Food & Wine

The 10 Best Bourbon Brands in the U.S.

Here, you’ll discover the best bourbon brands to sip neat or on the rocks and educate yourself on the rich traditions of America’s native spirit.


Bourbon is a type of whiskey that’s classified as America’s native spirit. It is particularly important to Kentucky, home to some of the nation’s premier and rare bourbon distilleries, but can be made in any of the 50 states. The types of whiskeys vary greatly depending on where they are made, their different mash bills (the grain combination used), the distillation process, and aging techniques. 

The main types of whiskeys include Irish whiskey, traditionally made from a malt mash and regulated to be aged for at least three years; Scotch whisky, which is produced under strict regulations and can only originate from Scotland; Tennessee whiskey, which is filtered through charcoal, known as the Lincoln County Process, before it is aged; rye whiskey, an American spirit crafted from at least 51% rye mash; blended whiskey, typically a mass-marketed, more affordable option; as well as newer categories like Canadian and Japanese Whisky. Still, we’re here to talk about the best bourbon brands in the country, each of which honors the spirit’s rich tradition in its own way.

The Best Bourbon Brands

According to IBISWorld, as of 2023, there were 739 whiskey and bourbon distillery businesses in the United States. While this may seem saturated, consider there are more than 11,000 wineries stateside. With so many brands to choose from, a trip to the liquor store for a premium bottle of bourbon can be overwhelming. Some of the most expensive bourbons don’t even beckon a trip to the store because they are small-batch, limited-edition releases that aren’t widely available. While some special releases are available for online purchase or at select retailers, such as Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition, you’ll need to track down others through connoisseur or auction sites, such as the Double Eagle Very Rare 20 Year whiskey.

To unpack the popular saying, “All bourbon is whiskey, yet not all whiskey is bourbon,” bourbon must use a mash bill of at least 51%, but no greater than 80%, of corn. It must also be aged in all new American oak barrels and bottled at 80-proof or higher. Even with these requirements, each distillery puts its own spin on its bourbon, from aging methods and periods (some of the most premium blends rest in barrels for up to 25 years) to collaborations with world-class designers to create dazzling decanters. 

Old Rip Van Winkle

Frequently described as a cult bourbon whiskey — similar to many Napa Cabernet Sauvignons or some of the most expensive rums in the world — the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery produces small-batch bourbon with an entry-level selling point of $1,000 (though often priced much higher on the secondary market). Currently in its fourth generation, the brand debuted in 1994 with the world’s first 20-year-old bourbon. The flagship 20 Year has since been joined by a 15 Year and 23 Year as part of its Reserve collection — the latter commanding $6,100 for a bottle — as well as a 10 Year and 12 Year Van Winkle Special Reserve, respectively on the market for $1,000 and $1,500. 

The decade- to two-decade aging process is what merits these soaring price tags, along with its complex, long-finish taste that the family recommends sipping neat (no ice to dilute the flavors). The tasting notes of each edition vary depending on how long it has aged. The 10 Year has a palate of dried fruit and toasted nuts whereas the 15 Year has flavors of caramel, toffee, and peppery brown spices. The paramount 23 Year expression, on the other hand, has tasting notes of ripe apples, cherries, oak wood, and tobacco with a hint of chocolate.

Eagle Rare

Eagle Rare is dedicated to aging its Kentucky Straight Bourbon for no less than 10 years. Its 17 Year and 20 Year releases are classified as true collector’s bourbons. As a result of its prolonged resting period, Eagle Rare 17 Year is delicate with notes of leather, vanilla, and tobacco. The bourbon was recognized as one of five bourbons to win the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Eagle Rare releases it in limited quantities every autumn, and the price begins at $2,900. For the ultra-rare, Double Eagle Very Rare 20 Year is described as a bourbon “like nothing you’ve ever tasted.” The crystal decanter sports two crystal glass eagles and is presented with an individually numbered letter of authenticity. That expression, if you can find it, is worth upwards of $36,000.

Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition

The ultimate expression in Woodford Reserve’s portfolio is the Baccarat edition, which holds the highest price, starting at $2,300. Crafted at its distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, the brand spends time selecting XO Cognac barrels that present a uniquely luxurious sip with a balance of American and French oak notes. The Cognac barrels add fruit complexity and spice to the typically soft vanilla and caramel of a Kentucky bourbon, as well as a velvety texture. Presented in a Baccarat decanter specifically designed for this partnership, it’s a collector’s dream bourbon through and through. Collectors will also want to keep an eye out for Woodford Reserve’s limited editions that come out around the Kentucky Derby, as it is the official sponsor of the horse race. For the 150th anniversary, it released a now sold-out version of the Baccarat edition. However, there will surely be another worthy contender next year.


