15 Best Bourbons For Beginners Ranked

Ah, bourbon. The traditional American style whiskey that is at least 51% corn mash, aged in new charred oak barrels, and boasts a deep color and slightly sweet flavor. It is a unique and delicious style of whiskey but can be intimidating to those who are just starting out. If that is you, don't worry, we have you covered. For those looking to break into the world of bourbon, we have compiled a list of the top 15 best bourbons for beginners. These approachable whiskeys not only taste great on their own or mixed with your favorite mixer, but they should be able to be purchased for under $100. There is no reason to shell out for more expensive bourbon until you can really appreciate it.

With this list, you will not only feel confident in the bourbon aisle or ordering at your favorite bar, but you are sure to impress anyone with your knowledge and drink selection.

15. Wild Turkey

As introductory bourbons go, Wild Turkey has a lot going for it. For starters, it is cheap at under $25.00 a bottle as of 2022. It also offers a moderate 81 proof and is readily available around the United States. Initially founded in 1885 as a wine and spirits store, Wild Turkey has been in the bourbon game for a long time. Like all bourbon, Wild Turkey is aged in new oak barrels. In addition, the company uses American White Oak which has been heavily charred. The resulting bourbon has hints of vanilla and is intensely oaky.

Wild Turkey isn't a bad bourbon. Breaking Bourbon points out that the Rye in the mash pops through at the finish, giving spicy notes. It can be drunk straight or used as a mixer. Overall it is an excellent, affordable introductory bourbon. Additionally, the company offers several small batch and age statement bourbons, allowing the drinker to expand their palate. Appropriately, the higher proof Wild Turkey 101 was Drizly's 15th best-selling bourbon of 2021, according to Fred Minnick, so we stand by its placement on our list.

14. Four Roses Small Batch

The price point on Four Roses Small Batch is more than that of Wild Turkey but at 90 proof, at least you know you are getting more alcohol for the money. Plus, if you ask us, you are getting a slightly better whiskey.

Four Roses offer several bourbon options. And while they do provide a lower-priced bourbon, we feel the Small Batch is an excellent starting point. By upgrading from their basic Four Roses Bourbon to the Four Roses Small Batch, you are getting a bourbon that lends itself to drinking straight rather than just mixing. While we do love a good cocktail, we appreciate a bourbon that can be enjoyed in all its unadulterated glory.

Four Roses Small Batch is aged for six to seven years and offers fruity and slightly spicy notes. Reviewers at Total Wine generally like it, commenting that it is an excellent mid-priced bourbon. Plus, if you want to kick it up a notch, you can upgrade to Four Roses Small Batch Select, which was one of our favorite bourbons for 2021.

13. Knob Creek 9 Year Bourbon

Be forewarned, this bourbon packs a heck of a punch at 100 proof. At a nine-year aging period and 100 proof, Knob Creek is older and stronger than other standard bourbons. In addition, it comes reasonably priced, making it an excellent bang for the buck.

The company strives for a flavor that resembles a pre-prohibition era bourbon, which gives Knob Creek 9 Year a sweet and rich taste with hints of vanilla and caramel, as well as the typical oaky flavor of bourbon. Knob Creek is owned by whiskey giant Jim Beam and is a part of their small-batch collection, giving a bit more of a high-end feel and taste than Jim Beam.

Knob Creek is a solid bourbon for beginners, with some commenters on the company's website stating they like it better than some of their previous longtime favorites. While you may want to be careful with this high proof bourbon, you can't go wrong with this pour.

12. 1792 Bourbon

1792 Bourbon takes its name from the year Kentucky was made a state. Another small batch style bourbon, 1792 comes with a twist. While all bourbon is required to be 51% corn mash, the other 49% can be any combination of grains such as rye, barley, or wheat. 1792 Bourbon opted to use their High Rye, a line of bourbon with a more significant percentage of rye grain in it, as the base. The resulting bourbon offers the peppery and spicy rye flavor with the sweet caramel notes of a corn bourbon.

In addition to the peppery notes, 1792 Bourbon features a solid 93.7 proof and comes with a long finish that lingers on the tongue. The high rye content might make it more difficult for a traditional bourbon lover to fall in love with, but it makes it an excellent bourbon to add to any beginner's repertoire. With a 4.5 out of 5 rating on around 400 reviews on Total Wine, this bourbon is a crowd pleaser.

11. Michter's US 1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Though located in Kentucky now, Mitcher's history takes it back to early American whiskey roots in Pennsylvania. The company that now is called Michter's was founded in 1753 in Schaefferstown, where it produced rye whiskey primarily. After many acquisitions, name changes, the institution and repeal of prohibition, bankruptcy, and, finally, a resurrection, Mitcher's now owns and operates three locations in Kentucky and is churning out some quality Bourbon.

