25 Popular Kentucky Bourbons, Ranked By Value

There is no doubt that Kentucky is the home of bourbon. Around 95% of all bourbon is made in the state, which means there is a huge number of whiskeys to choose from for this list. Kentucky whiskey is famous for its history and the strict regulations it must adhere to. But even with those regulations, there is an impressive diversity in the bourbons it offers. Whether it's changing in the mash bill, maturation, proof, or the barrels used, Kentucky whiskeys have an impressive spectrum of flavors. 

Three main factors were considered when ranking this list: taste, price, and availability. While there are a few expensive bourbons on this list, we placed a significant emphasis on value for money. And if they are hard to find, we either marked them down or didn't include them. Due to this, you can see our selections as a realistic checklist of Kentucky whiskeys that you can work your way through over the next few years. Another decision we made was to stick to one expression per brand (for the most part), and we picked the one that most closely matched our criteria above. With that in mind, we hope you enjoy this ranked journey through the wonderful world of Kentucky bourbons.

25. Jim Beam White Label

ABV: 37%

Jim Beam White Label wouldn't make the grade if this were simply a list of the 25 best Kentucky bourbons. However, with its budget cost and Jim Beam's rich history that began with a corn farm, it deserves to be featured here. Jim Beam has more expensive expressions, but its White Label (technically just called "Jim Beam") is an iconic whiskey. Not only is it popular in Kentucky, but this is a whiskey you'll find worldwide. It's probably the most accessible bourbon and perfect for cocktails and mixers. There's nothing remarkable about this whiskey, which is why it's in last place, but it still tastes good and is a rite of passage for any bourbon enthusiast.

24. Old Forester 86

ABV: 43%

It's clear Old Forester is a bourbon that's steeped in history. The "86" here refers to its proof, and overall, this is a well-balanced bourbon and one in the affordable price bracket. Starting off, you'll get some caramel, orchard fruits, and a gentle spice on the nose. The palate is surprisingly rich for a budget bourbon, and you get plenty of sweet tastes supported by a foundation of earthy notes. As with the Jim Beam above, this isn't the tastiest bourbon you'll ever buy, which stops it from ranking any higher. However, it sneaks onto the list for being an impressive low-cost offering. 

23. 1792 Full Proof

ABV: 62.5%

This 1792 is a rare full-proof whiskey, meaning the proof is the same as when it was first barreled. That makes this a high-proof bourbon with a robust flavor profile. The reason it's called "1792" is because that's when Kentucky was declared a state. Along with the common notes of caramel and vanilla on the nose, you'll also get a nice hint of fruit. That continues to the palate, where it's joined by spicy rye and a touch of dark chocolate. The finish is long and warming, confirming this is a good Kentucky whiskey, but it ranks lower than many others on this list because of its higher price tag.

22. Evan Williams Single Barrel

ABV: 43.3%

Evan Williams is known for its affordable bourbons, and this is one of the cheapest single-barrel bourbons you can buy. Produced by the Heaven Hill Distillery, this whiskey has a touch of citrus on the nose and a well-balanced flavor profile with honey, oak, and a hint of nuttiness. The finish is long and warm, making it a great representation of what makes single-barrel bourbons unique. This uniqueness is added to by the fact the year it was put into the barrel is displayed on each bottle. However, its ranking suffers a little from some availability issues. Plus, though it's a cheaper single-barrel offering, it's still more expensive than many other bottles on this list. 

21. Booker's

ABV: 62.25%

Booker's Bourbon is a premium small-batch bourbon from the Jim Beam distillery. Being a small-batch offering, it is ranked lower due to its high price and limited availability, but there is no doubt this is a great bourbon. This is a rich and robust whiskey named after Booker Noe, a legendary figure in the bourbon industry. Dark caramel features on both the nose and palate, where a touch of cinnamon and nuttiness joins it. A strong, peppery presence continues to the finish, making this a unique expression worth trying if you can get your hands on a bottle.

