Kentucky: home of the best Derby, Fried Chicken, and, of course, bourbon.
Kentucky Bourbon is the quintessential American booze, a spirit as bold and brash as the state in which it was born.
If you’re a whiskey drinker—or you plan to be—no night is complete without at least a few fingers of bourbon.
Below, we’ve got a complete list of the absolute best Kentucky bourbons (including a few that can only be found in Kentucky!) to add to your liquor cabinet.
Browse the list, check out the tasting notes, and get ready to find the perfect bourbon to put hair on your chest and some pep in your step!
Kentucky Bourbon 101: What You Need to Know Before Drinking
What Separates Bourbon from Other Whiskies?
All bourbons are whisky, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. How’s that for an explanation?
Need more? Here it is:
- Bourbon can be produced anywhere in the U.S., provided it meets the criteria. However, 95% of bourbon comes from Kentucky, and 100% of the best bourbons are Kentucky-made.
- Bourbon is made using a mash bill (mixture of grains) that is at least 51% corn (the rest can be rye, wheat, or barley). The mash must be distilled at under 160 proof (80% ABV), must not contain any additives, and must be stored in charred new oak barrels at under 125 proof (62.5% ABV).
- To be labeled “straight bourbon”, it must be aged in barrels for at least two years. Though there is no aging requirement for bourbons, any bourbon aged for less than four years must declare it on the label.
- Bourbon must be aged for at least three years for it to be recognized as a whiskey in the European Union.
- Bottled bourbon must be at least 80 proof (40% ABV).
Pretty clear definitions of what separates the bourbon-making process from other whiskies.
The real question, though, is why should you drink bourbon instead of Scotch, Canadian whisky, Irish whisky, or any other of the many whiskies on the market?
Why Drink Bourbon?
- Sweeter flavors. Bourbon is typically characterized by sweeter flavor notes, including vanilla, caramel, toffee, and butterscotch. This is due to the high corn percentage in the mash bill, and makes for easier drinking.
- No additives. The lack of additives means you’re drinking only pure bourbon, no unnecessary chemicals or flavorings.
- Plenty of affordable options. Compare the average bottle of bourbon to Scotch or Irish whiskey, and you’ll find the price tag is notably lower. You can find premium-quality, high-priced bourbons, but the “average” cost per bottle is more affordable.
- Healthier choice. Bourbon has no carbs or sugar despite the sweet taste. It’s a good option for diabetics (compared to sugary alcohols like wine or rum), and is both heart-smart and gut-friendly.
- Bold and sophisticated. Bourbon is a true “man’s drink”, and though bold, is still a very sophisticated, complex liquor.
- Great for cooking. Whether you use it to poach fruit, glaze a ham, or add into syrups, bourbon adds an undeniable punch of flavor.
- Support American distilleries. Every bottle purchased helps to support an American company—including many family-run businesses.
- Makes amazing cocktails. Because of its sweet flavor, it goes down nicely in cocktails, including Bourbon Sours, Kentucky Mules, and a Bourbon Old Fashioned.
As you browse the list below, keep in mind all these great reasons to have at least a few bottles of bourbon in your liquor cabinet!
The 15 Best Kentucky Bourbons
- Kentucky Bourbon 101: What You Need to Know Before Drinking
- What Separates Bourbon from Other Whiskies?
- Why Drink Bourbon?
- The 15 Best Kentucky Bourbons
- BASIL HAYDEN KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY
- Heaven Hill 6-Year-Old Green Label
- Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon
- Town Branch Kentucky Straight Bourbon
- Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon
- Bulleit Barrel Strength
- Four Roses Single Barrel
- Evan Williams 23-Year
- Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon
- Wild Turkey Decades
- Maker’s Mark Private Selection
- Barton’s 1792 Small Batch Full Proof
- Old Forester President’s Choice
- WILLETT POT STILL RESERVE
- Noah’s Mill Small Batch Bourbon
BASIL HAYDEN KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY
When it comes to Kentucky Bourbon, few distillers can match Basil Hayden for drinkability and elegance. The Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey may be young, but the high rye percentage means it’s got a bit of spice and bite that stands up to both ice and cocktail mixers. The herbal notes and fruity flavors make it truly enjoyable, though, and the charred oak taste blends perfectly with the sweet brown sugary sweetness.
You’ll find this is a great bourbon for beginners, and it’s the sort of whiskey even experienced drinkers will keep on their shelves for just the right occasion.
- Tasting Notes: Charred oak, sweet brown sugar, black pepper, and dried fruits
- Age: Unspecified (minimum of 2 years)
- Proof: 80
Heaven Hill 6-Year-Old Green Label
Heaven Hill is one of the best-known distillers in Kentucky, but their bourbons are some of the most exclusive and highly sought-after around because of how affordable and enjoyable they are. Though most people who choose Heaven Hill bourbons will opt for Elijah Craig, it’s the 6-Year Old Green Label that’s a true masterpiece of Kentucky distilling. It strikes just the right balance between the rich, sweet, fruity, and floral, with a long, pleasant finish and heat enough to keep you toasty warm on even a cold winter’s night.
