The 15 Best Bourbons For Your Old Fashioned

One of the liquors that defines the American drinking experience is bourbon, a predominantly corn-based whiskey (it must be 51% corn to be called bourbon) made with a mix of grains including rye, wheat, and malted barley, which is then aged in charred new American oak barrels for a minimum of two years. While bourbon is distilled nationwide, it is commonly associated with Kentucky, with the Bluegrass State boasting a high number of distilleries. Some bourbons are famous worldwide, and some bourbons are really underrated and relatively unknown. Bourbon is also the best type of whiskey, according to a Daily Meal survey.

Of all the many cocktails utilizing bourbon as a primary ingredient, the old fashioned is perhaps the best known, with a fascinating cocktail origin story, as well as being a staple in American mixology. To make a standard old fashioned cocktail, combine simple syrup with Angostura bitters, add in your whiskey with ice, stir until chilled and diluted, and garnish with an orange peel twist.

Here are some of the best bourbons to use for an old fashioned, complete with the traditions and processes that make each of these whiskeys among the best in the country. We've considered the flavor profile — both individually and when combined with cocktail ingredients — alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage, and average retail price.

1. Four Roses Single Barrel

Based out of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, Four Roses Distillery has specialized in high-quality Kentucky bourbon since 1888 when it was founded by Paul Jones Jr. According to legend, the distillery was named after a Southern belle who had caught Jones' eye. After sending a proposal her way, the lady coyly said if her answer was yes, she would wear a corsage featuring four red roses at an upcoming ball. Lo and behold, she arrived at the ball with her corsage. Jones must have been smitten, as he named the whole distillery in her honor (per Four Roses).

Among Four Roses' best bourbon is its Single Barrel, which has a high rye content. It's aged for seven to nine years minimum and retails for a moderately priced $50 per bottle (via Drizly). On the nose, it has lots of dried spice, vanilla, maple syrup, and pear, with more fruitiness of plums and cherries coming through on the palate. The finish is long and smooth. Stirred into an old fashioned, you can still appreciate the liquor's flavors, which shine through.

2. Wild Turkey 101

There are plenty of bourbon brands coming out of Kentucky, but only one that has Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey as its creative director — and that's Wild Turkey. Gaining its name from distillery executive Thomas McCarthy going on a memorable wild turkey hunting trip in 1940, Wild Turkey provides a quality bourbon at an affordable price (per Wild Turkey). 

Wild Turkey's flagship liquor is Wild Turkey 101, featuring a high rye percentage and a robust flavor profile, with vanilla, oak, baking spices, and caramel notes. It's aged for six to eight years in the same type of American white oak barrels with the "deepest alligator char" that the company has been using for more than 60 years. With a 50.5% ABV and liters of Wild Turkey 101 retailing for $34, it's one of the best bourbons for the money and is a great choice for those looking for an old fashioned with a bit of a kick.

3. Angel's Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Led by the Henderson family, Angel's Envy uses an interesting aging process for its bourbon. To make any straight bourbon, the liquor must be aged for a minimum of two years and must have an age statement on the bottle if it's less than four years. Angel's Envy usually matures its whiskey for four to six years, but then finishes it off differently, using a process called double maturation. This is used a lot in the Scotch whisky industry. After aging, the bourbon is finished in casks from Portugal — which have previously been used to mature port wine — for a few more months.

Angel's Envy says "the finishing process can really enhance the whiskey with a subtle sweetness and complex flavors" (via Angel's Envy). With an ABV of 43.3%, and notes of vanilla, maple syrup, bitter chocolate, and toast, this bourbon makes a great addition to a good old fashioned. Angel's Envy retails for around $55 a bottle, boasting a hand-crafted quality championed by the Henderson family for generations.

4. Buffalo Trace

Deep within the heart of Kentucky is the George T. Stagg Distillery, a state landmark and producer of some of the finest bourbon in the country since the 19th century, with the main distillery listed as a historic landmark (via Buffalo Trace). Interestingly, with the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920, establishing Prohibition and banning the national sale and transport of alcohol, the distillery was granted a permit to remain in operation to produce medicinal whiskey. Keeping that tradition alive and well today is Buffalo Trace's signature liquor, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Retailing at around $35 for a full size bottle, and with an ABV of 45%, Buffalo Trace's flagship bourbon is particularly good to use when crafting cocktails. With its classic recipe which hasn't changed in more than 200 years, Buffalo Trace has notes of vanilla, mint, molasses, spice, and toffee. The sweetness makes a lovely flavor note in an old fashioned cocktail. 