20. Russell's Reserve 10-year

ABV: 45%

Coming from the Wild Turkey Distillery, this bourbon has a beautiful range of classic smells on the nose. Honey and toffee on the palate help to give it a distinctive taste, and you'll also enjoy some warm cinnamon. That warmth continues to the finish. While its higher price stops it from ranking any higher, we'd still say this is excellent value for money. It was hard to pick just one Russell's Reserve expression for this list. The annually-released Russell's Reserve 13-year bottle has more maturity and depth but is significantly more expensive, so the younger sibling is a great alternative.

19. Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel

ABV: 45%

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel is a tribute to the legendary Elmer T. Lee, a master distiller who revolutionized the bourbon industry. It's the first of many bourbons from the mighty Buffalo Trace Distillery on this list. The distillery has a few hard-to-find releases, and this is no doubt one of them. The nose is quite zesty, and the balanced profile beautifully displays the classic bourbon tastes of caramel, oak, and spice. This bourbon is highly sought after for its exceptional quality. That means it can sometimes be frustratingly hard to find, but it's worth it.

18. Wild Turkey 101

ABV: 50.5%

Wild Turkey is another classic bourbon with huge popularity, partly due to its affordability. The most unique smells on the nose are gentle herbs, and on the palate, you'll get a lovely taste of butterscotch and a noticeable spice kick. The finish is longer than many more expensive whiskies, and its high proof (which is, unsurprisingly, 101 proof) contributes to its intense and bold flavor. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this bourbon is that even with the higher proof, it's smooth and easy to pick out its unique flavors. The brand also produces other excellent expressions that are great value for money, but none of them match the 101. 

17. Michter's US*1

ABV: 45.7%

This Mitcher's bourbon is marketed as a small batch, but it's still easily accessible at a fair price. The heartwarming story behind the Michter's brand includes a complex history and a lot of experience in making high-quality whisky. Notes of butterscotch and dried fruits characterize the nose here. On the palate, it offers a smooth and well-rounded taste with various baking spices coming through, along with honey being quite prominent on the profile. At 91.4-proof, the whiskey has great depth without being too overpowering. It's fantastic served neat but don't be afraid of adding your favorite mixer. Michter's US*1 doesn't have the longest finish, affecting its ranking, but it's still long and enjoyable.

16. Jefferson's Ocean

ABV: 45%

It's easy to see Jefferson's Ocean as a gimmick. This sourced bourbon variety is distilled and placed in a barrel in Kentucky before those barrels are aged at sea. It's a quirky way to age whiskey, but the results are impressive. You get some of that sea air on the nose, which is almost reminiscent of Scottish island whiskies. The palate is rich, and that saltiness continues but without being overpowering. Its mix of traditional bourbon flavors with its maritime influences combines for a truly unique bourbon. As you can imagine, it's more on the expensive side, but it's a great idea to try this bourbon at least once.

15. Bulleit Barrel Proof

ABV: 59.5%

For those looking for a great barrel-proof Kentucky bourbon, look no further. Barrel-proof means this bourbon hasn't had any water added to it after it was barrelled, which commonly happens with most other whiskeys. This uncut and unfiltered whiskey is not for the faint-hearted. With its 119-proof and high-rye mash bill, it's known for its spicy and robust flavor profile. A few drops of water are needed to appreciate its depth, which has some lovely toffee notes along with oak and vanilla. The finish is unsurprisingly fiery, making this perfect for those who appreciate a stronger, more unadulterated bourbon experience.

14. Maker's Mark

ABV: 45%

Maker's Mark gave us the biggest headache with our self-imposed one-expression-per-brand policy. With its popularity as a mid-range Kentucky whiskey, we opted to highlight its standard expression. Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon has become iconic — in no short part due to its signature red wax-sealed bottles. This whiskey is a bit fruity on the nose, and the palate is smooth and approachable, with flavors of butterscotch, light spice, and gentle oak. This finish offers a pleasant warmth, but it isn't as long as more expensive bourbons. Maker's Mark is a great starting point for those on a budget looking for a higher-quality whiskey.

