2019 has just began, and as the true fan knows, the year isn't over until it's over - especially because we see a lot of great drinks released for the year-end holidays. That will be coming up soon, but before that, we wanted to take a look back at the best bourbon choices from 2018.

How We Chose Our Ratings

Bourbon is a tricky subject - and we'll be honest, we couldn't have spent the tens of thousands of dollars needed to taste every drink we considered personally. As amazing as that would have been, it's just not practical for our team. We knew we needed another way of picking the best bourbons - and of explaining our method to you. Our team believes in transparency, and that means showing how we picked these bottles!

After some debate, we decided to research bourbons from a variety of sources and see which met our criteria. Each drink was ranked by various standards, including:

Top 8 Best Bourbons of 2018

Here are the bourbons that made our final list. Each of these is an outstanding drink in its own right, so they're not listed in any particular order.

Product

Product
Name

Proof

Age

Price

Four Roses 2017 Small Batch Limited Edition Al Young's 50th Anniversary

90 proof

12 to 23 years

Willett Family Estate 5 Year Single Barrel Bourbon

N\A

5 years

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch B517 - Lot B

Varies by Release

12 Years Old

Wild Turkey Master's Keep Decades

104 proof

10 to 20 years

Old Rip Van Winkle 10-Year-Old Bourbon

107 proof

10  years

Maker's Mark Bill Samuels Private Select

112 proof

N/A

Henry McKenna Single Barrel

100 proof

10 Years Old

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

90.4

NAS

Four Roses 2017 Small Batch Limited Edition Al Young's 50th Anniversary

That's a long name, even as alcoholic drinks go - but at least it's easy to find the exact bottle you're looking for! Four Roses is a Kentucky distillery that's been operating since 1888 - before Prohibition. The company's had ups and downs since then, but it's continued to release some of the best bourbons on the market thanks to more than a century of institutional experience.

This particular bottle was created to honor one of their distillery managers. Each bottle contains a blend of several of the company's recipes, aged anywhere from 12 to 23 years. The limited release sold out fairly quickly, but you may be able to find a bottle at your local bar or tavern - and that's the best place to get a sip.

Willett Family Estate 5 Year Single Barrel Bourbon

When is a bourbon more like a bottle of wine? When you bottle it that way, of course. This release from the Willett Family Estate genuinely looks like it belongs in a wine cellar, but make no mistake; it's pure bourbon all the way through.

At just five years old when bottled, it hasn't aged nearly as much as many of the other options on this list. The 5 Year Single Barrel is a particularly floral drink, featuring a strong taste of honey blossom and fig. The oak influence is relatively mild, too, ensuring the flavor of the barrel doesn't overpower the rest of this bottle.

This drink is quite hard to find. However, the distiller does plan to ramp up production in the future - so if you can't find a 2017 bottle, go ahead and keep an eye out over the next few years (and consider having a bottle shipped to you by the professionals).

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch B517 - Lot B

Surprisingly, there's not much of a name to this product - just the identification number. That said, Batch B517 is easily one of the best drinks they've put out in recent years.  The smell features whiskey staples like caramel, toffee, oak, and spices - as well as orange, red berry, and grapes. It's quite enjoyable just holding it near your nose, but the taste is what really matters.

Expect to notice brown sugar, tobacco, caramel, oak, and orange zest flavoring the drink. Despite the quality of this drink, the distillery - Heaven Hill - made enough of this to sell it at a comfortable mass-market price of $60. Even if you have a hard time finding some of the other bottles on this list, it should be easy to find this on the shelves.

Just make sure to avoid confusing this with other batch numbers. Batch C917 is particularly notable and an excellent drink in its own right - but it's always a little embarrassing to buy the wrong bottle, regardless of its quality. We only needed to make that mistake once.

Wild Turkey Master's Keep Decades

Now that's a suggestive name - but don't worry, it doesn't taste like turkey. Rather, the Wild Turkey Distillery has been putting out drinks for more than 75 years, and in that time they've released quite a lot of high-quality products.

This particular release mixes bourbons of 10 to 20 years, representing some of the best drinks ever created by Master Distiller Eddie Russell. As a blended drink, it doesn't have the same distinct flavors as single-batch bourbons - instead, it focuses on mixing the character of aged bourbon with the vibrancy of younger barrels.

