Every product is carefully selected by our editors. If you buy from a link, we may earn a commission.
The 23 Best Bourbons to Drink in 2023
Everything you ever wanted to know about America’s favorite brown spirit, including, of course, the best bottles you can actually buy.
Bourbon, the Great American Spirit, is not as simple as one might think. Despite the increasing demand (and price) for much-hyped bottles, bourbon is an every-person drink. At the end of the day, it's a blue-collar spirit, made by thirsty farmers, for thirsty farmers. But underneath its fundamentals swims a deep sea of factors — additional rules and regulations, hype machines and deceptive marketing, false myths and a boom that began in 2008 and is still going strong today — that make bourbon more complex than it seems. Sour mash and bottled-in-bond, non-distiller-producers and high-ryes. Where’s the thirsty modern man, farmer or otherwise, to begin? We asked whiskey personality and author Fred Minnick to uncover which bottles of bourbon lining the shelves are actually worthy of your bar cart. From your daily sipper to the best bottle to bring to a party, here are the best bourbons to drink in 2023.
Best Overall BourbonKnob Creek Small Batch 9-Year Bourbon Read More
Best Splurge BourbonElijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon Read More
Best Budget BourbonEvan Williams Black Read More
Best Cocktail BourbonFour Roses Bourbon Read More
Best Craft BourbonNew Riff Bottled-in-Bond Read More
What Is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of whiskey that needs to meet a few criteria to officially be called "bourbon." First, bourbon can only be made in America, and its grain bill must include at least 51 percent of corn. Bourbon always has to be aged in new charred oak barrels at no more than 125 proof (or 62.5 percent alcohol), and it's not allowed to include any additives or colorings. At a minimum, bourbon must be 80 proof (or 40 percent alcohol), with its mash never allowed to exceed 160 proof (or 80 percent alcohol).
What Is the Best Bourbon?
We don't believe there is one "best" bourbon, but there are bottles that are best for certain moments. If you're making drinks, we prefer the light and spicy Four Roses bourbon. If you want craft bourbon, we love New Riff's dedication to Bottled-in-Bond whiskey-making and rich flavor profiles. Looking for something on the cheap? Evan William's Black Label is hard to beat for the money. For our money, the best do-it-all bourbon is Knob Creek's 9-year-old Small Batch offering. Here's the rub.
Bourbon Terms to Know
Straight Bourbon Whiskey: Bourbon that is stored in charred new oak for at least two years. It can be a blend of multiple straight bourbon whiskeys as long as they're all produced in the same state.
Bottled in Bond: Under the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, a bottled-in-bond spirit must be produced by one distillery in the same distilling season, then aged under federal supervision and cut and bottled at 100 proof.
Sour Mash: A fermentation technique used by almost all bourbon distillers that employs pre-fermented mash from a previous distilling in a new mash. The sour mash prevents wild yeast from entering the mash and causing infections.
Proof: The percentage of alcohol, displayed as double that of the alcohol percentage.
High Rye: A bourbon with a higher than normal percentage of mash bill made up of rye (as opposed to using more corn, wheat, or barley, the other main grains used in bourbon mash). This tends to produce spicier flavors in the bourbon.
Wheated: A bourbon with a higher than normal percentage of mash bill made up of wheat (the main grain remains corn). This tends to produce a softer, less spicy whiskey.
Small Batch: A subjective term signaling a bourbon made using a select number of barrels or recipes in a blended bottling.
Single Barrel: A bourbon made using single barrels, providing a higher range of variation in flavor and the chance at specific, unique characteristics.
Non-Distiller Producers (NDP): Companies that purchase their whiskey from someone else rather than making it themselves. This is not a new phenomenon and it plays a large role in blended bourbons.
About the Expert
We relied on one of the most-esteemed bourbon experts in America, Fred Minnick. He has written multiple books on bourbon, has served as a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the World Whiskey Awards, is the founder of Bourbon+ magazine, was the former lead American whiskey reviewer at Whiskey Advocate, hosts The Fred Minnick Show podcast (about bourbon) and is the Bourbon Authority for the Kentucky Derby Museum. Simply put, Minnick knows bourbon better than almost anyone in America. He has contributed frequently to our bourbon coverage over the years and is someone we regard as a friend.
New and Upcoming Releases
Our inclusions in this guide are based on real-world testing and firsthand expert feedback, but there are a few new and upcoming bourbons we haven't had a chance to try yet that still warranted a mention. You may or may not see these bottles show up in a more official form in a future version of this guide once we've tried them ourselves.
Hardin’s Creek Jacob’s Well: In summer 2022, bourbon legend Jim Beam launched a new high-end label called Hardin’s Creek. The label launched with just two bourbons in its portfolio: the two-year Colonel James B. Beam and the more premium Jacob’s Well. The latter is a blend of a 16-year-old bourbon and a 15-year-old high-rye bourbon that pays tribute to the family’s first distiller, Jacob Beam, and it’s said to be some of the best bourbon being produced at the busy distillery. It has a suggested MSRP of $150, and Reserve Bar is your best bet for snagging a bottle.
Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon: Every year for the past eight years, Texas-based distillery Garrison Brothers has released their fan-favorite Cowboy Bourbon: an uncut and unfiltered straight bourbon that’s produced in limited numbers. For 2022, the rugged western whiskey is a blend of 8- and 9-year-old barrels from the distillery and clocks in at a whopping 134.8 proof. Tasting notes include monkey bread aroma and Texas-style Dublin Dr. Pepper, making for one interesting palate. Production is limited to 8,600 bottles nationwide, and it sells for $250.
Pappy Van Winkle 2022 Lineup: No list of the best bourbons is complete without a mention of Pappy Van Winkle. The holy grail of bourbon brands announced its annual slate of whiskeys in October 2022, and the release includes a total of five bourbons along with a rye. The bourbons range from the $70, 107-proof Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10-Year-Old to the top-shelf, 95.6-proof Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23-Year-Old, which has a suggested retail price of $300. As with all Pappy releases, the actual price you’ll pay for a bottle will likely be significantly more, but in a welcome change of pace, the yields were higher in 2022 than in previous years, so more bottles were available than usual.
Dread River Master Series by Eboni Major: Eboni Major is one of the rising stars of the bourbon world. The first Black blender at a major distillery, Major previously made waves as the Whiskey Blender at Bulleit. Now, she's struck out on her own, and in the tail-end of 2022 she debuted her first independent effort — a tribute to her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama put out by the city's upstart distillery, Dread River. A 100-proof blend of 2017 and 2019 bourbons, Major's mix — which is the first in Dread River's new Master Series — has tasting notes of cherry, apples, oak and light vanilla. It went up for preorder in January 2023 with a retail price of $115.