Among the many esteemed bourbons on this list, Henry McKenna Single Barrel offers the most superlative presentation of sturdiness, richness, and elegance. Although its accolades and awards in recent years may have inflated the price a bit, it’s a truly excellent whiskey, aged for a decade and bottled at 100 proof, with flavors that run the gamut from oak to spice to sweet vanilla.
What’s the difference between bourbon and whiskey?
Simply put, all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Legally, bourbon produced for consumption in the U.S. must comprise at least 51 percent corn, must be aged in charred new oak barrels, must be distilled to no more than 160 proof, must be entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof, and must be bottled at 80 proof or more. No color or flavoring can be added, unlike other categories of whiskey including Canadian and scotch. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States—not just Kentucky (as many people believe).
See more: Top 10 bourbons
How is bourbon made?
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A mixture of the grains listed above are milled and then combined with water and yeast and allowed to ferment—turning it into what basically amounts to a low-ABV beer. This liquid, known as mash, is then distilled, typically twice, in column or pot stills. Once it reaches the appropriate strength, the distillate, known as white dog (or “white whiskey,” i.e. moonshine), is put into new charred oak barrels and allowed to age. (There is no minimum length of time the spirit has to be aged, excepting that it must be aged for a minimum of two years to be called “straight bourbon.”) Once it is mature, the whiskey is either “cut” with water or bottled at barrel strength.
What’s the best way to drink it?
A rich, high-proof bourbon loves a big, gorgeous piece of ice, while a more elegant bourbon will shine with just a few drops of water, or might even be best served neat. Meanwhile, your more affordable bourbons just beg to be mixed into a cocktail: you can go classy and whip up a full-bodied Old Fashioned or Manhattan, but bourbon also shines in a Whiskey Sour or a Mint Julep.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries to taste and discover for years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac, and all things distilled.
This roundup was updated by Jesse Porter, who finds that keeping a bottle of bourbon on his desk next to his computer helps improve his overall workflow and thus writes it off monthly as a business expense.
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