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Want to get your collection going? Let us demystify the world of whiskey purchasing.

Hannah Hayes

Maybe you’re the kind of person who only orders whiskey at a bar on a certain kind of night. Maybe you’ve been loyal to one brand since college. Or maybe you’re still looking for what to put in that glass-front armoire you bought at an estate sale three months ago.

In any case, there are any number of reasons to start a whiskey collection and several benefits in having one. Some of them include: people will want to come over to your house more often (Think of the thought-provoking, sparkling conversations that will be had on the porch over a few lowballs!); friends will start to refer to you as the “bourbon expert” of your group implying your refined palate and appreciation for American craftsmanship; you’ll rack up fewer insane bar tabs; you might even make some new friends.

So how do you start on this path? First, don’t force it. Acquire bottles organically. This is a journey, not a contest. Enjoying bourbon shouldn’t incur any trace amounts of FOMO, judgement, or societal pressure. You also don’t have to take out a second mortgage or drop stacks to afford a great collection. Yes, there are $350 whiskeys worth every penny, but there are also plenty of $40 bourbons beloved by aficionados, award-winning chefs, mixologists, and even regular humans alike.

Here are some bottles for building any burgeoning bourbon collection.

Best Basics
Whether you’re mixing a cocktail, hosting a tailgate, or having an impromptu drink with a neighbor, it’s important to have go-to, middle shelf bourbon on hand that you can pour proudly and freely, but doesn’t allow your mind to imagine tiny, liquid-suspended dollar signs flowing over ice cubes. For times like these, you can count on Bulleit Bourbon, Wild Turkey 101, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, or Four Roses Bourbon Yellow Label.  

Best Rye
Rye whiskeys come with more spice and peppery notes like clove or tobacco. They can add earthy depth to your typical cocktail, like a Manhattan, or provide a contrast to say a sweet, cinnamon-spiked slice of apple pie. Our favorite ryes: Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye, Bulleit Bourbon Rye, Russell’s Reserve Rye, Rittenhouse Rye, and Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye.

Best Wheated
Wheated bourbon gets its name from the use of wheat as a substitute for rye in the distilling process. Think of them like a jazz trio to a bombastic brass band. Softer, smoother, and a little bit sweeter, they go down easier (watch yourself now), which makes them our go-to when sipping neat. No collection is complete without a bottle from the W.L. Weller line from Buffalo Trace or Heaven Hill’s John E. Fitzgerald Larceny.

Best Investment Pieces
Like a worn-in leather jacket or a vintage silk scarf, these are the pieces in your collection you can always count on, but they might have taken some time to find. Maybe they came with a big price tag too or perhaps they’re not easily replaceable. These bottles are worth the splurge. If you can’t find them closer to home, they also make a great excuse to visit Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail: Booker’s Rye, Blade and Bow, Noah’s Mill, Black Maple Hill, Stagg Jr., Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon, or Michter’s 10-Year.

Pro tip: If you’re ready to advance to the next level, and want to start your search for collector’s item bottles, check out your local estate sales. You’ll be surprised what bottles have been sitting for decades unopened in basements or liquor cabinets.