Bourbon for a Noob

I’ve been a Scotch drinker for a long time but last summer I was introduced to Bourbon and I’ve just now started to buy some of my own. I need some insight on what I should be looking for at a reasonable price.

I started out with Woodford Reserve which I really like, but it is about $37 per bottle. I then tried some Buffalo Trace which was not quite as good, but the price was much better at about $25. I also tried some Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2004 which was almost as good as the Woodford and only about $30. I just picked up a bottle of Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 year old that I’m planning to sample tonight.

So, what are some good mid priced bottles I should try? I’ll admit my tastes for Bourbon aren’t really developed yet, but I’m trying to learn as I go. So far the Woodford Reserve is my favorite if that helps at all.

Lots of things to consider and experiment with. One of the easiest is Wheated vs Rye. Wheated bourbons like Maker’s Mark and the various Weller renditions are smoother and more rounded. High-rye bourbons like Four Roses, Old Grand-Dad and Bulliett are spicier and more intense. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Personal recs: Find a bottle of Old Weller Antique. It’s the same mash that goes into Pappy Van Winkle, just aged differently. Cheaper than most, and better than most as well. Four Roses Yellow Label is one of my standards, and quite shippable. If you try Old Grand-Dad, get the 100 proof Bonded bottling. The regular stuff is paint thinner, but the bonded is a whole different creature.

In my liquor cabinet right now are the following bourbons and bourbon-like potables: Maker’s Mark, Evan Williams Black, Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, Gentleman Jack, Jack Daniels Tennessee, Wild Turkey 101, Four Roses Yellow label and a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 10 year, which is waiting for a celebration in Vegas come June.

If you like Woodford, then you have to try Knob Creek. Apologies if the recommendation is too obvious. In some places, Knob Creek is as common as Maker’s Mark, but in others, it is almost completely overlooked.

The fun thing about Knob Creek is that it’s just Jim Beam, only aged and blended differently. Same mash. That just shows what kind of skills a Master Distiller has to have. For a real treat, dig up Knob Creek Single Barrel.

In addition to the ones already mentioned, I’d say both Blanton’s and, especially (in my opinion) Basil Hayden’s are pretty essential. (They’re also a tad on the pricey side, but worth it.)

And here is where personal taste makes all the difference. I can’t stand Blanton’s, myself. Unbalanced and undrinkable. Other people love the stuff. But you need to know what your are getting and your own preferences before you drop the money on something like Hayden’s or Blanton’s. Mid-range they ain’t.

Old Forester has the same mash bill as Woodford, but is much cheaper. Unsurprisingly, it’s not nearly as good–but if you like Woodford, you should give it a shot.

In the old days I’d have recommend Ancient Ancient Age (not to be confused with merely Ancient Age), but the folks at Buffalo Trace discontinued it a couple of years ago.

Silenus, cool that you got some Pappy. Did you get it through the lottery? I’ve just started getting into bourbon, very slowly. A friend in Louisville recommended Michtner’s as a good low/mid-priced bourbon, but he specified the rye. He also said that, of all things, Costco’s house brand a very good for its price. I’m doubtful - any chance you’ve been able to sample it?

For my money Evan Williams (I prefer the white bottled in bond label but black is good too) is the best value bourbon around. My favorite daily drink is Buffalo Trace, though I am also fond of Bullitt Rye (Dad’s Hat Rye is good too. Rye is hard to find in my neck of the woods though).

Once upon a time Wild Turkey 101 was my go to, but it’s now the same price as Buffalo Trace so I never pick it up. Still good though. Woodford and Makers are, to my taste, overpriced for what you get and I found Elija Craig to be really underwhelming same with the four roses single barrel.

That said, everything mentioned in this thread so far is good. Go out and try things. Some you will like some you will like less. Stay away from old Crow and you won’t go too wrong.

I think you made a good choice with the Elijah Craig. Other than the 4 Roses offerings (you can even drink their cheapest neat and enjoy it), it’s my pick for a price/performance nexus.

Weller’s 12 year is great, as well. It’s a bit mild for my taste, but still can be consumed neat without a complaint, and the price is great.

Not addressed to me, but I had some Pappy 15 the other night–and while smooth and pleasant enough, it is definitely overrated. So much so that if I’d paid for it, I’d probably be giving it a terrible review; it’s a much worse value than Blanton’s (which is better, but still not worth the price.)

Yep, got the Pappy through the lottery. I agree on the 15, too. Good, but over-rated. I’ve never had the 23, so I will just hope that the 15 is the off-year. (side note: the 15 Bowmore is the only single malt I can drink from that distillery. Every other expression of that Scotch is just vile. But the 15 is the perfect balance of peat, salt and malt for my palate. Weird.)

Look around for a large liquor store that stocks minis. that way you can get a decent taste without committing to an entire bottle. Better yet, find a bar with a decent selection and a capable bartender. But have a designated driver handy!

NAF - I’d love to try the BiB Evan, but nobody around here carries it. Maybe next time I travel. I wonder if Atomic Liquor in Vegas has any?

You know, being somewhat a bourbon novice, myself, I’ve gotta say that the best low priced (or maybe it’s mid? I dunno), all around good, basic bourbon is Evan Williams. What I’m referring to does, in fact, have a black label (as opposed to white), but I don’t rightly know if what I’m referring to is officially labeled as “bottled in black” (I’m guessing not).

Anyway, as I should have stated in my original post, the best bourbons I’ve ever tasted (regardless of price) are, in order: Basil Hayden’s, Woodford Reserve, and Blanton’s. And the basic, priced-at-about-twelve-bucks-for-a-fifth (in my neck of the woods) Evan Williams tastes awfully-damned-similar (to my palate) to Woodford. So Evan Williams is my basic, go to bourbon most weeks.

I have a hard time finding it out here too (it’s often sold out), so often buy the black label which is still really good. BiB is usually only $1.50 more and, if you like a spicy bourbon, is every bit as good as any of the pricier ones and still about $6 cheaper than Buffalo Trace (less than half the price of Woodford).

And at $14 a bottle I don’t feel bad about putting it in a coke or old fashioned if I feel like something other than straight bourbon. My local state store always seems to have Old Grand Dad, I’ll have to see if it’s BiB or regular.

I don’t buy bourbon often, but it’s the main liquor I buy. Woodford Reserve is my favorite, and nothing else I’ve tried comes close: it’s got such a lovely vanilla/caramel/smoke aroma, and tastes both smoother and more complex than anything else.

Right now there’s some Jesse James in the cabinet that my brother-in-law bought for us as a guest gift. It’s tasty. But it’s no Woodford REserve.

Among stuff I can generally get for $30 or less, Knob Creek is probably my favorite. Unfortunately, a lot of the really interesting and good bourbons are usually in the $30-$60 range (you’ve seen some great recommendations already; Booker’s is my favorite, but that’s generally at the high end of that range as well).

I was fortunate enough a couple years ago to do well in the Pappy chase; ended up with 2 15’s, 2 20‘s and a 23. I traded it all away for other stuff as I thought it to be massively overrated. To be fair, I don’t normally care much for wheated bourbons, so I could see how others might disagree.

IIRC, all the various Elijah Craig and Evan Williams variants are the exact same coming off the still- it’s just how/where they’re stored, and how they’re blended afterward that makes the difference.

Actually, there is not a damn thing wrong with Old Crow. It’s a perfectly good drink as long as you consider what it is - a very young bourbon. It’s like what, aged two years? Maybe three? Eh, probably two.

I’d suggest that the OP pick up a bottle, if only to see what aging can do for a bourbon.

Bumping this thread to report that the local Bevmo has started carrying Evan Williams White Label (Bottled in Bond) and the stuff is every bit as good as NAF said it was. For a fun evening, do a side-by-side of the white and the single-barrel.

Today’s restock Bevmo run brought home the White Label, Gentleman Jack, Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam Bonded, and Maker’s 46. I have a feeling I’m going to need them this weekend.