Best Bourbon for Beginners: 15 Bottles Every Newcomer Must Try!

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Bourbon is a popular American whiskey with great flavor that won’t leave you indifferent at first taste. It’s a versatile spirit that’s equally delicious when you drink it neat, on the rocks, or in various cocktails and mixed drinks.

Experienced bourbon lovers know which bourbons taste great but have low prices.

However, if you’re new to the Bourbon world and can’t decide which type of bourbon to order at the bar or buy to enjoy at home, I will offer you the 15 best brands.

They will meet your expectations for a bottle of bourbon with great flavor at a low price, so next time you shop for bourbon or buy a bottle of this spirit to add to your home bar, you will know what to get.

First, let’s learn more about bourbon in general.

What’s Bourbon?

Bourbon is American whiskey from a grain mixture containing at least 51% corn and other grains like wheat, rye, and barley.

This versatile distilled liquor is aged in new charred oak barrels and bottled at 40% ABV. Bourbon has a brown color and a distinctively smooth, slightly sweet flavor with vanilla, oak, and caramel hints.

The first bourbon in America was made in the 18 th century in Kentucky, where 95% of the bourbon is produced. Jim Beam, Makers Mark, and Wild Turkey are just a few of the popular bourbon brands.

Bourbon must meet specific requirements to be classified as one and have a good flavor and quality.

Therefore, bourbon must be made in the USA from a  grain mixture containing at least 51% corn.

It also must be aged at least two years in new charred oak barrels and bottled at 40% ABV to be classified as straight bourbon.

Bourbon, by law, shouldn’t have added flavorings or colorings.

Best Bourbon for Beginners: 15 Bourbon You Must Try!

If you have no experience with bourbon, you should pay attention to some details about the bourbon, which are usually printed on the bourbon label.

The brand or distillery where bourbon is made, class and type of the bourbon, ABV (alcohol by volume), proof, and aging time.

There are many good quality bourbons at a reasonable price, so you don’t have to spend much money to get a good bottle of bourbon.

You can also try bourbons with lower than 40% ABV to start with and enjoy their flavor or try different mash bills.

They will taste great, sipping neat or used to make your favorite cocktails and mixed drinks. Here’s the list of the best bourbon for beginners that you can experiment with:

1. Woodford Reserve

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Woodford Reserve is one of the finest bourbons made in Kentucky, USA.

It’s a good bourbon for beginners because it’s creamy and smooth with citrus, cocoa, and cinnamon flavor and hints of caramel, chocolate, toffee, and spice that will please your palate.

Woodford Reserve is triple distilled and bottled at 45.2% ABV. It’s a great-tasting bourbon that will make you ask for more.

You can serve it neat, on the rocks, or as a part of your favorite cocktails.

2. Knob Creek

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The Knob Creek brand of bourbon is a part of the Jim Beams Small Batch Collection alongside Baker’s, Booker’s, and Basil Hayden’s brands.

This bourbon is aged nine years and bottled at 50% ABV.

Knob Creek has a well-balanced sweet, rich flavor with hints of caramel, vanilla, oak, and dried fruits. It’s a great bourbon for sipping neat but also works well in cocktails.

Knob Creek is a good bourbon for beginners who don’t mind a higher alcohol content.

3. Old Forester 100 Proof

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Old Forester 100Proof is a good-tasting, versatile bourbon at an affordable price. Each Old Forester bourbon 100 Proof bottle is handpicked from selected barrels and bottled at 50% ABV.

This bourbon has vanilla, apple, toffee, oaky and spicy flavors. You can sip it neat or use it as a base for cocktails.

Old Forester 100 prof is a good value for the money bourbon and a good option for those new to the bourbon world.

4. Four Roses Single Barrel

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Four Roses Single Barrel is smooth, complex bourbon with a great taste that every beginner will like. This bourbon is aged 7-9 years and bottled at 50% ABV.

Each bottle comes from one aging barrel with a unique flavor, so their taste can vary depending on which barrel they came from.

Four Roses Single Barrel has a well-balanced, rich, sweet, slightly spicy flavor with hints of cherry, plum, oak, and caramel. It’s a great bourbon to sip neat with a splash of water to open up its taste, but you can also use it as a base for cocktails.

5. Eagle Rare

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Eagle Rare is a product of the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky. It’s aged a minimum of 10 years and bottled at 45% ABV.

Eagle Rare is a smooth, silky, great, tasting bourbon and a perfect option for beginners. It has a dry, bold oaky flavor with hints of cocoa and candied almonds.

