15 Best Bourbons for Flavorful Cocktails or Sipping Neat

Whether you're a whiskey newbie or an aficionado, these tasty bourbons are perfect neat and in cocktails.

Published December 8, 2022
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Glasses with ice cubes and Bourbon

America's native spirit makes beautiful cocktails. The warm, caramel notes from the corn mash whiskey play well with sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, and savory cocktail ingredients to make drinks ranging from a classic old-fashioned to a toasty hot toddy. So, no matter what type of tipple you enjoy, I've found you the best bourbon for cocktails (and for sipping neat), whether you want to make a Kentucky mule with kick or a sweetly spiked eggnog.

Our Best Bourbons for Cocktails or Sipping Neat

Every single one of these bourbons drinks beautifully on its own. And, when you add them to cocktails, they make the drinks something special. So, shake them, stir them, or sip them neat. You can't go wrong with any of these bourbons.

1. Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky

What makes a bourbon perfect for cocktails? It's a combination of smoothness, affordability, and how the bourbon balances with traditional cocktail ingredients. And, while particular bourbon brands might taste best in certain cocktails, a good general cocktail bourbon is Maker's Mark bourbon whisky, a smooth and affordable Kentucky bourbon that won't cost an arm and a leg but will play well with other cocktail ingredients. Plus, it's affordable at around $25 per bottle. It's a great value bourbon. Most bars have it, so you can order it in drinks, and it's delicious for solo sipping. I always have a bottle on hand because you never know when you're going to want to bust out a bourbon cocktail.

2. Blanton's Original Single Barrel Bourbon

Blanton's original single barrel bourbon is probably my favorite bourbon. It's smooth and rich with caramel, nutmeg, and brown sugar notes. It comes in a nice-looking bottle with an attractive pewter stopper, so it makes a great gift for occasions where you want to splurge on a friend. And you'd definitely be the favorite friend with this gift. Whether you're sipping it neat, a personal favorite, or mixing it up in an old-fashioned (pro tip: add a dash of orange bitters), you'll want to come back to your bottle of Blanton's over and over.

3. Old Grand-Dad Bourbon Whiskey

If you're looking for a bourbon you can afford to enjoy more than occasionally, then the Old Grand-Dad bourbon is your pick! Affordable and smoother than most bourbons at this price point, you'll pinch yourself when you see under-$20 price tag. With a classic bourbon flavor profile and an extra hint of spice due to a high rye mash, it's a winner every day. Try it in a hot toddy; it will definitely make that cold go away - or at least make you care less that you're sick.

4. Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

The Elijah Craig small batch bourbon is a triple threat: it's affordable, it blends well in cocktails, and it's smooth enough for sipping. As if that isn't enough, it's also readily available in many liquor stores, making it my go-to bourbon when I need something for a party that I'm happy to mix in cocktails but not afraid to serve neat. It sings in a whiskey sour - or in any whiskey drink, really.

5. Angel's Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon

I served Angel's Envy bourbon alongside several others at a bourbon and BBQ party in my backyard, and my guests voted it their favorite bourbon. Honestly, this came as no surprise. Angel's Envy bourbon is made in small batches and finished in former port wine barrels, giving it that little extra bit of smooth sweetness. The result is a sublime bourbon with fruity and toasted flavors that Wine Enthusiast rated a whopping 98 points. It's under $50, and it's fabulous in on the rocks or in spiked eggnog.

6. Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon

If ever there was a bourbon meant to be sipped at breakfast, Knob Creek smoked maple bourbon is probably it. However, if you're not a morning tippler, you can still enjoy it. Morning is whenever you wake up for the day. I love sipping this neat on a cool autumn evening or adding a dash or two of orange bitters and a demerara sugar cube for a tasty and unique old-fashioned. The smoky maple flavoring also sparks the imagination for other cocktail combos; try it with muddled peaches and ginger beer. I love everything about this bourbon; it's always in my liquor cabinet. And for under $40 a bottle, it should be in your too.

7. Basil Hayden's Bourbon

My first sip of this small batch bourbon was a revelation - it's exceptionally smooth but still complex. Wine Enthusiast rated it 93 points, calling it a "best buy" for its quality and affordability. It's a light, smooth bourbon that's perfect for sipping on the rocks or neat; expect an easy-drinking bourbon with almost no burn and plenty of complex flavors and aromas. Consider this the best pick for a campfire or beside a fireplace.

