highend bourbons

Some people attribute the recent resurgence in craft whiskey sales — and indulgence — to the young generation’s bleak outlook on the topic of amassing wealth. Others point to the hipster movement, associating the amber nectar with small bars and burgeoning vinyl collections. The truth is likely somewhere in between, but you don’t have to be poor or a hipster to enjoy the sweet results of this old-timey drink’s comeback.

The number of bourbon whiskies in production today ranges into the hundreds, so if you’re new to this drink, it’s difficult to know where to begin. While many people believe a whiskey must be from Bourbon County, Kentucky to be called bourbon, the defining factor is in fact the recipe used, not the origin.

The regulations are stringent, but there’s enough wiggle room to offer real variety in the offerings distillers produce. Let’s take a look at some favorites that are approachable for newbies.

Four Roses Single Barrel — $40

The Four Roses name dates back to before prohibition and today you can find expressions of their popular bourbon at several convenient price points. Single Barrel makes a great ambassador to the world of higher-end bourbons.It offers flavor and smoothness at a price that’s still approachable if you’re more familiar with mixed drinks than sipping whiskey. The lower proof also makes it a great choice for beginners.

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select — $35

To add some variety at roughly the same price point as Four Roses Single Barrel, Woodford Distiller’s Select might appeal to those who’ve had more experience with whiskey in general, but want to sample the flavor profile of traditional bourbon. If Four Roses represents an approachable fruit-forward dram, Woodford could be considered its smokier cousin. Even the experts at The Whiskey Jug recognize it as a great everyday bourbon.

Blanton’s Original Single Barrel — $47

Blanton’s is the path for those who’ve become enamored with the idea of craft bourbon and want to see how far a few extra dollars can do. Heralded as “the original single-barrel bourbon” this time-honored whiskey is a premium offering from the highly-esteemed and very successful folks at Buffalo Trace. It offers amazing complexity, featuring rich fruit and caramel notes. This rich flavor profile makes it a favorite choice of not only newcomers but experienced bourbon lovers for a quality old-fashioned or savory sip on the rocks.

Basil Hayden’s — $44

Often overlooked by whiskey connoisseurs, those who realize Basil Hayden’s quickly become hooked. This is a great example of high-rye bourbon, which means that the second most prominent ingredient in the mash bill is rye. The grain’s spicy kick gives Basil Hayden’s the ability to stand on its own as a sipping whiskey, while its lower proof allows it to hide nicely behind more pronounced flavors when used in a cocktail.

George T. Stagg — $100

As with many spirits, it’s very possible to spend a large chunk of change on premium whiskey and wish you’d gone with a cheaper bottle you know. When you’re ready to pony up to the triple-digit realm of collector bourbon, pick up a bottle of this stuff and avoid buyer’s remorse.

Stagg tops the list of regular production bourbons from Buffalo Trace. It’s nearly 70 percent alcohol, so don’t expect it to go down like your favorite soft drink. At this price point, sipping is the only thing you should be doing, and George T. Stagg rewards with a developed flavor profile packed with dark fruit and spice. Just don’t get carried away after the first one and polish it all off at once.

Next Steps and Experiments

Perhaps you’re the type who prefers to follow instructions — you’ll do no harm trying every single bottle on this list. Then there are those who’ll pick one and further their exploration of the bourbon landscape elsewhere. Neither choice is wrong. We’re living in a golden age of bourbon, you can even flavor your own bourbon or whiskey should you desire. Perhaps it’ll become your new go-to.

Along your journey, pay attention to the drams you enjoy and the ones that are less memorable.

In the hundreds of years since men began crafting bourbon, many new approaches and techniques have been introduced. Knowing what you like is the key to getting the most from a tasting experience with friends.Before you know it, you may be pointing another newcomer down the connoisseur’s path.

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