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10 Exceptional Bourbons for Christmas

Updated on December 3, 2014

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old

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Elijah Craig 12 Year Old

First released in 1986, this tasty bourbon started the "small batch" revolution when Heaven Hill's master distiller Parker Beam decided to make a premium whiskey from batches of no more than 70 hand-picked barrels that had been aging for at least 12 years. The result was this very full flavored and smooth bourbon that's a big part of why bourbon is so popular today. Oak, vanilla, rye with some ages leather notes make up the complex flavor profile. This one can still be found in the 25 to 35 dollar per 750ml bottle range.

Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch

Another Heaven Hill product. Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch can usually be found for under 15 dollars per 750ml, making it one of the most affordable premium bourbons on the market. It doesn't quite have the full flavor profile of its older and higher proof cousin, but it covers all the bases when it comes to aging, grain quality and the rye and corn synergy that puts bourbon in a class by itself. If you want an economical choice that no bourbon enthusiast would look down on, this is your baby. Bottled at 86 proof.

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Single Barrel

This extremely smooth bourbon is a great choice for anyone who enjoys their whiskey neat, but at 90 proof, it holds up well on the rocks or with added water. The flavor profile has a good dose of oak underlying a nice mix of caramel, vanilla and clove spice influence. The price point of under forty dollars is also agreeable when it comes to gift giving. This one has won several global awards including a bunch from the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and the Beverage Tasting Institute gave it an above average mark of 92 out of 100.

Buffalo Trace

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Buffalo Trace

This extremely popular 90 proof namesake of Buffalo Trace distillery continues to win global awards and accolades for its distinctive flavor and accessible price point. Made with the same grain recipe used to produce Eagle Rare and the super-premium George T. Stagg, Buffalo Trace gives the drinker an insight into just why the distillery has become such a force in the spirits world. Corn sweetness combines with an abundant savory oak influence makes this one complex enough to be very special. Buffalo Trace can usually be found for under 25 dollars per 750ml bottle.

Four Roses Small Batch

Master distiller Jim Rutledge continues to use several strains of yeast combined, with mostly rye heavy grain recipes, to produce some distinctive and memorable bourbons. The Small Batch is a great showcase of Rutledge's affinity for rye in the mash bill and his ability to pick some excellent barrels for small batching. This particular bourbon is a lighter and fresher expression of whiskey that works fine in colder weather and exceptionally well in the warmer months. Even though it's on the lighter side, at 90 proof, it has plenty of complex flavors. Four Roses Small Batch can usually be found for under 35 dollars.

Four Roses Small Batch

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Four Roses Single Barrel

In direct contrast to its Small Batch relation, Four Roses Single Barrel tends toward the bolder and more dynamic aspects of the whiskey spectrum. Where the Small Batch is a more subtle expression of bourbon, the 100 proof Single Barrel is an in your face and direct push of spicy flavors that has enough sweetness to let you know you're drinking bourbon. It's not a bad idea to add a teaspoon or two of spring water and wait a few minutes before drinking to let this one open up just a bit. A great choice for the Scotch drinker who's looking to venture into the world of bourbon. It can usually be found for under 35 dollars too.

Maker's 46

For over fifty years, Maker's Mark produced only one brand of bourbon, their namesake with the iconic wax top. Not wanting to be left behind as bourbon popularity continued to strengthen, they decided to come up with their own unique interpretation of a finished whiskey by inserting intensely seared oak staves directly into the aging bourbon. After 46 tries, they came up with a bolder and more complex version of their long time favorite that, at 94 proof, carries some intense notes of caramel, vanilla, charred oak with a full palate of spice on the finish. Maker's 46 can usually be found for under 40 dollars.

Wild Turkey 101

With the high proof of just over fifty percent alcohol per volume comes the bold and complex flavors of this aptly named bourbon. With its high proof and high rye content, "101" does have a macho aspect when it comes to its intense flavor and alcohol heat. One of the best things about a well made high proof whiskey is, it can be enjoyed in a myriad of ways without losing a lot of flavor. If the drinker is looking for a full on spicy blast, it can be sipped neat. On the other hand, some spring water or ice cubes can take the edge off the heat while keeping a lot of that spicy goodness. At under 30 bucks per 750ml., this is one of the best bourbon bargains out there.

101

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Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old

This 90 proof relative of Wild Turkey 101 is slightly smoother than its cousin, but it still carries that robust spicy rye flavor Wild Turkey is known for. This would be a good choice for anyone who normally enjoys their high proof whiskeys, but wouldn't mind a slightly softer expression from time to time. At under 40 dollars per 750ml., it's not a bad buy for a whiskey that's been aged for ten years.

Practice Stewardship

Please be responsible when enjoying bourbon, or any alcoholic beverage for that matter. It's all too easy to get caught up in the revelry and festive atmosphere of holiday parties and drink too much. Think of the quality of good bourbon without being overtaken by the quantity. Unfortunately, one episode of drunken behavior can haunt a person for a very long time. Whatever you do, don't compound the problem by driving under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or you'll quickly become part of the court system, in one way or another.

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