The Absolute Best Bourbon Of 2021

Smooth and refined, the absolute best bourbon can be worth its price in gold without costing a fortune. A type of whiskey, bourbon is made primarily from corn, or more precisely from grain or mash composed of at least 51% corn. It's this ingredient that gives bourbon its sweet flavor. In addition, unlike whiskey, which can be aged in recycled barrels, bourbon is matured in new charred oak barrels. And while 95% of bourbon is produced in Kentucky, the amber liquor can be distilled anywhere in the U.S. without losing its bourbon status (via American Bourbon Association).

While most bourbons are crafted from corn and other grain such as rye, wheat, and malted barley, it takes a great deal of expertise and flair to transform these ingredients into a top-shelf tipple. While many bourbon aficionados choose to enjoy their pour neat, on the rocks, or with a splash of water, others use the amber liquor to add a pop of flavor to favorites such as mint juleps and Manhattans. Whatever your jam, here is a list of the best bourbon of 2021, from the affordable to the extravagant. The prices for these spirits can jump from one day to the next, so take these dollar figures with a grain of salt. 

1. Maker's Mark 46

When it comes to incredible value for money, Maker's Mark 46 has you covered. At around $40 a bottle, the creamy elixir is made with wheat instead of rye, resulting in a smoother and softer profile. This said, Maker's Mark 46 is no pushover — the 94 proof bourbon delivers bold hints of cinnamon and complex notes of caramel and vanilla. The nose, meanwhile, exudes classic Maker's caramel and sweetness with an added twist of toffee and spicy cinnamon.

Released in 2010, Maker's Mark 46 is the first bourbon in the distillery's wood-finishing series. In fact, Maker's Mark website refers to the golden elixir as "the first new major expression" since the distillery produced its first bourbon in 1953. The brainchild of sixth-generation distiller Bill Samuels, Jr. and Master Distiller Kevin Smith, Maker's Mark 46 features a unique finishing process. Once the bourbon is fully matured, French oak staves are placed in the barrels for additional nine weeks to bring out the sip's oaky flavor profile.

2. Noah's Mill Bourbon Whiskey

The quintessential craft bourbon, Noah's Mill belongs to the Willett Distillery range of bourbons. Also called Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, the family-operated operation was founded in 1936, just three years after the end of the prohibition. Noah's Mill was released sometime in the 1990s (the Willett family has chosen not to disclose the exact date) and originally came with a 15-year age statement (via Willett Distillery). This has since been removed, but the word among experts is that the blend is aged anywhere between 4 and 15 years.

Distilled and bottled in small batches in Bardstown, Kentucky, commonly known as the "Bourbon Capital of the World," the boutique 114.3 proof sipper exudes walnut, prune, and floral notes, which are perfectly mimicked by its palate. Noah's Mill features a long and hot finish, making the pour ideal for cold, winter evenings, and is around $50 a bottle.

Produced with the care afforded to small-batch boutique bourbons, Noah's Mill comes in what looks more like a wine than a bourbon bottle. The old-fashioned — hand-drawn style — label follows the bourbon's down-to-earth vibe. And while the label refers to Noah's Mill as "genuine bourbon whiskey," in reality the drop is classed as straight bourbon.

3. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

As its name so aptly suggests, what makes Double Oaked Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey unique is its two-barrel maturation process that extracts the sip's "soft, sweet oak character." The result is a rich 90.4 proof blend of fruit, caramel, apple, hazelnut, and spices with a lingering finish that emphasizes the flavor of honeyed apple. Bourbon enthusiasts can find out more about this particular Woodford Reserve gem on the distillery's website where every boozy offering features its own Flavor Wheel that showcases its tasting notes. A bottle of this bourbon will set you back around $60.

Aside from its top sips, Woodford Reserve's other claim to fame is its sponsorship of the Kentucky Derby, a project the distillery has been involved in since 2017. In fact, the distillery has paid homage to what is the longest continuously held sporting event in the U.S. with the release of its 2021 commemorative Derby bottle. The pour's striking label features a watercolor by a Louisville resident artist Richard Sullivan.

4. Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey

True to its name, Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey is aged in individual American white oak barrels, ensuring that each batch of the amber liquor is slightly different from the others. The non-chill filtered Wild Turkey bourbon is bottled at 110 proof, guaranteeing a robust sip that hits the right notes. The rich nose predicts the offering's full-bodied palate with upfront tones of "big oak and rich caramel" that perfectly complement Russell's Reserve's signature flavors of toffee and vanilla. At $60 a bottle, Russell's Reserve bourbon doesn't come with an age statement, but each barrel is said to be aged between 8 and 10 years.

Wild Turkey's Russell's Reserve line was created in 1998 by master distiller Eddie Russell in honor of his father Jimmy Russell's 45 years with the brand. "In 1954, my father started there. Back then, Bill [Hughes who got the distillery back on track after the prohibition] was still around, a very old man. He took my father under his wing and taught him how to make Wild Turkey," Eddie told The Flaviar Times in an interview.

5. Four Roses Small Batch Select

What makes Four Roses stand out from the Kentucky bourbon pack, and contributes to its status as one of the best bourbons of 2021, is its unique production process. Each of the distillery's pours is a blend of distinct bourbon recipes (there are 10 in total), which are produced from two mash bills and five yeast strains. The recipes are carefully mixed to achieve different flavor profiles.

Small Batch Select is a 104 proof, non-chill filtered bourbon crafted from a blend of six bourbon recipes that have been aged at least six years. The recipes have been designated with their own particular codes: OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK, and OESF. This particular blend accentuates notes of delicate fruit, rye, baking spice, caramel, mint, and herbs. The pour has been hugely successful, winning numerous accolades including 2021 Very Good, Strong Recommendation with 87 points by Unlimited Spirits Challenge and the gold medal at the 2020 Denver International Spirits Competition.

Trademarked in 1888 by Paul Jones Jnr., The Four Roses brand underwent significant changes in 2015 following a $55-million investment and change of the Master Distiller from Jim Rutledge to Brent Elliott. Nevertheless, the distillery has remained true to its legacy, as exemplified by its Spanish Mission-inspired architecture (via Whiskey Bon). Bottles average around $60. 

6. Black Bourbon Society's Maker's Mark Private Selection: Recipe 2

A collaboration between the Black Bourbon Society and the Maker's Mark Private Selection program, this sip has been deemed the best bourbon in the world at the 2021 annual International Whisky Competition where it also received the accolade of the best American whiskey (via Cision PR Newswire). Dating back to 2015, the brand's Private Selection Program lets participants craft their own pour by selecting a combination of finishing staves that are placed in a barrel to create one of 1,001 stave combinations.

Crafted to celebrate Black Bourbon Society's fifth anniversary, the award-winning liquor features "1 Baked American Pure 2 stave, 2 Seared French Cuvee staves, 2 Maker's Mark 46 staves, 3 Roasted French Mendiant staves, and 2 Toasted French Spice staves" (via Spirited Zine). Earlier this year, The Black Bourbon Society and Maker's Mark partnered with the Spirits Network to launch Barrel Select. The program, which premiered on May 20, documents the creative process behind Maker's Mark Private Selection: Recipe 2. The price for this bottle is around 70 bucks.

7. Knob Creek 12 Year Old Small Batch Bourbon

Billing itself as "an honest pre-prohibition style bourbon," this 100 proof, full-bodied and nuanced bourbon is made by none other than Jim Beam. Knob Creek 12 Year, which was released in 2020, is one of the few bourbon offerings of that age that can be found for under $100 (it's $70). The small-batch bourbon has been rated more generously than its cousin Knob Creek 9 Year bourbon. Said to be a more elegant whiskey than its nine-year-old counterpart, the pour builds on the Jim Beam experience with notes of vanilla, fruit, tobacco, chocolate, and toasted sugar (via The Whiskey Shelf).

This Knob Creek bourbon's transparency goes against the recent trend of not displaying age statements on bottles, putting the 12 right on the label. The trend has been a direct result of a recent spike in interest in bourbon. When the supply couldn't keep up with the demand, many brands dropped age statements from their products, supplementing batches with younger drops (via Gear Patrol).

8. W.L. Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey

Made by Buffalo Trace, W.L. Weller 12 Year Old Whiskey is a wheated bourbon with a light and moderately sweet profile that highlights the flavors of toffee, caramel, and cherry (via Whiskey Bon). The aromas of almonds, lanolin, corn, and vanilla with a smooth and oaky finish complement the pour's wheated flavor (via Buffalo Trace). Representing some of the world's absolute best bourbon, the W.L. Weller bourbon line is named in honor of the industry pioneer said to have been the first to produce wheated bourbon in 1849.

Billing itself as "the oldest continuously operating distillery in the US," Buffalo Trace remained open to make whiskey for "medicinal purposes" during the prohibition. According to Whiskey Bon, the original Buffalo Trace distillery was constructed in 1812. The same website claims that the distillery also built the first climate-controlled warehouse for whisky production in the U.S. Whatever the real story, Buffalo Trace gets its name from its location in Kentucky's capital of Frankfort, which is said to have been settled by explorers who followed an old buffalo trail (via Buffalo Trace). It's not a particularly cheap bottle and seems to jump in price from $200 to well over $300. 

9. W.L. Weller C.Y.P.B.

What makes W.L. Weller C.Y.P.B. stand out from the absolute best bourbon pack are its origins. In 2015, the Buffalo Trace Distillery embarked on an endeavor called "Craft Your Perfect Bourbon," or C.Y.P.B, asking whisky aficionados to pick their "ideal bourbon recipe, proof, warehouse location, and age." More than 100,200 bourbon lovers heeded the call and W.L. Weller C.Y.P.B. was born. The limited-edition pour is a wheated bourbon aged eight years and bottled at 95 proof (via Buffalo Trace Distillery).

It turns out that bourbon fans know their stuff. With sweet aromas of citrus and oak, and a well-balanced palate with hints of vanilla, the wheated recipe has been a hit with both novice and professional bourbon enthusiasts. A clear $700 and climbing crowd-pleaser, W.L. Weller C.Y.P.B has won numerous accolades. The pour was named "Best Kentucky Bourbon" at the 2021 American World Whiskies Awards (via Lane Report). W.L. Weller C.Y.P.B. also received the accolade of "World's Best Bourbon" at the 2021 World Whiskies Awards (via Forbes).

10. Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20 Year

Highly sought after, Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve label might just be the most elusive bourbon on the market. In fact, the tipple is so hard to find that the Van Winkle family has written an open letter explaining some of the reasons that have led to the drop's scarcity. "First, the whiskey is very good. When something is good, you naturally tell others about it. Word of mouth is priceless," the letter states.

"In the early nineties we received a very high rating from the Chicago Beverage Testing Institute. That led to receiving many awards from tasting competitions by beverage magazines both here and abroad. Even celebrity chefs have touted our whiskey as being their favorite. That type of advertising is something we could never afford, but it has certainly contributed to our brand becoming a cult phenomenon," the letter continues.

Produced by Buffalo Trace, Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 20 Year is a true masterpiece that showcases a rainbow of flavors including notes of citrus zest and sherry, as well as dried fruit and vanilla. The 90.4 proof bourbon has received a 99 out of 100 rating from the World Spirits Championship, making it the world's number one bourbon whisky (via Buffalo Trace). As for how much a bottle of this stuff will set you back, let's just say it can go at auction for an easy $2,500. 

11. Michter's Celebration Sour Mash 2019

Michter's Celebration Sour Mash 2019 ticks all the right boxes in the absolute best bourbon department. At an average price of $5,000 per bottle, it's also one of the world's most expensive bourbons. With only 277 bottles ever released, the elegant blend is the first offering from Dan McKee as Master Distiller at Michter's in collaboration with Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson. Nevertheless, it's not the first offering in the Celebration Sour Mash label. Michter's, which started distilling whisky way back in 1753, had two prior Celebration Sour Mash releases — one in 2013 and one in 2016 (via Vinepair).

There is absolutely no doubt why Michter's Celebration South Mash is considered to be one of the best bourbons of 2021. The 115.6 proof bourbon has been blended from six "extraordinary" barrels — two straight bourbons and four straight ryes — each aged in fire-charred American white oak barrels from over a decade to 30-plus years. Smooth and delicious, Michter's Celebration Sour Mash 2019 showcases a harmony of flavors including truffle, dark chocolate, and a hint of spice. Hand bottled, the final product comes with an 18-karat gold lettering on its label for extra fancy appeal (via Bourbon Blog).

12. Penelope Bourbon Rosé Cask Finish Batch 2

If you're an individual that enjoys bourbon, rosé wine, and dessert, then Penelope Bourbon's Rosé Cask Finish: Batch 2, is for you. This fruity spirit is created by blending three mash bills made of corn, wheat, barley, and rye. It's finished in hand-selected French Grenache rosé wine casks (via Penelope Bourbon). This is a highly unorthodox way to finish a bourbon, as reported by The Whiskey Wash, because rosé-finished bourbon has not been attempted by many distillers.

Penelope Rosé Cask Finish has an aroma similar to candied fruit, honey, and vanilla, a flavor that hints of vanilla and white peppercorn, as reported by Breaking Bourbon. Since Batch 2 is finished in rosé barrels reused from Batch 1, it doesn't have quite as strong of a rosé flavor, though it is still noticeable.

13. Kentucky Owl The Wiseman

The Wiseman is named after a catchphrase for the historical Kentucky Owl distillery: "A wise man's whiskey." This bourbon from the reopened Kentucky Owl is a wise choice for price-conscious bourbon drinkers who want all the flavor but at an affordable price (via The Whiskey Wash).

Kentucky Owl normally produces spirits that are on the pricier side, with bottles that can sell for up to $1,000 or more. That's why The Whiskey Reviewer's reported $60.00 price tag (give or take a little) makes The Wiseman an even more desirable whiskey.

Another notable point is that this spirit is the collaboration between two distilleries: Bardstown Bourbon Company and Kentucky Owl. The Whiskey Reviewer reports that The Wiseman is a blend of four Kentucky straight bourbons (two younger and two more mature). The Wiseman is 90.8 proof and has a dull butternut hue. Bourbon Obsessed reports that this bourbon has an aroma of caramel, baking spices — think warm, Christmas-y spices — dark stone fruits, and cherry Kool-Aid. The taste hints at caramel and apple juice. It ends with tannic, warm spices and a mild black pepper finish.

