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The Best Bourbon Whiskey Brands: Top 10

Updated on November 20, 2016
PaulGoodman67 profile image

Since completing university, Paul has worked as a librarian, teacher, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he currently lives in Florida.

A selection of bourbon brands.
A selection of bourbon brands. | Source

Bourbon whiskey has been around in the USA since the late eighteenth century. It has strong associations with The South in general and Kentucky in particular. It takes its name from an area that was known as Old Bourbon in Kentucky.

The heart of bourbon production is Bardstown, where the largest concentration of bourbon brands and distilleries are based and where they hold the Bourbon Festival every September.

Bourbon is made from a grain mix that consists mainly of corn. It is aged in charred oak barrels, which give bourbon its distinctive color and contribute to its taste.

Bourbon that is aged over 2 years can be called ‘straight bourbon’ on the label. If it has been aged less than 4 years, however, it must be labeled with the number of years that it has been aged. The majority of bourbon has been aged for over 4 years, however, and the premium ones are usually aged for considerably longer.

I hope that you enjoy reading my top 10 list of the best bourbon whiskey brands and find it useful.

How well I remember my first encounter with The Devil's Brew. I happened to stumble across a case of bourbon -- and went right on stumbling for several days thereafter.

— W. C. Fields
Bottle and glass of Maker's Mark bourbon.
Bottle and glass of Maker's Mark bourbon.

Maker's Mark

The distinctive Maker’s Mark whiskey bottle, sealed with red wax, has been a symbol of quality since production of this bourbon brand began in 1950s, when Bill Samuels Sr. bought the "Burks' Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky.

Maker's Mark straight bourbon whiskey is usually aged for at least 6 years and not bottled for market until the company’s tasters are confident that it is ready.

Knob Creek Bourbon
Knob Creek Bourbon | Source

Knob Creek

Produced in Clermont, Kentucky, Knob Creek is a high quality bourbon with a rich and sturdy taste that is difficult to beat.

Aged for longer and a little more expensive than some of its rivals, Knob Creek has won numerous awards and acolades over the years.


Evan Williams

Evan Williams is one of the most popular straight bourbon whiskey brands. Evan Williams arrived in Kentucky after emigrating from Wales and began distilling whiskey in 1783.

Besides their modestly priced, but very drinkable “Black Label”, Evan Williams also produce limited quantities of high premium whiskey, including a nine-year-old single barrel bourbon.

Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey | Source

Four Roses

The Four Roses brand was established in 1888 and is probably named after founder, Rufus Mathewson Rose, his brother Origen, and their two sons.

Four Roses bourbon was popular in the USA in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, but was discontinued at the end of the 50s in favor of a low quality whiskey blend with the same name. The Four Roses bourbon was not sold again in the US until the brand was bought by Kirin in 2002.

I know folks all have a tizzy about it, but I like a little bourbon of an evening. It helps me sleep. I don't much care what they say about it.

— Lillian Carter

Old Forester

Old Forester could be said to be the oldest bourbon, in the sense that is has been continuously on the market for a 140 years, a longer period than for any other brand.

It was also the first bourbon to be sold exclusively in sealed bottles.

The brand has won many awards over the years.

Old Rip Van Winkle

Produced by the Sazerac Company in Frankfort, Kentucky, Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon is a tasty whiskey with great color and strength.

This bourbon has been produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery since 2002.

I was brought up to believe that Scotch whisky would need a tax preference to survive in competition with Kentucky bourbon.

— Hugo Black

Jim Beam

Jim Beam is the world's biggest bestselling bourbon. Multiple generations of the Beam family have been producing bourbon since 1795, with only prohibition interrupting them.

The name "Jim Beam" comes from James B. Beam who revived the family business after prohibition ended.

Bottle and glass of Wild Turkey Rare Breed bourbon.
Bottle and glass of Wild Turkey Rare Breed bourbon.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey is distilled near Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Although bourbon has been brewed in the location since 1869, the name "Wild Turkey" wasn't used until 1940.

There are 6 different varieties of the straight bourbon available in the USA: 80 proof, 101 proof, Kentucky Spirit, Rare Breed, American Honey, and Russell's Reserve.

A man can take a little bourbon without getting drunk, but if you hold his mouth open and pour in a quart, he's going to get sick on it.

— Lyndon B. Johnson

Elijah Craig

Produced by the Heaven Hill Distillery company, Elijah Craig whisky is made in both 12 year-old "Small Batch" and 18 year-old "Single Barrel" bottlings.

The Elijah Craig brand is named in honor of a famous local Baptist preacher, who also became an educator and capitalist entrepreneur.

Bottle and glass of Woodford Reserve bourbon.
Bottle and glass of Woodford Reserve bourbon.

Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve is a premium quality Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey that has received multiple awards, including gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

The Woodford Reserve Distillery forms part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and you can tour this National Historic Landmark, erected in 1838, should you ever find yourself in WoodfordCounty, Central Kentucky.

Your opinion

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© 2011 Paul Goodman


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    • Brandon E Newman profile image

      Brandon E Newman 2 years ago from North Texas

      Advertising sells whiskey. It could be pure piss and still sell. By the way, most of it is. Woodford reserve? Please. Got some at an employee Xmas party. Tasted like pure poison mixed with turpentine. The distiller is definitely just in it for the $$$ and doesn't even know what good whiskey is.