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Oh, sweet, sweet bourbon. Even though America’s first native spirit is rum, bourbon has stolen the hearts of Americans from coast to coast. Bourbon has become one of the most versatile spirits, great sipped neat and in cocktails—from the refreshing Mint Julep, the spirituous Manhattan to all the modern classics that are being churned out daily all over the country. Bourbon lovers have a large selection of brands to choose from. What if you’re a bourbon newbie? The endless bottles on the shelves can be daunting. Help is on the way! These bottles will make sure you start your bourbon journey off on the right foot. And priced at under $35, they’ll take the stress off your wallet. You’re welcome.
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Used in many bars, Buffalo Trace is a solid, affordable choice for the novice bourbonite. This Kentucky straight bourbon carries all the rich and complex notes of spice, vanilla and toffee that fit right into the description of a great bourbon. It finishes long and smooth.
Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
If there’s money burning a hole in your pocket, a bottle of Basil Hayden’s might be the way to go. At around $50 a pop, this bourbon is worth the slightly more expensive price tag. This bourbon is surprisingly light and smooth to drink and has citrusy overtones to match its peppery notes. Basil Hayden’s works well in an Old Fashioned but is amazing when drunk neat.
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Wild Turkey 101 Proof Bourbon
For an introductory high-proof bourbon, this is a great place to start. Instead of the usual 80 to 90 proof that most bourbons are when bottled, this Wild Turkey brand goes to bottle at 101 proof for a stronger buzz. (You can still buy Wild Turkey 81 for a lesser price). Wild Turkey 101 has an even finish for such a high-proof spirit and is great with cocktails that appreciate its caramel notes. A suggestion: Go straight for a Mint Julep.
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
All the bourbons under the Four Roses lineup are solid. But a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch is an especially fine choice. With a robust, full body, fruity and spicy notes and a nice, smooth finish, this award-winning bourbon is perfect for Old Fashioneds, Manhattans or just sipping by itself.
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Lately, Bulleit has become the darling of the affordable bourbon world. Usually wallet-friendly and easily drunk in cocktails and neat, this bourbon has taken off in certain places in the country. Bulleit carries all the traditional notes every bourbon lover looks for—caramel, vanilla, oak and cinnamon—but also a spicy note due to the spirit’s high rye content. The result is a bourbon that can also hold up in a lot of your favorite rye cocktails as well. All that for around twenty bucks? We’ll take it.
W.L. Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon
We’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s going to take a while to get your hands on a bottle of the very rare, very in-demand Pappy Van Winkle. But with W.L. Weller 12-Year, you can get close to the taste for a fraction of the price. The only wheated mash bourbon on our list (Pappy is also wheated), Weller provides a much more mellow taste than bourbons with a rye mash. It’s not the same as Pappy, but no shame in keeping this bourbon in your collection for when you feel like faking it until you make it.