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15 Best Top Shelf Bourbon Brands Listed (2022 Updated)

Last Updated on November 27, 2022 by Lydia Martin

Top-shelf bourbons are on top of the shelves for a reason. Every bottle is of high quality, popular, and quite expensive.

But here’s the good thing, you don’t need to try every bourbon category and spend a dime to know the best top-shelf bourbon brands.

Here’s a list of highly suggested top-shelf bourbons you should try. Read on. 

15 Top-Shelf Bourbon Brands (Highly Suggested) 

15. Russell’s Reserve

Average Price: Roughly $399.99

Alcohol Content: 45% – 57.4%

Why We Like It:

Russell’s Reserve was founded by Jimmy Russel, former master distiller of Wild Turkey bourbon and known by many as the “master distiller’s master distiller.”

The whiskey produced by the Russells over the years offers an infusion of timeless tradition and modern innovation. 

The top-shelf bourbon brand offers four selections of straight bourbon whiskey with a complex yet subtle flavor.

The Russell’s Reserve 13-year-old bourbon whiskey is a superior bourbon you should not miss out on because of its smoothness and flavor profile. 

14. Four Roses Bourbon

Four Roses Bourbon bottle on a wooden table

Average Price: Roughly $399.99

Alcohol Content: 40% – 55.7%

Why We Like It:

The brand has a rich and long history behind its success. It is one of the six distilleries that operated during the Prohibition Era [1], and the distillery relaunched the brand in 2022 in the American market. 

The Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is one of the best bourbons with premium-quality tasting notes that you can drink neat or on the rocks. It can be a gateway bourbon for beginners who like to taste a good bourbon with well-round flavors. 

Read: Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

13. Old Forester

4 bottles of Old Forester on a wooden table

Average Price: Roughly $495.50

Alcohol Content: 43% – 65%

Why We Like It:

Old Forester is one of the best and oldest bourbon brands on the market today, and it is the first bourbon sold in sealed bottles.

Their more than 150 years of experience in making American whiskey made them one of the most trusted and reliable top-shelf bourbon brands today. 

Old Forester bourbon is made from a bourbon mash bill of corn, rye, and malted barley.

After the distillation process, the American whiskey is aged in new charred oak barrels for a certain time [2] to develop rich vanilla flavors, heavy caramel aroma, and a great flavor profile. Check out the Old Forester Birthday bourbon here.

12. Old Grand Dad

Old Grand-Dad Bonded 100 Proof Bourbon bottle on a wodden table and background

Average Price: Roughly $39.89

Alcohol Content: 40% – 57%

Why We Like It:

Old Grand Dad is one of the prides of Beam Suntory, and bourbon drinkers and bartenders highly praise their bourbon expressions. It has a humble price tag but a very distinctive rye spice note. 

The brand’s origin dates back to the early days of bourbon making, and it was named to honor Basil Hayden, Raymond B. Hayden’s grandfather.

If Basil Hayden bourbon by Booker Noe rings a bell, it is because the bourbon is inspired by Hayden’s Sr high rye in its bourbon recipe [3].

11. George T. Stagg

George T. Stagg bottle with cat on a wooden table

Average Price: Roughly $599.99

Alcohol Content: 58.45% – 67.2%

Why We Like It:

George T. Stagg is a pride of Buffalo Trace, and the wheated bourbon is a top-shelf whiskey that comes in a limited supply every year. It is unfiltered and uncut straight bourbon with great cask strength

George T. Stagg boasts the bold character and smoky aroma of the bourbon. It is aged for at least 15 years in charred new oak barrels for a robust and dense body with rich salted caramel notes, sweet cherries, and woody oak. 

10. E. H. Taylor

close up shot  of E. H. Taylor bottle label and tube

Average Price: Roughly $299.99

Alcohol Content: 50% – 63.75%

Why We Like It:

E.H. Taylor is one of the top-shelf bourbons with premium quality and an amazing flavor profile. Every bottle reflects the way it was produced in pre-prohibition when E.H Taylor Jr owned the Buffalo Trace Distillery. 

Some of its collections, like EH Taylor Jr Small Batch bourbon and EH Taylor Single Barrel bourbon, are uncompromising yet powerful, similar to its namesake.

The brand offers rye whiskey and four-grain whiskeys (corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley), all aged in white oak barrels.

