2020’S Best Bourbons for the Holidays
2020 may be the year to try and forget, but here are 5 bourbons to share with friends and family in a safe, socially distanced or zoom-friendly manner. Our top three selections sport colors of the season – red, green and blue.
Four Roses Tan Label ($20 – $22)
One of the least expensive on our list, this one is also the most easily found and unique within the bourbon community. Four Roses takes its blending and mash bills to new levels, blending high corn and high rye mash bills with 5 different yeast strains to produce a complex explosion at a low 80-proof. At approximately 5-years old, you’ll catch fruity and floral notes with honeycrisp apple sweetness and spiciness. Seventy years ago, this brand was relegated to the overseas market, but today you’ll appreciate this soft sipper domestically compliments of master distiller Brent Elliott.
Old Forester 100 ($22 – $25)
The Old Forester brand has been doing the holidays right for decades. For many years, they offered unique and stylized decanters designed by American industrialist Raymond Lowey. While today you’ll only find those decanters on eBay or in an antique shop, this timeless, traditional bourbon is more easily found.
For the price point, Old Forester has one of the best noses available. A mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley delivers a solid vanilla and caramel bomb with a velvety sweetness. This is superb for a holiday Old Fashioned or enjoyed in a rocks glass neat or with ice. Be sure to grab this 100-proof rendition, though, as it often shares an identical price point with its 86-proof sibling.
Maker’s Mark 101 ($40 – $50)
With its signature red wax with long tendrils, nothing says the holidays quite like Maker’s Mark. This higher proof 101 version utilizes the traditional Maker’s mash bill of 70% corn, 14% malted barley, and 16% soft red winter wheat, but amps up the proof from 90 to 101.
Around 6-7 years in age, this bourbon delivers solidly on traditional caramel, toffee and vanilla. While Maker’s replaces the traditional rye grain with wheat to make this a smooth drinker, there is enough complexity for seasoned connoisseurs to enjoy this special release. It’s hard to go wrong with its holiday colors of red and gold.
Russell’s Reserve 10-Year ($32 – $35)
The namesake of Wild Turkey master distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell, this is our only pick with an age statement. Readily available in sufficient quantity (even at major big-box general merchandisers), this is an incredible find in today’s era of disappearing age statements. Plentiful supplies and a low price make this an everyday holiday pour without breaking the bank.
Many easily eye a bottle of the flagship Wild Turkey 101 but gloss over this less well-known product. Sharing the common Wild Turkey mash bill of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley, you’ll be greeted by a 10-year 90-proof product with vanilla and oak sweetness that is incredibly smooth. You can impress guests with the 10-year age statement proudly displayed.
Wellers Special Reserve ($26 – $36)
Produced by Buffalo Trace this 90-proof wheated bourbon shares a mash bill with the elusive Pappy Van Winkle line. While it should be readily available, I confess that this is one that might require you to be a bit more observant.
Buffalo Trace is mum on the details of its mash bills, but it is widely thought that the Weller lineup contains 16-18% wheat in place of the typical rye grain. You won’t find an age statement, but it’s generally thought to be a blend of 6-8-year bourbons. What you’ll find inside are lovely vanilla and caramel notes married with the oakiness of an old rickhouse.