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What Is A Good Bourbon Whiskey? Answered (2022 Updated)

Last Updated on November 23, 2022 by Lydia Martin

Bourbon is truly an American Heritage, and its quality and craftsmanship can be traced back to the 18th century. 

Today, hundreds of bourbon brands claim to produce good bourbon, but what is a good bourbon whiskey?

Is it about the mash bill, texture, flavor profile, or aging? The answer will surprise you, so read on. 

6 Factors To Look For In A Good Bourbon

1. Complex & Rich Flavor

getting whisky from a barrel

The complex and rich flavor of the bourbon whiskey is easy to love. Good bourbon whiskey has rich notes of vanilla, cherry, caramel, baking spices, and oak.

Beyond the general flavors of bourbon, there are plenty of differences in the bourbon world.

Wheated bourbons have appealing softness, while high rye bourbons are often grassy and spicy. 

Older bourbons have complex woody, savory, leathery characteristics, while younger bourbons are sweeter and fruitier. 

2. Pronounced Aroma

A good bourbon has a pronounced aroma.

Since the sense of smell is 80% responsible for what we taste, good bourbon whiskey has a more pronounced aroma. 

Once you open the bottle of bourbon, you will pick up a complex aroma of bourbon whiskey.

Like its flavor profile, you will pick up aromatic notes of fruity, floral, spicy, grainy, sweet, and woody. 

3. Unique Texture & Body

pouring whisky on a glass from barrel

The unique texture and body are distinguishing characteristics of a good bourbon whiskey.

A good bourbon whiskey’s mouthfeel and texture quality is derived from the barrel. 

Generally, good bourbon whiskey is non-chill filtered for a better mouthfeel. It does not remove the natural congeners of the bourbon for a unique texture and body. 

4. Versatile

Good bourbon whiskey is versatile enough that you can drink it how it suits your mood.

You can consume it neat as it shows off the complexity of the whiskey. 

Add a few drops of water or dilute the bourbon with ice, as water will cause new flavors to come out of the glass. 

In addition, a good bourbon whiskey shines and uplifts other cocktail ingredients.

With a good bourbon whiskey, you can make your cocktail remarkable as it compliments great with different flavors. 

5. Drinkable

glass of whisky on top of wooden table

At its core, every good bourbon whiskey is drinkable and enjoyable.

It not only looks great, feels great, and tastes great, but it also has amazing qualities that you will appreciate after an empty glass. 

While many bourbon brands are available in the market today, there are smoother and more approachable whiskeys.

It has oak, spice, vanilla, fruit, and honey flavors. The flavor is complex and subtle but not overpowering, making bourbon easy to enjoy. 

6. Age Statement

The aging process in oak barrels improves the flavor and color of the bourbon [1], so the age statement makes a good bourbon. 

While a straight bourbon whiskey needs to be aged for at least two years in new charred oak barrels, good bourbons are often aged four to twelve. 

Some bourbons are aged less while some are aged more; however, only some bourbons that are aged longer taste great.

Some become too oaky and lose the character of the mash bills. 

3 Good Bourbon Whiskeys To Try 

3. Wild Turkey 101

Man Holding Wild Turkey 101 Bottle

Average Price: Roughly $26.99 (Drizly) 

Alcohol Content: 50.5%

Why We Like It:

Wild Turkey 101 is a high-rye bourbon, and its flavor profile is hard to pass.

The iconic bourbon is aged for at least five years in new charred oak barrels for a bolder character. 

Wild Turkey 101 is a versatile distilled spirit; you can sip it neat, with ice, or as a base liquor for cocktails. 

2. Knob Creek Bourbon

Knob Creek Bourbon Bottles

Average Price: Roughly $38.24 (Drizly) 

Alcohol Content: 50%

Why We Like It:

Knob Creek bourbon is patiently aged in newly charred oak barrels for a full flavor and versatility.  

The unflinching balance of pre-prohibition style bourbon has a robust oak taste that complements the hints of caramel and smooth vanilla. 

At 100 proof, the Kentucky straight bourbon is sweet, woody, rich and full-bodied with almost fruity-tasting notes.

1. Four Roses Small Batch

Four Roses Small Batch Select Bourbon Whiskey

Average Price: Roughly $32.99 (Total Wine) 

Alcohol Content: 45%

Why We Like It:

Four Roses Small Batch is a balanced bourbon whiskey you can enjoy straight up, with ice, or with your favorite mixer. 

On the nose, it has mellow spice with hints of caramel and sweet oak. It has ripened red berries and well-balanced and rich-tasting notes on the palate. 

The bourbon whiskey has a mellow symphony of spicy, rich with sweet and fruity aromas. The finish is smooth and pleasantly long. 

FAQs 

What is a good top-shelf bourbon whiskey?

Good top-shelf bourbon whiskey is made from premium ingredients and is usually rare and expensive.

They are often found on the top shelf, which signifies their price point and quality. 

Are good bourbon whiskeys always expensive?

No, good bourbon whiskey is not always expensive.

There are good bourbon whiskeys around $30 that have an amazing tasting profile and are versatile enough.  

Final Thoughts

Good bourbon whiskey has a rich and complex flavor profile. It can be enjoyed neat, with ice, or as a base liquor for bourbon cocktails

It has a more pronounced aroma and good mouthfeel than other bourbon whiskeys.

It is aged longer than the required aging of a classic bourbon whiskey to develop deeper and richer tasting notes. 

Reference:

  1. https://www.thespruceeats.com/effect-of-aging-on-liquor-759921 

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