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Craft whiskey sales are on the up!

Some people attribute the recent resurgence in craft whiskey sales — and indulgence — to the young generation’s bleak outlook on the topic of amassing wealth. Others point to the hipster movement, associating the amber nectar with small bars and burgeoning vinyl collections. The truth is likely somewhere in between, but you don’t have to be poor or a hipster to enjoy the sweet results of some of the best high end bourbons available thanks to old-timey drink’s comeback.

The number of bourbon whiskeys in production today ranges into the hundreds, so if you’re new to this drink, it’s difficult to know where to begin. While many people believe a whiskey must be from Bourbon County, Kentucky to be called bourbon, the defining factor is in fact the recipe used, not the origin.

What makes a bourbon a bourbon?

The GreatDrams post on good, inexpensive bourbons goes into what actually makes a bourbon a bourbon. Bourbon must use of charred oak barrels, be at least a 51% corn mash and have a final proof of 160 or less as the very starting points. Suffice to say, regulations are stringent.

But there’s still enough wiggle room to offer real variety in the offerings distillers produce – which leads to mixed results. On the one hand, you have cheap bourbons that make you wonder who decided ‘that’ll do’ when tasting. On the other you have some of the best high end bourbons money can buy. Sat in the middle is a sweet spot, where you get the best high end bourbons that don’t cost the earth.

Let’s take a look at some high end whiskey expressions that are relatively affordable. These bourbons are also ideal for newbies.

4 High End Bourbons Under $50

1. Four Roses Single Barrel — $40 

The Four Roses name dates back to before prohibition and today you can find expressions of their popular bourbon at several convenient price points. Single Barrel makes a great ambassador to the world of higher-end bourbons. It offers flavor and smoothness at a price that’s still approachable if you’re more familiar with mixed drinks than sipping whiskey. The lower proof also makes it a great choice for beginners.

2. Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select — $35 

To add some variety at roughly the same price point as Four Roses Single Barrel, Woodford Distiller’s Select might appeal to those who’ve had more experience with whiskey in general, but want to sample the flavor profile of traditional bourbon. If Four Roses represents an approachable fruit-forward dram, Woodford could be considered its smokier cousin. Even the experts at The Whiskey Jug recognize it as a great everyday bourbon.

3. Blanton’s Original Single Barrel — $47

Blanton’s is the path for those who’ve become enamored with the idea of craft bourbon and want to see how far a few extra dollars can do. Heralded as “the original single-barrel bourbon” this time-honored whiskey is a premium offering from the highly-esteemed and very successful folks at Buffalo Trace. It offers amazing complexity, featuring rich fruit and caramel notes. This rich flavor profile makes it a favorite choice of not only newcomers but experienced bourbon lovers for a quality old-fashioned or savory sip on the rocks.

4. Basil Hayden’s — $44

Often overlooked by whiskey connoisseurs, those who realize Basil Hayden’s quickly become hooked. This is a great example of high-rye bourbon, which means that the second most prominent ingredient in the mash bill is rye. The grain’s spicy kick gives Basil Hayden’s the ability to stand on its own as a sipping whiskey, while its lower proof allows it to hide nicely behind more pronounced flavors when used in a cocktail.

The Best High End Bourbon?

5. George T. Stagg — $100 

As with many spirits, it’s very possible to spend a large chunk of change on premium whiskey and wish you’d gone with a cheaper bottle you know. When you’re ready to pony up to the triple-digit realm of collector bourbon, pick up a bottle of this stuff and avoid buyer’s remorse.

Stagg tops the list of regular production bourbons from Buffalo Trace. It’s nearly 70 percent alcohol, so don’t expect it to go down like your favorite soft drink. At this price point, sipping is the only thing you should be doing, and George T. Stagg rewards with a developed flavor profile packed with dark fruit and spice. Just don’t get carried away after the first one and polish it all off at once.

Next Steps and Experiments

Perhaps you’re the type who prefers to follow instructions. In which case you’ll enjoy working your way through the high end bourbons on the above list.

Then there are those who’ll pick one and further their exploration of the bourbon landscape elsewhere. Neither choice is wrong. We’re living in a golden age of high end bourbon, you can even flavor your own bourbon or whiskey should you desire. Perhaps it’ll become your new go-to.

Along your journey, pay attention to the drams you enjoy and the ones that are less memorable.

In the hundreds of years since men began crafting bourbon, many new approaches and techniques have been introduced. Knowing what you like is the key to getting the most from a tasting experience with friends. Before you know it, you may be pointing another newcomer down the connoisseur’s path.

Image by odddogdani

What are your favourite high end bourbons?

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