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A Complete Guide to the Best Bourbon For Beginners

Rebecca Hanlon
Last Updated: August 8th, 2023

Choosing the best bourbon as a beginner can be a daunting task. There are so many options to choose from and paired with all the opinions on the subject; it’s enough to make someone give up before they even start.

So, before you pick up yet another bottle of Jack Daniel’s, we have put together a guide on not only great bourbon for beginners but also how to tell when you’ve got a solid bottle on your hands.

What is Bourbon?

Bourbon whiskey is a type of American whiskey that is made from at least 51% corn. The remaining ingredients include rye, wheat, and barley.

Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels, and it must be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume.

The name “bourbon” comes from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where the first bourbon distillery was established in the 18th century.

Although bourbon is most closely associated with Kentucky, it can actually be produced anywhere in the United States. Some of the most popular bourbon brands include Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, and Maker’s Mark.

It is also essential to know that in order to be classified as bourbon, a whiskey must meet a few specific requirements.

First, it must be made in the United States. Though whiskey may be made worldwide, Congress declared bourbon “America’s Native Spirit.” This means that it must be made in the United States to be called bourbon.

Today, 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky. Therefore, when most people think of bourbon, they associate it with Kentucky.

Second, it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. Fourth, it must be bottled at an alcohol content of at least 40% ABV.

Finally, it cannot contain any added flavors or colors. These regulations help to ensure that all bourbons have a consistent taste and quality. As a result, bourbon lovers can enjoy a truly unique American spirit.

what is bourbon

History of Bourbon Whiskey

Bourbon whiskey was originally created by Scots-Irish immigrants who settled in Kentucky. They used the local corn to make their whiskey, which was then distilled in copper stills.

The copper stills gave the whiskey a unique flavor that was different from other whiskeys of the time.

Bourbon became popular during the American Revolution as it was one of the few alcoholic beverages that the British government did not tax. After the war, bourbon continued to be made in Kentucky and became known as the “native spirit” of the state.

1964 was when Congress declared bourbon to be a distinctive product of the United States and granted it official status as an American heritage product. Today, bourbon is enjoyed all over the world and is an essential part of American culture.

Though there are many distilleries in the United States, three stand out as being the oldest. Buffalo Trace claims to be the oldest continuously-operating distillery in the USA, though the name has changed over the years.

Maker’s Mark has the oldest bourbon distillery globally, while Jack Daniel’s is the oldest registered distillery in America. All three of these distilleries have a long and rich history, dating back to the early days of American whiskey production.

The Bourbon Industry Today

According to a recent report, there are 740 Whiskey & Bourbon Distilleries businesses in the US as of 2022. This is a 15.4% increase from 2021, and it shows that the demand for these products is on the rise.

There are several reasons for this trend. First, many consumers are interested in trying new types of whiskey and bourbon. With so many distilleries now in operation, there is a greater variety of these products available than ever before.

In addition, the popularity of craft spirits has also grown in recent years, as more people are interested in supporting local businesses.

Finally, the current economic climate has also increased demand for these spirits, as they are seen as a more affordable luxury item.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that the market for whiskey and bourbon is booming, and there is no sign of this trend slowing down any time soon.

bourbon industry today

What to Look For in a Bottle of Bourbon

The next time you find yourself at the liquor store, staring at shelves upon shelves of bourbon, you might feel a little overwhelmed.

How can you possibly choose just one when they all look the same? Well, as it turns out, not all bourbons are created equal.

When choosing a bourbon, it’s important to look for one that has been aged for at least two years. This will ensure that the flavors have had time to develop and that the whiskey is smooth and well-rounded.

Additionally, it’s worth seeking out bourbons that are made with 100% corn mash. These whiskeys tend to be lighter in body and more approachable, making them ideal for sipping neat (without ice) or on the rocks (with ice).

No matter how many regulations there are on the spirit, there is always room for variation. As a result, Bourbons can range widely in terms of taste, aroma, and appearance.

Flavor and Aromas to Consider in Your Bourbon

Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you’re trying to choose a bottle:

  • Taste: Do you prefer your bourbon sweet or smoky? Smooth or spicy? The best way to figure out what you like is to try a few different kinds.
  • Aroma: Swirl the glass and take a deep sniff. You should be able to pick up on some of the flavors that will be present in the taste.
  • Appearance: The color of the bourbon can give you some clues about its flavor profile.

Bourbon Price Range

Best Bourbon For Beginners

The best place to start with drinking bourbon is by simply trying different bottles when it comes down to it. This will allow you to find the flavor profile that appeals to you the most.

However, we have some suggestions to point you in the right direction to start.

Best Overall Bourbon

When it comes to bourbon, there are a lot of choices out there. However, for beginners, Buffalo Trace is the best option, hands down.

Buffalo Trace’s flagship bourbon has been described as “One of the world’s great whiskies.” by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. This bourbon is both smooth and affordable, making it a great way to get started in the world of whiskey.

best overall bourbon

Buffalo Trace is made using a unique mash bill that includes corn, rye, and barley. This gives the bourbon its signature flavor profile, which is both complex and easy to drink.

In addition, Buffalo Trace is one of the oldest bourbon distilleries in the world. It is made in Kentucky, USA, and is one of the world’s oldest and most revered bourbon distilleries.

