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7 Bourbons From Beginner to Advanced

I love whiskey of all forms and styles, but bourbon holds a special place in my heart. When I was in my beginner stages of whiskey tasting it was the first style that really spoke to me, as well as the first style I dived into regarding its history. 

There is a huge variety of styles out there. Everything from the mash bill to the bottling ABV can affect the profile of a bourbon. So, if you are just starting out with drinking bourbon, it can feel a little overwhelming. 

So, where do you start? Here is my list of bourbons, from beginner to advanced, to help you begin your bourbon journey. 

Very Old Barton, 43% ABV

BUY NOW: $8.99 

This stuff isn’t the easiest to find unless you’re in Kentucky itself. But I would say that it is worth the effort to find as it is very affordable and one of the best easy drinkers in the bourbon world. 

There are a variety of proofs available. The older and higher proof stuff is almost impossible to find now, but the 43% or 86 proof version is the standout for me. 

The nose has all of the deep woody caramel that you could ever want from bourbon but contrasts with this very fresh, light finish that just makes you want to explore the style even more as well as the category itself. 

Wild Turkey 101, 50.5% ABV

BUY NOW: $19.99 

Ready for another of my absolutes? Wild Turkey 101 is the best value for money standard bottle buy in the entire world of whiskey. With its lush, soft, woody notes and these waves of gentle and approachable sweetness and spice, Wild Turkey just gets it right every time. 

Even in a world of price increases, and general increases in costs to everyone, these Kentucky folks keep things so approachable and manageable. My current bottle is nearly empty, time to replace it. 

Four Roses Single Barrel, 50% ABV

BUY NOW: $34.95 

So we’ve had the best value regular bottle just above, are you ready for the best value single barrel? Here we go.

Four Roses Single Barrel holds this title for me, especially when bottled at 50% ABV. 

Single barrels are all unique, and Four Roses has so many different options to choose from, no matter where you are in your bourbon journey. Each and every pick of Four Roses is a winner for me. There aren’t many lengths to which I will not go to get my hands on cask strength releases. 

This Single Barrel expression packs a little more of a forward approach to spice, but Four Roses has always been Kentucky butter in liquid form, with loads of tropical, rich fruits in the mix as well. Stunning liquids. 

Blanton’s Single Barrel, 46.5% ABV

BUY NOW: $124.99 

This is a little bit of an elephant in the room. Trying to find this stuff for MRSP is a real pain, but I do believe that it is worth it at that price. Anything above that and you shouldn’t really bother as there are so many other options, even excluding everything I’ve listed above. 

The story of Blanton’s is very interesting in regard to its origins, which you can read about here. The reason that I have included it on this list, however, is all to do with the mash bill. 

Blanton’s is made using Buffalo Trace‘s higher rye mashbill, commonly known as mashbill 2. This style from the distillery also included Elmer T Lee and Rock Hill Farms, and it is by far my favorite of their two bourbon mashbills. 

Overall the whisky tastes great and does have some lovely orange, treacle, and old-fashioned spices to it. 

Booker’s Bourbon, 60%+ ABV

BUY NOW: $87.99 

Cask strength time, y’all! Now in no way am I saying that you shouldn’t try cask-strength whiskey early on in your journey, but it is something that should be approached with a little caution. Chances are you’ll never forget the first one you try, and I would recommend you try Booker’s Bourbon. It is relatively affordable, approachable, and yet such a complex liquid. 

Named after the man himself, Booker Noe, Booker’s is the best of the best that Jim Beam has on offer. The noses typically are filled with tobacco, molasses, sweet toffee, and caramel sauce. 

The palate delivers in a hugely rich and spicy way, with the finish being long, deep, and a level contrast of bourbon sweetness with cask-strength spice and long wood notes. This stuff is a delight to drink in any way, but do be careful and don’t fall for the cask strength lure! Before you know it everything in your cabinet will be cask-strength. That’s fun but it isn’t as accessible. 

Way Down the Mountain 25 Year Old Bourbon, 51.8% ABV

BUY NOW: $642

Here’s an obscure one for you. A small parcel of bourbon distilled in 1996 and purchased by Hunter Laing, a Scottish independent bottler. The liquid was then aged for a majority of its life in Scotland and, of the twenty casks that were purchased, ten of them have gone into this small batch of 25 year old bourbon. That’s quite a story. Hunter Laing has not declared which distillery the whiskey is from. Most have assumed it to be Heaven Hill, but we’ll never really know. 

The reason this is on the list is because of how soft and layered this liquid is. Virgin oak maturation in Scottish weather has given this whiskey one of the most pronounced and wonderful cherry notes I’ve ever come across. A rich and delicate taste across the palate with soft spices and a developing mint note.

I think it is only available in the UK right now. If you are able to get your hands on the bottle, consider yourself very lucky indeed. 

William Larue Weller BTAC (Buffalo Trace Antique Release), 55%+ ABV

BUY NOW: $1,599

This is the bourbon I would give up all other whiskey for. Another absolute there, but an unplanned one.

 I got my hands on the 2014 release of this stuff at 70.1% ABV, and I thought it would be the bottle that either put me off whiskey or killed me. Luckily, neither happened, and I still have some of it to this day. 

Wheated bourbon is incredible, and none are more incredible than the Weller range in terms of appealing to your sweet tooth, but also having so much deep complexity to them. 

William Larue Weller is an annual release from Buffalo Trace Distillery. Most often, it is sold out before you can say “bourbon”. Luckily, there are enough good whiskey bars in the world now where you can try this liquid, which is drenched in cherry, vanilla, caramel, sweet oak, toffee, ample spiciness, maple, tree sap, red vermouth notes, maraschino notes. I could literally go on forever, it is that good. 

Phil Dwyer

Having worked in whisky retail for a decade, and running Whisky Wednesday on YouTube for nearly as long, Phil has always wanted to learn, talk and tell everyone as much about whisky as he can.

Whisky can be overly complicated at times. Phil wants to end that. Brands have pushed far too much jargon into the drinking atmosphere; it's difficult to breathe when whisky is mentioned at times.

Phil also manages The Whisky Shop Manchester stocking some of the best drams on the market.

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