Hey there, bourbon enthusiasts! If you’re a fan of that remarkable blend of smoky and oak-infused flavors, then this blog post is right up your alley. Soothing, rich, and with a touch of complexity, smokey bourbon has become a favorite among discerning palates.
Whether you savor it neat or love to experiment with creative cocktail recipes, smokey bourbon never fails to leave a lasting impression. In this post, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of this distinctive spirit, exploring its origins, unique characteristics, and the best ways to enjoy it.
So get ready to embark on a journey that will tantalize your taste buds and expand your appreciation for one of the most beloved alcoholic beverages out there. From the smoky, aromatic notes that dance on your tongue to the exquisite warmth that lingers in every sip, smokey bourbon is truly one of a kind.
So grab a glass, pour yourself a generous measure, and let’s explore the captivating world of smokey bourbon together. Cheers!
Price Ranges: What You Pay Determines What You Get
Let’s break down the different price ranges for smoky bourbons:
Under $30: These are your entry-level options, perfect for those who want to dip their toes into the world of smoky bourbon without breaking the bank.
Under $50: Mid-range options that offer more complexity than their cheaper counterparts but still won’t break the bank.
Under $100: High-end options that offer exceptional quality and flavor but come at a premium price.
Rare/hard-to-find: These are highly sought-after bottles that can fetch hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the secondary market due to their limited availability. While it’s tempting to think that the most expensive options are always the best, this isn’t necessarily the case.
Some budget-friendly bottles can hold their own against more expensive options and offer a fantastic drinking experience. That said, if you’re willing to splurge, there are some rare and exceptional smoky bourbons out there that are worth the investment.
Best Smoky Bourbons under $30
1. Evan Williams Black Label
Cheap and Cheerful
Evan Williams is a classic bourbon that has stood the test of time, and this black label iteration is perfect for those on a budget. It’s got a nice smoky flavor that sets it apart from other bourbons in its price range.
The notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak are all there, but they’re complemented by a subtle smokiness that adds depth to the overall taste. This is a great bourbon to mix into cocktails, but it can also be enjoyed neat or over ice.
I personally love using Evan Williams Black Label in an old fashioned – the smokiness adds an extra layer of complexity to the classic cocktail. And at around $15-$20 per bottle, it won’t break the bank.
2. Old Grand-Dad Bonded
A Bold Choice
Old Grand-Dad Bonded is not for the faint of heart. This bourbon packs a punch with its bold flavors and high proof (100 proof to be exact). But if you’re up for the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with a complex taste that includes notes of smoke, spice, and leather.
The smokiness in Old Grand-Dad Bonded comes from its unique mash bill which includes high amounts of rye. This gives it a spicy kick that pairs well with barbecue or charcuterie boards.
It’s also fantastic in cocktails like a Manhattan or Boulevardier. And at around $25 per bottle, this is another affordable option for those who want to try out smoky bourbons without breaking the bank.
3. Wild Turkey 101
An American Classic
Wild Turkey 101 is another classic bourbon that has been around for decades. It’s known for its bold flavor profile which includes strong notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak. But it also has a subtle smokiness that makes it stand out from other bourbons in its price range.
At 101 proof, this bourbon is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re up for the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with a bourbon that’s great for sipping or mixing into cocktails.
I recommend trying it in a Kentucky Mule – the smokiness adds an extra layer of flavor to the classic cocktail. And at around $25 per bottle, Wild Turkey 101 is another affordable option for those who want to experiment with smoky bourbons without breaking the bank.
Best Smoky Bourbons under $50
4. Four Roses Small Batch
A Smooth Introduction to Smoky Bourbons
If you’re new to the world of smoky bourbons, Four Roses Small Batch is a great place to start. With a price that won’t break the bank, this bourbon delivers on its promise of an enjoyable and smooth drinking experience.
The nose has inviting scents of caramel and vanilla with a hint of spice. On the palate, you’ll find flavors of honey and oak with notes of fruit and floral undertones.
The finish is long and satisfying, leaving hints of smoke and spice behind. This bourbon pairs well with grilled meats or any dish that has a slightly smoky flavor profile.
It’s also versatile enough to be enjoyed neat or in cocktails such as an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. While some may argue that Four Roses Single Barrel is superior, for those on a budget looking for an introduction to smoky bourbons, Four Roses Small Batch is an excellent choice.
5. Bulleit Bourbon
A Classic Choice for Bourbon Lovers
Bulleit Bourbon has been a staple in the bourbon world since it was first introduced in 1999. This iconic brand delivers on its promise of quality with its mid-range price point offering an experience that satisfies both novice drinkers and seasoned veterans alike. On the nose, you’ll find aromas of maple syrup, oak spices, and vanilla with just a touch of smoke.
On the palate, Bulleit Bourbon brings flavors such as toasted grains mixed with caramel sweetness followed by subtle hints of pepper spice towards the end. The finish leaves behind lingering notes of vanilla sweetness gently interlaced with warm oak spices.
This smoky bourbon marries well with smoked meats such as brisket or pulled pork but can also be enjoyed neat or mixed into classic cocktails including Boulevardier or Whiskey Sour. Bulleit Bourbon is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a tried and true classic that won’t break the bank.
6. Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is not only one of the best smoky bourbons you can find under $50, but it’s also one of the highest-rated bourbons in its price range. The nose on this bourbon is complex, giving off scents of rich caramel, honey, and toffee with just a hint of smoke. On the front palate come rich flavors such as vanilla and brown sugar with a subtle hint of spice that builds towards the back palate.
The finish leaves behind an oakiness with lingering smoke notes. This bourbon pairs well with smoked meats or desserts like pecan pie or crème brûlée.
It’s also perfect for sipping neat or mixing into cocktails such as a Mint Julep or Kentucky Mule. Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select offers exceptional value at its mid-range price point without sacrificing quality or flavor making it an excellent choice for any bourbon enthusiast looking to explore smoky bourbons.
Best Smoky Bourbons under $100
7. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
The Bold and Beautiful
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is a high-proof bourbon with a unique smoky flavor profile. It’s bold, beautiful, and not for the faint of heart.
This bourbon is named after Reverend Elijah Craig, who is credited with being the first person to age whiskey in charred oak barrels. It’s no wonder that this bourbon has such a distinct smoky taste.
The nose of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is full of vanilla, caramel, and charred oak. The taste is intense and complex with notes of dark chocolate, black pepper, and leather.
The finish is long and warming with a touch of sweetness. This is a bourbon for those who appreciate strong flavors.
Pair Elijah Craig Barrel Proof with a rich dessert like chocolate cake or smoked meats like brisket or pulled pork to complement its boldness. At around $70 per bottle, this bourbon is worth every penny for those who want to experience something truly different.
8. Booker’s Bourbon
A Classic Choice
Booker’s Bourbon has been around since 1988, but it remains one of the best smoky bourbons on the market today. Named after Booker Noe, the former Master Distiller at Jim Beam who created this recipe himself, Booker’s Bourbon has become a classic choice for those who love smoky flavors in their whiskey. The nose of Booker’s Bourbon has hints of vanilla and maple syrup along with its signature smokiness.
On the palate it has notes of dark fruit, toasted nuts and caramelized sugar that give way to smoke-filled goodness on the finish. At about $80 per bottle it may seem pricey but its complexity makes up for it as well as its versatility in pairing options which range from grilled meats to bread pudding.
9. Blanton’s Original Single Barrel
Blanton’s Original Single Barrel is a masterpiece in the world of smoky bourbon. It’s made by Buffalo Trace Distillery and is aged for at least six years. Each bottle of Blanton’s is hand-selected from a single barrel, which means that every bottle is unique.
The nose of Blanton’s has notes of honey, vanilla, and oak with a hint of smokiness. The taste is complex with flavors of dark fruit, caramel, and spice with a long finish filled with smoke and charred oak.
Blanton’s Original Single Barrel pairs well with grilled meats like steak or lamb. At around $80 per bottle it may be hard to find but the effort will be worth it for the smoky experience it offers.
Best Rare, Hard-to-Find Smoky Bourbons
10. Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old
The Holy Grail of Bourbons
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old is the most sought after bourbon and for good reason. It’s smooth, complex and has a unique flavor profile that is hard to replicate.
This bourbon is aged for 20 years in oak barrels resulting in a rich, mahogany color and an incredibly smooth finish. The nose is full of vanilla and caramel with hints of cherry and nuts.
On the palate, it’s sweet with flavors of brown sugar, toffee, and dark fruit. If you can find a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old consider yourself lucky because it’s extremely rare.
This bourbon has such a cult following that people will pay thousands of dollars to get their hands on a bottle. However, if you are lucky enough to taste it or even better savoring this incredible elixir, you will understand why it’s called the holy grail of bourbons.
11. George T Stagg Bourbon Whiskey
A Beastly Bourbon
George T Stagg Bourbon Whiskey (Antique Collection) is not for the faint-hearted as it packs an impressive amount of heat due to its high ABV content (around 130 proof). However, if you can handle the heat this bourbon delivers a memorable taste experience that lingers long after your last sip. The color is dark amber with notes of vanilla on the nose followed by rich chocolatey flavors with hints of leather on the palate.
George T Stagg Bourbon Whiskey (Antique Collection) is part of Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Antique Collection which only releases once per year making it difficult to find. But if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on this beastly bourbon be prepared for one wild ride.
12. William Larue Weller
William Larue Weller is a rare gem among bourbons. It’s a wheated bourbon which means wheat is used in the mash bill instead of rye resulting in a softer, sweeter profile.
The aroma is full of vanilla and toasted oak with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. On the palate, it’s sweet with flavors of honey, caramel, and ripe fruit.
William Larue Weller is part of Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Antique Collection which only releases once per year making it highly sought after by collectors. If you can find a bottle of this rare gem count yourself among the lucky few who have tasted one of the best bourbons on the market.
Smoky bourbon is a great way to add complexity to your cocktails or sip it neat and savor its unique flavor profile. Whether you are on a tight budget or looking to splurge on an exceptional bottle of bourbon there are plenty of options to choose from.
The three rare smoky bourbons discussed in this article are truly special and worth seeking out if you have the opportunity. However, don’t let their rarity discourage you from trying other excellent smoky bourbons that fit within your budget because at the end what matters most is enjoying your drink with good company and good food!