10 Bourbons from Amateur to Advanced

July 9, 2024
10 Bourbons from Amateur to Advanced

My garage bar has seen random folks from all over the world, with nearly twenty countries and counting finding their way to a stool while curating every manner of cocktail and concoction under the sun.  Some of those folks are novices and others connoisseur’s when it comes to bourbon.  Being able to ensure folks will appreciate what they’re tasting is something I pride myself on, and knowing where someone is at on their own personal journey with America’s spirit, bourbon, is important to selecting the right dram. It’s also important to understand what folks enjoy, be that something with more fruity notes, sweeter, earthy, etc.  If you’re just getting into drinking bourbon it can be hard to know where to begin.  Below is a list of bourbons from amateur to advanced to help you chart your course in the big world of bourbon.

New to Bourbon – “Amateur”

Just because you’re a newbie, doesn’t mean that these bourbons are restricted to inexperienced drinkers, they’re mainstays for a lot of long-time Bourboneur’s as they’re easy drinking and very affordable averaging under $30 per bottle having just seen both of these out on the shelves this weekend.  These are very approachable and will be certain to pique your interest into trying some others!

Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Buffalo Trace is the flagship bourbon of Buffalo Trace Distillery and is my go-to bourbon for making a really great Old Fashioned.  Check out our post on Making THE Best Old Fashioned and get insights on our homemade Orange Bitters to really up your game.  At just a smidge over twenty dollars it's one of the cheapest and best pours for the money that you'll have, period.

Weller Special Reserve

Weller Special Reserve Wheated Bourbon

Marketed as “the original wheated bourbon” Weller Special Reserve is above all else, an easy drinker. At only 90 proof it is a smooth pour with relatively nuanced flavor notes that do not overpower the dram.  For being the entry point to the brand, you immediately think…if this twenty some dollar bottle is THIS good, then the other Weller Bourbons must be amazing!  As a matter of fact, that line of logic is entirely true.

Easily Excitable – “Tater”

“Tater” is a popular term in bourbon that can mean a lot of things, but as used here it’s that point in your relationship with bourbon where you get excited at just about everything.  “OMG, I found a Taylor!”  Many will grow out of this phase, however, some will not.  Feel free to take our self-diagnostic “Tater Syndrome Home Test” by clicking here.

E.H. Taylor Small Batch

Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bourbon

If you are ever going to come across a bottle of EH Taylor in the wild, it is most likely going to be this guy.  In terms of the expressions available in the EH Taylor lineup, this is the bottom.  For being on the low end of the brand, it is however a full-flavored bourbon that is very enjoyable. EH Taylor Small Batch does not have an age statement; it does however have a big label stating that it is bottled in bond. The legally required minimum aging based on that statement is four years old.  

Woodford Double Oaked

Woodford Double Oaked Bourbon

Debuting in 2012 with one of the earlier entries to the market in the double barrel department, Woodford Reserve's Double Oaked Bourbon clocks in at a mild 90.4 proof.  One of my favorite pours, and what I affectionately refer to as "home base" this is an all-around great pour that balances with great skill the various flavors while bringing forward just the right amount of wood.

Expanding Horizons – “Learner”

So, you think you like bourbon, eh?  This is the point where it feels like it’s time to take it up a notch and explore single barrels, and something that has some age to it.  

Four Roses Single Barrel

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

Four Roses puts out some great stuff and their single barrel offering is no exception.  Overall, it's got a lot going for it and won't break the bank either.  It's got just enough complexity to be interesting but not so much as to be overwhelming to unpackage what's going on for some folks who may be new to bourbon.  

Michter’s 10 Year

Michter's 10 Year Bourbon

Michter's makes some great stuff, and there's a whole pile of Michter's unicorns I'd love to have the chance to try one of these days.  Their 10-year bourbon’s eye-catching presentation and the intensity, depth and complexity of the dram truly rival some of the best whiskeys out there.

Branching out – “Skilled”

An evolving palate leads to an expanding suite of options as one begins to let their eyes drift a little higher up on the shelf.  You also don’t mind a little heat, and you’re able to start dissecting what exactly it is that you’re tasting with some true competence.

Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend

Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend

Jos. A.Magnus & Co. is the second coming of the Magnus brand which was originally fathered by Joseph A. magnus back in 1892.  This blend is specifically created to be paired with a cigar – with or without, it’s a great pour, curated by Nancy Fraley by taking the Magnus bourbon which is already triple cask finished in Armagnac, Cognac and Sherry casks and then further finishing it in Armagnac casks again.  Super tasty and wonderfully complex.

Bookers (various batches)

Booker's Bourbon

A number of years back, Bookers moved to named batches with several offerings coming out each year.   A lot of Booker’s for me anyways drink pretty hot, there are a number however that deliver more of a smooth heat and the balance of the lot have some great intriguingly complex flavor notes that come together amidst a backdrop of typical great bourbony goodness.

Fully Involved – “Expert”

You’re not shying away from proof and can fully enjoy the stoutest of pour without blinking an eye.  You’ve got a very evolved appreciation of the nuances of different brands flavor profiles and can hang with the best of them.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon

Released three times a year on an allocated basis in January, May and September, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is typically worth the asking price of some seventy odd bucks or so, irrespective of the batch - and let's be honest, some are better than others.  Expect a full-bodied pour that might benefit from a drop or two of water if you feel like the horse may buck you from the ride.

George T Stagg

George T. Stagg Bourbon

Uncut and unfiltered, this bourbon has a unique sweetness that blends perfectly with an underlying earthy/fruitiness.  There's a lot to unpackage, and all of it is so so good.  This is one of the absolute top bourbons in our book, and with all it has going on, it’s best to wait to try this until you’ve got some experience built up as you’ll appreciate it all the more.

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