Very Old Barton, 100 Proof ($15) Proves a point known to non-snobbish bourbon drinkers: A well-made "bottom shelf" whiskey can sneak up on the more expensive brands. Very Old Barton is balanced bourbon with real depth and roundness, and it's perfect for cocktails. Great value.
Elijah Craig 12-Year-Old ($27) At 94 proof, this bourbon has the weight and heat of a whiskey two or three times the price. It's big and full-flavored but balanced, with vanilla and fruit notes in the aroma and in the mouth. Twelve years in the barrels makes it remarkably complex at this price—a well-made sipper for anyone who wonders why bourbon is so popular right now.
Buffalo Trace ($25) This distillery is into experimenting, producing a number of whiskeys under different labels, some at superpremium prices. But its namesake bourbon is fairly priced and complex: You can taste licorice, maple syrup, and caramel flavors, followed by a lush, smoky finish.
Fizzy Old-Fashioned: Combine ¾ cup bourbon, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon Peychaud's bitters in a small pitcher. Stir in 2 cups chilled blood orange soda (such as San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa) just before serving. Serve over ice. Garnish with orange rind twists.