Bourbon old-fashioneds are a thing of beauty. Full stop. They're subtly sweet with a touch of bitter, and that signature gentle bite at the end marries perfectly to the sugar in the drink. There's a lot of bourbon to choose from, so it may feel overwhelming trying to narrow down the best bourbon for an old-fashioned when you're in the mood to stir one up. Luckily, the work is already done. I've scoured the shelves to find the best of the best, no matter the type of old-fashioned you're looking for.
The Best Bourbons for Your Old-Fashioned
If you're running into the store to grab a bottle, let this quick list be your guide to a speedy visit. If you want to know more about each offering, scroll down to drink for more information.
- Best beginner bourbon: Buffalo Trace Bourbon
- Best crowd pleaser: Maker's Mark bourbon whisky
- Best for a bite: Bulleit bourbon
- Best for a smokier old-fashioned: Basil Hayden's Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
- Best of the aged bourbon: Knob Creek Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
- Best of the rye-leaning bourbons: Old Grand-Dad
- Best splurge: Eagle Rare 10 Year
- Best for a smooth old-fashioned: Four Roses single barrel
- Best for an oaky old-fashioned: Woodford Reserve double oaked bourbon
- Best prohibition-style pick: Old Forester 1920
1. Buffalo Trace Bourbon for Old-Fashioned Beginners
An old-fashioned should be sweet with a gentle bite, and Buffalo Trace's bourbon is the perfect introduction for just $22. It has easy notes of vanilla and molasses, light spice, and alluring hints of brown sugar.
The oaky flavors linger, long and smooth, with top notes of toffee and orange. It's accessible but remains a crowd pleaser for long-time whiskey drinkers.
2. Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky: The Crowd Pleaser
Maker's Mark is an easily distinguishable whiskey with a singular taste. It has a nose of woody oak and caramel, which continues to shine through with every sip. Not to be outdone, vanilla and other fruit essences layer themselves in. Intrigued? It's an affordable bourbon at about $25.
The finish is smooth and subtle - it would almost be unremarkable if not for the lingering caramel. It's a bourbon for all. You'll like the gentle bite that accompanies the sweetness and those woody caramel notes.
3. Bulleit Bourbon: A Biting Old-Fashioned
Bulleit is nearly a household name in the whiskey world. The Bulleit bourbon has a gentle spice that's slightly spicier than many other bourbons, but it's offset by a sweet oak nose that's present not only when drinking it on its own, but also in cocktails.
The oak flavors continue throughout, with maple and nutmeg rising to the top. The finish is dry, drawing out the spicy notes with toffee flavors tying it all together. It's available for roughly $30. You'll love the spicier-than-usual notes that aren't overly sweet and give it a signature gentle bite.
4. Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey: A Smokier Approach
Basil Hayden's bourbon is a pleasantly aged whiskey. It's an easy sipper with complex flavors. The charred notes first appear on the nose and carry through from the first taste to the lingering finish. Grab a bottle for about $35 to see for yourself.
This smoky finish would be overwhelming if not for the aromatic hints of dried fruit. These same notes rise to the top of the flavor profile, along with black pepper that's tempered by a touch of brown sugar for sweetness. The finish lingers, but it's pleasant with a smoky fruit flavor rounding out the experience. Smoke lovers will be smitten with the unique charred flavors and fruit tones shining through for a well-balanced sip.
5. Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey: The Best of the Ages
Knob Creek patiently ages their bourbon for nine years, allowing the white oak barrels to shape the final product before it's bottled at 100 proof. Despite the nibbling bite that the Knob Creek bourbon delivers, it's more full-bodied than it is spicy. And, it's a steal at just $30.
The complex Prohibition-style bourbon carries a hearty oak taste, rich and woody, with smooth vanilla and caramel layered in for good measure. The gentle sweetness with the bite builds the bourbon into full-bodied flavor. With one try, you'll fall for the powerful flavors and aromas of this bourbon.
6. Old Grand-Dad: Where Bourbon and Rye Meet
Despite being a bourbon, Old Grand-Dad incorporates quite a bit more rye in the mash than traditional bourbons. Don't worry though, its traditional bourbon flavors light up its core notes: gentle spice, honey, and orange zest. And, it's a steal! You can score those flavors for just under $20.
The rye provides a spice that's prevalent throughout. Tripping over itself with character and body, notes of dark fruit and baking spices layer with a touch of sweet, seasoned oak. Without a doubt, you'll love the best of both worlds this bourbon provides with the dark fruit, spice, and other complex flavors.
7. Eagle Rare 10 Year: Worth the Splurge
Eagle Rare has some incredible bourbons, but their 10 year is the best for old-fashioneds. Aged for a minimum of 10 years, it has a complexity that's both distinguished and smooth, with a lingering, pleasant taste. Eagle Rare 10 Year's price tag can feel a little steep, (it's about $90), but it's well worth it.
The nose is a bouquet of leather, oak, honey, and orange peel, all a perfect potion for an old-fashioned. These bold flavors carry over to every sip, with dry, oak notes layered with candied almonds and a hint of rich cocoa. Its finish is dry and lingering, the oak flavors supported by subtle sweetness carrying through to the very end for gorgeously rich flavor.
8. Four Roses Single Barrel: The Smoothest Cocktail
Four Roses delivers on all of its bourbons, but their single barrel makes for an exceptionally smooth and full-bodied drink in spite of its 100-proof label. The nose of vanilla and maple syrup can be surprising, but one taste of Four Roses single barrel bourbon with its ripe cherries and mellow oak flavor, and suddenly it all makes sense. Expect to pay around $60 for a bottle.
The smooth yet delicate finish is another pleasant surprise, hiding its heavy rye background with the quiet whisper of spice cutting through the sweeter flavors. The result is an exceptionally smooth and balanced bourbon.
9. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon: An Oak Lovers Dream
Any Woodford bourbon is an excellent pick for an old-fashioned, but the Woodford Reserve double oaked bourbon sets itself apart by miles. And, it's an affordably oaky bourbon at around $35 per bottle. The spirit is distilled twice, first in a charred oak barrel and then in a toasted yet lightly charred second barrel.
The bourbon has a rich bouquet of dark fruit, marzipan, and caramel, with toasted oak weaving among them to neatly tie it all together. Its creamy flavor is a mix of vanilla, hazelnut, fruits, and spices, a decadent and unique essence. A creamy mouthfeel lingers, with hints of fruit and honey to conclude the experience. If the oak-forward description isn't enough, then the creamy, rich flavors that mingle with the charred notes will have you head over heels.
10. Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style: For the Old Fashioned Type
Old Forester 1920 whiskey packs a punch that's not for the faint of heart. But, in harmonious combination with the sugar in the old-fashioned, its robust flavor is readily apparent without dominating. At around $60 per bottle, it may not be the same price point as whiskey from the '20s, but it's just as tasty. Granted one of six permits to continue to bottle bourbon for medicinal purposes in 1920, Old Forester 1920 remains the only bourbon to be available before, during, and after the Prohibition era.
The nose is cherry with maple syrup and seasoned oak spice. On the palate, it has nutty and warm flavors along with peppercorn and coriander offset by a touch of cedar. It finishes with luxuriously long and smoky notes of marshmallow, graham cracker, and tart apple. What results is an intense yet smoothly complex bourbon. You're going to fall in love with this whiskey's warmth and the rich, balanced flavors of spice and sweetness.
The Best Bourbon for Your Old-Fashioned
With such a wide world of bourbon, there's a suitable bourbon for any budget no matter how you like your old-fashioned. Since all these bourbons would make an outstanding cocktail, all that's left to decide is the best bourbon for your old-fashioned.