9. Jim Beam

Jim Beam Bourbon bottle with jigger on the back

Average Price: Roughly $31.89

Alcohol Content: 40% – 43%

Why We Like It:

Jim Beam is one of the most popular brands of bourbon because the distillery has been making high-quality bourbon since 1795. The bourbon has an elegant texture with dark chocolate, dark caramel, and toasted oak notes with a smooth finish. 

Jim Beam is a refined and smooth bourbon aged four years in oak casks. The Beam Family and its seven generations have established a great reputation in producing Kentucky straight bourbon. 

8. Wild Turkey 

Wild Turkey bourbon bottle on a dried leaves

Average Price: Roughly $60.49

Alcohol Content: 40% – 50.5%

Why We Like It:

Wild Turkey is a premium brand of bourbon that has established its technique for over 100 years. The bourbon is great for sipping because it has rich aromas of nuts, tropical fruit, and raisins. 

Wild Turkey bourbon used its original yeast recipe to maintain the signature flavor for over 60 years. It is aged in a charred oak barrel (char no. 4) for a distinctive flavor and evident smoky blond oak taste. 

7. 1792 Bourbon

1792 Full Proof, Bottled in Bond, Small Batch bottles

Average Price: Roughly $109.98

Alcohol Content: 44.45% – 62.5%

Why We Like It:

1792 bourbon is a complex and sophisticated brand crafted with precise craftsmanship. The bourbon whiskeys are made from a signature high rye recipe for an elegant and expressive flavor profile. 

1792 bourbon offers seven unique expressions, from small batch to single barrel bourbon. All bottles are crafted and bottled with a unique recipe, impressive distillation process, patient maturation, and high barrel proof. 

6. Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon

Jefferson's Ocean Bourbon bottle on a boat background

Average Price: Roughly $101.87

Alcohol Content: 45%

Why We Like It:

Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon is a unique whiskey because instead of aging in rickhouses, it is aged while traveling the world. The barrels that contain alcohol are boarded on a ship, and the sea salt, along with the temperature, gives the distilled spirit a thick and dark texture. 

Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon has dark aromas of dried fruits and red apples with bitterness from strong dark chocolate truffles. 

Read: Popular Bottom Shelf Bourbons

5. William Larue Weller

William Larue Weller close up shot of bottle label

Average Price: Roughly $999

Alcohol Content: 60% – 64%

Why We Like It:

William Larue Weller (WL Weller) by Buffalo Trace is a one-of-a-kind bourbon released annually, and it is aged until fourteen years.

The brand is named after the first-generation distiller of the Weller Family, and he originally developed the substitution of traditional rye grain with wheat.  

The top–shelf bourbon uses red winter wheat for additional sweetness and smoothness. It has fragrant scents of new leather, light toffee, caramel corn, plums, and pipe tobacco.

Also, you can compare the flavor profile with other brands, such as Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark. 

4. Michter’s US1 Bourbon 

Michter's US1 Bourbon bottle with glass on the side

Average Price: Roughly $49.99

Alcohol Content: 45.7% – 54.3%

Why We Like It:

Mitcher’s US1 bourbon offers top-shelf small batch and single barrel bourbons. The selections are rare, and most are released for their Celebration Sour Mash.

The single barrel whiskey is a classic favorite because of its special premium flavors of pineapple, cloves, and chocolate. 

The bourbon has a subtle flavor of vanilla, stone fruit notes, and oak finish. Each barrel is made from a carefully selected mash bill and is batched in a holding tank with no margin for blending out.

Unlike other bourbons with cask strength, Michter’s bourbon is a small batch distilled spirit with a high ABV. 

3. Buffalo Trace

close up shot of buffalo trace bottle label

Average Price: Roughly $34.99

Alcohol Content: 45%

Why We Like It:

Buffalo Trace is a flagship bourbon, and for over 200 years, the brand has been dedicated to creating a timeless craft. The distillery honors tradition and embrace change by using the traditional production process and the innovative aging process. 

Buffalo Trace is named after the ancient buffalo that led American pioneers to new frontiers. Every bottle has a complex aroma of molasses, mint, and vanilla. It has a smooth and long finish with serious depth. 