- Tasting Notes: Citrus, oak, vanilla, and caramel
- Age: 6 years
- Proof: 90
Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon
If you want to step up your whiskey game, this 10-year old single barren Kentucky bourbon is just the ticket. Its originator had Irish roots, which you can taste with every sip of this fine corn-forward liquor. Located just a few miles from the famous Heaven Hill distiller, it’s a bourbon that’s as old and renowned as the best-sellers—and deserves its high price tag and place in the “rare whiskey” section.
Smooth and beautifully sippable, you’ll find strong notes of cinnamon and vanilla with caramel and just a hint of burn from the charred oak. Put all this together with its 100 proof strength, and it packs a punch while going down surprisingly easily.
- Tasting Notes: Honey, Cinnamon, Dark fruit, Vanilla, Oak, Caramel.
- Age: 10 years
- Proof: 100
Town Branch Kentucky Straight Bourbon
For lovers of craft whiskey, Town Branch’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon is an absolute delight. The small batches are hand-poured into barrels and bottles, ensuring pristine quality without driving up the price. Thanks to its low rye and high corn content, it features a delightfully mellow flavor and smooth sweetness that is enjoyable with every sip.
The bourbon starts off with aromas of wood and oak that lead beautifully into the rich, dark flavors of toffee, brown sugar, and caramel. But there’s just a hint of cherry to add fruity sweetness that blends nicely with any cocktail or poured over ice.
- Tasting Notes: Caramel, toffee, brown sugar, and hints of cherry.
- Age: Unspecified (minimum of 2 years)
- Proof: 50
Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon
With Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon, you get big, bold flavors with just the right amount of subtlety to perk up your palate and set your taste buds singing. While not the most affordable bottle on our list, the bourbon will be a worthwhile investment to take your whiskey collection to an elegant new level.
Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon is bought elsewhere and matured/finished on-site, and the end result is a complex bourbon that delivers a delightful array of flavors and a deep tobacco and leather finish that will linger pleasantly on your palate. The sweetness of caramel, cinnamon, and toffee blend with the aromas of honey and nutmeg. Whether you sip it neat or add a splash of water, it’s a pleasure to the last drop.
- Tasting Notes: Caramel, toffee and cinnamon
- Age: Unspecified (minimum of 4 years)
- Proof: 90.2
Bulleit Barrel Strength
Anyone who’s even thought about drinking Kentucky bourbon is going to be familiar with Bulleit. As one of the best-known bourbons in the country, it’s available in nearly every bar, restaurant, and pub—and with good reason! Made using only the highest-quality ingredients and just the right balance in the mash bill, it’s consistently one of the best-tasting whiskeys on the planet.
Bulleit’s Barrel Strength Bourbon is an award-winner that brings the best of Louisville to your home. Aged and bottled in Louisville, it’s gently spicy and has sweet oak aromas that pair perfectly with the flavors of nutmeg, oak, maple, and the hint of toffee. At 120 to 125 proof, it’s a truly potent whiskey, infusing you with warmth from head to toe.
- Tasting Notes: Nutmeg, oak, maple, and toffee.
- Age: Unspecified (minimum of 2 years)
- Proof: 120-125 (varies from barrel to barrel)
Four Roses Single Barrel
While many bourbon-makers like to blend various barrels to combine flavor profiles, Four Roses is confident enough to bottle the contents of just one barrel. The result is a liquor that has slight variations on flavor with each bottling, but that variety is what makes it such a delight. There is consistency enough that you know you’ll enjoy every glass of Four Roses Single Barrel, yet have a different experience every time you pop the cork on a new bottle.
The high rye content (35%) gives this bourbon a spicy edge that will sizzle on your taste buds, but the finish is long and beautifully delicate. It’s an amazing bourbon for mixing into cocktails, though connoisseurs will love sipping it neat to extract every note of flavor.
- Tasting Notes: Hints of ripe plum and cherries, robust, full body, mellow.
- Age: Minimum of 7-9 years
- Proof: 100
Evan Williams 23-Year
If you’re looking for a higher-end bottle of Kentucky’s finest bourbon and don’t mind paying a higher price, this 23-year old whiskey is just the thing for you. Thanks to the extra-long aging in-barrel, it has developed an incredibly complex flavor and aroma that you just won’t find in younger bourbons. The rich, deep chocolate taste is complemented by vanilla, caramel, and just enough oakiness to give it some legs.
It’s smooth, mellow, and full-bodied, and perfect for sipping. Keep it on your shelf for a truly special occasion, because it’s becoming harder and harder to find (as a collector’s item!).
- Tasting Notes: Chocolate, vanilla, caramel, oak
- Age: 23 years
- Proof: 107
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon
In stark contrast to the Evan Williams bourbon above, this is a budget-friendly whiskey you’ll love stocking up on because A) it’s insanely affordable, and B) it’s absolutely delicious. As one of the best-known Kentucky bourbons, you’ll find it at virtually every bar and restaurant around the country, and it comes highly recommended by mixologists and whisky connoisseurs because of its drinkability and bargain price.
