I considered posting a top 10 list of best whiskeys of 2017. But since every blogger and writer in the country beat me to it during my bout with bubonic plague (flu), I’ll change it up a bit.

I get a lot of questions about my favorite whiskeys, the best whiskeys, etc. It’s hard to really answer a lot of those because i have so many bottles and I love so many of them. But there are a handful of bottles I actively seek out with regularity and some that I will replace the next time I pass a liquor store as soon as I finish them.

This isn’t a list of my favorite whiskeys, per say. First off, I don’t pay secondary prices so there aren’t any bottles purchased for 4x retail on a secondary site. I’m not knocking that, but this list is about what the average joe can find in my area, at least, with minimal effort.  So there’s no George T. Stagg on my list, though I wish there could be. This also can’t by definition, include one-time releases that can’t be replicated. While some require a minimal amount of effort, none of these are incredibly hard to find. Otherwise, I’d have A Midwinter Night’s Dram on here and Rebel Yell 10 year. I seem to strike out on those with regularity. There are always nicer bottles around my bar as well, but I can’t ever be sure which ones will be there at a given time.

Here are ten bottles I always make sure to keep on my bar:

1. EH Taylor Small Batch

EH Taylor Small Batch

I could swap this out with Blanton’s and be perfectly happy. Despite being from two different mash bills, they have a lot of similar characteristics. Yes, both are becoming harder to find, but they aren’t impossible, and they don’t break the bank. EH Taylor gets the nod here because of price.It’s the right proof and the right price for a great sipping whiskey, and it’s becoming easier and easier to find these days.

2. Knob Creek Single Barrel

Liquid Gold

You can buy this off the shelf anywhere, but the best way to go is to find a store or groups that does good private picks and load up. This is an easily attainable high proof flavor bomb. Consistently attainable, consistently excellent, and consistently undervalued by bourbon snobs.

3. Heaven Hill 6 Year Bottled in Bond

Heaven Hill 6YR Bottled in Bond

This is a regional one, obviously, as this doesn’t find its way to many corners of the globe. But Here in Kentucky, it’s plentiful and ridiculously cheap ($13 or less). It’s also a perfect example of Heaven Hill’s commitment to producing great whiskey at great value.

4. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

This is a more difficult one to find unless you want to pay higher prices at the distillery, but ECBP is not TOO hard to find if you work a little at it, and is a great price point. 12 years old and 120+ proof, it’s a full flavored, well-aged powerhouse. One of my absolute favorites.

5. Old Fitzgerald


I go back and forth between Old Fitz Prime and Old Fitz Bonded. I like them both, and they’re cheap. Mainly ,these are kept on hand for mixing with Ginger Beer (Diet, thanks to my need to go low carb). It’s an easy wheated bourbon to keep on hand, and like the Heaven Hill 6 year Bonded, both can be hard to find outside of some areas, so it’s a nice surprise for a lot of visitors. If you don’t get Old Fitz, try out Larceny. It’s the same mash bill, but the choice barrels with a little more age (6-9 years). Yeah, it’s more expensive (around $30), but it’s a solid wheater.


6. Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel 10 year.

This is another example of a product that is absolutely awesome in a private barrel format with the right palate picking. Classic Wild Turkey flavors at 110 proof and enough age to give it a ton of barrel notes.

7. Four Roses Single Barrel Barrel Proof

Again with the barrel picks, Bill? Yes, again. because that’s the only way these are sold, though they aren’t exactly impossible to find.  They range from decent to excellent, and the Four Roses profile is so unique that every bottle is different.



8. Rittenhouse Rye

There’s gotta be a rye whiskey on the list, right? Rittenhouse is cheap, 100 proof, and bottled-in-bond, and easy to find. It’s solid Rye flavor that sips wonderfully and mixes easily (and easily on the wallet). Heaven Hill again. There’s a trend here.

9. Buffalo Trace

Standard old Buffalo Trace. It’s just good. When I find a private barrel pick, I nab it up. When I don’t’ find a private pick, I make sure I have a bottle of standard on hand at all times. It ticks all the boxes, is recognizable, and has that trademark Buffalo Trace flavor.

10. Stagg Jr.

Yeah, like ECBP this doesn’t just grow on trees, but I’ve been lucky to find it with some regularity. It’s really tasty, actually older than a lot of other barrel proof whiskeys people pay a lot more for, and I really like the variation from batch to batch.


There’s my ten must-haves. Keep in mind, I have anywhere from 120-200 bottles at any given time, but I don’t rush out to replace all of them when I finish them off. The others tend to rotate in based on availability, price, mood, and what we are sent to review. These are also the bottles I don’t tend to save and dole out in a miserly fashion. If it’s open, it’s there to share. It’s also, therefore, the whiskey I drink the most of.