The release of this product can be a little irregular - the distiller's personal preference affects things - so get it while you can if you want to try it.

Old Rip Van Winkle 10-Year-Old Bourbon

This is the bottle you're least likely to find on the market - and even if you do, expect to pay a significant premium for a single bottle. Only 710 bottles were ever produced, and they mark the oldest drinks from the distillery. The box it's contained in is made with oak from the 11 barrels of the batch, a nice touch that helps to commemorate them.

Incidentally, while this particular drink will be hard to find, you may be able to get a similar product at a charity auction. Some of Old Rip Van Winkle's best and most limited drinks are only released for charity purposes, so they're a great way to support a good cause while simultaneously enjoying a drink.

Maker's Mark Bill Samuels Private Select

The Maker's 46 whiskey has become popular in recent years, but the Private Select has remained less noticed - and that's good for you because it's a much better drink. The Private Select is almost identical to the 46, but they decided to bottle it at cask strength. That results in a drink around 112 proof, which is significantly higher than most bourbons.

It's enough of a difference that you may need to change the way you drink to enjoy it properly. Unlike already-distilled bourbon, most experts suggest drinking a cask strength product with something like a large cube of ice.

As it melts throughout the evening, you'll be able to enjoy this bourbon at different strengths. If you're especially gutsy, you can distill it yourself in various ratios to try them individually. Just remember to use small glasses for these - the high ABV adds up quick.

Henry McKenna Single Barrel

This is another high-proof bourbon - and the second entry on our list from Heaven Hill Distillery. That's not as surprising as it may sound at first because they're one of the largest suppliers of alcohol in the entire country. You don't get to be popular by selling bad drinks!

This Bottled-in-Bond bourbon is made following the regulations of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. If you're not familiar with the term, it means that a drink has to be made in one distillation season, aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years, and bottled at 100 proof. In effect, bottled-in-bond drinks have a proof of quality that smaller distilleries (who tend to be vague about their process) can't match.

The Henry McKenna offers a smooth oak taste with honey, sweetness, and sharp spices to give it some personality. It's particularly good in a 1:2 ratio of bourbon to chilled mineral water stirred into a cup of ice. 100 proof is a little high for casual drinking or sipping, so this is a bourbon that works best in a cocktail or watered-down drink.

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

This drink from Woodford Reserve is one of the most complex bourbons we've ever seen - and we love experiencing the complexity of flavors a good drink offers. As the name suggests, this drink is created by maturing it in two barrels (each charred in different ways) to create a more robust profile. You can't get anything similar with the standard one-barrel process.

The flavor starts with the corn, malt, and rye used for bourbons, then moves on to the oak, hazelnut, almond, and pecan flavors imparted by the wood. Meanwhile, the apple, pear, orange, cherry, and cognac provide a pleasant fruity aroma, supported by a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. To round it out, this drink uses chocolate, honey, marzipan, brown sugar, butterscotch, maple syrup, caramel, and vanilla for its aromatics.

If you've never tried a double oaked bourbon before, now's a great time to experience it. Woodford Reserve sells this drink online through its Reserve Bar, though you may be limited to the current year's batch. The 2017 is the one we reviewed, but anything more recent should be fine. You might find a new favorite process - and the competitive price (around $60) means you won't have to break the bank.

Buyer's Guide

All of the drinks on this list are good - but some of them are definitely easier to find than others. The Elijah Craig Batch B517, the Henry McKenna Single Barrel, and the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked are reasonably available and affordable products - you shouldn't have much trouble finding them on the shelves or ordering them online.

Remember that price is not directly correlated to the value or flavor of bourbon - indeed, these three drinks are better than most of their more-expensive competition!

The other drinks on this list will be harder to find - or at least more expensive. The Old Rip Van Winkle 25 Year is particularly expensive, and the odds of actually getting a bottle are nearly nonexistent unless you attend the right events. The other bottles are at least somewhat more available, though you may need a supplier in Kentucky if you want to find them.

Remember, many bourbons are only sold in certain areas, with Kentucky being the most popular. Sometimes, online orders are the only realistic way to find a drink - so order well ahead of time if you need the bottle for a special occasion.

 Health Warning: Bourbon is delicious, but as always, please drink in moderation and follow all relevant laws. If you're drinking somewhere besides home, be sure to have a designated driver (or another way of getting home safely).

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
%d bloggers like this: