Bourbons: The Best 5 Bottles For The Whiskey Novice

Bourbon seems to be one of the trendiest whiskeys out there right now – and it’s certainly a favourite of mine. I find it to be an easy drinking spirit both straight and in a premium cocktail – a Black Walnut Old Fashioned being my favourite!

Someone once told me they liked bourbon because of its simplicity, to which I replied that I liked it because of its complexity and its variety.

Bourbons: The Best 5 Bottles For The Whiskey Novice

What makes bourbon bourbon? It’s simple really…

To be called “bourbon“, this spirit must be produced in the United States (95% of which comes from Kentucky). It must be made from a mash of at least 51% corn after which it is matured in a brand new charred oak barrel for two years. It’s also spelled “whiskey” with an “e” to denote that it originates in North America.

There are a lot of “entry-level” bourbons on the market. I say “entry-level” when I really mean ‘stock’ or ‘that house bourbon at the local bar’ that’s used for mixed cocktails. When it comes to bourbon, I feel like you don’t have to spend a lot to get something that’s good for sipping or mixing. I like a bourbon that’s good for both!

Here are 5 of my favorite bourbons:

#1: Russel’s Reserve

Russel's Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon | 5 Bottles for the Whiskey Novice

Russel’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon might be my favorite ‘daily’ whiskey. By this I mean that it’s not too expensive and it’s both good straight and mixed. It’s a step up from your entry-level highball whiskeys and is fantastic served straight, on the rocks or in a cocktail. I was originally introduced to it by Selena from Vine Styles!

This bourbon comes from the Wild Turkey brand and has won multiple awards since it first debuted on the whiskey scene. Russel’s Reserve is named after Wild Turkey’s master distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russel. Its rich flavour comes from the longer aging process that the distillery uses. If you’re looking to mix Russel’s, try one of their cocktail recipes!

Tasting Notes: A nose of cinnamon, butter, roasted wood and vanilla with a palate consisting of a complex oaky sweetness along side orange, dark chocolate, leather and baking spices. The finish is long with oh-so-sweet maple and sugar notes. (

#2: Basil Hayden’s

Basil Hayden's Bourbon Whiskey | 5 Bottles for the Whiskey Novice

This is a favourite of a friend of mine who is an avid bourbon enthusiast! This whiskey features a high-rye content in the mash bill that helps provide its unique flavour. For Canadian whiskey lovers, this is a good crossover bottle! I find it to be quite smooth and easy to drink on the rocks. It’s really good blended in a premium cocktail as well. I like that the bottle is sleek, yet decorative and stylish, making it a great addition to your bar shelf/cart.

Tasting Notes: An aroma of spice, tea, hint of peppermint. Spicy taste, light-bodied, gentle bite with a dry, clean and brief finish. 


#3: Blanton’s

Blanton's Single Barrel Whiskey | 5 Bottles for the Whiskey Novice

This might be a whiskey that you’d buy just because the bottle is pretty and it looks super cool on your liquor shelf/on your bar cart. I like this one because it not only looks good, it tastes good. I consider it to be an affordable mid-range bourbon. It is also a bourbon that I prefer to drink neat or on ice rather than mixed. If you’re more of a rye whiskey drinker, then Blanton’s might be a good transition into bourbons for you because of its rye content.

Something neat about this Blanton’s is a bourbon that you’ll often see it on tv shows and in movies – its bottle is highly recognizable and feels iconic to where bourbon is most popular.

Tasting Notes: A spicy aroma of Dried Citrus and Orange Peels with a hint of Caramel and Vanilla. Taste that is full and soft, marked by a mix of Burnt Sugar, Caramel, Orange, and Cloves. A finish balanced with Vanilla, Honey, and Citrus.

#4: Evan Williams Single Barrel

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon | 5 Bottles for the Whiskey Novice

I don’t know if I like Evan Williams Bourbon because I toured their distillery in Louisville or just because it’s really good! This is a brand with a number of different bourbons that fit a variety of tastes and price points. My advice is to start with the Evan Williams Single Barrel and then go from there.

If you choose to explore their website, take a look at each of their whiskeys and their tasting notes. Each features a list of cocktail recipes that are the perfect blend with each bottle.

Tasting Notes: Dark caramel, sweet oak & charred wood on the nose. Taste of lush & spicy; oak with honey, apple & orange notes with a long, graceful and relaxed finish. 

#5: Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey

Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey | 5 Best Bottles for The Whiskey Novice

This is my favorite inexpensive, easy to find bourbon. It’s nice because it is widely available and you can even get great big bottles of it at Costco for a good price! It’s a great mixing whiskey and it tastes better than a ‘house whiskey’ would. I prefer this one mixed or straight, but it’s more of an ‘every day’ drinker than for a special occasion. If you love the flavour profile here, I suggest giving their 10 Year Old Bourbon a try as well.

I love about Bulleit is that their website features a great list of bourbon cocktail recipes that compliment the flavour of their whiskey really well!

Tasting Notes: Medium amber in colour, with gentle spiciness and sweet oak aromas. Mid-palate is smooth with tones of maple, oak, and nutmeg. Finish is long, dry, and satiny with a light toffee flavour.

Credits: Tasting notes are from each bourbon’s proprietary website unless otherwise noted. Photos are from each bourbon’s proprietary website. 

Carlee Krtolica
Carlee Krtolica