For an updated list, click here.

 

If I had a dollar for every time someone asks me what my top 10 bourbons are, I’d be a rich man.

It’s difficult to really answer that because I like lots of different bourbons for lots of different reasons.  Depending on my mood, I may prefer a different flavor at a different time.  But I’m not afraid to name-drop, so I thought I’d take a stab at a few lists.  Naturally, I reserve the right to alter this, update it, and completely switch it around whenever I see fit, for any reason, or wherever whim takes me!

Also bear in mind that I don’t claim to have tried every bourbon ever released, nor do I claim that I can particularly remember some of the ones I’ve sampled.  Bourbon has that effect on a brain, you know.

But here goes:

The Official “Modern Thirst Bourbon Lists

Top 10 Bourbons Overall:

This category is pretty straightforward.  I’ve tasted a lot of bourbons over the years, and though I may not own bottles of all of them today, or haven’t had them recently enough to write a full review, these are the 10 bourbons that stand out in my mind as bottles I’d give my left foot to have again (or have more of):

  1. George T Stagg (2009)
  2. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 125th Anniversary (2013)
  3. William Larue Weller (2013)
  4. Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year (2004 bottling)
  5. Willett Family Estate 10 year (Store Selection)
  6. 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel
  7. Parker’s Heritage 7th edition, Promise of Hope
  8. Pappy Van Winkle 15 year (2004 bottling)
  9. Evan Williams Barrel Proof (Gift Shop Only)
  10. Four Roses Private Selection OESF (Store Selection)

 

 Top Barrel Strength Bourbons:

Ahh….now we’re getting into some fun territory.  My personal favorites: the bourbons they suck from the barrel and pour straight into bottles with no water added.  I’m leaving out some store selections and private barrel selections here, because they aren’t necessarily available.  But if you find them, Willet’s Family Estate selections are usually fantastic, and Four Roses Barrel Strength private selections are outstanding.

  1. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 125th Anniversary (2013)
  2. George T. Stagg (2009 especially)
  3. William Larue Weller 2013
  4. Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition (any year )
  5. Stagg Jr.
  6. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
  7. Colonel E. H. Taylor Barrel Proof
  8. Evan Williams Barrel Proof (Gift Shop Only)
  9. Angel’s Envy Barrel Proof
  10. Bookers

 

Special note: Knob Creek Single Barrel and Evan Williams Barrel Proof (Gift Shop Only) are both sometimes referred to as barrel proof. In reality, they are basically “Styled” as barrel proof, but both would be on this list otherwise.

 

Top 5 “Available Today” Bourbons:

It’s all fine and dandy to list all these bourbons few people will ever find or get the opportunity to purchase.  So what about the casual shopper and drinker?  This list contains bourbons that typically can be picked up in a well-stocked bourbon section of a big box liquor store.  So if I was out of town and away from my own bourbon collection, this is a list of what I might look for in a liquor store to get me through a week of vacation:

  1. Booker’s
  2. Blanton’s
  3. Knob Creek Single Barrel
  4. Elijah Craig
  5. Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage
  6. Four Roses Single Barrel

 

Best 5 Bourbon Values (great drinks under $35 a bottle):

This is fairly self-explanatory, but this if for those who don’t want to sell a kidney to purchase a bottle of bourbon.

  1. Knob Creek Single Barrel
  2. Henry McKenna Single Barrel 10 Year
  3. Four Roses Single Barrel
  4. Eagle Rare
  5. Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 year

 

Top “Wheated” Bourbons:

With the recent “Pappy” craze, I’d be remiss to not mention my favorite “wheaters.”  These bourbons, like Pappy, use wheat as the secondary mash grains in their mash bills.

  1. William LaRue Weller (2013)
  2. Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year (Stitzel-Weller era)
  3. Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 Year (early Batches)
  4. Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year (S-W Era)
  5. Rip Van Winkle 12 Year Lot B
  6. Makers Mark Cask Strength
  7. Weller 12 Year
  8. Old Fitzgerald 12 Year
  9. Larceny
  10. Old Weller Antique

 

Top “semi-accessible” Wheated Bourbons:

Furthering the thought from above, the Pappy craze has also led to a huge shortage in good wheated bourbons.  These are bourbons that can at least occasionally be found on many bourbon shelves in major liquor stores:

  1. W.L. Weller 12 Year (seasonal, can be difficult to locate at times)
  2. Old Fitzgerald 12 year (seasonal, can be mildly difficult to locate at times)
  3. Larceny
  4. Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond
  5. Maker’s 46
  6. Old Weller Antique
  7. W.L. Weller Special Reserve

Top “Bottled-in-Bond” Bourbons:

To some, the idea of “bottled-in-bond” strikes a chord.  For me, I just like the idea of 100 proof.  Regardless, there’s a definite market for BiB bourbons, and here’s my list (It’s a short list…there aren’t a ton of BiB Bourbons these days, but I’ll add to it as I taste more):

