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If you are relatively new to bourbon, you might find the choices intimidating. When finding the best bourbon for beginners, look for a brand that offers a well-balanced flavor. Selecting those with strong and spicy notes right off the bat might be too much for your liking.
To avoid getting overwhelmed with the various flavors, alcohol content, and price, we have scoured the internet to give you the list of the best bourbons for beginners.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall - Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky
• Lighter and sweeter taste
Most Unique - Jefferson Reserve Small Batch Bourbon
• Barrel-aged at sea
Most Affordable - Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
• High rye content
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Charred Oak, Spice
Knob Creek is one of the most popular brands of bourbon in the market. Beam Suntory produces it at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. Knob Creek is also part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection targeted for the high-end liquor market.
This best bourbon for beginners is aged 9 years, which draws out more flavor and sugar. The liquor provides a full-bodied, fruity taste with notes of toasty charred oak, caramel, vanilla, and a touch of spice and chocolate. The Knob Creek bourbon is also an ideal base for cocktails because of its bold flavor.
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Maple, Cinnamon
One of the best bourbons for beginners goes by the name of Wild Turkey 101. Looking at its price, it’s probably one of the most affordable in the market. While the cost makes it a great starting point, its quality is no joke. For over 60 years, the people behind this brand have been crafting their product with high rye content that is perfectly aged in American white oak barrels with the deepest char.
Wild Turkey 101 gives off that pungent aroma of toffee and caramel alongside the subtle scent of alcohol. The flavors are well-balanced with notes of vanilla, maple, cinnamon, and stronger hints from oakwood, spice, and char. If you are a newbie, this bourbon will surely give you a fantastic experience in every sip of the glass.
3. Jefferson Reserve Small Batch Bourbon
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Peaches, Toffee
Trey Zoeller and his father Chet’s brainchild, the third on the list of the best bourbons for beginners is Jefferson Reserve Small Batch Whiskey. While the roots of crafting their unique tasting bourbon can be traced back to 1799, the father and son tandem has found a genius way to make the recipe even more outstanding than it already is.
Aging bourbon at sea is very uncommon. However, the creators of Jefferson thought of the possibilities that can be created with such adventure. Their experiment resulted in a whiskey with a sweet and caramelized flavor resulting from the constant agitation and climate change. The liquor also has notes of savory and briny characters due to the salty ocean air and sea spray.
4. Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
Tasting Notes: Prunes, Spices, Cocoa, Vanilla
Another best bourbon for beginners is the complex and full-bodied Four Roses Single Barrel. This liquor has a funny and romantic history. Paul Jones Jr., the founder, once fell in love with a beautiful woman she proposed to. The woman said she would disclose her answer to the proposal by attending an evening ball gown with a four rose corsage. She probably said yes because Jones named the business after her.
When nosing the Four Roses bourbon, it gives off a dried spice, pear, cocoa, vanilla, and maple syrup aroma all at once. While the smell is already a winner, you would even be more enticed with the hints of ripe plum and cherry flavors. All these are perfectly combined for a mellow yet striking drinking experience.
Tasting Notes: Spiced Honey, Hazelnut, Butterscotch
“If we could make it faster, we wouldn’t.” This saying across all distilleries is something that Maker’s Mark lives by. The creator and the people behind this liquor make sure that each bottle is carefully curated, even if it takes more time than needed.
While most brands use rye as their main component for whiskey, Maker’s Mark uses soft red winter wheat, which gives off a sweeter taste rather than an overpowering bitter flavor. Plus, they only use limestone water in making the sour mash so the yeast can properly flourish.
You would smell the aroma of rye and spice, barley malt, and a little nut oil with butterscotch and vanilla upon nosing. Moreover, the taste gives off a little sweet butterscotch flavor with notes of dry oak spice.
Tasting Notes: Toffee, Caramel, Chocolate, Spice
Next on our list of the best bourbons for beginners is Woodford Reserve Kentucky. This brand started crafting and distributing its liquor way back in 1812. Their bourbon whiskey comprises 200 delectable flavors carefully combined into one full-bodied drink.
The most common aromas you can detect are rich dried fruit, hints of mint, and oranges covered with a dusting of cocoa, and faint vanilla and tobacco spice. Simultaneously, the silky smooth finish gives off rich, chewy, complex citrus, cinnamon, cocoa, toffee, caramel, chocolate, and spice notes.
