To some, bourbon is the foundation for favorite concoctions; for others there's no way to take it but straight. The beauty of the spirit is that every way is the right way, provided you have the right bottle. Depending on the mixer, a cocktail bourbon needs to be either mild or so distinct it defines a drink's personality. If the only place that seems appropriate to add a splash is the bottom of an empty rocks glass, you have a winner for a great solo sipper.
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1. Mixer: Evan Williams Black Label
86 proof, $12
A standard flavor profile that won't outshine other elements in a drink, EV Black is great for cocktails where a fair bit of mixer is involved.
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2. Sipper: Old Grand Dad
80 proof, $20
At the lower end of the proof spectrum, OGD offers impressive sweet-sour fruitiness balanced by a heady spice edge. Keeping an on-the-rocks-friendly budget bourbon on hand is a good call; with notable complexities and vanilla sweetness, this is ours.
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3. Mixer: Four Roses Yellow
80 proof, $20
It's gentle, it's graceful, and even if you're out of mixer, keep pouring—it's so very drinkable all by its lonesome.
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4. Sipper: Redemption
82 proof, $25
Lip-smacking buttery flavor and a silky-smooth swallow distinguish this exceptional bourbon. The sleek bottle boasts a great price, making it a stellar pick for gifting.
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5. Mixer: Wild Turkey 101
101 proof, $25
The 101 is delicate for a high-proof bourbon but still rich in flavor. Faint citrus aromas balance deep notes of caramel. A splash gives backbone to complex cocktails involving aromatics and bitters.
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6. Sipper: Bulleit
90 proof, $35
Rich caramel notes and a warm spiced finish with hints of nutmeg make Bulleit a crowd-pleasing favorite.
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7. Mixer: Maker's Mark 46
94 proof, $35
A versatile darling of the mixing category, the 46 is a solid match for both minimalist bevs and more involved concoctions. With full body and vanilla flavor, it's best savored in bourbon-forward drinks.
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8. Sipper: Woodford Reserve
90 proof, $37
Well-rounded butterscotch with midproof bite feels both rugged and indulgent. This approachable spirit welcomes you warmly with open arms.
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9. Mixer: Orphan Barrel Forged Oak
90.5 proof, $65
Mixing may seem like a misstep given the price tag, but this is a bourbon that brings a massive wow factor to simple cocktail classics. With robust smoky-peaty qualities, Forged Oak will take you to the peak of your Old-Fashioned game.
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10. Sipper: Russell's Reserve Single Barrel
110 proof, $50
This is the whiskey burn you want: a spicy punch at the front, quickly dissipating to a velvety-smooth finish, with no lingering harsh flames. Most definitely a spirit you'll want to cozy up with as fall creeps in.