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.
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.