5. Woodford Reserve

Founded in 1812, Woodford Reserve is a classic American spirit, with its main distillery recognized as a National Historic Landmark. In addition to being one of the oldest and most enduring whiskey brands in the U.S., Woodford is committed to sustainable business operations (per Woodford Reserve). The company's Woodford Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey retails at $40 for a standard bottle and $50 for a liter (via Drizly).

The Woodford Reserve Straight Bourbon features more than 200 flavor notes. It has a strong nose with orange, cocoa, vanilla, and rich, dried fruit notes. Woodford Reserve offers a full, rounded taste, leaning toward warm caramel and cocoa notes that lead to a creamy and soft finish. Most bourbons are distilled twice, but Woodford Reserve is triple distilled and aged for at least six years. It's one of the smoothest bourbons on this list, and perfect to give an old fashioned a warm, silky quality.

6. Maker's Mark

Instantly recognizable by the square shape and bright red wax covering the top of the bottle, Maker's Mark has grown into one of whiskey's biggest brands. Founded by Bill Samuels Sr. in 1953, Maker's Mark remains a family tradition, with the Samuels family focused on making a bourbon as smooth to drink on its own as it is to complement a cocktail (per Maker's Mark). Though the company has released many variants to its family recipe, the flagship Maker's Mark bourbon still stands as the gold standard.

With an ABV of 45%, Maker's Mark features red winter wheat as the flavoring grain instead of rye. Accentuated by vanilla and oak notes in its flavor profile, Maker's Mark is less harsh and spicy than many of its contemporaries in the bourbon market, working perfectly in a smooth old fashioned. To make the deal even sweeter, Maker's Mark retails from $32 to $59, depending on the bottle size, meaning it's a great bourbon at an affordable price (via Drizly).

7. Elijah Craig Small Batch

Of all the bourbon brands named after historical figures active in Kentucky in the 18th and 19th centuries, Elijah Craig credits itself as being the "Father of Bourbon." This is due to the brand's namesake allegedly being the first distiller to age his liquor in charred barrels. Though there are scholarly doubts whether this claim is an accurate one, Craig was indeed a reverend who shifted careers to whiskey distillation in Kentucky and is the inspiration behind the Elijah Craig brand. Among the most popular of the company's products is Elijah Craig Small Batch, which balances sweetness and spice.

Retailing for $34 a bottle and with an ABV of 47%, Elijah Craig has a subtle smoke flavor as the whiskey is matured in level three charred oak barrels. Small Batch features a high percentage of corn, and has the color of "burnished copper." For those looking for a lightly smoky and sweet note in their old fashioned, Elijah Craig Small Batch is a solid choice.

8. Eagle Rare 10 Year Old

Among the whiskeys produced by Buffalo Trace's distillery, one of the best for a reasonable price is Eagle Rare 10 Year Old. It's a quality bourbon that can be enjoyed by itself as a sipping whiskey, or used in a cocktail. It works particularly well in an old fashioned. While most bourbons are aged between four to six years, this whiskey is aged for a 10-year minimum to give a more interesting and complex flavor. With hints of honey, oak, and almonds, Eagle Rare 10 Year Old is an excellent gateway into the extensive world of premium bourbons.

It has an ABV of 45% and retails for $50 a bottle. It's one of the more affordable premium whiskeys and well worth checking out for those looking for a more expressive bourbon. A warm and smooth whiskey, Eagle Rare elevates any cocktail with an added touch of distinction and refined flavor.

9. Evan Williams Black Label

One of the best-selling whiskey brands in the world is Evan Williams, with a bourbon distillery based out of Bardstown, Kentucky (per The Spirits Business). The company is named after Welsh immigrant Evan Williams who, according to legend, founded a distillery on the banks of the Ohio River in 1783. The main liquor of the Evan Williams bourbon line is Black Label, which is a great, solid whiskey.

One of Evan Williams' biggest selling points is that it is one of the most affordable bourbons out there, with Black Label retailing for just $27 a bottle. With an ABV of 45.3%, Evan Williams goes down smoothly, with notable hints of caramel, vanilla, and sweet spice in its flavor profile. It's a subtly-varied bourbon with a silky quality and incredible price point, given the overall quality. It's one you won't mind mixing into several old fashioneds for a group of friends.

10. Early Times Bottled-in-Bond

Founded in 1860, Early Times Bottled-in-Bond refers to the Bottled in Bond Act from 1897, which set a national baseline in whiskey quality in the face of unregulated spirits flooding the market. Early Times harks back to the commitment to quality bourbon from this bygone era. It's aged for at least four years and sold at 50% ABV. Distilled with a particularly heavy amount of corn (79%), Early Times Bottled-in-Bond possesses a sweet caramel corn note, which lingers to the finish (via Early Times).