As the sixth-generation member of the Beam family (responsible for the prominent Jim Beam conglomerate), Booker Noe made a separate name for himself with his small-batch bourbon — a term that the Master Distiller introduced to the world in 1992. Today, Booker’s remains a premier small-batch production of rare barrel-strength bourbon. It’s uncut and unfiltered, meaning its proof is natural and thus is much higher than traditional bourbons, ranging between 121 and 130.6 (most bourbons average between 80 and 100 proof). Booker’s only releases “a few batches every year” based on when Mother Nature informs the team they are ready. Each batch, therefore, varies in age, proof, and price — but fans of cask-strength bourbon ensure the quality never wanes.


Sotheby’s fetched $23,750 at auction for Michter’s Single Barrel Rye 25 Year Old

Even though Michter’s is more commonly recognized for its affordable everyday bourbon whiskeys and ryes, connoisseurs know this Pennsylvania-founded, now Louisville-based distillery by its 25 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Released at 116.5 proof, the bourbon rested in new fire-charred American white oak barrels for a quarter of a century to result in a complex cask-strength, limited-edition bourbon. Tasting notes highlight this bourbon’s holiday spice meshing with chocolate and roasted nuts. The brand originally released this bourbon for $1,500, but as it’s sold out, resellers have listed a single bottle for as much as $9,000. 


Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Bourbon 28 Year Old 128.8 Proof sold for $11,875 at a Sotheby’s auction

In 1936, the Willett family built a distillery on their family farm in Bardstown, Kentucky. Still family-owned and operated, Willett has been humbly releasing small-batch bourbon since the 1940s. Despite growing the collection to 12 whiskeys, Willet only celebrated its 25,000th barrel in 2017. The brand’s most expensive expressions include Willett Pot Still Reserve, presented in an ornate decanter reminiscent of the pot-still method; aged Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon, created exclusively for the family; and Willett 21 Year Single Barrel Bourbon. These bottles are priced from $1,000 and then jump to $2,999 and $4,999, respectively. While you may be unable to track down more than one of the allocated Single-Barrel and Small-Batch Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon, visiting the tasting room promises a chance to try these rare releases.

Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr.

This bourbon brand is named after Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., one of the founding fathers of the bourbon industry who fought for the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. This act established legal standards for bourbon: a bottled-in-bond bourbon must be aged for a minimum of four years in a federally bonded warehouse, bottled at 100 proof, made by a single distiller at a single distillery, and use spirit distilled in a single distilling season.

E.H. Taylor, Jr. offers a slew of bottles that honor his efforts in various ways. The E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel, for example, uses handpicked barrels that were aged in Warehouse C, the limestone room built by Taylor in 1881. Each barrel is bottled in bond at 100 proof. Special editions of Colonel E.H. Taylor are among some of the most expensive and rarest bourbons in the world. These include Colonel E. H. Taylor’s Cured Oak Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, famous for its 13-month barrel drying process and 17-year aging that’s priced at $3,499, and E.H. Taylor’s Old Fashioned Sour Mash, an under nine-year aged bourbon that’s celebrated for its use of a recreated special Sour Mash process that Taylor introduced to the distillery; this demands at least $20,000.

Jefferson’s Bourbon

This Crestwood, Kentucky distillery is celebrated for its experimental labels, from aging at sea to various wood innovations, but one bottle in particular claims the spotlight as a collectible under Jefferson’s bourbon: Jeffersons Presidential Select 18 Year Old Bourbon Batch 12. Starting at $1,999, this off-market wheated bourbon was distilled in 1991 before spending 18 years in Stiltzel-Weller barrels — the very same distillery where Pappy Van Winkle was first distilled. Its tasting notes show balanced complexity at its finest with sweet toffee, dried fruit, and soft floral notes before a lingering oaky finish.

Russell’s Reserve

Master Distiller Eddie Russell may have started in the footsteps of his father, Jimmy, at Wild Turkey Distillery, but it was the creation of his own label, ultimately dedicated to his father, Russell’s Reserve, that made him stand out. Among its limited releases, the Single Rickhouse bourbons explore how specific resting places affect a whiskey’s final character. Camp Nelson C was the first limited-time release, with just 72 barrels produced. An added factor to this small-batch, select bourbon’s rarity is that the barrel room was dismantled prior to its release, so it’s truly an individual expression. The current release is from Camp Nelson F — a warehouse dating back to the 1940s — that presents a full-bodied, 117.6-proof bourbon for upwards of $550.

Blanton’s Bourbon 

Heralded as the original single-barrel bourbon whiskey, Blanton’s collection includes four prestigious bottles, all produced in Frankfurt, Kentucky: the Original Single Barrel, Gold Edition, Straight From the Barrel, and Special Reserve. The Special Reserve is truly so special that it’s not even available in the U.S. and is reserved for select international markets. Still, it’s the Gold Edition that’s the most sought-after. Created for bourbon aficionados, this bulbous bottle, topped by the brand’s signature horse and jockey stopper (a collectible item in itself), sells for $515 and is recognized for its exceptional smoothness. Its tasting notes include a robust nose of spicy tobacco and a palate of honeyed berries that mingle with orange citrus before a lengthy finish of charred oak.

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