The water for Buffalo Trace comes from the nearby Kentucky River, which is naturally filtered by limestone. This water is then used in the mash for the bourbon, with a mix of corn, rye, and barley.

Once distilled, the bourbon is aged for between four and twenty-five years in oak barrels. The finished product has a deep amber color with vanilla, honey, and caramel notes.

Best Bourbon Under $100

Many people think that bourbon has to be expensive in order to be good. However, there are plenty of bourbons on the market that are both affordable and enjoyable.

When choosing a bourbon, it is important to pay attention to the proof or the alcohol content. The higher the proof, the more intense the flavor will be. For beginners, it is often best to start with a lower-proof bourbon to get used to the taste.

If you’re looking for a smooth, well-rounded whiskey, then Maker’s Mark is a great option. It’s made with wheat instead of rye, which gives it a softer flavor profile.

You’ll get notes of vanilla and caramel with just a hint of smoke. And the alcohol content is a bit lower than some of the other bourbons on the market, so it’s easier to drink neat or on the rocks.

Bulleit Bourbon is a great choice for those who enjoy a bit of spice in their drink. The rye gives it a distinctive flavor, while the oak provides a smooth finish.

It’s perfect for sipping on its own or mixing into cocktails. And at only $30 per bottle, it’s a great value for a high-quality bourbon.

best bourbon under $100

However, the best bourbon under $100 is Knob Creek’s 9-Year Small Batch. It’s aged for nine years in charred oak barrels, which gives it a deep, rich flavor.

The long aging process also allows the bourbon to develop complex notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak. In addition, the small-batch size means that each bottle is made with care and attention to detail.

As a result, Knob Creek 9-Year Small Batch is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a high-quality bourbon that won’t cost a fortune.

Best Bourbon Over $100

If you’re looking for a top-quality bourbon to start with that’s worth the splurge, then you might want to consider one of these options.

First on the list is Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23-Year-Old Bourbon. This bourbon is made using a special recipe that includes wheat in addition to the traditional corn, and it’s aged for over two decades in oak barrels.

As a result, it has a rich flavor with notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak.

Pappy Van Winkle himself was a true pioneer in the world of bourbon, and his namesake whiskey is a fitting tribute to his legacy. Today, the Pappy Van Winkle brand is synonymous with quality, and this 23-year-old bourbon is the perfect example of that commitment to excellence.

Another option is William Larue Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon. This is a premium bourbon made using wheat as the primary grain.

The unique recipe gives the bourbon a smooth flavor and long finish, making it a favorite among whiskey lovers. The bourbon is aged for 12 years in American white oak barrels, and it has a deep amber color. Each bottle is hand-numbered, and the whiskey is bottled at 90 proof.

Finally, there’s George T. Stagg Jr. 15 Year Old Bourbon. This bourbon is made using a high percentage of rye in the mash bill, resulting in a bolder flavor with spicy undertones.

George T. Stagg Jr. 15 is a higher-proof bourbon that has been aged for 15 years. Stagg Jr. gets its name from George T. Stagg, the man who started the Buffalo Trace distillery where this bourbon is made. The Jr. refers to his grandson, also named George T. Stagg.

The 15 Year Old Bourbon is bottled at 124 proof, making it one of the most well-rounded and dynamic bourbons on the market today.

The high proof allows the bourbon to retain its flavor and complexity, while the extra year of aging gives it a smoothness and depth.

Bourbon Cocktails

Thanks to its bold flavor and smooth texture, bourbon is the perfect ingredient for a wide range of cocktails. Whether you’re looking for something refreshing or something stronger, bourbon can add a unique twist to any drink.

For instance, add a splash of bourbon to your next mojito or martini. Or, if you’re in the mood for something richer, mix bourbon with chocolate liqueur and cream for a decadent cocktail.

bourbon cocktails

The Manhattan is a classic cocktail that has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years. This timeless drink is simple to make, yet complex and flavorful. It is believed to have originated at the Manhattan Club in New York City during the 1870s.

The original recipe called for whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, but many variations exist today. The most important thing to remember when making a Manhattan is to use quality ingredients.

The best whiskeys will have a smooth, rich flavor that pairs well with the sweetness of the vermouth. Bitters add a touch of bitterness and depth of flavor, so choose one that you enjoy.

Once you have assembled your ingredients, simply stir them together in a glass with ice and strain them into a chilled glass.

There are few things more classic than an old-fashioned cocktail. This timeless drink is the perfect balance of sweet and strong, and it has been a favorite of bartenders and drinkers alike for generations.

To make an old-fashioned, start by adding sugar and bitters to the glass. Then, add your whiskey of choice and stir well. Finally, garnish with a twist of orange peel and enjoy.

Best Bourbon For Beginners – Conclusion

If you are looking for a good bourbon to start with, we recommend trying one of the bourbons on this list. We have tried to include a variety of brands and styles so that there is something for everyone.

With such a wide selection, we are sure that you will find the perfect bourbon to get started with your whiskey journey.

About The Author

Rebecca Hanlon

Rebecca has been a blogger for over 5 years, before that enjoying a number of jobs to fund her passion for travel. She's taught English as a foreign language, a part-time Barista, a waitress, and a tour guide.

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