13. Knob Creek 9-year

ABV: 50%

Despite its 9-year aging process, this Knob Creek bourbon is one of the more affordable whiskeys featured and is known for its rich and robust flavor profile. Once poured, the first thing you'll notice here is its stunning deep copper color. On the nose, the main notes are vanilla and toasted wood, while the palate is bold and flavorful. Butterscotch and toffee feature most prominently, while there is also an oak presence. The finish is long and warm to complete the satisfying taste experience.  The 9-year gives you exceptional value for money and is one of the best bourbons under $50.

12. Henry McKenna Single Barrel

ABV: 50%

Coming from the Heaven Hill Distillery, this is a prestigious whiskey that won both "Best in Show" and "Best Bourbon" at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. You'll find notes of caramel, vanilla, and a hint of citrus on the nose. The palate is well-balanced, with toffee, oak, and spice flavors. As well as being a single barrel, Henry McKenna is both aged for 10 years and bottled-in-bond, which makes it one of the more unique bourbons available. It's perhaps a little expensive but fairly priced, considering its aging and quality. This bourbon is a sought-after choice among bourbon enthusiasts, and it's easy to see why.

11. Four Roses Single Barrel

ABV: 50%

Four Roses has made many great expressions over the years (we've even previously ranked the bourbon bottles of Four Roses). But its single barrel stands out from its permanent lineup. One of the best features is the remarkable variety of aromas on the nose, including many fruity notes and floral elements. The palate is complex and well-structured, with its most distinctive flavors being ripe red berries and honey. The finish lingers long enough for this to prove itself as a high-quality bourbon. At 100-proof, it can easily be consumed neat. However, adding a touch of water to your glass is also a great idea to further open up its aroma and palate. 

10. George T. Stagg Straight Bourbon Whiskey

ABV: 58%-73% (varies year to year)

George T. Stagg Straight Bourbon Whiskey is an exceptional bourbon offering the highest quality taste experience. So why isn't it number one? That's because it's both very expensive and also hard to find. The George T. Stagg is matured for a minimum of 15 years and is intense on the nose, with rich dark chocolate and molasse notes. The palate is robust, featuring flavors of caramel, dark fruits, and a powerful spice kick. The finish is extremely long and warming, with a profound oak influence. The biggest downside of this whiskey is that they just don't make enough of it!

9. W.L. Weller Special Reserve

ABV: 45%

W.L. Weller is known for using a high percentage of wheat in the mash bill, and the Special Reserve is no different. The lack of rye helps to make the palate soft and mellow, with flavors of butterscotch and honey delighting your tastebuds. The nose is gentle, and the finish is soft, making this ideal for those not keen on high-rye bourbons. Those flavors can be truly appreciated with it being 90-proof, and there is no need to cut this bourbon with water. The company states this whiskey is also great for making cocktails, but you'd need to have expensive tastes, as this is not a cheap bourbon.

8. Elijah Craig Small Batch

ABV: 47%

The Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old is one of the best single-barrel bourbons you can buy. However, with it being around three times cheaper than its 18-year expression, we wanted to give some love to the small batch expression here. Made at the Heaven Hill Distillery, this bourbon excels in the classical notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak, which delight you on the nose and palate. That palate is well-balanced, and you get a touch of dark chocolate and spice. A lingering charred wood note hits you on the finish to complete an impressive tasting experience. There is nothing unique about this whiskey, but it finds a perfect balance in all the right areas.

7. E.H. Taylor Single Barrel

ABV: 50%

This is our last expensive whiskey for a while before moving on to more moderately priced expressions. Coming from the Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. collection at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, this small-batch offering is a favorite among bourbon traditionalists. Packaged in a unique wine-shaped bottle, this whiskey celebrates one of bourbon's founding fathers. Plenty of rich notes are here, and the palate is well-balanced, with flavors of toffee, oak, and a gentle cinnamon kick. The collection also includes other impressive expressions, however, the single barrel is the best option when considering price and availability.

