Whiskey collectors often judge other collectors by their whiskey collections. They seem to be impressed when you own a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old or Old Forester Birthday Bourbon or some other “unicorn” bottle. That does not impress me at all. All that tells me is that 1) the person has a lot of connections with a liquor store and a lot of money, or 2) they have a lot of time to chase down these bottles and they have a lot of money, or 3) they have bought bottles on the black market and spent a whole lot of money. It does not tell me about their taste in Bourbon. After all, they will probably never open that expensive bottle since it is a trophy and not a real bottle to drink.
When I look at a person’s collection of Bourbons, I first look to see how many are opened. That indicates that the bottle was purchased because the person wanted to try it and see what it tastes like. Next, I look for these ten, easily found and inexpensive Bourbons. Bourbons that are excellent drinks straight, but can also be used to make a great cocktail. These bottles are usually not only opened, but often almost empty with a second, unopened bottle ready to open when the first bottle is emptied. Bourbons that true Bourbon lovers want to have around.
1) Old Forester. I prefer the 100 proof but the 86 proof is also very good. The Bourbon is rich in caramel and fruit flavors with a nice oak and pepper finish.
2) Four Roses Bourbon. Formerly known as “Yellow Label” is an 80 proof Bourbon that is robust enough to enjoy neat. All ten of the Bourbons made at Four Roses are mingled together to make this Bourbon. It pairs well with a cigar or with cheese.
3) Maker’s Mark. This is the wheat recipe Bourbon that is easily found in the liquor stores and at a reasonable price. The 110 barrel entry proof ensures that there are plenty of the sweet vanilla and caramel flavors in the whiskey.
4) Old Grand Dad Bonded. This is a Bourbon with lots of rye flavor that is easy to find and very reasonably priced. As a bonded whiskey, it is all from the same season of the same year and from a single distillery.
5) Wild Turkey 101. This Bourbon has retained more of its old-fashioned distillation methods than any other distillery. Low distillation and barrel entry proofs give this Bourbon a thick, chewy and robust flavor.
6) Evan Williams Black Label. This 86 proof Bourbon has a great flavor neat, but is inexpensive enough to let your friends mix it with coke.
7) Jim Beam Black Label. This Bourbon has only 6 points of proof more than the white label Jim Beam, but twice as much flavor. Rich caramel and oak flavors pair well with cheese and fruits.
8) Early Times Bonded. This is another bonded Bourbon that should be part of any collection. It is easily found in Louisville but the brand has been sold to Buffalo Trace, so we will have to see if Buffalo Trace keeps it available and inexpensive.
9) Very Old Barton Bonded. This Bourbon is my favorite for cooking. It has a robust flavor that stands up to other flavors in the dish and you should never cook with anything you would not drink.
10) David Nicholson Reserve. This is a 100 proof Bourbon made with wheat as the flavoring grain. It is easily found and at a very reasonable price.
These ten Bourbons are not hard to find and are all reasonably priced. I would consider a collection with all ten of these Bourbons as being owned by a person that really knows what to drink. Of course, individuals are going to have their favorites and those bottles will be emptied sooner than others, but all ten of these Bourbons will find their fans when you have friends over to share drinks from your collection of Bourbons.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller