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20 Best Kentucky Bourbon Brands Ranked & Reviewed (2022)

Last Updated on August 11, 2022 by Lydia Martin

It’s no secret that Kentucky makes some of the best bourbons. The state attributes it to its perfect climate and soil conditions: from the limestone-rich soil to the very hot summers and extremely cold winters that impart intense flavors to the spirit. 

Let’s take a look at the best Kentucky bourbon brands that graze the shelves of liquor stores today. 

Top 20 Kentucky Bourbon Brands You Need To Try

20. Old Fitzgerald 

Old Fitzgerald 

ABV: 50% 

Average Price: Around $100 to $900 

As the name suggests, Old Fitzgerald is a very old brand. It has been around since the mid-1800s and has gone on to survive Prohibition. It exchanged a few hands in ownership over the years, but since 1999, it has called Heaven Hill Distillery its home. 

Old Fitzgerald is a highly coveted premium bourbon made with a high amount of wheat — 20 percent of it, alongside 68 percent corn and 12 percent malted barley.

As a result, the bourbon whiskey has a smooth and rich flavor. More spiciness and nuttiness come out in the finish. 

19. Jim Beam

Jim Beam

ABV: 40% 

Average Price: Around $20 

When it comes to bourbon whiskey, you’ll always find Jim Beam among the world’s best-selling bourbon brands.

It was founded in the late 1700s and has been handed down to seven generations of the Beam family. Jim Beam is smooth, friendly, and versatile, perfect for those just beginning to get into the spirit.

The brand also carries more premium labels for bourbon aficionados looking to experiment with more complex flavors. 

18. Blanton’s Single Barrel 

Blanton's 

ABV: 46.5% 

Average Price: Around $130 

One look at the short, squat bottle of Blanton’s would tell you everything you need to know about this bourbon whiskey. This is the industry’s first Single Barrel bourbon, released by Buffalo Trace Distillery in 1984.

Since then, the bottle has received numerous accolades, including the coveted Gold in the 2019 LA International Spirits Competition. 

The spirit inside is super impressive — complex yet smooth, with a creamy mouthfeel and plenty of spice. The amazing bourbon features notes of vanilla, honey, corn, and nutmeg.

Collecting the bottlecaps is also a lot of fun — get all eight, and you’ll have spelled B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S, with the equestrian in various forms as he completes the race.

But how long is Blanton’s aged? 

17. Larceny Small Batch Bourbon

Larceny Small Batch Bourbon

ABV: 46% 

Average Price: Around $30 

Larceny Small Batch is a wheated bourbon — it uses one-third more than the standard of most bourbons.

As a result, it has a softer, fluffier flavor profile, not unlike freshly baked bread.

Traditional bourbon flavors are still present in the spirit, with honey, caramel, and some dried fruits. It has a minimum age of six years. 

16. Henry McKenna Bottled-In-Bond

Henry McKenna Bottled-In-Bond

ABV: 50% 

Average Price: Around $80 

Although Henry McKenna is a Kentucky bourbon, it won’t deny that it gets most of its roots from Irish whiskey.

Henry McKenna, the brand’s founder, adapted his family’s traditional whiskey recipe and used it to work with grains in the Bluegrass State to create American whiskey. 

The Bottled-In-Bond recognition identifies that the bottle meets strict mandates on bourbon production (one distiller at one distillery within one distillation season, prepared in a bonded warehouse, aged for no less than four years, and bottled at 100 proof).

This multi-award-winning Bottled-In-bond bourbon has a perfectly balanced flavor profile, with smooth oak, baking spices, and honey sweetness. 

The Henry McKenna Single Barrel is another great label if you have the means to try that out, too. 

15. Kentucky Owl Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Kentucky Owl 

ABV: 48.2% 

Average Price: Around $350 

Kentucky Owl has been around since 1879, but the brand recently got a reboot by Master Distiller Dixon Dedman in 2014. The blend is made with four different mash bills ranging from 6 to 15 years old.  

