Bourbon lovers are easily one of the best people to shop for during the holidays. Sure, it’s often hard to find unicorn bottles like Pappy, Blanton’s or Weller 12, but there are so many other options out there that are solid pours AND available at your local liquor store.
No bourbon connoisseur I know is going to turn down any bottle. If it’s not one of their favorites to sip neat, they’ll just use it for cocktails like Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and the common cold cure Hot Toddies.
I realize the whiskey aisle can be daunting with hundreds of options barking at you to take them home, so here are 10 bottles you can’t go wrong with. I’m hoping most of these are available across the country, but I’m writing from the bourbon epicenter of Kentucky, so these prices reflect what they are here.
Four Roses Small Batch Select — $49.99, 104 Proof
You really can’t go wrong with any Four Roses product, but the best one that is readily available is the Small Batch Select. It’s at the sweet spot on proof (104) and is non-chill filtered, so all the fatty acid goodness is still swirling around in the bourbon, making for a more tasty and viscous sip, in my opinion.
Bardstown Bourbon Company Origin Series Bottled-In-Bond — $49.99, 100 Proof
This one might be a little harder to find, but it’s starting to show up on shelves here and there. Bardstown Bourbon Company launched its Origin Series this year, and there are three different bottles that will have this moniker on them (for now … more are probably coming). This Bottled-in-Bond release is a solid wheated bourbon that is well over 4 years old. It’s actually more like 6. The other two in the series are a standard rye bourbon and a rye whiskey. Both are really good choices as well.
Old Forester 100 — $22.99, 100 Proof
If you come to Louisville for a visit, you’ll notice Old Forester is everywhere. It’s what the townies drink because it’s absolutely delicious and super affordable, too! This is my go-to bottle if I want a stiff pour after work or a nice cocktail — because it does the job for both occasions. There is an 86 proof version of the standard Old Fo, but I would skip that one and opt for the orange label 100 proof, as seen here. It’s much more tasty and flavorful than the 86.
Green River Bourbon — $31.99, 90 Proof
I also love the price point of Green River, and just like Old Forester, it’s great to sip on its own or to add to a cocktail. The bottle design and heft makes it seem like a premium product, so if you pick this up for a friend, they might think you went all out. That’s OK, let them believe that, because the whiskey inside won’t disappoint. Green River also makes a wheated bourbon that is equally tasty.
Baker’s Single Barrel Bourbon — $56.99, 107 Proof
Baker’s is one of my favorite brands from Jim Beam, which is now rebranded as the James B. Beam Distilling Co. You really can’t go wrong with a 7-year-old single barrel at the magical 107 proof, and Baker’s will hit you up front with spice, but then calm your palate with warm fruit, toffee and toasted marshmallow notes. I sip on this one mostly, but if I’m in the mood for a stout Old Fashioned, I’ll crack it open and mix it.
Sagamore Spirit Rye Double Oak — $64.99, 96.6 Proof
If the whiskey lover on your list leans toward rye whiskey, you’ve gotta pick up this Sagamore Spirit bottle for him or her. They take fully mature Sagamore rye whiskey and move it into a second oak barrel for extra aging. That second barrel adds so many beautiful and tasty notes like rich caramel and vanilla, which play nicely with the spice of the rye. This is a sipper.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof Rye — $69.99, 131.4 Proof
In the last few years, Jack Daniel’s has been putting out some amazing whiskey in the form of single barrels, limited releases and barrel strength offerings. Don’t pass on these bottles, because they’re truly delicious. Case in point: This Single Barrel Barrel Proof Rye, which was allocated when it first came out a few years ago but should be available in stores now across the country. The rye whiskey is decadent and spicy, but not uncomfortable spicy. The bottles from a couple years ago were some of the best rye I’ve ever had.
Jefferson’s Ocean Cask Strength — $87.99, 112 Proof
Just about any batch of Jefferson’s Ocean is going to be well-received on Christmas Day. But if you go the extra mile and track down a Cask Strength version, I bet you’ll get rewarded with extra time under the mistletoe — unless you’re buying it for Uncle Jack. Another solid pour from Jefferson’s. You should also seek out the Tropics bottle that just came out a few months back.
Corsair Dark Rye Whiskey — $44.99, 85 Proof
Here’s another rye whiskey on the list, and this one offers a completely different taste profile due to its unique mash bill of 61% malted rye, 35% malted barley and 4% malted chocolate rye. The flavor notes in this one are off the chart, including citrus, chocolate and dark fruit. Corsair likes to push whiskey to new levels, and this is proof they’re doing things right.
Kentucky Peerless Small Batch Bourbon — $74.99, 108.9 Proof (varies)
If you haven’t tried Kentucky Peerless bourbon yet, the holidays are a great time to do so — or to give the gift of discovery to someone else. The Louisville-based distillery is winning all sorts of awards now that their whiskey has aged to that nice 5-to-8-year mark. And their products are always non-chill filtered, which again, is a bonus in my book. Their rye whiskey is quite decent as well, and the double oaked versions of both the bourbon and rye are worth hunting down.