Tasting Notes: Caramel, Vanilla, Oak
Probably one of the best bourbons for beginners is the classic and sought-after Jim Beam bourbon whiskey. This world’s best-selling bourbon goes way back to 1795 where the master distillers age the liquor twice as long as required by the law.
While most brands only allow their whiskey to stay in the barrel for 2 years, Jim Beam makes it a total of 4 years to properly release all the lurking nuances inside the American white oak barrels.
There is a long time of waiting, but every drop is undoubtedly worth it. This bourbon is known for its oaky, vanilla, and spicy flavors with a bit more sweetness, grain, char, and fruit notes. Whether you are in for a straight shot or as base liquor for any cocktail, every sip is truly remarkable.
8. Eagle Rare 10-Year Bourbon
Tasting Notes: Toffee, Orange Peel, Honey
Eagle Rare is one of the best bourbons for beginners simply because it gives a very distinct flavor that you might not find anywhere else. Every bottle of bourbon has a secret and story to tell, but it’s Eagle Rare’s 10 years of barrel aging that makes them different from other brands.
With a decade of enhancing the taste of their bourbon, each sip gives you unique hints of cinder toffee, orange peel, honey, leather, and oak. The taste is dry and bold with notes of candied almonds and rich cocoa.
Tasting Notes: Maple, Oak, Nutmeg
Next on the best bourbons for beginners list is a whiskey pioneered by Augustus Bulleit over 150 years ago - Bulleit Bourbon. The brand only uses the finest combination of rye, corn, barley malt, particular strains of yeast, and Kentucky limestone-filtered water.
If you are fond of anything spicy and robust, you would love this bourbon. Since the mixture is mainly composed of rye, it has powerful heat and kick with a smooth finish. The mid-palate gives off tones of maple, oak, and nutmeg, whereas the finish is long, dry, with a bit of toffee flavor.
Tasting Notes: White Pepper, Orange Peel, Cinnamon
Basil Hayden’s Kentucky is one of the best bourbons for beginners you will ever find. This liquor dates back to 1796, when master distiller Basil Hayden used a traditional corn base and mixed small grains in the mash. The result? A bourbon that is loaded with rye. This created a very spicy, peppermint, herbal, and fruity flavor all in one sip.
This bourbon is best used as a liquor base for the classic Manhattan or Mint Julep. Whether you like your spirit neat or on the rocks, you don’t have to worry about the lack of flavor as this one is loaded with a gentle yet spicy bite.
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Apple, Peppery spice
While it is suggested to be tried by newbies, the Evan Williams has already gone a long way since it started way back in 1783. The distillery where this bourbon is carefully aged and stored can be traced back to Ohio’s river banks in Kentucky.
Notes of rich vanilla and mint are the welcoming aroma you will smell upon opening a bottle of Evan Williams. The moment you take a generous sip, hints of oak, caramel, and apple flavors will happily linger in your taste buds. Indeed, the classic bourbons for beginners are always the way to go.
12. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Tasting Notes: Caramel, Creamy Toffee Eclairs, Cinnamon, Mint
The Buffalo Trace distillery has been crafting its finest and award-winning bourbon since 200 years ago. The liquor is carefully aged in new oak barrels and is stored in the middle floors of old warehouses where the temperature fluctuation is at its prime. They also do not make more than 40 barrels of bourbon to ensure that each one is carefully aged to reach its finest quality.
This deep amber whiskey has aromatics of caramel, creamy toffee eclairs, cinnamon, rum spice, and cereal sweetness. A good sip will give you a bunch of flavors ranging from brown sugar, toffee apple, sweet oak, custard, oily espresso beans, a touch of chocolate-covered raisins, and toasty wood.
We hope that this list helped you choose the best bourbon for beginners. While being a newbie in the whiskey world can be challenging, your safe bet is these bottles.
Again, choose the bourbon with a sweet and smooth flavor rather than a hardcore and spicy kick. You should also consider purchasing affordable bottles since it is your first time trying out this liquor. In case you’re not a fan, you won’t regret spending too much on a bottle you cannot finish.
Which among the list of the best bourbons for beginners is your tried-and-tested brand? Let us know in the comments.