This post is part of our Bourbon Heritage Hub.
The resurgence and popularity of bourbon over the past decade has piqued an interest and curiosity among alcohol consumers to learn more about—and have a deeper appreciation for—America’s native spirit. Since publicly announcing our social group, Black Bourbon Society, during last year’s National Bourbon Heritage Month, we have received many inquires from our “Bourbon Beginner” followers asking what bourbons they should try and how they should drink them.
The latter question is always the easiest: there is no wrong way to drink bourbon. Throw it in a cocktail or sip it neat. Add ice or water if you’d like. Just enjoy it.
The first part of that question is a little more complex, but I like to preface my response with a quote by William Faulkner:
“There is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others…” Tweet this
That said, I do believe there are specific bourbons that are perfect gateways into developing a sophisticated palate and a greater appreciation for the spirit. Once a person develops their palate, understands complexities of mash bills and distilling, aging, and bottling methods, drinkers can then branch out to discover more complex bourbons and get on their way to becoming a true bourbon connoisseur.
So herewith: our list of bourbons for beginners, presented in no particular order. If you see any of these labels next time you’re at the bar, or in a liquor store, go ahead and start your bourbon journey with these tried and tested suggestions.
Four Roses Single Barrel
This was my introduction into sipping bourbon. And while starting off with a 100 proof bourbon could be too powerful for some, Four Roses Single Barrel offers a ton of flavor that will challenge your taste buds without beating them into submission. Spicy and sweet with a really long finish, this one is a keeper long after you’ve been introduced to good bourbons.
This bourbon is light on the palate, full of soft vanilla and floral notes, making it very easy to sip. It’s a great Sunday afternoon bourbon to drink on the patio with a nice breeze before the busy work begins. Basil Hayden’s also mixes well with cocktails, standing up in drinks without overpowering them. I like to mix it with complementary flavors like citrus and mint.
Angel’s Envy is an interesting and flavorful bourbon that has been finished in port wine casks. It provides all the flavors of traditional bourbons—vanilla, caramel, baking spices—but ends with sweet dark fruit notes from the port. So if you’re looking for a solid bourbon that skews a bit sweeter, but never cloyingly so, this is the bourbon for you.
Full of vanilla and caramel notes, you cant get a better introduction into bourbon than Maker’s Mark. It reminds me of being home for Thanksgiving—comfort with the smooth balance of sweet and spice. It’s also one of the most popular and recognizable bourbons on the market, so it’s always within reach. If you’re feeling bold, try Maker’s 46 for a more flavorful and richer bourbon experience.
Old Forester 1870 Original Batch
Old Forester is prized for its series of “Birthday Bourbons,” but the standard line deserves more credit than it gets. Old Forester 1870 isn’t the cheapest bourbon out there, but it’s a very friendly one whether you’re new to the category or a veteran. It’s full of flavor, from cloves and other baking spices to caramel and apples, with a smooth, long finish. Try Old Forester 1870 on its own or mixed into an Old-Fashioned.