I’ve reviewed endless bottles of bourbon around here, so it was only a matter of time before I came up with my own personal list of some of the best bourbons to drink in 2023. Bottoms up.
As Brostrick’s official bourbon taste-tester, I’ve purchased, tested, researched, and personally reviewed over 80 different bottles of some of the most sought-after bourbons on the market. Some are obscure, some are extremely high-end (valued at over $5,000), and many are on the cheaper side of things (valued at $50 and under).
Based on all of my personal reviews and even including some tried-and-true bourbon brands, below are the top picks for quick and easy access for you. Below all of that you’ll find some more detailed reviews with links to more in-depth reviews based on each bottle.
WHY TRUST MY BOURBON PICKS
So why should you trust this list of bourbons or even me for that matter? Well, every single bourbon that made the list was purchased by me – nothing was given to me in exchange for a review. If it made the list, I stand by it.
Here at Brostrick, my first bourbon review was published all the way back in 2014. At last count I’ve reviewed more than 80 bottles from the comfort of my own home for at least one hour (at least). Quick math…I’ve spent more than 80 hours coming up with this list.
Every bottle I’m recommending I’ve tried myself and was written by me – a real person, not a robot! I also do my best to provide you with multiple online retailers where you can order these bourbons in hopes of helping you find the lowest price because – let’s face it – it can get expensive.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BOURBON vs. WHISKEY
Sometimes there’s a bit of confusion between bourbon and whiskey, so if you’re a newbie (welcome!) here’s a quick overview on what bourbon actually is and what the difference is between the two.
Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is made from corn. It’s actually named after Bourbon County in Kentucky, where it was first produced. And if you think it’s been around forever, it pretty much has since it was first made in18th century and is now produced in many parts of the United States, not just Kentucky.
Bourbon is generally aged for at least two years in new oak barrels. The barrels are typically made from American white oak, which imparts flavor to the whiskey. And, overall it has a distinctively sweet flavor, with common notes of vanilla and caramel. You can sip it neat, or on the rocks, but tt can also be used in cocktails, such as the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned.
There are many different types of whiskey, but bourbon and whiskey are two of the most popular. Both are made from grain, but bourbon is made with at least 51% corn, while whiskey can be made with any type of grain. Bourbon is also required to be aged in new oak barrels, while whiskey can be aged in used barrels. This gives bourbon a sweeter flavor, while whiskey often has a smokier taste. Bourbon is also typically smoother than whiskey.
THE BEST PLACES TO BUY BOURBON ONLINE
As long as you’re of legal drinking age (hello 21) there are plenty of places you can buy online. The one issue may be depending on which state you currently reside in. Due to various laws based on each state you may or may not be able to buy on every online retailer. The most reputable ones we regularly buy from include:
THE BEST BOURBONS THIS YEAR
Barrell Bourbon Batch 031
Overview: Barrell Bourbon Batch 31 made the list as our favorite of the year for a variety of reasons. First, it’s the perfect sipping bourbon and at a price-point that makes it, overall, attainable. While you can certainly drink it all throughout the year, we enjoy the right bourbon in the cooler months of the fall heading into the early winter. And this one fits the bill for that based on flavors and notes.
Notes: When looking at its notes, we definitely get a dry, notable oak, and traditional sweet (not too sweet) autumnal flavors like brown butter, apple pie and sweet cream.
Pros: As with all the bourbons in their, Batch 31 is made using a unique blend of barrels that are hand-selected by the master distiller. This batch has a bit more of a rye flavor profile than some of the previous batches, which most fans of the brand enjoy. Their bourbon is aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years. This allows the bourbon to develop a unique flavor profile that is perfect for sipping neat or on the rocks.
Cons: Some may find the bottle a bit on the expensive side, finding it for a minimum of $85 and a max of around $92.
Bottom Line: Regardless of the time of year, this is an excellent option at a decent price and makes the perfect gift for the bourbon lover in your life too.
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year
Overview: It is that time of year, depending on what state you live in, to be on the look-out for the Fall Pappy Van Winkle release. The Pappy label is distilled at Buffalo Trace but is still created by the Van Winkle family, currently Julian Van Winkle III.
I was able to get my hands on a 2014 Family Reserve 20 Years Old bottle! There are varying estimates of how many bottles are released a year but it is probably around 20,000 to 25,000 bottles; this unfortunately makes it very difficult to track down these days. Bummer.
Notes: The nose is spicy and sweet with a fruit punch. The taste is remarkably smooth and rich, it covers the mouth and tongue like no other bourbon. The citrus, vanilla and fruit notes are perfectly balanced. The finish is long and again smooth with a peppery sweetness.
Pros: Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year is one of the most sought-after bourbons on the market. And for good reason – it’s absolutely delicious. Most also love the blend – corn, rye, and wheat, and it’s aged for 20 years in charred oak barrels. The result is a smooth, rich, and complex bourbon that is simply unparalleled.
Cons: Of course, the price is through the roof – but if you can do it, do it! Another con is that it really is hard to come by due to the lack of bottles and increased popularity/obsession over the past few years.
Bottom Line: If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year, enjoy it neat or on the rocks. You won’t be disappointed.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
Overview: The Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is aged for 12 years and bottled without chill filtering – straight from the barrel. That unique bottling processes leads to the strong 140.2 proof and ultimately defines it as a Barrel Proof bourbon.
Notes: The nose is woody with up front carmel and fruit notes. The taste is a pleasant balance of wood and carmel with overtones of vanilla sweetness. The finish is warm, spicy and long with the oak coming through again.
