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Best bourbon 2022: Our favourite bourbons and American whiskies for sipping and cocktails

After something authentically American? These are the best bourbons to reach for

Whether you’re new to bourbon or looking to expand your collection, finding the best bourbon isn’t always an easy task. You can never be quite sure what you’re getting for your money, especially when you’re buying imported stuff. What’s more, there are loads of options to wade through and depending on your preferences, you might find many regarded as the ‘best’ aren’t actually suited to your tastes.

That’s why we’ve sipped our way through plenty of different styles to find the very best bourbons for every palette. If you’re new to the spirit, be sure to read our handy guide below, which talks through some terms and bourbon-related questions you might have.

If you’re already clued up on bourbon, scroll on for our roundup of the very best options to suit every taste.

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How to choose the best bourbon

Bourbon vs Whisky: What’s the difference?

All bourbon is whisky, but not all whisky is bourbon. That’s because bourbon has criteria it must hit to be classed as such. The first is that it must be made with at least 51% corn – the rest of the mash bill can be made up of a range of grains or cereals.

It needs to be aged in a new, charred oak barrel (usually white oak), though some distillers do deviate from this to create more complex flavour profiles.

As far as the ABV goes, bourbon can’t be distilled over 80% ABV. It has to go into barrels to age at 62.5% ABV or less and when bottled, has to be at least 40% ABV.

Finally, bourbon can’t be officially labeled as bourbon unless it’s made in the US. Anything else is simply a bourbon-style spirit.

What is a mash bill?

A mash bill simply refers to the mix of grains used to create a bourbon. These are typically corn, rye wheat or malted barley, though some distillers will experiment with more non-traditional grain mixes.

Single barrel or small batch?

If you’ve already been searching for potential bourbon to try, you might have seen these terms being thrown around a lot. But what do they actually mean?

Single barrel means the bourbon has been aged in only one type of barrel before it’s sold. Some distillers will use multiple barrels to add layers of unique flavours, whereas others will hand pick barrels in order to impart a totally unique flavour – no two single barrel bourbons will have the same end result.

Single barrels are typically more expensive because they can only be run in limited batches. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are any better or worse, as often it is just the personal choice of the distiller. You’ll often find that distillers have single barrel versions of their bourbon, alongside a mixed barrel option.

Small batch refers to bourbons made up of a small selection of different casks, mixed together to achieve a unique taste. The definition of small is a little murky though, as the number of barrels used often depends on the size of the distillery. Small batch bourbon can be a mix of anywhere between five and 100 barrels.

What is char?

Char refers to how long the barrel has been fired or toasted for before liquid is added. Distilleries will toast barrels to create unique flavour profiles while ageing spirits. Char levels one to four are the most commonly used, with level one char barrels being toasted for 15 seconds and level four for 55 seconds.

How much should I spend?

Prices vary depending on a number of factors like age and style, but you can pick up a decent bottle for around £25. Most of our favourites are around £30-40 though and this is what you should consider spending for any bourbon you want to enjoy neat.

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The best bourbon to buy in 2022

1. Four Roses Small Batch: Best all-round bourbon

Price: £30 | Buy now from Amazon

Made from four original recipes containing at least 60% corn and 25% rye, Four Roses Small Batch is a delightfully smooth, easy drinking bourbon to consider. Thanks to its well-balanced flavours, it’s a great all-rounder for newbies and long-time bourbon fans alike.

Despite being advertised as a mellow bourbon, this small batch still has some great characteristics that set it apart from other American whiskies. It is certainly mellow, but the caramel, fruit and mild spice notes mean it’s both slightly sweet and spicy on the pallet. This is followed by a rich, buttery mouth-feel that lingers long after you’ve taken your final sip.

Four Roses Small Batch isn’t radical or experimental, but it’s supremely drinkable and the perfect tipple to enjoy neat in the evening.

Key detailsSmall batch or single barrel: Small batch; ABV: 45%

2. Wild Turkey 101: Best high proof bourbon

Price: £30 | Buy now from Amazon

Fans of oaky, robust flavours will enjoy Wild Turkey 101 overproof bourbon. While the high alcohol content gives this bourbon a peppery kick, it also gets its bold flavours from the barrel’s level four char. This imparts a deeper spiciness but also a strong toffee-caramel flavour – both firm favourites of those who prefer ‘traditional’ bourbons.

If you’re looking for something to ease you into the world of bourbon for the very first time, this oaky powerhouse might not be it. But if you’re new-ish to the drink and want to work through some of the classics, make this next on your list.

Key detailsSmall batch or single barrel: No; ABV: 50.5%

3. Buffalo Trace: Best budget bourbon

Price: £23 | Buy now from Master of Malt

Although regarded as a ‘cheap’ bourbon, Buffalo Trace is extremely enjoyable both neat and in cocktails. Its exact mash bill is undisclosed but many believe the rye content to be quite low. This is definitely a sweeter option, with prominent vanilla, caramel and honey flavours. There’s a bit of oakiness too, but it doesn’t linger and despite its low ABV, it still has quite a bite to it.

All in all, Buffalo Trace is a real crowd pleaser, both because of its affordability and its classic flavour profile.

Key detailsSmall batch or single barrel: No ; ABV: 45%

Buy now from Master of Malt

4. Koval Bourbon: Best unconventional single-barrel bourbon

Price: £55 | Buy now from Amazon

While most bourbons are typically made up of at least three different types of grain, sometimes a distiller will buck this trend and create a unique mash bill that changes the way you think about the spirit. Koval’s single-barrel does just this, with a simple blend of 51% corn and 49% millet. Unlike most traditional bourbons, there is no rye or barley involved, creating a bourbon that is sweet, smooth and incredibly clean.

On the nose and tongue Koval has a simple sweetness, with the corn really shining through. There’s a slight earthiness too and the finish is long and slightly oaky – it’s bourbon, but lighter. Ideal if you want to try something that moves away from the classic bourbon flavours, while still being smooth and very drinkable. Oh, and it’s organic and gluten-free too.

Key detailsSmall batch or single barrel: Single barrel; ABV: 49%

5. Makers Mark 46: Best value for money bourbon

Price: £35 | Buy now from Amazon

For anyone seeking a bourbon that perfectly balances price and quality, this is the ultimate tipple. Aged in wood barrels spiked with French oak staves, the 46 variety has a deep and complex flavour, without being too harsh or overpowering. Its mash bill consists of 70% Corn, 16% Wheat and 14% Malted Barley.

You can expect all the classic flavours of Makers Mark, including notes of buttery caramel and vanilla but the 46 version offers up a spicier, aged oak finish. It’s essentially a more “grown-up” version of the original and is excellent on its own or for an even mellower finish, enjoy with ice.

Key detailsSmall batch or single barrel: No; ABV: 47%

6. Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select: Best small batch for cocktails

Price: £30 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re looking for a decent bourbon for cocktails, Woodford Reserve’s small-batch is an ideal option thanks to its uncomplicated flavour profile. That’s not to say it doesn’t taste of anything. A mash bill of 72% Corn, 18% Rye and 10% Malted Barley means it has all the classic flavours such as vanilla, oak and some fruit – but nothing hugely stands out. That’s great for cocktails, because you want a spirit that isn’t overpowering, something that can carry the other flavours.

It is nice enough to drink neat too, but as the flavour is quite ethanol-heavy (despite its lower ABV), it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. It’s particularly good in an Old Fashioned and you can even buy a Distiller’s Select cocktail set, complete with Old Fashioned syrup, for easy cocktail making.

Key detailsSmall batch or single barrel: Small batch; ABV: 43.2%

7. Legent: Best unique blend bourbon

Price: £48 | Buy now from Master of Malt

Legent is the love child of two master distilleries – Jim Beam and House of Suntory. It’s a classic bourbon at heart, aged for at least four years in white oak barrels. But what sets it apart is that it’s finished in a mix of wine and sherry casks, giving it a uniquely distinct fruit-heavy flavour.

On the nose, there are some nice hints of brown sugar and dried fruit. In the mouth, it’s pleasingly spicy. The sherry cask flavour really reveals itself once you take a sip and it’s here you can see the Japanese whiskey influence from House of Suntory. It has a lingering finish but this is subtle, smooth and definitely leaves you wanting more.

In short, Legent is premium bourbon that isn’t afraid of shying away from traditions. That’s why it’s well worth a spot on our list and in your drinks cabinet.

Key detailsSmall batch or single barrel: Small batch; ABV: 47%

Buy now from Master of Malt

8. Drinks by the Dram Bourbon Kit: Best bourbon tasting box

Price: £25 | Buy now from Master of Malt

While this tasting kit only features one of the bourbons on this list, it’s still worth trying, especially if you’ve already sipped your way through some of the above. Buffalo Trace, our favourite budget bourbon, makes an appearance. As does FEW, a modern spice-heavy American whisky well worth sampling. You’ll also get a 3cl sample of Mitchers, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked and Colonel EH Taylor Small Batch.

There are a lot of good bourbons around and we can’t feature them all. So if you or a friend enjoys bourbon, this is a nifty little gift set to consider, as it allows you to try something new without shelling out hundreds of quid.

Occasionally, Drinks by the Dram do change up the bourbons featured in the kit, but you’ll always be able to see which ones you’re getting before you buy.

Key detailsSmall batch or single barrel: Mixed; ABV: Mixed

Buy now from Master of Malt

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