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The 22 Best Bourbons to Drink in 2022

Everything you ever wanted to know about America’s favorite brown spirit, including, of course, the best bottles you can actually buy.

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Henry Phillips

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 of 2022.

    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.

    The Best Bourbons of 2022

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    Best Overall Bourbon
    Knob Creek Small Batch 9-Year Bourbon
    Mash and Grape

    In a whiskey market that's become increasingly fragmented and allocated, Knob Creek's classic small batch bourbon distinguishes itself. It's our best overall bourbon not by way of life-altering tasting notes, but by stuffing the stat sheet in a way no other bourbon can. It is available everywhere and thus resistant to the price gouging associated with brands like Buffalo Trace. Its 100 proof retains a full body and mixes bonafides without lighting your mouth on fire. And this year the brand got its 9-year age guarantee back, too. If you're looking for the best value in bourbon, just get this.

    Proof: 100

    Average Price: $30 – $40

    Best Splurge Bourbon
    Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon
    Drizly

    This bourbon won Whisky Advocate’s whiskey of the year, and Minnick was on the tasting panel. “It was very, very nice bourbon,” he says, wistfully. It has none of the harshness you’d expect from a 133.2 proof bourbon, and doesn’t undergo chill filtering — instead just using light filtration to remove barrel char flakes.

    Proof: 125+

    Average Price: $65

    Best Budget Bourbon
    Evan Williams Black
    Drizly

    “If Evan Williams were to sell this whiskey to someone else, that brand would mark it up to $40, and people would be happy buying it,” Minnick says. But Evan Williams is a value brand. So its whiskey, at a great proof point of 86 and an age that Minnick says is roughly five-and-a-half years old, goes for less than $20. “It’s a fantastic bourbon, especially for the money,” he says. “You can get a lot of satisfaction out of that.”

    Proof: 86

    Average Price: $20

    Best Cocktail Bourbon
    Four Roses Bourbon
    Drizly

    “This is such a dynamic whiskey,” Minnick says. “And it’s the best cocktail bourbon out there.” Four Roses is a highly regarded distillery, with a high-rye mash bill that produces an extra spiciness and a concentration on yeast that has been “eye-opening” for the bourbon world. They’ve also led the way in transparency. “They’ll tell you everything there is to know about their whiskey — they don’t hide the mash bill, the distillation proof. I presume you could ask ’em how much their CEO makes and they’d tell you,” Minnick says.

    Proof: 80

    Average Price: $12 – $20

    Best Craft Bourbon
    New Riff Bottled-in-Bond
    New Riff

    New Riff Distilling was founded in 2014. “Relative to Kentucky, they’ve been around for a few days. The rest of the nation is just kinda getting to know ’em,” Minnick says. The mash bill here, made entirely of non-GMO grains, is 65 percent corn, 30 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley.

    Proof: 100

    Average Price: $40

    Best Underrated Bourbon
    Old Grand Dad 114
    Drizly

    In 2017, Jim Beam’s Old Grand-Dad line of whiskeys was nearly axed. Now, thanks to rising whiskey prices and a consistently strong product, the brand — shortened to OGD by fans — has a cult following. Because it’s not a “hype” whiskey, doesn’t have a famous name and isn’t a limited release, it doesn’t get talked about — but I challenge you to find a bourbon with this much firepower at the price point. Its relatively low-corn mashbill (only 63 percent) is also unique, utilizing a staggering amount of rye and malted barley, creating a spicy bourbon ideal for drinking on the rocks or in a cocktail.

    Proof: 114

    Average Price: $25 – $35

    Best New Bourbon
    George Dickel 8 Year Bourbon
    Total Wine

    Ninety-nine percent of Dickel products are officially Tennessee Whisky, not bourbon. Like in-state rivals Jack Daniel's, the brand is keen to remind drinkers that the two are not the same (even though they kind of are). Released in 2021, Dickel 8-Year Bourbon is the company's first official foray into bourbon whiskey, and it's a value-driven powerhouse. For something around $30, you get an expertly blended whiskey aged a minimum of 8 years and bottled at a casual 90 proof. Its price, proof and age suggest it could be your next home bar staple.

    Proof: 90

    Average Price: $25 – $35

    Best Budget Sipper
    Larceny Small Batch Bourbon
    Drizly

    “This has an incredible sweetness to it,” Minnick says. “It’s not complex, but the sweetness is really nice — the way it hits the palate. It’s a good, inexpensive, wheated everyday sipper.”

    Proof: 92

    Average Price: $20 – $25

    Best Bourbon to Pair With Food
    Maker's Mark
    Drizly

    Minnick has a unique use for one of bourbon’s classic names. “I drink so much Makers with BBQ,” he says. Its mellow balance — helped by the prominent caramel notes of its wheated mash bill — doesn’t overpower meaty flavors.

    Proof: 90

    Average Price: $30 – $35

    Best Kentucky Straight Bourbon
    Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
    Drizly

    Though it shares DNA with other Heaven Hill bourbons like Evan Williams and Henry McKenna, Elijah Craig Small Batch is balanced, with extra maltiness. “It’s got so much caramel, and a beautiful nutmeg note,” Minnick says. “This is all about the sweetness.”

    Proof: 94

    Average Price: $25 – $35

    Best Bourbon for a Party
    Early Times Bottled-in-Bond
    Drizly

    No one cared about Early Times until Sazerac (Buffalo Trace Distillery) bought it from Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel's, Old Forester, Woodford Reserve). The whiskey inside Early Times' wicked affordable Bottled-in-Bond expression is Brown-Forman-made, though, and it has that sweet-and-smooth Basil Hayden's thing going on, just more a more solid boozey backbone. Oh, and it's sold in liters.

