How Do I Choose the Best Bourbon?

Andrea Cross

Bourbon is whiskey that is popular as both a mixed drink and as a sipping spirit in its own right. Most iconically produced in Kentucky, for a bourbon to be classified as such, it must be at least 51% corn. Bourbon makers must age the liquor in new, charred-white oak barrels, and it must be 80- to 160-proof alcohol. When choosing the best bourbon, buy one based on whether it will be combined with a mixer or drunk on its own. This influences the flavor and cost of the brand you buy.

Bourbon, a type of corn whiskey, is aged in charred oak barrels.
Bourbon, a type of corn whiskey, is aged in charred oak barrels.

If you are going to be making a cocktail with the bourbon you buy, you want to choose one based on flavor and cost. When making a cocktail with this spirit, choose one to complement the mixer. You do not want the alcohol to overpower the mix or the mix to overpower the alcohol. Look for a spirit that is lighter in color because these often have a more delicate flavor that is better for mixing. You should choose a bourbon that has a light to medium-bodied finish as this allows you to still taste the flavor of the spirit through the mix.

Bourbon may be drank straight, or mixed in drinks.
Bourbon may be drank straight, or mixed in drinks.

For making cocktails, look for a brand that contains barley and wheat as well as corn; these types tend to have a softer, sweeter taste more conducive to mixing. You should also take into consideration the char rating, which indicates the degree of charring of the barrel that the whiskey was matured in. Choose a brand that has a char rating of two or less, which produces a lighter spirit. If you are mixing this alcohol, you can choose a less expensive brand.

If the bourbon is to be enjoyed on its own, it is usually worth purchasing a more expensive brand. Choose one that has a darker, richer color for its stronger, more complex taste. Ideally, you want the finish to be medium to full-bodied. Look for brands that use either the traditional recipe of corn, rye, and barley or, if you prefer a spicier taste, one that has a higher rye content. More heavily charred whiskies, with ratings of three to four, are better for sipping as they have a more intense taste.

The best way to choose a bourbon is to do a taste test and compare different types to see which one you prefer. You can often do this at seminars, distilleries, and up-scale bars. It is also helpful to join forums and speak to experienced whiskey drinkers, who will be able to discuss different choices with you. Finally, when you go to purchase a bottle, ask the store clerk to recommend something. Often, they have good experience on which brands to choose.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Best advice for bourbon? The older it is, the better and smoother it is. That means you'll pay a bit of a premium for the good stuff, but you don't won't rotgut that was primarily aged in the bottle as it was being shipped to the liquor store, do you? Remember -- bourbon is a distinctively American drink just as scotch is distinctively Scottish.

Post your comments
Forgot password?