There are certainly others I buy with regularity. I can’t say why I do it, but I always buy Old Weller Antique and then let it sit unopened forever because I’m not really a Weller guy. Eventually, I get an urge to open it or I give it as a gift, but I usually have 2-4 bottles sitting around. An exception to that is a private pick, just because they’re rare and some are quite nice. I always have some Old Forester around as well, but the specific bottle varies based on my mood. I really like to have 1920 on hand, and Old Forester Signature. I used to keep standard Knob Creek at all times, but demand for that from guests has dropped to near nil.

How about you? What do you always make sure to keep in stock?

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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.


  1. I currently have the Knob Creek and Elijah Craig (though the EC is the base not the “Barrel Proof”). I just finished a bottle of Larceny last night.

  2. It’s no surprise that I share some whiskey preferences with my friend Bill Straub – who is responsible for the lion’s share of content on this blog. While Mark Stocker gets the credit for introducing me to bourbon back at UK, I know what I know about bourbon because Bill has taking the time to educate me. And now, with ModernThirst.com racing past 3,000,000 visitors since launching three years ago, I’d say he’s doing a fair job of educating much of the bourbon-loving community!

    Here is my list of 10 whiskeys:
    1. Wild Turkey 101. Say what you want, but it’s exceptional, it’s smooth, and at $25/bottle, it won’t break your bank).
    2. Blanton’s. This is my go-to when I’m out at a place with a decent bourbon selection. And, thanks to an exceptional boss, it’s now also a part of my bar (and shall remain so for the duration).
    3. EH Taylor Small Batch – I love this stuff – it is literally right inside of my flavor preference spectrum.
    4. Knob Creek Small Batch
    5. Rittenhouse Rye – This is directly Bill’s fault.
    6. Old Fitzgerald Bonded – It’s worth a trip to Kentucky to pick up a bottle.
    7. Maker’s Mark – This is where Billy and I part ways. But I’ve been drinking this since I knew there was something better than white label, 7-year Jim Beam (my first love).
    8. Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond – Again, Bill’s fault. But it’s very good, and it’s a departure from my regulars.
    9. Elijah Craig. This may change – it was the least expensive 12-year bourbon on the market, but demand has made them abandon their age statement. It’s still good, but I’m not as enamored as I once was.
    10. White label, 7-year Jim Beam. I buy it when I can find it, and I’ve only ever found it in Kentucky. It was, as I said above, my first love. And it’s amazing when added to Coke or a large hot chocolate.

    If you have your own list, I’d love to see it. 🙂 Happy Friday!

  3. Hey Bill,

    Great list and have most of those bottles myself. I’m newer to the world of bourbon/whisk(e)y and just really started getting into it back in mid-2015. I was always a Jack Daniels fan in my college years and thought that it was what all whiskey was lol – needless to say, my thoughts have changed a bit over the past few years. The catalyst that really got me into it was my first sip of Bulleit Bourbon, neat. And it’s all been downhill from there!

    It’s always interesting seeing others preferences and why they like what they like. Here’s my top 10 in no particular order:

    1 – Buffalo Trace – have to have it. As soon as it’s half full (cause I’m optimistic) I go and search for the next. It’s getting harder and harder to find on a weekly basis so have to bunker down a couple at a time. This is the ideal bourbon under $40 in my cabinet.

    2 – 4R SB – One of my favorite small batch bourbons. Great neat or over a couple cubes of ice. I find it to be one of the more complex “standard” bourbons out there for under $30. An all around solid whiskey.

    3 – Michter’s American Whiskey – this is a newer one that I’ve added to my stock that I will continue to always have a bottle of. The Vanilla notes blow my mind and reminds me of drinking a true, cream soda. For someone looking for a smooth whiskey that’s a little different, I would definitely give it a try. It doesn’t disappoint!

    4 – Very Old Barton’s BiB – all i can say about this one is WOW. The flavors are amazing and (from what I’ve experienced) are some of the most complex that I’ve found in a bargain bourbon. It’s getting harder to find these days so I try to always leave a bottle stocked before I crack the last one. But at under $17 a bottle? In the famous words of Steve Miller – “Take the money and run…” Or in this case take MY money!

    5 – Woodford Reserve Double Oaked – It’s elegant…it’s fair-priced…it’s some damn delicious stuff. The caramel notes are present from the nose to the finish and is smooth as a baby’s bottom. And it’s always available (at least in my region). Not to mention the new bottling is pretty sexy…

    6 – Rebel Yell SiB – Yep, that’s right – REBEL YELL. I’m not going to lie. I was completely caught off guard when I saw my first bottle in ’16 and wen’t “$65??? – no way!” Then i read up on it. 10 year age statement? Okay, now you’ve got my wheels turning. So I went for it and was blown away. I’ve had a couple different bottling’s now and can say while they’ve differed slightly, they have all been really good. It’s not quite Weller Antique, but it’s one of my favorite wheaters. Good stuff. I just wish that RY would use this as a benchmark moving forward for their other whiskeys…

    7 – Old Weller Antique 107 – Do I really need say anything more? This stuff is just simply fantastic. I’ll even go as far as to say i find it more tasty than both the Weller 12 yr (yep, I went there) as well as RVW 10. I find it super similar to the Rip 10, but just slightly smoother. Yes, both are 107 proof. The ONLY gripe is the same you’ll find anywhere – it’s almost non-existent in most regions of the country. When i see it, I buy it. And at (or around MSRP). Such fantastic, amazing bourbon.

