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.