This small-batch bourbon whiskey has an expansive flavor profile — coconut, linseed, cherry wood, honey, and brown sugar. It’s also a pretty expensive bourbon, just shy of $400, but if you ask us, it’s worth every dang dime. 

14. 1792 Bourbon Full Proof

1792 Bourbon

ABV: 62.5% 

Average Price: Around $50 

1792 Bourbon is steeped in history: the brand name pays homage to the first year Kentucky was recognized as the 15th state, [1] and the Barton 1792 Distillery is the oldest distillery in the state still fully operational. 

1792’s “full proof” label comes from its unique filtering process — it passes through a plate and frame filter instead of chill filtering.

The bourbon inside has an unabashedly robust, smoky, and bold flavor. It is a high-proof spirit, with a whopping 125 proof. 

Read: 1792 vs Buffalo Trace Bourbon

13. Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Small Batch

Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. 

ABV: 50% 

Average Price: Around $120 

Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Small Batch scored an impressive 99 over 100 in the 2020 International Wine and Spirits Competition, making it just one of the many award-winning labels from the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

This Kentucky bourbon whiskey has traditional flavors and a sweet and spicy profile. 

The brand was named after Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., who many would consider the founding father of the Kentucky bourbon industry. You also have him to thank for the Bottled-in-Bond Act. 

12. Knob Creek

Knob Creek

ABV: 50% 

Average Price: Around $50 

Knob Creek is one of the high-end releases of the Jim Beam brand. If you like Jim Beam but are craving more complex flavors, this is where it’s at. 

The brand is almost always held at a standard for robust, complex bourbons, thanks to Master Distiller Fred Noe. The full-bodied bourbon is sweet, woodsy, and fruity, with a long, rich finish.

The lengthy nine-year aging period ensures that all the natural smokiness of the charred oak barrel is infused into the bourbon. 

11. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked 

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked 

ABV: 45.2% 

Average Price: Around $60 

It’s easy to spot Woodford Reserve’s iconic stout bottle on any whiskey shelf. The spirit inside is equally impressive, too, having won the Master Medal from the American Whiskey Masters in 2018. 

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked owes much of its complex flavor notes to the double-aging process: the first inside a traditional charred white oak barrel and the second inside a deeply toasted, lightly charred barrel.

Rich notes of dark fruit, chocolate, toasted oak, and burnt caramel dance on your tongue upon the first sip of the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. 

10. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength 

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength 

ABV: 56.6% 

Average Price: Around $40 

Maker’s Mark makes excellent Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, but in this article, we’ll talk about the brand’s behemoth: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength.

In case you didn’t know, cask strength simply means that the bourbon is not diluted with water before it is bottled, so you can only imagine how strong it is! 

As a result, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is full-bodied, bold, and unapologetic, with robust flavors of tobacco, roasted corn, orange peel, and syrupy cherries.

The cask strength heat may be overwhelming at first, but try having it in a classic Old Fashioned or with a pipette of water so you can appreciate it more. [2

9. Four Roses Small Batch

Four Roses 

ABV: 45% 

Average Price: Around $45 

Some of the best small-batch bourbons come from Four Roses. Aside from sipping the spirit, it’s equally as fun when you read its label and discover everything you need to know about it right there: from the mash bill used to the yeast strains and aging period. 

This full-bodied bourbon offers a delicious plethora of dark chocolate, vanilla, and oak that lazily rests and lingers on your tongue.

It has a long and pleasant finish while remaining relatively mellow. The brand’s single barrel bourbon is one of the best and most affordable ones out on the market. 

8. Old Forester Kentucky Straight

Old Forester 

ABV: 50% 

Average Price: Around $30 

Old Forester is one of the brands that survived Prohibition by making alcohol for “medicinal purposes.”

This bourbon might be sharp and intimidating at first (you can blame it on the 100 proof), but it quickly mellows down to reveal tasting notes of sweet corn and spicy rye.