  1. Colonel E. H. Taylor Small batch
  2. Henry McKenna Single Barrel 10 year
  3. Colonel E. H. Taylor Single Barrel
  4. Evan Williams White Label (TIE)
  5. Heaven Hill 6 Year (TIE)
  6. Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond
  7. Very Old Barton Bottled-in-Bond
  8. Old Grand Dad Bottled-in-Bond

 

Top Rye/Other Whiskeys:

  1. 2014 Parker’s Heritage Collection Wheat Whiskey
  2. Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye (Any Year)
  3. Cask Strength Smooth Ambler Rye
  4. Sazerac 18 year (any year)
  5. Thomas H. Handy (Any year)
  6. Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond
  7. Willett Family Estate 4-Year
  8. Bernheim Wheat Whiskey
  9. Angel’s Envy Rye
  10. Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year Rye Whiskey

 

Feel free to add comments with your own lists or your thoughts on mine!

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About Author

Bill is the Co-Founder, Editor-in Chief, and official Bourbon-o-Phile for ModernThirst.com, and the President and Chief Blending Officer for Four Gate Whiskey Company. He is a native of Louisville, KY in the heart of Bourbon Country. He attended the University of Kentucky in the mid to late 1990s. He has also been published on Liquor.com. He has conducted various bourbon and whiskey tastings in cities across the country, and consulted for multiple national labels. He is married with two daughters, and lives in east Louisville. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BillStraub and email him at Bill@ModernThirst.com.

13 Comments

    • The Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year just doesn’t stack up. Until recently, it was sold as a value or bottom-shelf bourbon. Once the “pappy” craze kicked in, Buffalo Trace changed the bottle shape to match the rest of hte line and started marketing it like a top shelf bourbon. It’s not. It tastes young, underdeveloped, and one-dimensional. I know it’s popular, but so is Maker’s Mark and so is maker’s 46, both of which are wheated and aren’t on this list, though Maker’s 46 came closer to making it than ORVW 10, and I may add it in the near future, as I think it’s probably closer to the 12 year version of Weller than the standard W.L. Weller Special Reserve.

      ORVW 10 isn’t a “bad” bourbon, but it’s not a premium one. Its popularity is due to scarcity in the market and lack of education on the product by consumers who, like they do with the Weller lines, wrongly assume anything mildly related to the Pappy line must be of the highest quality.

  1. Darn it Bill… just discovered your lists. Looks like I have a lot more to try. I have a bottle of Knob Creek I was going to open after the holidays. But is McKenna really that good? I have yet to try it. Looks like a trip to Specs in my not too distant future. Where’s the Elmer T. Lee? That’s a must drink for under 30. And you left Makers off your wheater list… Wow!
    Mad props for posting the lists. Great conversation starter. If you get a chance, grab some Rendezvous Rye from High West in Utah. And try Breaking and Entering out of St George in Cali. The B&E will surprise you. Not one absolutely outstanding attribute, but so solid, it disappears before your eyes.
    Happy New Year everyone. Cheers!

    • Hey Gary! I haven’t updated this list in a while, and it’s probably well past time to do so. I’ll work on that today and hopefully have some updates soon.

      I generally don’t like Makers Mark too much, I liken it to the standard W.L. Weller. But the cask strength makers will most DEFINITELY be on the list when revised. its’ excellent.

      I’ve seen High West and Rendezvous on shelves, but haven’t tried them yet. I’ll get around to them. I’ve dabbled in Rye here and there, and with premium bourbons being harder and harder to find, I may shift my focus more towards rye this year just based on availability.

      Cheers!

  2. You’re in the land of Liquor Barn and it’s hard for you to come by? That means darn near impossible down here deep in Texas.
    That McKenna must be some good stuff. That will be my next purchase. Thanks for updating the list.

    • I really like the McKenna. 10 years old, bottled in bond- that’s a rarity these days. 100 proof tends to be the sweet spot for me.

      I had a conversation with Fred Minnick about what bourbons being produced today that we really liked, and we both said this one. Granted, I’m a fan of the Heaven hill flavor profile already…lots of barrel char in their juice…makes for a very bold flavors, even in their lower proof offerings. But if you’re into really delicate, soft, light bourbons, Heaven Hill may not be top of the list.

  3. Anything even mildly ‘limited’ is gone within minutes of hitting the shelves here, unfortunately. I haven’t seen Weller 12 on shelves in 2 years.

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  5. Love your List. I refer to it often. Our tastes are so similar. I’m a real wheated guy as i must assume you are as well. I’ve been collecting for some years now and have almost everything on all your Lists on hand. My son and i polished off my only bottle of Jefferson’s Presidential Select (Batch 12) late last year, it was delicious and superb. My Pappy 20 is vintage 2009 and my Pappy 15 is also vintage 2009, love them both. I still have about one third of my George T. Stagg from 2009, (2009 was a very good year…ha ha ha). anyway I just wanted to say after reading and re-reading your Lists many times that you have put together (in my opinion) the quintessential Lists. thanks for the reading…. :).

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