5 BEST BOURBONS FOR THANKSGIVING

Hosting Thanksgiving this year and wondering what bourbons would make a hit for bourbon-lovers and novices alike? Here’s a shopping list to celebrate our nation’s first holiday with our native spirit. All are readily available and won’t break the bank if Uncle Lou drains one before the halftime show.

Wild Turkey 101 / Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit

($20 – $50)
Certainly nothing pays homage to the lowly turkey than the story of an Austin Nichols executive and his “Wild Turkey bourbon”.  Thomas McCarthy took some samples of this legendary bourbon on a turkey hunting trip in 1940. Soon thereafter, hunting buddies were asking him for some more of “that wild turkey bourbon”. Both of these bourbons come in at 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley.

While Wild Turkey 101 is easy to grab, you may need to look a tad harder for the single barrel edition of Wild Turkey – Kentucky Spirit. For many years (such as in this photograph), it came in a bottle shaped like the plumage of a wild turkey. Recent branding changes have it looking more like a typical bourbon bottle – but if you can find a dusty version of the former bottle, you’ll have a great Thanksgiving centerpiece.

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Russell's Reserve, and American Honey bourbons lined up on a whiskey barrel.

Evan Williams Bottled in Bond 

($18 – $22)
Produced by Heaven Hill, this 100-proof big brother to Evan Williams Black Label is a smooth, easy-drinking big brother. As a bottled-in-bond product, you can wow your friends and family with the story that food safety began with bourbon first, with the passage of the Bottled-in-Bond act in 1897.  The act required that products labeled as “bottled-in-bond” pass the following rigors:

  • Is the product of 1 distillation season, by a single distiller, at a single location
  • Has been aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least 4 years
  • Is bottled at 100 proof
  • Is labeled to identify the distillery where it was distilled
  • Is produced in the U.S. – only U.S. produced products may be bonded

This is a lovely sweet bourbon, with traditional vanilla, caramel and candied fruit notes. It typically isn’t “alcohol heavy”, so the sweetness carries from the nose, to the palate to the finish. Similar to many of the Heaven Hill products, it’s based on a mash bill of 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley.

Four Roses Tan Label 

($18 – $22)
While my favorite Four Roses expression is their Single Barrel product, it’s not always an easy one to find; its tan-labeled sibling, however, is readily available. This entry-level product is a blend of 10 bourbon recipes produced by Four Roses.  At a low 80-proof, entry level guests will find something that is smooth and comfortable. Experienced tasters will catch the light fruit and floral notes – that might feel good after a heavy holiday dinner. 

Jim Beam Black Label 

($20 – $24)
I’ve enjoyed several of the new Jim Beam editions, including Repeal Batch and Distiller’s Cut. Depending on your local source, those may not be available, but JB Black Label can be found at most venues.

I recall the first time I tried this $20 find at a local college liquor store and was impressed to see the 8-year-age-statement. Fast forward and now, that bottle would have to be quite dusty to still sport those words. While no longer carrying an age statement, your nose will pick up the “Jim Beam notes” – caramel, vanilla, spice and a touch of wood. This is another smooth and easy drinker, ideally suited for sharing with friends and family as you cheer on your favorite sports teams following a dinner.

While you may have dialed the scales back a few pounds Wednesday night, this white-label upsell won’t set you back a pretty penny. At 86 proof, it’s another approachable find that holds its own neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail. 

Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream 

($20 – $50)
While technically not a bourbon – it does contain bourbon. What better way to cap off your Thanksgiving celebration than this sinful concoction? The bottle contains a blend of Buffalo Trace Bourbon and sweet cream results in a 30-proof goodness.  Enjoyable straight, in coffee, a topping for ice cream, or mixed with root beer for an adult root beer float, this is a foodie delight. 

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