Best Bourbon for Beginners – What to Try First

So, you’ve decided to dive into the wonderful world of bourbon. Maybe you’ve seen it in movies, or perhaps a friend has raved about its rich, complex flavors. Whatever the reason, welcome aboard! As a mixologist with a passion for balanced living, I’m here to guide you through your first steps into bourbon, ensuring you enjoy every sip. We’ll keep it simple, fun, and filled with practical tips.

Understanding Bourbon: The Basics

Before we jump into the best bourbons for beginners, let’s cover some basics. Bourbon is a type of American whiskey, primarily made from corn (at least 51%). It’s aged in new, charred oak barrels, which give it that distinctive caramel and vanilla flavor. Unlike some other spirits, bourbon is straightforward yet offers a complex tasting experience.

Why Bourbon?

Why should you start with bourbon? Well, it’s a versatile spirit that’s great for sipping neat, on the rocks, or mixed into cocktails. Bourbon has a smoothness that makes it accessible for newcomers while still being rich enough to captivate seasoned drinkers.

Best Bourbons for Beginners

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Here are some top bourbons that are perfect for beginners. Each one has its own unique qualities, but they’re all approachable and delicious.

1. Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace is a fantastic starting point. It has a rich history and a flavor profile that’s friendly to newbies. Expect notes of caramel, vanilla, and a hint of spice. It’s smooth, easy to drink, and reasonably priced.

Tip: Try Buffalo Trace neat or with a splash of water to open up the flavors.

2. Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark is known for its iconic red wax seal and its smooth, sweet flavor. It’s made with red winter wheat instead of rye, giving it a softer taste. You’ll pick up hints of vanilla, caramel, and a touch of fruitiness.

Tip: Maker’s Mark is excellent in a classic Old Fashioned or simply on the rocks.

3. Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve offers a bit more complexity while still being approachable. It’s rich and full-bodied with notes of dried fruit, vanilla, and a hint of tobacco. This one is perfect if you’re ready to explore more nuanced flavors.

Tip: Try Woodford Reserve in a Manhattan for a delicious cocktail experience.

4. Evan Williams Black Label

Evan Williams Black Label is a great budget-friendly option. It has a balanced flavor profile with notes of oak, brown sugar, and a bit of spice. It’s versatile and works well in cocktails or on its own.

Tip: Use Evan Williams Black Label as a base for a Bourbon Sour or a Mint Julep.

5. Basil Hayden’s

If you prefer something a bit lighter, Basil Hayden’s is a fantastic choice. It’s a high-rye bourbon, which gives it a spicy kick. Look for notes of pepper, honey, and a touch of citrus.

Tip: Basil Hayden’s is delightful in a highball with ginger ale and a twist of lemon.

Practical Tips for Enjoying Bourbon

Now that you have a list of bourbons to try, here are some practical tips to enhance your bourbon journey.

1. Start Small

Don’t feel pressured to buy the most expensive bottle. Start with smaller bottles or sample sizes if available. This way, you can try different bourbons without a huge commitment.

2. Use the Right Glass

A Glencairn glass or a simple tumbler works best for bourbon. These glasses help concentrate the aromas, enhancing your tasting experience.

3. Taste, Don’t Chug

Bourbon is meant to be savored. Take small sips, let it roll over your tongue, and try to identify the different flavors. This makes the experience more enjoyable and educational.

4. Experiment with Water and Ice

Adding a few drops of water or an ice cube can open up new flavors in bourbon. Experiment to find what you like best.

5. Try Bourbon Cocktails

If sipping bourbon straight isn’t your thing yet, try some classic bourbon cocktails. An Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or Bourbon Sour are great starting points.

6. Keep a Tasting Journal

As you try different bourbons, jot down your thoughts. Note the flavors you pick up and your overall impression. This helps you track your preferences and discover new favorites.