If you still can’t take the heat, try adding a splash of water, drinking it on the rocks, or mixing it in a tangy Bourbon Sour. 

It’s also one of the most inexpensive bottles you can get for the quality and high proof at just $30 per 750ml bottle. 

Read: Top Places To Stay For The Bourbon Trail

7. Elijah Craig Small Batch 

Elijah Craig Small Batch 

ABV: 47% 

Average Price: Around $35 

Reverend Elijah Craig is one of the founding fathers of Kentucky bourbon, and it’s him you have to thank for the novel idea of aging whiskey in charred oak barrels.

His namesake bourbon, Elijah Craig Small Batch, is equally as interesting as his idea, with rich vanilla, caramel, butterscotch tasting notes, and lots of rye spice.  

6. Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year Family Reserve 

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 

ABV: 45.2% 

Average Price: Around $2,000 

Pappy Van Winkle is the fabled “unicorn” of Kentucky bourbons — for one, the brand only releases bottles once a year, and two, retailers lucky enough to carry them will only sell them for north of $2,000 per bottle.

Still, if your pockets are deep enough and you did catch wind of their release earlier than most… you’ll still need a four-leaf clover to find a bottle and bring it home. 

Perhaps the best in the brand’s line is the Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year, aged for a whopping two decades inside oak barrels. It is intensely fruity, with tasting notes of citrus, dried fruits, and some vanilla, with a long, elegant finish.

We didn’t expect any less from a bottle named the number one bourbon whiskey in the world. 

5. Buffalo Trace 

Buffalo Trace 

ABV: 45% 

Average Price: Around $35 

When you want a good bourbon to stock up your liquor cabinet, you can never go wrong with Buffalo Trace. This bourbon is full-bodied, with traditional flavors of vanilla, caramel, and dried orange peel, with a spicy rye finish.

Its flavor profile remains friendly for bourbon beginners yet complex enough for enthusiasts. 

The friendly price point also allows you to have more of it without feeling guilty, and you can even happily share it with others who share your love for bourbon. Go ahead, pour yourself a glass of Buffalo Trace — you’ll thank us later. 

4. W.L. Weller Special Reserve

W.L. Weller 

ABV: 45% 

Average Price: Around $60 

What can we say? Buffalo Trace sure makes some of the best Kentucky bourbons — another brand, W.L. Weller, makes it to our list.

The accolades under this bourbon’s belt are long — it has won multiple gold medals in Whiskies of the World, North American Bourbon and Whiskey, and the San Francisco World Spirits competitions. 

Many would describe this bourbon as “thick and buttery” and features notes of rich vanilla, brown sugar, and toasted oak.

It is aged for a minimum of four to seven years and chill-filtered to 90 proof before it is finally bottled. 

3. Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey 101 with box on desk

ABV: 50.5% 

Average Price: Around $30 

Wild Turkey 101 makes one of the best bourbons out there. The bourbon is made with a mash bill of 75 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and 12 percent barley.

This gives it a decidedly spicy flavor rife with cinnamon, maple syrup, white pepper, and charcoal.

The brand has also stuck to the same mash bill since the 80s and 90s when wheated bourbons were all the rage! 

Wild Turkey also proves you don’t have to burn a hole through your wallet to have a great bottle.

We find that Wild Turkey is best drunk neat, but if you can’t take the heat, adding it to a classic Whiskey Smash or drinking it on the rocks will do just fine. 

2. Evan Williams 

Evan Williams on table with glass

ABV: 43.3% 

Average Price: Around $30 

Evan Williams’ Black label is the number 2 selling bourbon next to Jim Beam, but we’re going to be talking about their Single Barrel bourbon.

Trust us when we say that you don’t have to shell out a lot of money for something labeled Single Barrel from Heaven Hill. 

The amazing bourbon is lush yet fairly accessible, with a wondrous blend of dark honey, sweet oak, and cinnamon notes. It has that signature nuttiness — a mark of a true Heaven Hill Distillery bourbon — alongside a fruit-forward finish. 