    Proof: 100

    Average Price: $25

    Best Gateway Bourbon
    Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
    Drizly
    Four Roses

    Four Roses’s upgrade over its standard offering blends 180 barrels of four different recipes per bottling. “If you love cinnamon notes, you’ll love this,” Minnick says. It’s more complex than regular FR, but still drinks easy. “It’s what I want to sip at a ballgame.”

    Proof: 90

    Average Price: $30 – $35

    Best Versatile Bourbon
    Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
    Drizly

    Don't take Woodford Reserve's Double Oaked's ubiquity for mediocrity. The spirit is one of those rare drinks that is loved by both bourbon enthusiasts and amateurs. While there's no age statement on the bottle, it's believed that Double Oaked is aged for at least six years. The juice starts its time in a new charred oak barrel (as it should) before its dumped into a second charred oak barrel that's been more deeply toasted. This makes a wonderful sipper or gift to a friend, and since Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, you best believe this makes an excellent base to a mint julep.

    Proof: 90.4

    Average Price: $50

    Most Nuanced Bourbon
    Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon
    Drizly

    It’s bottled at 115 proof — “for this distillery, that’s the perfect proof,” Minnick says. “I’m going through a bottle a month. The notes kind of just linger. You can have five different notes hitting at once. I believe that to be the definition of nuance.”

    Proof: 115

    Average Price: $60 – $70

    Best Bourbon to Drink Neat
    Four Roses Single Barrel
    Drizly

    Made using a single recipe and barrel per bottle, it’s between seven and eight years old and has more complexity than the Small Batch. “For being the same brand as the Small Batch, they taste very different. This one is more of a sipper. I want to really sit there and think about it when I’m drinking it,” Minnick says.

    Proof: 100

    Average Price: $40 – $50

    Best Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
    Henry McKenna Single Barrel
    Drizly

    The McKenna distillery was established in 1855, founded by the noted Irish immigrant distiller. Seagrams closed the business in the 1970s, and Heaven Hill purchased the brand name in 1994, but no longer uses the original recipe; as Minnick notes in his book, “The original yeast, mashbill, and flavor profile are gone, lost with time.” But one thing the new bottle does have is time: its 10 year age statement makes it one of the older bourbons at this price range. Take heed, though, since it somewhat controversially took home “Best in Show, Whiskey” at San Francisco World Spirits Competition a few years ago it’s been harder to come by, and more expensive than it used to be.

    Proof: 100

    Average Price: $50 – $75 (price varies store-to-store)

    Best Wheated Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
    Wilderness Trail 6-Year Bourbon
    Total Wine

    Craft bourbon's rep is tarnished by a few bad apples makes subpar whiskey. Wilderness Trail does not make subpar whiskey. One of the few universally praised non-macro whiskey makers in the U.S., its 6-year-old offering is Bottled-in-Bond, sweet mash bourbon with flavor that suggests the "6" on the label is a typo — this bourbon tastes significantly older. Whether it's the softer flavor imparted by the sweet mash (the vast majority of modern bourbon is sour mashed) or the distiller's proprietary "infusion mashing" process or something else entirely, the result is a wicked, wicked pour.

    Proof: 100

    Average Price: $65 – $75

    Best Giftable Bourbon
    Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon
    Drizly

    Don't tell your bourbon-drinking friends, but Russell's Reserve 10-year-old bourbon is one of the best values in the bourbon world. Age statement in the double digits for $40 or less? Yes. Produced by a respected distiller (Wild Turkey)? Yes. Nice, easy-drinking proof? Yes. This is what you drink when you need a break from barrel-proof juice.

    Proof: 90

    Average Price: $40

    Best High-End Craft Bourbon
    Stellum Bourbon
    Caskers

    One of the best new whiskeys of 2021, Stellum is a more affordable Barrell Bourbon. It's a cask strength blend created by the blending masters at Barrell Craft Spirits and it is a doozy. It's made up of whiskeys from Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky, with ages ranging from 4 to 16 years old. It's dynamic and well worth the $55 sticker price.

    Proof: 115 (varies by bottling)

    Average Price: $55

    Best Deep-Cut Bourbon
    Old Ezra 7-Year-Old
    Drizly

    Luxco’s Old Ezra line could is one of the best kept secrets in whiskey. Bourbon with an age statement and available at barrel strength for a good price? That’s nuts in today’s whiskey world.

    Proof: 117

    Average Price: ~$50

    Best Blended Bourbon
    Barrell Craft Spirits 15 Year Old Bourbon 2021 Edition
    Caskers

    You might notice there isn’t a price, tasting notes or distillery information listed on this pick. That’s because Barrell is, at this moment, the best blender of American whiskey there is (they have the trophy case to prove it). Each of its releases makes clear what went into it — distillery location, whiskey age, proof, etc. — and all are worth seeking out. Barrell is a blender, not a distiller, and the flavor mastery of founder Joe Beatrice and master distiller Tripp Stimson have won the old bourbon guard over. “It won my American Whiskey of the Year award [in 2018] in a blind tasting,” Minnick says. “It’s got so much flavor to it, so much complexity — it’s just brilliant whiskey.”

    Best Grail Bourbon
    William Larue Weller Bourbon
    Drizly

    “Are we including bottles that are impossible to find?” Minnick asks. Sure. This treasure from Buffalo Trace’s Antique collection does its namesake a service, representing some of the world’s best wheated bourbon, a style Weller himself pioneered. “If God gave birth to a bourbon child, this is what it would taste like,” Minnick says. “It’s so fucking amazing.”

    Proof: 120+

    Average Price: $800+

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