Michter's US 1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a small batch in the truest sense. The holding tank used for blending the bourbon whiskey only allows for twenty barrels of bourbon to be incorporated at a time. The resulting bourbon is earthy and mellow. While it offers a bit of smokey flavor, it is not as spicy as some of the other bourbons on this list, making it good to ease in a novice bourbon drinker.

10. Bulleit Bourbon

Bulleit is a classic and, as Fred Minnick noted, Drizly's top-selling bourbon in 2021. We would be remiss if Bulleit Bourbon didn't make it into our top 10. With a typical bottle coming in at under $30 and a 4.8 rating on Drizly, Bulleit is a solid choice for anyone branching into the world of bourbons.

Bulleit Bourbon is based on a 150-year-old family recipe. In addition to corn and barley in their mash, Bulleit Bourbon makes good use of rye, using a 28% rye mash. This higher percentage of rye gives it a spicy, bold flavor with notes of nutmeg, as well as sweeter notes such as maple and toffee. The bottle has a vintage feel, with "Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey" pressed into the glass and an old-timey label wrapping around each bottle. Bulleit Bourbon is suitable for drinking straight or mixing. No wonder it has become a top-selling bourbon.

9. Basil Hayden

Basil Hayden is another one of the small-batch lines from parent company Jim Beam. As Liquor.com points out, Basil Hayden is the perfect introductory bourbon. The bottle comes in at a moderate 80 proof, making it potent but not overwhelmingly alcoholic. The mash contains a high rye content, giving it a spicy note. Basil Hayden is aged in lightly charred oak barrels, making smokey oak notes that are not overwhelming.

The flavor overall is quite mellow. While this likely isn't the bourbon for experienced bourbon drinkers, as some might argue the "mellow" factor makes it dull, we feel Basil Hayden provides a nice light flavor that is good for sipping or mixing. The light flavor and lower alcohol content make it versatile and an accessible introduction to new bourbon drinkers. Sure there are cheaper bourbons out there with a more robust flavor, but these are more likely to startle off potential future bourbon lovers. If you want an easy bourbon, Basil Hayden is the one for you.

8. Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace Distillery is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America. Operating for over 200 years, the company has had some time to work at making and perfecting their whiskey craft, and that they have.

The company offers a selection of bourbons under its umbrella, but we recommended their flagship, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon, for those just getting started. The bourbon and company got its name from the wild buffalo that roamed free in early America. This freedom of spirit helped inspire this whiskey. Buffalo Trace is a deep amber color, with notes of mint and molasses. It has a sweet opening pallet but a long, robust finish. A bottle tends to run under $30, offers 90 proof, and is said to be aged for at least nine years. For the price, this is an excellent bottle. And for those who are new to bourbon and want a bourbon that is packed with flavor, this is an excellent option.

7. Eagle Rare

You loved Buffalo Trace Bourbon (we knew you would) but now you want to step it up a notch? You got it. Eagle Rare also comes from the Buffalo Trace company but is a step up from the company's flagship bourbon.

Eagle Rare comes from a collection that offers three different ages: a 17-year statement, a 20-year statement known as Double Eagle Very Rare, and their basic Eagle Rare. For those just starting out in the world of bourbon, the Eagle Rare provides an excellent entrance, with room to grow as you develop a pallet for higher age statement bourbons. Eagle Rare is aged for at least ten years. It offers notes of orange peel and leather, with tastes of cocoa. While the bottle comes in a smidge higher in price than the basic Buffalo Trace, it is still reasonably priced and allows a new bourbon drinker to enter at a slightly higher quality.

6. Jefferson's Very Small Batch

Unlike other companies on the list that either produce or mix their bourbons at their own standalone distillery, Jefferson's does things a bit more communally. Jefferson's bourbon is made by the Kentucky Artisan Distillery, a contract distillery and bottler that works with a number of bourbon and liquor brands. Jefferson's offers a wide range of products in their line, but for those who are just finding their palate in the land of bourbon, Jefferson's Very Small Batch is the place to start.

The Jefferson's Very Small Batch bourbon is a unique blend of their Jefferson's Bourbon and three additional bourbons. The bourbons are all from different ages and mashes, making for an interesting combination that varies from batch to batch. Commenters on their website have noted that it is an excellent bourbon for sipping and the company themselves promotes the bourbon as an excellent bourbon for people breaking into the premium bourbon market. With citrus, peach, and honey notes, this unique bourbon is sure to delight.