The notes of vanilla are complemented by just enough citrusy orange peel sharpness to wake up your palate before, during, or after a rich meal, and you’ll find the dark, spice-heavy finish is perfect when sitting back and enjoying a relaxing evening. Adding a bit of ice makes those citrus notes pop, or you can use it to whip up an Old Fashioned in style.
- Tasting Notes: Vanilla, orange peel, dark fruit, mint
- Age: Minimum of 2 years
- Proof: 90
Wild Turkey Decades
While most whiskey drinkers will be familiar with Wild Turkey’s 101 (a classic budget-friendly option), it’s their Decades bottle that really stands out from the crowd. Sure, you’ll pay a higher price tag, but once you get a sip of this bourbon, you’ll deem it absolutely worth the investment.
The bourbon is made by blending 10- to 20-year-old batches, which keeps it from being too pricey while still giving it the depth and complexity of an older, more mature whiskey. The sweetness of butterscotch and dried fruit are complemented by the delightful aromas of caramel and oak, and you’ll find it goes down smooth with just enough spice to enchant your palate.
- Tasting Notes: Butterscotch and dried fruit
- Age: 10 to 20 years
- Proof: 104
Maker’s Mark Private Selection
Few bourbons have distinguished themselves as highly as Maker’s Mark Private Selection, which, in collaboration with the Black Bourbon Society, was ranked as one of the top 15 whiskies (whiskies, not just bourbons) in the world in 2021.
Seared French oak staves are added into the charred American oak barrels, and the result is a truly palate-delighting depth of flavor and complexity of aromas that makes for a wonderful drinking experience. The higher-than-average proof also hits you harder in just the right way so you feel more and more relaxed with every sip, and thus better-able to enjoy the incredibly broad range of flavors created by the unique combination of oak staves.
- Tasting Notes: Varies by selection and oak stave combination
- Age: 5 3/4 to 7 years, plus finishing of 9 weeks in cold conditions in barrels with chosen combination of staves
- Proof: 108–114
Barton’s 1792 Small Batch Full Proof
Barton’s 1792 is named in honor of the year Kentucky officially became a U.S. state, and it adheres to Kentucky’s bourbon-making standards to produce a truly divine liquor that will dazzle you with its spice while soothing you with its caramel and vanilla sweetness. The high-rye mash bill gives it a bit more “kick” than your standard bourbon, which makes it perfect for mixing into sweeter cocktails.
Take note: the Small Batch Full Proof also is frequently released in limited edition variations, including bottled-in-bond, single-barrel, and port-finished. Anyone looking for a middle-shelf bourbon will find this one makes for enjoyable drinking with every sip.
- Tasting Notes: Smoke, vanilla, caramel
- Age: Minimum of 3 years
- Proof: 125
Old Forester President’s Choice
Old Forester President’s Choice is one of those top-tier, premium-priced bourbons you buy once in a lifetime, but never ever forget! Sure, there are more affordable bourbons, but this is the one you crack open for the birth of your first grandchild, your promotion to CEO, the buyout of your startup, or earning your first million dollars.
Each barrel is personally chosen by Old Forester’s president (with the guidance of the distillery’s master-taster), but only after they’ve aged for at least eight years and distilled to 110-120 proof. The result is a truly complex, mature bourbon with a unique taste profile found nowhere else in the world. Fine bourbon, indeed!
- Tasting Notes: Vanilla, oak, caramel
- Age: Typically 8 years
- Proof: 110 to 120
WILLETT POT STILL RESERVE
Just take one look at the gorgeous and unique bottle in which your Willet Pot Still Reserve is presented, and you’ll know without a doubt that sampling this bourbon will be a unique experience. This bourbon pays homage to the backcountry spirit that put—and has kept—Kentucky bourbon firmly on the map for hundreds of years. It’s pricey enough to be ranked a “top shelf” bourbon, but still accessible enough that you can pick it up for minor special occasions.
Pop the cork, pour it over ice, and let the flavors of nutmeg, hazelnut, caramel, and honey set your senses on fire. It’s the perfect sipping bourbon, and a drink you’ll want to come back to again and again.
- Tasting Notes: Honey, vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, nutmeg
- Age: 8-10 years
- Proof: 94
Noah’s Mill Small Batch Bourbon
For bourbon-drinkers who want a splash of elegance in a glass, this small-batch bourbon by Noah’s Mill will be right up your alley. It’s a surprisingly complex liquor, with hints of lavender, prunes, spices, and walnuts that are balanced out by both acidity and sweet caramel flavor. The result is something inexplicable and truly enjoyable with every sip.
Also, at 114 proof, it’s one of the most potent bourbons on our list. Add in a splash of water to soften it right up, and get ready for a riot of flavors that will keep you pouring another glass, and another, and another until the bottle is empty.
- Tasting Notes: Walnuts, prunes, spices, lavender, and caramel
- Age: No age statement, minimum of 4 years (possibly up to 15 years)
- Proof: 114.2