Pros: Of course a major “pro” is the affordable price. Don’t let the price fool you, however, because this really is an amazing bourbon – even at a discounted price. The whiskey is aged in new, charred oak barrels and bottled at cask strength. Most also will appreciate the deep amber color and a rich, complex flavor.
Cons: Some may want to add water to it in order to help bring the proof down a bit.
Bottom Line: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is perfect for sipping neat or on the rocks. It also makes an excellent addition to a variety of cocktails. If you’re looking for a bourbon that packs a punch, this one is the perfect one for you.
Maker's Mark Bourbon Whiskey
Overview: Maker’s Mark is one of the most recognizable bourbon whiskey brands on the market and distilled in Loretto, Kentucky. The distillery was founded in 1954 by Bill Samuels Sr., and his son Rob Samuels currently runs the company. Everyone really knows Maker’s Mark for its distinctive red wax seal on the bottle.
Notes: One of the most common notes is the caramel notes that are pretty much present from start to finish, providing a rich sweetness that’s balanced out by the other flavors. Additional flavors include vanilla that’s most noticeable in the finish, but it’s also present throughout the drink. The oak gives it a slightly woody flavor and the cinnamon is present in the background and adds a bit of warmth at the finish.
Pros: The distillery uses a sour mash process, in which fermented mash from a previous batch of whiskey is mixed with fresh mash to create each new batch. This process gives Maker’s Mark its unique flavor profile. It’s also aged for six years in American white oak barrels before bottling. The barrels are stored in a warehouse that is climate-controlled to maintain a consistent temperature and humidity level.
Cons: Some may consider Maker’s Mark as “too much hype” or even too middle shelf, but for the price it can totally work and makes a great mixer for things like Old Fashioned’s and other cocktails.
Bottom Line: There are several different ways to enjoy Maker’s Mark like neat, on the rocks, or with a mixer. All really are options. But no matter how you choose to drink it, there are certain flavor notes that will always be present from start to finish and prefect for the newbie to the seasoned drinker.
Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength
Overview: Bulleit makes a solid bourbon so was intrigued when I ran across their new barrel strength product. This bottle is from Batch No. 2 and is bottled at 119 proof. It packs some hot heat with that high alcohol level and 28% Rye mash bill, but rounds itself out with a smooth taste.
Notes: The nose is heavy with spice and caramel once you let it air-out a bit. The taste is full of spice and alcohol but a surprisingly smooth finish when the spiciness dissipates.
Pros: For Bulleit, this one really is a premium bourbon that is aged in charred oak barrels. This process gives the bourbon its unique flavor and amber color. The barrels are then hand-selected to create a small batch of this limited edition. You can typically enjoy it neat or on the rocks.
Cons: Some big bourbon drinkers may consider Bulleit too run of the mill or mainstream.
Bottom Line: If you like Bulleit overall and want to kick things up a notch, their single barrel strength is one of the best especially for the price, which is pretty doable too.
Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon
Overview: Blanton’s Single Barrel bourbon is one of the most iconic American whiskeys. First released in 1984, it was the first single barrel bourbon on the market and remains one of the most popular to this day.
Notes: The nose on this bourbon is sweet and corny. The taste is is sweet with some woody spiciness that balance out the sweetness perfectly. The finish is smooth and long with a little dry heat at the end.
Pros: There are many things that make Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon unique. One is the fact that it is made using a special strain of yeast that was developed by Dr. James C. Blanton, the man who founded the Blanton’s brand. This yeast produces a unique flavor profile that is often described as being “fruity” and “spicy.”
Another thing that makes it unique is the fact that it is aged in new, charred oak barrels. This gives the bourbon its signature amber color and also contributes to its unique flavor profile.
Cons: Some feel like for an “every day” bourbon, this can be on the pricer side, especially for such a small (ish) bottle.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking to impress someone special or just want a night to yourself, this one is the perfect choice.
Four Roses Bourbon
Overview: Four Roses bourbon is made using a unique process that involves combining two types of mash bills, or recipes, to create ten different bourbon recipes. The bourbons are then aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of five years.
Notes: This one is pretty straight-forward with a wide range of delicious flavors, including vanilla, oak and fruit.
Pros: Four Roses is one of the few bourbon brands that is still produced in small batches. This allows the distillery to maintain a high level of quality control and ensure that each batch of bourbon meets the highest standards. Another pro is that it really makes the perfect gift or the must-have to mix with a variety of cocktails for that upcoming party you’ve been planning
Cons: Some major bourbon drinkers may find this one geared to “beginners” more so and not “true” bourbon aficionados.
Bottom Line: You don’t have to spend a ton to get a really decent bourbon and, at the same time, you don’t want to necessarily use your most expensive to mix drinks, so give Four Roses a go when you have some friends over.
Michter’s 10 Year Bourbon
Overview: Michter’s off the shelf, rye, bourbon, sour mash and whiskey are all excellent, but add 10 years of age and you get a superior product. The 10 Year Bourbon comes in limited quantities from a single barrel that is fire charred new American white oak.
Notes: The nose has a pleasant vanilla quality to it. The taste is caramel and vanilla with some nice smokiness. The finish is smooth and quick with a little lingering smoke and spice.
Pros: Michter’s 10 Year Bourbon is a small batch, single barrel bourbon that has been aged for a minimum of ten years. This bourbon is made in very limited quantities each year, making it a highly sought-after spirit.
Cons: Of course, many are going to feel like this is too expensive or not worth it, but we really loved every last drop.
Bottom Line: Splurge on this one if you can. Hey, it’s not as expensive as just about anything from Pappy Van Winkle so it’s almost like you’re saving money?