Ask any whiskey enthusiast about his favorite whiskey, and the answer will no doubt range far and wide, from home bar cart to home bar cart. Add in the litany of fine whiskey options available at the nation’s esteemed craft cocktail bars, and things get even more complicated … and flavorful, and delicious. Many of our favorite bourbons pre-date the craft cocktail wave, but who are we to complain? Ask enthusiasts to dive into the differences between rye and bourbon, and which is better, and you’ve thrown another wrench into the equation entirely. Bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn in terms of its mash bill and aged in new charred oak barrels, for starters. Yes indeed, it’s a complex and delicious pursuit, one that keeps us pouring and pondering.
We’re here to help you get to the bottom of it all though, seeing as there’s no better time to do it than right now: It’s National Bourbon Heritage Month, and what’s cooler than a month designed to celebrate what some have called America’s “native spirit,” right? There’s a proper way to go about finding the best bourbon of the moment, and while it all comes down to personal preference, there are a few undisputed champs when it comes to our favorite bourbons. Check them out below, then pour us up a drink, will ya?
Wild Turkey Longbranch Bourbon
Leave it to Matthew McConaughey, talented actor and a man of relentless passion, to team up with Wild Turkey on an exacting bourbon that changes up the typical equation. McConaughey worked with the Wild Turkey team for two years to get Longbranch Bourbon just right, and the results are something else. Longbranch Bourbon uses both Texas Mesquite and charcoal in the aging process, resulting in a smoky, smooth bourbon you can enjoy neat or in a classic Old Fashioned.
Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon
Jefferson’s Bourbon has always done things a little differently, launching in the late ‘90s in advance of the modern craft spirits boom. Trey Zoeller and his father Chet played off the family’s history in the bourbon industry to build the brand — Trey’s 8th generation grandmother was arrested in 1799 for distributing and producing “spirituous liquors,” and Chet himself is a famed bourbon historian. It all comes together in small-batch bourbons like Jefferson’s Reserve. For the more adventurous, Jefferson’s makes its Jefferson’s Ocean blend by aging bourbon in barrels on a shark tagging vessel. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
When a distillery has been making some of the finest whiskey around for 150 years on the dot, you can be darn sure it’s good stuff — neigh, great stuff. And you’ll certainly pour true if you pick up Old Forester’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a tried-and-true effort that works well any way you enjoy it. That means it plays well in cocktails like an Old Fashioned — ideal for fall — as well as on the rocks or neat. Sounds like a perfect bourbon for the month to us.
Wild Turkey Bourbon Whiskey
Wild Turkey certainly branched out thanks to the Longbranch Bourbon crafted in partnership with Mr. Conaughey. However, it’s the tried-and-true Bourbon from the brand that you might find more agreeable (if you’re just dipping your taste buds into the world of bourbon, that is). Tasting notes of sweet vanilla and pear result from an aging process that uses deeply charred American Oak barrels to get the final product just right for enthusiasts and newfound fans alike.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon
There’s a story that the red wax finish on the top of every Maker’s Mark Bourbon bottle is uniquely finished, and it’s from that kind of care and attention to detail that you get such an approachable, exceptional bourbon. The flavor and experience of enjoying Maker’s Mark seems to us virtually unchanged time and again, making it a reliable bourbon option made with soft red winter wheat for pleasant sipping experience.
Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year Reserve Bourbon
It assuredly wouldn’t be a list of the best bourbons, period — and particularly, the best bourbons for National Bourbon Heritage Month — without including Pappy Van Winkle’s ridiculously high-quality bourbon. With heritage and history in every sip, Pappy Van Winkle says this finely crafted bourbon calls to mind “oiled leather, smoke, minerals, coffee and cigar boxes,” all touches that the modern man and whiskey connoisseur can appreciate.
Woodford Reserve 2020 Kentucky Derby 146 Bourbon
The Kentucky Derby certainly looked a lot different this year, but it’s perhaps fitting that the legendary race was run in September — fitting, at least, in that it was an even more perfect occasion to Woodford Reserve’s 2020 Kentucky Derby 146 Bourbon. Rare, finely crafted and in keeping with the spirit and pageantry of the race, this bourbon is one not to be missed during National Bourbon Heritage Month.
Ask us for our go-to bourbon on a cold fall or winter night, especially in an Old Fashioned, and our answer most of the time very well might be Bulleit Bourbon. That kind of consistency and remarkable quality makes it as apt a bourbon as you can find for National Bourbon Heritage Month, wouldn’t you agree? It’s earned its reputation for good reason, and we can’t wait to enjoy some again ourselves this month.
Kings County Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Fans of whiskey in New York State, consider yourself in luck. Kings County takes the city’s whiskey heritage and translates it into a fine bourbon that can be enjoyed by all — yet, it’s still delivered the old-school way in glass bottles that call to mind the Prohibition years. The distillery’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey uses New York State organic corn and English malted barley before it’s copper pot distilled and finished in new charred oak barrels. History and modern flavor in one bourbon? Sign us up.
Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Basil Hayden’s takes an approach to bourbon that’s lighter in color and body than some of the other options on this list of our favorite bourbons (and likely your favorite bourbons, as well). That makes it no less fitting an option to have stocked in your home bar cart, especially in a month when bourbon options abound. We’ll raise a glass to that.
Disclosure: Clicking on these links and making a purchase may earn us a small referral fee, at no extra cost to you. Learn more here.