A Balanced Approach to Bourbon and Life

As a mixologist, I believe in balance not just in cocktails, but in life. Enjoying bourbon should be part of a balanced lifestyle. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Moderation is Key

Enjoy bourbon in moderation. It’s all about savoring the experience, not overindulging.

2. Pair with Food

Bourbon pairs wonderfully with a variety of foods. Try it with cheese, dark chocolate, or even a hearty meal. This enhances the flavors and makes for a great experience.

3. Stay Active

Balance your love for bourbon with regular exercise. Whether it’s a brisk walk, a gym session, or a fun dance class, staying active keeps you feeling great.

4. Hydrate

Alcohol can dehydrate you, so make sure to drink plenty of water. A good rule of thumb is to have a glass of water between each drink.

5. Mindful Drinking

Practice mindful drinking. Pay attention to the flavors, the experience, and how your body feels. This makes each sip more enjoyable and meaningful.

Starting your bourbon journey is exciting and filled with delicious possibilities. By choosing approachable bourbons like Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Evan Williams Black Label, and Basil Hayden’s, you’ll set yourself up for a fantastic experience. Remember to enjoy bourbon in moderation, stay active, and pair your sips with good food and good company.

So, pour yourself a glass, raise a toast, and enjoy the rich world of bourbon. Cheers to new beginnings and delightful discoveries!

Bourbon Cocktails: Elevate Your Bourbon Experience

As you embark on your bourbon journey, you might find that you enjoy experimenting with bourbon cocktails. Bourbon is an incredibly versatile spirit that lends itself well to a wide range of cocktails, from the classics to modern creations. Whether you’re a novice home bartender or a seasoned mixologist, there’s a bourbon cocktail for everyone. Let’s explore some delicious and easy-to-make bourbon cocktails that are perfect for beginners.

Bourbon Old-Fashioned

The timeless Bourbon Old Fashioned is a classic cocktail that has captivated drinkers for over


A sophisticated mix of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, often garnished with a cherry. It's

Mint Julep

Experience Southern hospitality with the Mint Julep, a refreshing cocktail made with fresh mint, smooth


The Boulevardier cocktail is like a Negroni with a whiskey twist. Whether you're a whiskey

Amaretto Sour

Enjoy the Amaretto Sour, a perfect balance of sweet and sour with a nutty twist.

Kentucky River

Indulge in the Kentucky River Cocktail, a luscious take on the Old Fashioned, blending bourbon

Revolver Cocktail

Experience the Revolver Cocktail, a bold blend of bourbon and coffee liqueur with a flamed

The Bruce Wayne Cocktail

The Bruce Wayne Cocktail You get a lovely, creamy head of foam on top If

Bourbon Toscano Cocktail

Explore the smoky sophistication of the Bourbon Toscano, a unique Old Fashioned with cherrywood-smoked ice,

Tips for Making Bourbon Cocktails

Here are some practical tips to help you make the best bourbon cocktails at home:

1. Use Fresh Ingredients

Freshly squeezed juices and high-quality garnishes can elevate your cocktail from good to great.

2. Balance Your Flavors

A well-balanced cocktail has a harmony of flavors. Taste as you go and adjust the sweetness or acidity as needed.

3. Chill Your Glassware

For cocktails served straight up, like a Manhattan, chilling your glassware can enhance the drinking experience.

4. Experiment with Garnishes

Don’t be afraid to get creative with garnishes. An orange peel, a cherry, or a sprig of mint can add both visual appeal and a burst of flavor.

5. Practice Makes Perfect

Like any skill, making cocktails improves with practice. Don’t be discouraged if your first few attempts aren’t perfect. Keep experimenting and have fun with it!

By trying out these bourbon cocktails, you’ll not only deepen your appreciation for bourbon but also impress your friends and family with your newfound mixology skills. So grab your shaker, some fresh ingredients, and your favorite bourbon—it’s time to mix up something delicious. 

If you like these be sure to check out of full list of Bourbon Cocktails