The South's Best Bourbon
While it is possible to be casually into marine biology or 1970s alt-country music, chances are once you find yourself interested on the surface level, you can't help but dive deeper. The same applies to bourbon. Whether you're well-versed or a well drinker, we have 10 whiskeys, both classic and new, budget-friendly or investment-worthy, that double as great introductions to certain styles and solid additions to a burgeoning collection. Whether you need a cost-effective option for a Kentucky Derby party or a pick to impress impromptu porch gathering guests, these are the bottles we bet on.
Best Basic: Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon Frontier Whiskey
While the word basic has become a bit of a negative adjective, we like to think of this bourbon as the perfect black shift or worn-in white T-shirt of whiskeys. Its balance of spice and sweetness mixes well with company (like bitters, soda water, mixers, and citrus) and has a complex enough background to be sipped neat or on the rocks. For a graduated version, look for their 10-year.
Best Budget: Wild Turkey 101
The words budget and bourbon mixed together might sound like a hangover waiting to happen, but bourbon that can serve a crowd doesn't have to taste like paint thinner or break the bank. A handle of Wild Turkey 101 will run you around $30, but won't skimp on bold, rye-driven flavor.
Best Wheated: Old Weller Antique 107
If rye whiskeys are a pair of raw denim jeans, then wheated whiskeys are like a well-loved sweater. With a mellower, often-times sweeter flavor profile, they show the softer side of bourbon. Old Weller has been nicknamed "Baby Pappy" for a reason, but luckily it's available to a wider cross section of tax brackets and not as elusive as a unicorn.
Best New Brand: Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Blade and Bow blends younger whiskeys with some of the last bourbon produced at the original Stitzel-Weller Distillery before it closed in 1992.
Best Non-Kentucky Bourbon: Yellow Rose Outlaw Bourbon
A big, bold bourbon, we would expect nothing less from Houston, Texas. Cut with a smidge of water; this is the one you drink on a cool summer night near a campfire.
Best Small Batch: Noah's Mill
With deep, rich undertones of lavender, sorghum syrup, and walnut, Noah's Mill makes for a sophisticated sipper that needs nothing else but a lowball. Serve this one to your dinner guests who say things like, "Oh, I'm not sure, I'm more of a red-wine-kind-of-person."
Best Rye: Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky
Bottled by Heaven Hill distilleries, Rittenhouse is the standard bearer of bartenders and is essential for rye-based cocktails.
Best Gift-Worthy Bourbon: Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel
Beautifully packaged like a Scotch, there's no need to wrap this bottle that will make any bourbon-loving friend smile when you bring it over instead of the requisite Pinot Noir.
Best Outside-the-Box Bourbon: Belle Meade Bourbon Sherry Cask Finish
Finished in sherry casks from Spain for a nutty, deep vanilla flavor, this bourbon from the sibling-operated Green Brier Distillery isn't throwing around process jargon for the sake of it. Their process truly lends a unique flavor that your collection is missing.
Best Investment Bourbon: Booker's Bourbon
Named after the father of one of our favorite master distillers, Fred Noe of Jim Beam, Booker's offers a variety of bourbons with expert sourcing and aging, distinct flavor, and a story. This is one to bring out on a special occasion or a night when everything just feels right.