Jason Wilson's Bourbon Recommendations

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bourbon is one of the best values in the liquor store. You can buy some of its finest expressions at prices that don't break the bank.

Note: In cases where no age is listed, that is because it is not declared by the distillery, but those bourbons have all aged at least seven years.

Excellent at Under $40

Buffalo Trace, 90 proof, $20

One of the best-value whiskeys in the world. Versatile for sipping neat or in cocktails. Buttery, with notes of sweet corn and honey.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage (1999), nine to 10 years old, 86.6 proof, $26

Slightly more mellow than the usual 90-to-100-proof offerings but with an explosion of flavor: nutty, fruity, light caramel.

Eagle Rare Old Single Barrel 10 Year, 90 proof, $27

Amazing value. Elegant and winelike, with raisins, maple, even tropical fruit, and just enough spice and oak so it's not too sweet.

Maker's Mark, six years old, 90 proof, $27

Proves age isn't everything. One of the few wheated bourbons. Lush on the tongue, with hints of mint mingling with the vanilla and burned caramel.

Knob Creek, nine years old, 100 proof, $30

Great go-to brand for those who like a little higher proof in their old fashioned.

Russell's Reserve, 10 years old, 90 proof, $30

Dry with lovely rye notes. The perfect everyday bourbon, at least in my house.

Woodford Reserve, 90.4 proof, $34

Unique nose of tobacco leaf, fruit and maple, but creamy, with citrus and apricot on the tongue. The only triple-distilled bourbon, with about the longest, nicest finish around.

Basil Hayden's, eight years old, 80 proof, $38

Some aficionados look down on this because of its low proof, but I like it for its mellowness and bit of spice. Besides, how often are you really going to reach for that 126-proof, cask-strength bottling?


Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Years Old Lot "B," 90.4 proof, $47

A wheated bourbon, which some say ages better than rye. This may be heresy, but I actually like to sip this much better than its coveted older brother, the Pappy Van Winkle 23 year.

Elijah Craig Single Barrel, 18 years old, 90 proof, $47

A deep, profound whiskey. Caramel, sweet corn, even pineapple notes. Worth the upgrade from the 12-year (though that's also a great value at $26).

Four Roses Single Barrel, 100 proof, $55

Big, complex, lots of rye, with a spicy finish, but tamed by notes of honey and almond. Perhaps America's best whiskey. I break this open for very good friends.

-- Jason Wilson

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