2. Blanton’s Bourbon

Blanton's bottle on a table

Average Price: Roughly $449.99

Alcohol Content: 46.5% – 51.5%

Why We Like It:

Blanton’s bourbon is an original single-barrel bourbon that has received multiple awards for its high quality. The first mass-produced single barrel was bottled by Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee, named after Colonel Albert Blanton. 

The consistency of the classic bourbon flavor profile is delivered in every bottle, making it an approachable and easy-to-drink bourbon. The top-shelf straight bourbon is well-loved because of its rich vanilla, oak, and caramel flavor. 

1. Pappy Van Winkle

Pappy Van Winkle bottle with a red pouch on a wooden table

Average Price: Roughly $1699.99

Alcohol Content: 45.2% – 53.5%

Why We Like It:

Pappy Van Winkle is never a surprise bourbon because it is the highly suggested top-shelf bourbon brand until today. It has a rich, flavorful, sweet, and smooth taste that no one should not miss. 

Every bottle is produced according to the exclusive wheat recipe of the Van Winkle family. It remains untouched for fifteen years for an elegant and big flavor of oak, leather, and dried fruit. But why is Pappy so expensive?

What’s A Top-Shelf Bourbon Brand? 

A top-shelf bourbon brand is a whiskey brand that produces distilled whiskey from high-quality ingredients and is usually expensive and rare. The term top-shelf is used by bar owners to show off prestigious brands in stock [4]. 

Top-shelf bourbons are placed on top of the shelf as an advertisement for rare and high-quality whiskey. Since they are less frequently ordered and expensive, they are placed on top of the shelf at the back of the bartender to prevent theft and damage. 

What Makes A Brand Top-Shelf? 

Expensive

Top-shelf bourbons are usually expensive because they use premium ingredients to make the bourbon.

The aging process usually differs from an average bourbon, which is significantly expensive.

In addition, since top-shelf bourbons are produced with limited qualities, it is more expensive. But what’s the most expensive bourbon?

High-Quality

Top-shelf bourbons are produced using high-quality ingredients and production processes. The taste is way better than baseline and mass-produced whiskey products because of the premium grains used to produce the whiskey. 

Top-shelf bourbons are made using premium corn, wheat or rye, and malted barley.

Because of its aging process, it releases a more smooth and more complex flavor that you cannot find on a bottom-shelf and mid-shelf bourbon. 

Popular

There are different brands of bourbon on the market today, but there are popular brands that make it to the top shelf. Popular brands such as Pappy Van and Blanton’s are of superior quality and are well-loved by many.

It does not mean that never-heard brands are of bad quality, but one reason top-shelf bourbon is popular is its premium quality.

Hard To Find

Top-shelf bourbons are quite hard to find for reasons such as (1) limited release and (2) high demand. Most top-shelf bourbons are produced in limited quantities, and because of their high demand, it can be hard to find the spirit. 

FAQs 

What’s the best top-shelf bourbon for Old Fashioned?

The best top-shelf bourbon for Old Fashioned is Buffalo Trace. It has enough alcohol content and rich flavor to keep shining in Old Fashioned but does not overpower other flavors.

Moreso, it can stand up and blend well with the mixers and does not disappear easily. 

What’s a top-shelf bourbon brand that’s easy to find?

1792 bourbon is one of the top-shelf bourbon brands that are easy to find.

Unlike other top-shelf bourbons like Pappy Van, Maker’s Mark, and Buffalo Trace, which can be hard to find in retail, they are available in local liquor shops and online stores like Drizly. 

Key Takeaways

If you want to enjoy bourbon to the fullest, it would be great to try a bottle from our list of the best top-shelf bourbon brands.

Whether you are after a rare bottle like Pappy Van Winkle or want an everyday bourbon like 1792, top-shelf bourbons are made to be enjoyed. 

Top-shelf bourbon whiskeys can be expensive, but it has premium quality and taste that will make you want another bottle. It sits at the top of the bartender’s shelf because of its high-quality ingredients, production process, and flavor profile.

References:

  1. https://www.britannica.com/event/Prohibition-United-States-history-1920-1933 
  2. https://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/04/5-rules-that-make-it-bourbon.html 
  3. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2017/04/12/1050338/0/en/Basil-Hayden-s-R-Bourbon-Spices-Up-the-Rye-Category-with-Basil-Hayden-s-R-Rye-Whiskey.html 
  4. https://www.thrillist.com/glossary/top-shelf