If the upcoming holidays find you hosting or bringing a hostess gift, consider adding some native spirit to the festivities. Here’s a shopping list – and you won’t have to check it twice – of bourbons for a perfect holiday party. Most are readily available and will keep you within the holiday budget if a few extra uninvited guests drop by.
Maker’s Mark / Maker’s 46
$20 – $35
With its signature red wax with long tendrils, nothing says the holidays quite like Maker’s Mark. Maker’s is one of a limited number of wheated bourbons, and sports a mash bill of 70% corn, 14% malted barley, and 16% soft red winter wheat. Around 6 years in age and bottled at 90 proof, it’s approachable and is a smooth, easy drinker with plenty of vanilla and caramel notes.
If you want to add a little “wow” to your festivities, spring for the Maker’s 46. Receiving additional aging in barrels containing seared French oak staves, you’ll find it carries an amped-up version of its sibling, carrying a very balanced blend of butterscotch, caramel, and dark-fruit notes. Click here to learn more about these great bourbons.
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select / Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
$30 – $55
Woodford Reserve is one of my favorites and it is always in “the cabinet”. Both the Distiller’s Select and Doubled Oaked share a common mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley. The Distiller’s Select matures in 6-8 years; the Double Oaked takes the Distiller’s Select, decants the barrel, and places the product in a second, deeply toasted and lightly charred white oak barrel. When mature, both are bottled at 90.4 proof.
You’ll find very traditional notes in the Distiller’s Select, with balanced dollops of caramel, vanilla, and charred oak. The Doubled Oaked is a delicious desert-bourbon (yes, you heard that right). It carries a ton of caramel, vanilla, and even chocolate notes. Pair this with pecan pie, dark chocolate, or, best of all, Ruth Hunt Bourbon Balls. Check out my full review of this pair here.
While I’d love to include several of Buffalo Trace’s move exclusive finds, such as Col. E.H. Taylor, Elmer T. Lee, or Blanton’s, many of these bourbons can be difficult to locate. In fact, even at my local big-box liquor store, Buffalo Trace is often empty on the shelves (Really? That’s like being out of Jim Beam White Label? Really??) Buffalo Trace uses two main mash bills as well as a third, wheated mash bill for the Weller and Pappy VanWinkle line. Buffalo Trace bourbon is made from Mash Bill #1 and is a low-rye mix, comprising corn, malted barley, and 10% or less rye.
Buffalo Trace bourbon carries no age statement but is thought to be around 7-9 years and bottled at 90 proof. On the nose, you’ll catch traditional notes of vanilla, oak, and even a touch of mint. On the palate, you’ll find a mix of “sweet oakiness” that is very well balanced with just a touch of spice. – tons of vanilla and oak. I even pick up a note or two of honey sweetness and even a touch of mint. Check out our tour of Buffalo Trace, along with famous tour guide Freddie, here.
Evan Williams Single Barrel
Produced by Heaven Hill, this is an 86.6 proof and longer-aged brother of its sibling Evan Williams Black Label. Both versions share a common 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley mash bill. Coming in at around 8-9 years (depending on the bottle you secure), you’ll find there is a lot to like.
While traditional Evan Williams is a lovely everyday pour, you’ll find a deeper, richer version of the everyday drinker. It’s balanced and contains notes of caramel, vanilla, and chocolate balanced with berry jam and spice. The mouthfeel is rich and creamy and will make you a celebrated host.
Russell’s Reserve 10 Year
Wild Turkey 101 is a great everyday bourbon, but for a few dollars more, you can move up to a 10-year version of the same 75% corn, 13% rye and 12% malted barley mash bill. Bottled at 90-proof, you’ll have one of the best (and easiest to find!) 10-year bourbons for your guests.
You’ll find vanilla and spice, as well as oak, leather and a sweet, delicious mouthfeel. Overall, this a great balanced bourbon, with a finish that lingers, low and slow – perfect for sipping neat, on the rocks, or in a holiday Old-Fashioned. Check out my full review here.
Knob Creek Small Batch
$24 – $30
For many, Jim Beam White Label is a great entry point to the bourbon experience. First-timers are quick to enjoy the simple smoothness exhibited by the high-corn Jim Beam mash bill – 77% corn, 13% rye, and 10% malted barley.
It wasn’t long ago that these bottles still carried a 9-year age statement (I’ve heard that it’s coming back!). While not an overly complex bourbon, your guests will enjoy a full-bodied bourbon experience that is creamy and delicious. Bottled at 100-proof, it carries a classic bourbon nose with caramel and vanilla and even a trace of maple syrup. This a great pick to round out our lineup – there’s plenty of corn that is sweet and smooth without an alcohol burn. Overall, this is fine way to round out your display with a smooth and sweet