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 several cocktail books, including Shake.Stir.Sip. and NIGHTCAP: More than 40 Cocktails to Close Out Any Evening, which debuts in September 2018. Email: spirits@wineenthusiast.net




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