6. Angel's Envy Port Wine Barrel Finish

ABV: 43.3%

Angels's Envy has a unique approach to making bourbon by utilizing used barrels for secondary maturation. It's similar to many Scotch whiskies in that respect and helps to give its bourbon a distinctive flavor. This double-barrel bourbon is finished in port wine casks, which greatly influences the smell and taste. For aroma, you'll find fruits, raisins, and maple syrup. Those fruits continue to the palate and add to a complex taste profile when combined with toasted wood, dark chocolate, and classic sweeter flavors. Its commitment to innovation and craftsmanship makes this Angel's Envy expression worthy of being at the top end of this list. 

5. Basil Hayden

ABV: 40%

Are you looking for a lighter and more mellow Kentucky bourbon? This is one of the best low-proof whiskeys out there; even casual drinkers would love this. At 80 proof, it's easy to pick out its aromas, characterized by gentle notes of spice, honey, and a hint of citrus. As mentioned, the palate is mellow, but there is a subtle pepper kick to go with it. With its affordable price tag, this is perhaps the best bourbon for those looking to go beyond bottom-shelf bourbons but are tentative about trying high-proof offerings. That value helps to rank it so highly, but we thought a few Kentucky bourbons offered a little more. 

4. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

ABV: 45.2%

This whiskey's "Double Oaked" name refers to it being matured in two different oak barrels. The second barrel is toasted, which helps to give a smoky quality to this bourbon. As expected, woody notes start on the nose and continue until the finish. Along the way, they are joined by many other flavors, including caramel, roasted nuts, fruits, and dark chocolate. There is a continued sweetness with the finish, which is warm and prolonged. It's a truly great whiskey, but it doesn't quite offer the depth or value we see in the top three whiskeys here. 

3. Eagle Rare 10-year

ABV: 45%

Eagle Rare is a classical bourbon and is one of the many produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery. It has all the tasting notes that you'd expect from a Kentucky offering and balances them elegantly. There aren't many distinctive notes here, as you'll get caramel, honey, and oak on the nose, which all continue to the palate. A gentle spice joins them with a hint of dried fruit. It's not a cheap whiskey, which has slightly affected its ranking, but it's great value when considering its maturity and sophistication. As with the Basil Hayden above, this is a perfect example of a Kentucky bourbon.

2. Blanton's Single Barrel

ABV: 46.5%

We were close to placing this whiskey on the top spot but were held back by the price, which is why it has to settle for second. While it's one of the more expensive bourbons, every whiskey lover should have this expression in their crosshairs. Coming from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon is celebrated for being the world's first single-barrel bourbon and offers a range of aromas on the nose, including caramel, vanilla, and citrus. The palate is a masterpiece of complexity, with flavors that can include honey, toffee, dark fruit, and a hint of spice, depending on the specific barrel. There is no wonder why it's highly sought after by bourbon enthusiasts and collectors alike.

1. Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%

A whiskey snob may scoff at this bourbon being number one, but it deserves its place. They may scoff because this is a highly affordable spirit you can pick up on any grocery store shelf. The reason it makes our top spot is the phenomenal value for money. Many bourbons are twice as expensive and don't taste half as good. We've mentioned the famous Buffalo Trace Distillery a lot, and its flagship bottle is versatile and approachable, with an impressively balanced profile.

You get the classical bourbon smells on the nose before you move on to a smooth and mellow palate. Flavors of toffee and orchard fruits are the most unique notes you'll get, and the finish is moderate in length but warm and pleasant. Its immense quality-to-price ratio makes it an excellent choice for both newcomers to bourbon and seasoned enthusiasts alike.


Countless bourbons produced in Kentucky could have been included on this list. We chose to limit our list to 25 whiskeys — and only one variety per brand (with a single exception) — that are well-known and popular with consumers throughout the U.S.

When it came to ranking the selected bourbons, we considered several factors such as taste, price, and availability. While the taste, quality, and reputation were taken into consideration when determining rankings, we chose to heavily prioritize the price and availability of each bourbon in these rankings. In that regard, the rankings represent bourbons that provide the best bang for your buck.

Additionally, while we did not rank bourbons based solely on firsthand experience with each bourbon, we have sampled numerous Kentucky bourbons — including several entries on this list. Any firsthand subjective opinions presented in this article are solely that of the writer.