8. Stagg Jr. Barrel Proof Bourbon

Stagg Jr. barrel proof bourbon is a bourbon for the bold; it is 135 proof to put some fire in your belly. It's also for a bold wallet, at nearly $500 a bottle. But, it's oh so worth the occasional splurge. With fall spices and hints of apples, it's the perfect winter warm-up when you don't have time to mess around with weaker bourbons. Leave your scarf on the hanger.

9. Pappy Van Winkle 15-Year Bourbon

Pappy Van Winkle 15-year bourbon, distilled by Buffalo Trace, is both hard to find and expensive; hence, the bucket list designation. You'll want to budget for this ahead of time since it'll set you back anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000. It's widely recognized as one of the world's finest bourbons. The 15-year reserve is a 107-proof whiskey that critics have called "flawless." It's a once-in-a-lifetime bottle of bourbon for those who want the finest at least once in their lives. Don't put it in a cocktail; sip it neat. Unless you want to put it in a cocktail. I'd recommend an old-fashioned.

10. Bulleit Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Bourbon is a great base whiskey for an old-fashioned, and there are plenty of delicious bourbons that blend beautifully with a little sugar and some cocktail bitters. But, Bulleit bourbon takes the cake, especially at $27 a bottle. Since rye is one of the most popular whiskeys for an old-fashioned, Bulleit's high-rye formula is an excellent choice. The rye adds bite and spice that balances the sweetness of the sugar beautifully. Expect notes of orange, spices, and vanilla.

11. Woodford Reserve Bourbon

A Manhattan cocktail blends cocktail bitters, bourbon, and sweet vermouth in a sweet, slightly spicy, and well-balanced mixed drink. Woodford Reserve bourbon fits the bill beautifully as a well-rounded bourbon with a hint of spiciness that's the perfect foil for sweet vermouth. At $32 a bottle, it is absolute perfection and then some.

12. Buffalo Trace Bourbon

In fall and winter, warm up with a soothing and sweet hot toddy made with Buffalo Trace bourbon. It's an affordable bourbon, and the notes of caramel and spice create a perfectly balanced hot toddy when combined with lemon, honey, and sugar. Grab a bottle for around $25.

13. Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey

When the holidays roll around, one of the most satisfying seasonal cocktails is alcoholic eggnog. And while enthusiasts debate which distilled spirit is best with eggnog, bourbon lovers happily choose a good bourbon whiskey to add to their holiday cocktail.

I'm a huge fan of all of Breckenridge's offerings. They make good spirits. Breckenridge bourbon whiskey is a blended high-rye bourbon made in Colorado that has a fair amount of zip and spice to bring balance to the creamy sweetness of the eggnog. Expect aromas of honey, orange, and butterscotch to add complexity to your favorite holiday tipple. It does tip the wallet scales about $58, but you'll find that it'll make you swoon and soon forget the price.

14. Russell's Reserve 10-Year Bourbon

Whiskey sours are a combination of sweet, tart, and strong - but they need a flavorful bourbon to tie it all together seamlessly. However, because of the nature of the cocktail, you don't want to use your finest bourbon, as its subtleties may get lost in the drink. Russel's Reserve 10-year bourbon whiskey is a lightly sweet, clean bourbon that brings balance to the quintessential whiskey cocktail for just $39.

15. Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon

Four Roses small batch bourbon is a fruity, slightly sweet, lightly spiced bourbon that brings balance to the gingery bite of a Kentucky mule, and at this price point, you won't feel you're wasting a good thing by mixing it with ginger beer. Are you out of ginger beer? Grab some ice and enjoy it on the rocks. No ice? It's fabulous neat and only $37.

Bourbons to Take Your Cocktails From Meh to Mmmmmmmm

Much like Scotch whisky has become Scotland's native spirit, bourbon became the United States of America's. Bourbon is a uniquely American spirit, and distillers have gone to great lengths to craft satisfying and flavorful bourbons. With price points ranging from under $20 to thousands of dollars, there's the perfect bourbon available for every whiskey lover, whether you'll be sipping it neat or mixing it into a tasty cocktail.

15 Best Bourbons for Flavorful Cocktails or Sipping Neat