14. Blood Oath Pact No. 7

If you want to feel like you're part of the executive club of bourbonites (sans membership and jackets), then Blood Oath's Pact No. 7 is your spirit of choice. The brainchild of Lux Row Master Distiller Jon Rempe, this modestly priced bourbon costs around $100 per bottle, and is a blend of a 14-year, extra-aged ryed bourbon, an eight-year ryed bourbon, and a third eight-year ryed bourbon. Rempe coined the name "Blood Oath" because he "vows to be the only one who knows where these whiskeys have come from" (via Distillery Trail).

One unique quality of Pact No. 7 is that it's finished in Sauternes wine casks from the Bordeaux region of France. The grapes that are used in Sauternes wine are affected with noble rot, which creates an incredibly concentrated and sweet juice, according to The Whiskey Wash. One Reddit user says that this copper-colored bourbon has a mellow and sweet finish that is reminiscent of bananas Foster.

It comes in at 98.6 proof, which just happens to be the normal human body temperature. That makes perfect sense because, well, this bourbon is called Blood Oath, right?

15. Limestone Branch Yellowstone 2021 Limited Edition Bourbon

If you're at all familiar with bourbon — or alcohol in general — then you might recognize the last name of the man who has brought forth Limestone Branch's Yellowstone 2021 Limited Edition Bourbon: Stephen Beam. He's a descendent of the famous Jim Beam. Back in 2011, the Beam brothers (Stephen and Paul) created Limestone Branch Distillery. The Whiskey Wash reports that just four years later, the brothers purchased the rights to the Yellowstone brand name and began releasing yearly limited-edition bourbons under that label.

The 2021 Yellowstone Limited Edition is 101 proof (50.5% ABV), and costs around $100 per standard 750mL bottle. It's made of a blend of seven-year and 15-year-old Kentucky bourbons. Part of that boozy union is a seven-year-old bourbon that has been finished in Amarone wine casks. Truly Experiences writes that Amarone is a full-bodied, highly potent, and highly expensive wine with a lengthy fermentation and aging process (a minimum of two years). The bourbon that is finished in these casks ends up with an almost orange hue and takes on elements of freshly cracked black pepper and tobacco, according to Limestone Branch Distillers. If you like Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream, then this bourbon might subtly remind you of it. Bourbon and ice cream, anyone?

16. Ezra Brooks 99 Bourbon

If you're a history buff with a palate that swings more towards simplicity, smoothness, and balance, then Ezra Brooks 99 Bourbon might be your spirit of choice. This bourbon is considered a straight bourbon whiskey. This means that by law, it has to be aged a minimum of two years (via New Riff Distilling).

Ezra Brooks 99 Proof (alias Ezra 99) operates under Lux Row Distillers (who also produce Blood Oath Pact No.7). But why is it good for history buffs? The bottles that house this potent spirit have raised lettering on them, which is done with a technique called pyroglazing (via The Whiskey Wash). Distillery Trail explains that the bottle's dimensional lettering is a historical — and increasingly popular — throwback to bourbon bottles from the late 1800s.

Ezra 99 is incredibly affordable, with The Whiskey Advocate putting it at less than $30 a bottle, and Reddit users report that it smells like honey roasted peanuts and caramel. Even though it's 99 proof (i.e., it burns), it has a warm mouthfeel and an almost maple-y, brown sugar taste.

17. Heaven's Door Redbreast Master Blenders' Edition 10 Years Old

What could be better than a bourbon that's finished in wine barrels? How about a bourbon that's finished in barrels that previously held Irish whiskey? Can it get even better? Yes. Yes, it can. Because the Master Blenders Edition by Heaven's Door Spirits and Redbreast Irish Whiskey is not only the first-ever collaboration of its kind for both distilleries, but Heaven's Door Spirits is co-owned by none other than Nobel prize-winning musician Bob Dylan (via Drink Hacker).

This 100 proof 10-year-old low-rye bourbon is sourced from Tennessee and finished in a 12-year-old Irish Whiskey cask for 15 months. One bottle will set you back around $135. This toffee-colored spirit smells like bitter cocoa, cinnamon, and peanut butter, reports The Whiskey Wash. It starts off spicy but has elements of oatmeal raisin cookies, white chocolate, and caramel. If you're a little wary about celebrity-owned companies — especially ones that delve into the wonderful world of alcohol — just know that in the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, this spirit was given a double gold (via Rolling Stone). According to the San Francisco World Spirits Competition website, this is only awarded to products of the highest caliber. Sounds like this is a spirit that will (metaphorically) send you knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door.