Top-Scoring Derby Day Bourbons

Served neat or mixed into a classic julep, these bottles are sure bets.
Julep Cocktail Club in Kansas City, MO

In celebration of the 137th Kentucky Derby on Saturday (NBC, 4pm EDT; post time is 6:24pm), we offer five top-scoring Kentucky Bourbons you can sip neat or serve as a julep. The best part? They’re all $55 or less.

Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey (USA; 35 Maple Street, Crestwood, KY); $55, 90 points. This six-year-old bottling has a mild aroma that hints at caramel, plus a rich, complex flavor that wraps up toffee, espresso, brown sugar and clove. It finishes grainy sweet, a flavor comparable to oatmeal cookies.

Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA; Duke Spirits, Lawrenceburg, KY); $35, 90 points. Supposedly, acting legend and whiskey lover John Wayne left behind a reserve of bottles dating back to 1963, and this soft vanilla-and-spice Bourbon was blended to taste just like his favorites.

J.R. Ewing Private Reserve (USA; Strong Spirits, Bardstown, KY); $35, 90 points. Yes, it’s a Dallas-themed bottling—an image of Southfork Ranch is printed on the square bottle. Inside, it’s an easy-sipping, four-year-old Bourbon made in Kentucky and bottled in Texas.

Old Forester 1870 (USA; Brown-Forman, Louisville, KY); $45, 94 points. Made using barrels from three warehouses—a throwback to a pre-1870 blending technique intended to ensure consistency—this is a surprisingly light, delicate Bourbon, evoking coconut, dried apricot and spice.

Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon (USA; Jim Beam Distilling, Clermont, KY); $25, 94 points. Relaunched with a new label in January, this high-rye Bourbon features a brown sugar aroma and bold, mouthwatering notes of cocoa, hazelnut and toffee. It finishes long—smoother than might be expected from a 100-proof whiskey. Top with ginger ale for a flavorful highball.

See the latest Bourbon ratings and reviews >>>

Published on April 30, 2015
Topics: Bourbon, Ratings, Spirits Trends
About the Author
Kara Newman 
Spirits Editor

Kara Newman reviews spirits and writes about spirits and cocktail trends for Wine Enthusiast. She's the author of Shake.Stir.Sip.: 40 Effortless Cocktails Made In Equal Parts (Chronicle Books, 2016) as well as ROAD SODA: Recipes and techniques for making great cocktails, anywhere (Dovetail Press, 2017). Email: spirits@wineenthusiast.net




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