Eagle Rare is best served neat to taste its great flavor, but it’s also a good base for cocktails. The only bad thing about Eagle Rare bourbon is that it costs more than the other bourbons, but its flavor is worth it.

6. Wild Turkey 101

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Wild Turkey 101 is a popular but affordable bourbon with a good taste for beginners. It’s aged for at least six years in charred oak barrels and bottled at 50.5% ABV.

This drink has a spicy, sweet flavor with hints of toasted oak, vanilla, and caramel. All these flavors are combined to make one good-tasting versatile drink you can have neat or use as a cocktail base.

7. 1792 Small Batch

 

 
 
 
 
 
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1792 Small Batch is named after the year when Kentucky officially became a state. This is a high-rye bourbon with a bold, smooth, spicy flavor aged eight years in new charred oak barrels and bottled at 46.85% ABV.

1792 Small Batch bourbon has a spicy, slightly sweet taste with hints of toasted oak, caramel, and vanilla. It’s a great bourbon for sipping neat and enjoying its flavor, but it will also make your cocktails taste good.

8. Buffalo Trace

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Buffalo Trace is one of the best bourbons for beginners.

It’s made from a mash bill containing more than 80% corn, rye, and barley malt resulting in a sweeter and less spicy flavor than bourbons with higher rye content.

Buffalo Trace is at least eight years old and bottled at 45% ABV.

It has a pleasantly sweet, slightly spicy flavor with vanilla, toffee, oak, and candied fruit hints and a smooth finish.

Buffalo Trace is a good sipping bourbon because of its lower alcohol content and sweet flavor, but it also works well in cocktails.

9. Basil Hayden’s

Basil Hayden’s is a part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection. This is a good sipping bourbon for beginners packed in a beautiful bottle. It has an aroma of vanilla and oak with hints of caramel, dried apricots, ginger, blackberries, and other dried fruits.

When you taste it, you will feel the charred oak flavor with hints of vanilla, caramel, brown sugar, cinnamon, mint, dried fruits, and peppercorns. 

Basil Hayden’s bourbon is a high-rye bourbon which gives it a spicy note. It’s artfully aged and bottled at 40% ABV.

Basil Hayden’s is easy and smooth to drink neat, but you can also use it in your cocktails. Some of the classic bourbon cocktails in which you can use this bourbon are Old Fashioned and Mint Julep.

10. Legent Bourbon

Legent Bourbon is a product of the collaboration between Kentucky and Japan presented by the two masters in their craft, Fred Noe from Jim Beam and Shinji Fukuyo from the House of Suntory.

This bourbon is made from a mash bill that contains 77% corn, 13% rye, and 10% malted barley. 

It’s aged for at least four years in charred virgin white oak barrels, and the aging is completed in ex-red wine and ex-sherry casks. Then the bourbon is blended to create the final product and bottled at 47% ABV. 

Legent Bourbon has a sweet, spicy, dried fruit flavor with hints of roasted oak, vanilla, and caramel. It’s a bourbon with a well-balanced, complex flavor profile.

It’s good for beginners for sipping neat, on the rocks, or as a base for cocktails.

11. Frey Ranch Bourbon

Frey Ranch Bourbon is made in the Frey Ranch Distillery in Nevada. It’s aged for five years and bottled at 45% ABV.

Frey Ranch Bourbon is a farm-to-glass bourbon because the grains for the mash bill are grown on the ranch, and the bourbon is distilled, aged, and bottled on the same farm.

Frey Ranch Bourbon has oak and citrus aromas and a sweet, spicy flavor with hints of caramel, vanilla, dried mint, and banana chips. It’s a great-tasting bourbon that’s good for serving neat or as a base for cocktails.

12. Maker’s 46

Maker’s 46 is a great-tasting wheated bourbon aged about six years in new American oak casks.

This variety of Makers Mark bourbon is flavored with ten seared virgin French oak staves inserted into the barrel after the standard aging process and aged for additional nine weeks. This results in a more complex, bolder, extra sweet, oaky, and spicy flavor making Maker’s 46 a bourbon with better flavor and texture.

It’s bottled at 47% ABV and has a well-balanced sweet, spicy, vanilla, caramel, oak, and baking spices flavor. Maker’s 46 is a good option for beginners to start with and enjoy a good-tasting bourbon neat or in cocktails.

13. Heaven Hill 7-Year-Old Bottled in Bond 

Heaven Hill 7-Year-Old Bottled in Bond Bourbon replaces the Heaven Hill 6-Year-Old Bottled in Bond Bourbon.

Heaven Hill Distillery launched this bourbon in 2019. The interesting thing is that they’re selling it in the limited markets of New York, Florida, Georgia, California, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, and South Carolina. As you can notice, Kentucky is not on the list, and why only the producer knows.

This bottled-in-bond bourbon is aged seven years and bottled at 50% ABV.

Heaven Hill 7-year-old bourbon has the classic aroma of oak, vanilla, and caramel. It also has a smooth, sweet, slightly spicy flavor with hints of vanilla, caramel, honey, oak, and cherries.

You can sip Heaven Hill neat and add just a splash of water to open up its taste and enjoy, but it’s also a bourbon that will make your cocktails taste great.

14. Bulleit Bourbon

Bulleit Bourbon is another great-tasting Kentucky bourbon characterized by the mash bill’s high 28% rye content.

This bourbon is aged for at least six years and bottled at 45% ABV. As a result of the high rye content, Bulleit Bourbon has a bold, spicy, sweet flavor with hints of vanilla, oak, cinnamon, toffee, and nutmeg.

Despite its spicy taste, Bulleit Bourbon has a smooth and clean finish, making it a good bourbon for sipping neat or used as a base for cocktails.

15. Old Grand-Dad 114

Old Grand-Dad 114 is a good bourbon for beginners who like higher-proof spirits. This bourbon is a product of the Jim Beam distillery, and it’s bottled at 57% ABV.

Old Grand-Dad 114 is a high-rye bourbon because it contains 27% rye. It has a spicy, dry, earthy, and nutty flavor with hints of caramel, vanilla, oak, and cinnamon.

Old Grand–Dad 114 is a good bourbon for cocktails, but if you like its spicy flavor, you can serve it neat or on the rocks.

Related Questions

How do Beginners Drink Bourbon?

You can drink bourbon in several ways; each is good if you like it. But I think beginners should first try to sip bourbon in mixed drinks like bourbon and coke, bourbon and soda water, or bourbon and ginger ale.

Mixed drinks will neutralize the bourbon’s flavor and make it more drinkable. Beginners can also use bourbon as a base for various classic cocktails like Manhattan or Old Fashioned. 

Here’s how you can drink bourbon:

  • Neat-without added ice, mixers, or water
  • On the rocks
  • With a splash of water to open up the bourbons flavor and make it easy on your palate
  • In mixed drinks and cocktails

Each of these ways will bring out the bourbon’s unique flavor so you can enjoy it.

What is the Smoothest Bourbon to Sip?

There are various smooth bourbons to sip, but I think that the smoothest ones are the Woodford Reserve and Maker’s 46. They’re all smooth and creamy bourbons with well-balanced flavors that will please your palate. 

What is the Smoothest, Sweetest Bourbon?

If you’re new to the bourbon world, you will like to try a smooth, sweet bourbon with a nice and pleasant flavor.

Buffalo Trace is the smoothest, sweetest bourbon that will meet your expectations, but you can also try Maker’s 46 and Woodford Reserve.

Buffalo Trace is one of the best bourbons for beginners. It’s made from a mash bill containing more than 80% corn, rye, and barley malt resulting in a sweeter and less spicy flavor than bourbons with higher rye content.

Buffalo Trace is a good bourbon to serve neat, and enjoy its sweet, smooth taste.

Is Bourbon Better Neat or on the Rocks?

You can drink bourbon neat or on the rocks, depending on your preferences. Bourbon lovers are usually drinking it served at room temperature neat.

Bourbon is generally served in a rocks glass, snifter, shot glass, or Glencairn glass.

If you don’t know how to drink your bourbon, you can first drink it neat to taste its real flavor and experiment with adding a splash of water, adding ice cubes, or you can also use bourbon as a base for your favorite cocktails.

Is Bourbon Smoother Than Whiskey?

Bourbon is slightly smoother and sweeter than whiskey because it’s made from a grain mixture that contains at least 51% corn with a naturally sweet flavor.

Other crucial factors like the type of grains used in the mash bill, rye content, distillation, filtration, aging, and alcohol content also affect the bourbon’s smooth flavor.

What’s Your Pick?

If you’re looking for a smooth, good-tasting bourbon, you can try some of the bourbons mentioned in today’s article.

There’s a wide range of brands of bourbons above, so there’s something for everyone. 

Sweeter or spicier, with higher or lower ABV, choose the bourbon you think you will like and try it neat, on the rocks or make some classic cocktail.

If you don’t like how it tastes, pick another the next time you shop for bourbon.

There’s a wide selection of bourbons, and I’m sure you will find your favorite one. When you do, write your impressions below, and let’s chat about bourbons.

Chad Smith

Hello and Welcome, I am Chad, a formal bartender. I created this blog to help readers make exotic cocktails at home.

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