Retailing for $26 a liter, Early Times Bottled-in-Bond eschews flashy presentation and a gimmicky flavor profile to deliver a solid quality bourbon, offering notes of honey, chocolate, oak, and cinnamon spice. The subtlety of this whiskey shines in an old fashioned. A no-frills bourbon that celebrates its history at an affordable price, Early Times Bottled-in-Bond lives up to its moniker's dedication to crafting solid American whiskey.

11. Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 Year

If you're shelling out for Pappy Van Winkle — one of the most expensive whiskeys available on the market — you might initially hesitate at stirring it into an old fashioned. Though the idea of using a super premium bourbon in any cocktail may come off as blasphemous to some, Pappy Van Winkle is a great addition to an old fashioned for those with the money to spend. What sets Pappy Van Winkle apart from the rest of the Buffalo Trace distillery's bourbons is the high wheat content, use of heavily charred barrels, and the fact it's aged for 15 years.

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 Year bourbon retails for $1,999 a bottle — you read that price tag correctly — and has an ABV of 53.5%. It was awarded 98 points in 2004 by the Beverage Testing Institute. 

Though Pappy Van Winkle and other super-premium bourbons are certainly meant to be enjoyed neat, using it in an old fashioned elevates the drink to new heights.

12. Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Not all bourbons and ryes have to carry a high alcohol content: The designation to officially be listed as a Kentucky straight bourbon means a spirit must have a minimum of 40% ABV. One bourbon on the lower end of the ABV scale is Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon, a small batch whiskey with a relatively subtle flavor. Inspired by 19th-century Kentucky distiller Meredith Basil Hayden Sr., Basil Hayden has provided quality whiskey with a noticeably high rye content since 1992.

Basil Hayden's higher rye content in comparison to its contemporaries means it has some spicier notes, accentuated by notes of honey. Basil Hayden retails for $46 a bottle, making it one of the more affordable small batch whiskeys currently available on the market. Aged for around eight years and offering a dry and clean finish, Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon is perfect for making cocktails like an old fashioned.

13. Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Boasting an even higher rye content than Basil Hayden, as per the family's 19th-century whiskey recipe, Old Grand-Dad claims to maintain the Hayden distilling traditions started all the way back in 1882 by Basil Hayden Sr. The recipe and way of distilling bourbon were passed down from generation to generation. The high rye content makes Old Grand-Dad one of the most notably spicy bourbons on this list, with notes of black pepper, vanilla, dried fruit, and charred oak.

Available with an ABV of 40%, 50% for Bottled in Bond, or 57%, Old Grand-Dad does have a noticeable bite. Retailing at just $12 for a half bottle (37.5cl), Old Grand-Dad Bonded is the perfect old-fashioned whiskey to use as the primary ingredient in an old fashioned cocktail. For those looking for a bourbon that packs a wallop while still maintaining an appealing flavor, Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon certainly fits the bill.

14. Bulleit Straight Bourbon Frontier Whiskey

A growing force to be reckoned with in the whiskey industry, Bulleit Bourbon has earned worldwide recognition for its smooth, rye-heavy whiskeys that are aged for six to 10 years. According to company founder Tom Bulleit, the bourbon recipe was passed down for generations from the family's original distiller Augustus Bulleit, who introduced the recipe in 1830. Across Bulleit's line, the most old fashioned-friendly is the company's primary liquor, the Bulleit Straight Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, following the family's longstanding commitment to quality.

Made from a special blend, one of the cornerstones to the Bulleit line is the special strains of yeast used, combined with pure limestone water from Kentucky's rivers (per Bulleit). A liter of Bulleit Straight Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, with an ABV of 45% retails for $43, making it an affordable purchase. Bulleit's higher rye content makes for a more vibrantly spicy bourbon, a quality which shines through in an old fashioned.

15. Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon

One of the oldest families in the Kentucky bourbon business is the Beam family, who have been distilling whiskey in the Bluegrass State since 1795. Revived by James Beauregard Beam in 1933 after Prohibition was repealed, the company was rebranded as Jim Beam in 1943. Jim Beam has since grown to become one of the best-selling whiskey brands in the world, with Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon as the company's original and most popular liquor.

With an ABV of 40%, Jim Beam has one of the lower potencies of the bourbons on this list. Retailing at $32 a bottle, Jim Beam is also one of the more affordable bourbons on the market, while holding onto the Beam family's tradition of making quality whiskey. Blending sweetness with the taste of fresh corn, a little spiciness, and vanilla, Jim Beam provides an excellent primer on what bourbon can and should be, both on its own and in a cocktail.