    8 – Willett Family Estate Rye – Oh my lord. This is one of my favorite whiskey’s that has ever touched my lips. Have a 2 and 3 year currently. Would love to some day be able to enjoy a 6, 7 or 8 year (keep dreaming, right?!) but these check off all my boxes. Amazing nose. Amazing mouthfeel. And the finish is indescribable. So unctuous and flat out great juice.

    9 – EC 12 yr. BP. – Just as you said, this Barrel Proof is just bloody fantastic. It’s no wonder why Whiskey Advocate named it the ’17 Whisk(e)y of the Year. Simply put? DAMN GOOD. It’s great on a cold, winter night in Iowa as well. Harder to find of course, but when you can just need to go for it and bunker down a couple bottles.

    10 – Elmer T. Lee – If this were more available it would hands down be my daily dram. There’s nothing anyone can say to me that would change it. I love it from the minute it touches my lips to the very bottom of the glass. While every once in a while I’ll throw it over a bit of ice, it’s best neat. Smooth and the flavors are simply fantastic. If I see a bottle, I buy it. I’ll even go as far as to pay double the MSRP on it. Yep, I love it THAT much.

    Well, there ya have it! Cheers!

    • Hi Ryan!
      I agree with you on the Michter’s American Whiskey. In side-by-side tastings, I always think it’s the star of the standard Michter’s lineup. I need to grab a bottle for a review on the site. and RY10yr was my whiskey of the year for 2016 along with OldFO 1920. If I could buy bottles of it with more regularity, it would be my daily as well.

      • Hi Bill,

        Yep, agreed that it’s the best out of the 4, standard Michter’s. So good!

        Well, I can see why. That release in ’16 was just a knock-out wheater. Not trying to dog RY in the slightest, but it’s hard to believe that you’re actually drinking RY with it. Some tasty juice. I have yet to try the 1920 but I now know what I’ll be purchasing next week (gotta bunker down some cash after the ’17 4R LE I just purchased a couple hours ago…) – thanks for the tip!



  4. Well, since this is a whisky list, and malt whiskys seem to be woefully underrepresented here, I’ll give you all my favorite 10 go to whiskys.

    1.) Suntory Yamazaki 12 Year Single Malt – The whisky that launched my writing career. Still one of my very favorite whiskys from any region. Don’t sleep on the Japanese when it comes to whisky making. Get a bottle (if you can find one).

    2.) Sazerac Rye 6 Year – Even though it is a low rye recipe, this Buffalo Trace-produced beauty is still my favorite rye whisky by a long shot. Great by itself, in an Old Fashioned, or in its namesake cocktail, the Sazerac.

    3.) Old Potrero Single Malt Rye – The progenitor of the craft beer movement, Fritz Maytag, makes a mean whisky over in the Anchor Brewstillery. Sweet, fruity, and powerful.

    4.) Glenmorangie Nector D’or – Like sipping silky smooth honey right from from the hive. There are very few scotches in its price range that can touch it.

    5.) 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Barrel Select Bourbon – Once the toast of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, Sazerac Company’s gem is still at the top of my list for affordable, smooth, and tasty bourbons.

    6.) Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky – Another Japanese whisky proving that our friends in the land of the rising sun know exactly what they are doing with barley malt.

    7.) Willett Pot Still Bourbon – The pot still doubler distillation does wonders for this bourbon. Smooth, sweet, and complex. Definitely one that will always have a place in my collection.

    8.) George Dickel Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey – Although the quality of the George Dickel brand has waned since the purchase by Diageo (the cancer of the spirits world), this one is still just as good as ever.

    9.) The Macallan Rare Cask Strength Scotch Whisky – At around 112 proof, you may think this Scotch would be undrinkable but nothing could be further from the truth. A whisky tailor-made for the rocks, Macallan definitely reminds its drinkers of why they are the pound for pound king in Scotland year after year.

    10.) Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon – A bourbon once declared by Esquire Magazine as one of the best deals on the face of the planet, Evan Williams is now, and will always be one of my go to whiskys. It is the one that started me down the path of learning about all things whisky in the first place many years ago.

    • There are a number there I haven’t tasted at all. I certainly haven’t reviewed most of those yet. But Old Potrero and Suntory Yamazaki are on my short list of malt whiskeys to try.

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