back in 2010, Maker’s Mark 46 was the first new expression released by the brand since the ubiquitous classic recipe came out in 1953. 46 starts its journey as uncut, cask-strength Maker’s Mark, and then at some unspecified point in the aging process, 10 French oak staves are inserted into the barrel, which is then transferred to a limestone cellar to finish maturing. You wind up with something with a little more oomph than the classic Maker’s. It comes in at 94 proof rather than 90, with a surprising complexity — last time we tried it, we got a really pleasant smokiness that we hadn’t detected previously.
As far as we’re concerned, Redemption doesn’t get nearly enough credit. Their 10-Year Barrel-Proof Rye is one of the best pours we’ve ever had, period, and their flagship classic bourbon easily could have earned a place on this list. But we’re partial to their High Rye Bourbon, which we have on hand at all times. With a mashbill consisting of 36% rye, you get a considerable amount of spice and a ton of bright, refreshing mint. Great over a nice, big ice cube on a hot day.
If you wisely count yourself among the many fans of Old Forester’s Whiskey Row series — the 1910 and 1920 expressions are fantastic — Old Forester 100 is a suitable alternative with a similar flavor profile at half the price. We get a ton of oak on this one, along with classic caramel. Don’t let the screw top fool you…this is very good bourbon.
So, no, there’s not actually anything “small batch” about Elijah Craig Small Batch — it’s one of the most widely available bottles in the country, and it can be had everywhere for $30, a remarkable value given its extreme versatility and pitch-perfect representation of the most classic bourbon flavors.
For years, we told people we didn’t much care for 1792’s flagship “Small Batch,” insisting that there were countless better options at the price point and even below it. But then we did a blind tasting of other similar bourbons and it fared extremely well. Pronounced notes of leather on the nose and honey on the palate.
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