clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

And the Valley Drinks: Holiday Bourbon Rankings

It’s the holiday season, and you might need something to drink.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The holidays and winter are for a lot of things, and of those things is brown liquor.

For many people, that means eggnog -- and everybody has their favorite recipe, right?

Mine involves putting bourbon in a glass with a couple of ice cubes and THEN drinking it.

Anyway, with office Christmas parties and other various social-like events looming, this seemed like a good time to offer some toasting suggestions to get the spirit.

I ranked these along three main guidelines: smoothness, flavor and value.

Smoothness - look, there's a time and a place for mixers, particularly if you're in a marathon/not sprint situation, like tailgating or New Year's Eve. But when I want whiskey, I want WHISKEY. Not Coke or Sprite (ginger ale is a highly underrated mixer). That said, Beam or Jack or Charter on the rocks are not for everybody, and certainly not for me. I need some degree of smoothness to take that edge off a bit. Plus, if you're in polite company you really can't afford to make the whiskey face after every sip.

Flavor - this is more of a personal taste deal, but for me, I like a darker, oakier bourbon that has a little more body to it. Lighter, slightly fruitier whiskeys are fine, and I'll never turn down a Bulleit or a Basil Hayden's, but all things considered I like my bourbon to have picked up a little more of the char from the barrel, unlocking that molasses-y flavor a little more.

Value - cheap liquor is most certainly a false economy. That said, we all have our budgets. But if you know what you like and you know what you're looking for, it's not hard to find a good quality sippin' whiskey for less than $35. If your boss is paying for an open bar and there's Blanton's or Booker's or Baker's (I keep thinking I should get my own still and call it Candle Stick Maker's), you should totally go for that. But on your own dime? Check some of these out.

1.       Buffalo Trace

The undisputed champ for my money. Nothing quite hits all three marks as well. You can find a fifth of this for $22 or less in most places, and for that price it's a smooth, full-flavored bourbon that you can sip on for some time.

2.       Elijah Craig Small Batch

This will be the next step up in price, somewhere between $25-30, but it's a nice, rich bourbon that has just enough lightness to balance it out.

3.       Woodford Reserve

Now we're moving into that $30 tier, but on the low end of it. But Woodford is pretty ubiquitous and easy to find, and a good combination of great flavor and smooth drinking without spilling over into the higher-end stuff. My wife in particular has developed a taste for it in the last year or two.

4.       Eagle Rare

You stick "rare" on a bourbon label and the price shoots up at least $20, right? Everybody knows that. Not in Eagle Rare's case -- still right at around $30, and every bit as good as anything that costs more. A little lighter than Woodford, but still a great sip.

5.       Maker's Mark

In my mind, Maker's is the perfect replacement level bourbon. Again, very ubiquitous - your local Applebee's almost certainly has this behind the bar, whereas some of the other bourbons on this list may be a little harder to find in some areas. Smooth and flavorful, right at around the mid-20s. Buffalo Trace is a cut above flavor-wise for my money, but Maker's is a perfectly acceptable stand-by bourbon that's almost always around.