5. Russell's Reserve 10 year

Next on our list is a ten year aged bourbon from Russell's Reserve. Owned by the same company as Wild Turkey, Campari America, Russell's Reserve and Wild Turkey both find their way onto our list of best bourbons for beginners. The two offer some similarities: they are both aged in heavily charred oak barrels and both share the devotion of father and son pair Jimmy and Eddie Russell. Following in his dad's footsteps, Eddie Russell started with Wild Turkey back in the 1980s. Eddie created the first batch of Russell's Reserve Bourbon to honor his father's legacy at the company.

When it first appeared on shelves in 2001, it was a hefty 101 proof liquor; since then, it has come down to the pleasant 90 proof that graces shelves today. Russell's Reserve 10 year is smooth, with tastes of vanilla and toffee and hints of citrus. It won double gold at the 2020 International Spirit Competition. The drink is easily sipped, though Russell's does recommend it with Campari and vermouth to make an excellent Boulevardier cocktail.

4. Widow Jane 10 Year

Widow Jane may be a relative newcomer, but is absolutely worth a sip. Widow Jane takes bourbon up north to Brooklyn, New York. While bourbon and Kentucky are practically synonymous, some delicious bourbons come from distilleries not in that state, and Widow Jane is one of the best.

Widow Jane uses a number of unique ingredients that make their products taste distinctly theirs. They use varieties of corn, such as Baby Jane, which are not used by other distilleries, and they use water from Rosendale Mines of New York. High in mineral content and brimming with history, this water truly sets them apart and adds a notable terroir to their bourbon.

The Widow Jane that's aged for 10 years is rich in flavor and color. It features notes of cream and spice, with hints of cherry and almond. It has won numerous awards over the years and would make an excellent whiskey for those trying a smaller brand that can still deliver on taste and smoothness.

3. Elijah Craig Small Batch

Elijah Craig is a line of bourbon whiskey produced by Heaven Hill. The line gets its name from Reverend Elijah Craig who, legend has it, was the first person to age his whiskey in charred oak barrels, gifting the earth the beautiful whiskeys that would evolve into bourbon.

With their Elijah Craig Small Batch, the company goes above and beyond to ensure a good pour. The blend is rich and spicy with the lovely light smokiness afforded to it by using the charred oak barrels, just as their namesake did. The bourbon is 94 proof and is aged for between 8 and 12 years, allowing it to mellow to a lovely, sweet finish. But hey, you don't have to take our word for it. Take it from the number of gold and double gold awards they have accumulated over the years and it is one of our top bourbons in 2022.

2. Maker's Mark

Go to any liquor store, and you are sure to see the telltale bright red wax dripping off a bottle of Maker's Mark. Maker's Mark does a few things that set them apart from other bourbons. While Many bourbons use rye, a grain that produces a spicier flavor, Maker's Mark goes with red winter wheat. As the brand's website notes, this gives the bourbon a softer taste and lets the sweetness and aromas of the corn and wheat really shine through. The water used is from a spring-fed lake rich in minerals. This all produces a friendly and approachable bourbon for new drinkers, offering sweet vanilla and wheat flavors that aren't too biting. At 90 proof, it is strong but not overly so. And while it isn't the cheapest, it isn't the most expensive bourbon on the shelves by a long shot. A survey conducted by us even showed that it was our readers' favorite bourbon.

Maker's is also a company that a bourbon drinker can grow with. They offer more expensive lines, such as Maker's 46 and Private Selection, that new bourbon drinkers can graduate into. The company also provides a Maker's Ambassador program that lets people stay in touch and literally get their name on a barrel of bourbon. Then, down the line, when your barrel has aged and your bourbon taste has expanded, you can take a trip to visit your barrel and get even closer to the bourbon experience.

1. Woodford Reserve

What can we say? We love Woodford Reserve. Woodford Reserve Distillery gets to claim notoriety as a National Historic Landmark; this is truly an honor for a distillery in a country that outlawed alcohol consumption and production for many years. The distillery began producing in 1812 on a site that is noted as being suitable for agriculture and near an excellent limestone filtered spring. Though the Distillery has not been in continuous use the whole time, its prime location, along with the master craftsman at Woodford Reserve, mean they produce an excellent bourbon.

The bottle of Woodford Reserve is minimalistic, allowing the beautiful clear amber of the bourbon to speak for itself. The flavor is spicy and citrusy, with notes of chocolate. It is smooth and creamy but with a nice bite. It can be mixed or poured on its own. The bottle has been winning awards since 1999. It is neither pretentious nor commonplace, with the ability to make a new bourbon drinker feel both unique and entirely at home. It is genuinely the best bourbon for a beginner.