1. Bulleit Barrel Strength Bourbon

Bulleit Barrel Strength Bourbon on desk with old fashioned cocktail glass

ABV: 58.3% 

Average Price: Around $60 

And first on our list is Bulleit Bourbon — specifically, the Bulleit Barrel Strength. 

This barrel-strength bourbon is bottled raw as it is, made from a blend of select oak barrels combined into a single batch.

Despite the barrel strength, this unique bourbon remains gentle and sweet, with maple syrup, walnut, and oak notes. Its finish is long and drying, with a cheeky hint of light toffee. 

Bulleit Bourbon has plenty of accolades under its belt, Barrel Strength included — it won Double Gold at the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and scored 92 out of 100 at the 2017 Ultimate Spirits Challenge. 

What We Considered 

What We Considered 

Mash Bill

Every bourbon production starts with a specific mash bill. Traditionally, Kentucky bourbon is made with a high corn mash bill of at least 51 percent.

As the name suggests, a high rye bourbon contains plenty of rye, and a wheated bourbon contains a high amount of wheat. 

The mash bill also plays a part in how the final bourbon tastes. A high-corn mash will taste sweet and creamy, much like how sweet corn does, while a high-rye mash will tend to have a spicy rye bite with a hint of cinnamon.

Bourbon made with a high amount of wheat will be softer and fluffier in flavor and texture, similar to freshly baked bread. 

Age 

Age 

Not all bourbons will carry an age statement, but for those that do, here’s a general rule of what you should expect: a longer aging period means that much of the bourbon has been in contact with the barrel.

This would result in stronger woodsy notes.

Kentucky bourbons are generally aged between 4 to 12 years, but 30-year-old bottles are not unheard of. 

Tasting Notes

We consider balanced tasting notes as one of the key criteria for choosing great bourbon.

We wouldn’t mind if a dram were sweet, as long as it had other elements that would balance it out, such as spiciness from cinnamon. The worst thing is having a bad bourbon that is too cloyingly sweet. 

Finish

Finish

A great, memorable finish is also something we look for in great Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. We want the bourbon to have a long, satisfying finish that leaves none to be desired. 

Price & Value

Not all expensive bourbons are worth every buck, just like not all cheap bourbons are a waste of money. It’s still important to check whether or not the price matches the bottle’s value. 

A bottle of Pappy Van Winkle might cost more than one month’s rent, but we know bourbon enthusiasts wouldn’t mind spending money on it, considering its quality.

Still, a $30 bottle of Wild Turkey 101 would leave us satisfied. 

FAQs 

What is the cheapest Kentucky bourbon brand?

The cheapest bourbon brand is Jim Beam, with their flagship bottle at just around $20. This is a solid bottle with an expectedly great flavor that everyone loves, and you don’t even have to sacrifice your hard-earned money! 

What is the best sipping bourbon brand?

We’re a bit biased, but we especially loved W.L. Weller for sipping. The bourbon’s creamy, buttery texture is to die for, not to mention the fact that other brands have difficulty recreating it.

It also has a perfectly balanced flavor profile of sweet, oaky, and spicy. 

Conclusion 

And there you go — the top 20 best Kentucky bourbon brands. 

We think every one of these bottles deserves a space on your liquor cabinet, but none more so than Bulleit Barrel Strength, which lands a spot as our number one. 

Bulleit Barrel Strength is a multi-award-winning bourbon made from a blend of hand-picked barrels and combined into a single batch. It is bottled at 116.6 proof without going through chill filtration. 

Despite the high proof, the bourbon remains relatively easy on the palate, with so much flavor from maple, walnut, and oak. 

A 750ml bottle of Bulleit also won’t burn a hole through your wallet as it costs just a bit more than $50. 

Did we include your favorite brand in our list? Sound off below! 

References: 

  1. https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/kentucky 
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/samlemonick/2017/08/18/yes-you-should-put-water-in-your-whiskey/

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