16 Best Bourbon Bottles for Your Home Bar in 2021, For Any Budget

You could make the case that the best bourbon is whatever bottle you have readily available, because a moment spent with a glass of something is better than a glass of nothing. But let’s not settle. Whiskeys broadly, from Scotland’s peatiest to Japan’s smoothest to Kentucky’s best, have gone nuclear in the last decade or two, expanding in brands, varieties, adventurousness, and rarity—and bourbons haven’t been immune. What were once strong values are now scarce grails; hidden treasures are harder to discover than ever. (Though not impossible—more on that to come.) To find the best bourbons, we’ve polled bartenders, whiskey writers, and obsessive bourbon drinkers about the top pours for your home bar, at every price point and for every occasion.

Table of Contents

What Even Is Bourbon?
Best Everyday Bourbons
Best Really Cheap Bourbon
Best $50-$100 Bourbons
Best $200 Bourbon
Best Blended Bourbons
Best Mixing Bourbons for Cocktails
Best Underrated (for Now) Bourbon

What makes bourbon, you know, bourbon?

Legally, bourbon whiskey has to tick a few crucial boxes. First, it has to made in the United States (not just Kentucky, although the state does produce 95 percent of all bourbon in the country). The whiskey’s “mash bill,” or the mix of grains that are cooked and fermented before being distilled, must contain at least 51 percent corn. And the new make spirit must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. It’s those charred new barrels that are responsible for the sweetness—the caramel-esque and vanilla flavors—most closely associated with bourbon. (Contrast this with, say, Scotch whiskeys, which are aged in old sherry casks, port pipes, and all those spent bourbon barrels that have already pulled aging duty.)

There are various other rules about proof and labeling: bourbon must be bottled at 80 proof or higher, the labels of blended bourbons must reference the youngest bourbon in the blend, those sorts of things. But it’s the mash bill makeup and fresh, charred barrels that really define the bourbon experience. 

The Best Everyday Bourbons

What you’re looking for in a no-occasion-needed bourbon is not stunning complexity. You want a bourbon that’s interesting enough to sip neat, versatile enough to mix in cocktails, and cheap enough to splash in a pan of caramelized onions. All five of the bourbons below fit the bill. And if you come to really enjoy one, here’s an easy bourbon hack: consider an upgrade from the same distillery. If you like the liquid to begin with, you’ll probably love a sister expression that features a secondary barrelling or a higher proof.

The first of our recommended everyday bourbons is the venerable Wild Turkey 101, which brings spicy notes and aromas of brown sugar and toffee vanilla. “Wild Turkey 101 is often overlooked, even with Matthew McConaughey as its spokesperson,” says bourbon writer and reviewer Susan Reigler, the former president of the Bourbon Women Association. “People think of it as a rough and tumble cowboy whiskey, but it’s very beautifully balanced.” Journalist Becky Paskin, formerly the editor of scotchwhisky.com, agrees, favoring its punchiness in mint juleps and Old Fashioneds. 

The “101” refers to the Wild Turkey’s proof—on the high, end as-is—but if you want an even more potent bourbon, Reigler recommends Wild Turkey’s Rare Breed, which is a high-proof option with a 58.4% ABV. “It’s dangerous,” she cautions. “It doesn’t taste like a barrel-proof bourbon, though. It’s smooth with just the right touch of oakiness.”

Wild Turkey Rare Breed bourbon

Graham Files, veteran bartender and co-owner of Someday in Portland, stocks Jim Beam in his well and recommends it for the home bar, praising its quality, price point, and versatility. “Beam works well as a tall drink stretched with soda, a shot with a beer back, in mixed cocktails, and in hot drinks like toddies,” he says. 

Jim Beam Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey

For the level-up, Young Kim—beverage director and whiskey sommelier at New York’s The Flatiron Room—likes Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, which blends 90-proof Beam with liquid extracted from the barrels themselves. Expect a woodier, more robust flavor with hints of spices, brown sugar, caramel, and butterscotch.

Jim Beam Devil’s Cut bourbon

Old Forester is a solid, well-balanced everyday option that Reigler is partial to for old fashioneds. “An orange peel garnish plays really nicely with the bourbon’s orange notes,” she says. 

Old Forester classic bourbon

The Best Bang-For-Your-Buck Bourbon

You may be familiar with Evan Williams’ Black Label bourbon from the well at your local bar. It’s a solid bourbon—“a stalwart everyday option at a phenomenal price,” says H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of San Francisco’s Elixir saloon. But the brand’s Bottled-in-Bond is sneaky good for less than the cost of a middling montepulciano.

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