The 11 Best Bourbons
For an old fashioned

“There is no bad bourbon. There are only some bourbons that aren’t as good as others.”
-Raymon Chandler

Deciding on a great bourbon, much less the best bourbon for an Old Fashioned is more complicated than you’d think. It’s not as easy as simply finding the highest quality bourbon you can, buying it, then using it to make the best bourbon Old Fashioned ever.

Yes, the bourbon quality is important. But selecting the “best” bourbon for an old fashioned means considering many things, like your budget, tasting notes, how practical you want to be, and of course, personal preference.

Related: How is Bourbon Made?

Before we get to the list of the 11 best bourbons for an Old Fashioned, one quick note- I don’t believe in wasting an expensive bourbon making an Old Fashioned (or any other cocktail for that matter). Which is why you won’t find anything over $50 on this list. $50 is the absolute max I would spend on a bourbon if I knew I was using it to make an Old Fashioned. Anything more expensive than that seems like a waste of the taste (and money).

I know you’re here to learn about the best bourbons for an Old Fashioned, but before you do, it’s important you know how to make one one. 

How to Make an Old Fashioned Cocktail

An Old Fashioned is a very popular whiskey (usually bourbon) cocktail. It is a cocktail that could be made from a spicy rye whiskey as well, but today bourbon is preferred. Keep in mind that the bourbon that you choose can drastically change the flavor profile your Old Fashioned has.

In my list of the best bourbons for an Old Fashioned, I add some tasting note comments for you to help you pick the bourbon that best feeds your personal preference.

There are a few different recipes out there for an Old Fashioned. Some use lemons or oranges instead of cherry as the garnish. Some use simple syrup instead of raw sugar. They all use bitters, but some use flavored bitters.

Related: 11 Best Bourbons under $50

This is the basic Old Fashioned recipe that I use. It is classic and it is a good place to start. It will also help you to identify if you are looking for something else.

Standard Old Fashioned Recipe

Ingredients

2-4 oz bourbon of choice
2-3 dashes of bitters
Pinch of raw sugar
Few dashes of plain water
Burnt orange peel to garnish
Large ice cube

Directions

Step 1 – In a rocks glass, muddle together the bitters and the sugar.
Step 2 –Add few dashes of plain water
Step 3 – Add ice into the glass, then pour the bourbon over the top.
Step 4 – Next stir gently.
Step 5 – Cut small peal off orange and burn it with a lighter
Step 6 – Use the burnt orange peel to garnish the drink.
Step 7 – Sip and enjoy.

It’s quite common that once you master the standard Old Fashioned you’ll want to experiment with a few other variations.

Below are two

Additional Spins on an Old Fashioned 

Spin #1
Ingredients

Bourbon of choice- 2-4 oz (but would recommend 2 oz Knob Creek for this one)
1 Oz Cocchi vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 Luxardo cherries

Spin #2
Ingredients

Bourbon of choice- 2-4 oz.
1/2 – 1 oz. walnut liquor
1/2 – 1 oz. grand mariner
1/2 oz. Bada Bing black cherry juice
5 drops Angostura bitters
5 drops orange bitters
Orange peel squeezed so oil is expressed
Two black cherries

THE 11 BEST BOURBONS FOR AN OLD FASHIONED

When considering the best bourbon for an Old Fashioned it goes without saying, but a quality bourbon is essential here, even more so than many other cocktails. Yet, with so many bourbons to choose from, where to start?  That’s a great question and why we put together this list of the 11 best bourbons for an Old Fashioned.

Each bourbon listed below is both readily available and of high quality. But most importantly, any bourbon listed below will take your Old Fashioned game to the next level! If you’re looking for the best bourbon for an Old Fashioned…you’ve come to the right place.

Related: The Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Cocktail

Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace Bourbon is made at the most award-winning distillery in the world. The whiskey has everything you could ask for in a high-quality affordable bourbon: the finest ingredients and a refined aging process combined to form a rugged spirit with deep and complex aromas.

In doing so, Buffalo Trace has delivered a true masterpiece. The bourbon’s well suited in an Old Fashioned because of its unique combination of flavors including vanilla, mint, molasses, toffee, dark fruit, and anise. This top-tier spirit is an absolute must-try bourbon. You won’t regret it.

How much does Buffalo Trace cost?

Buffalo Trace Bourbon costs around $30 per bottle.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky

It begins with rich and soft caramels on the nose. The inviting aroma is kissed with honey and fruit. This leads to the ideal mouthfeel—a light sweetness that caresses the tongue—and the perfectly balanced body that is neither too thin nor too full. You’ll taste caramel, vanilla, and molasses, all accented with the most delightful layer of oak. The smooth elegance continues into the finish where spices begin to appear and quickly dissipate, leaving you wanting more.

The experience of tasting Maker’s Mark is unlike any other whiskey. It has a signature taste—much in the way Jack Daniel’s does—that is unmistakable. Once you get to know it, you will be able to recognize it instantly, even without the bottle in sight.

How much does Maker’s Mark Bourbon cost?

Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky costs around $30 per bottle.

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is an innovative approach to twice-barreled bourbon that creates a rich and colorful flavor unlike any other bourbon in the market. Starting with Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which is matured in handcrafted new white oak barrels; the bourbon is then uniquely matured for a second time in another new barrel. The second barrel is deeply toasted before a light charring, creating the unique flavors of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, a smooth, full-bodied bourbon with a long, rich finish.

This spirit is already a little bitter to begin with, so it needs some extra help in the sugar or simple syrup department to make it passable. Otherwise there’s just too much bitterness in the glass.

The flavors overall are great, though. With that extra sweetness added, the cocktail is quite nice, and the extra vanilla and oak flavors of the spirit balance nicely with the orange peel and other fruity notes.

How much does Woodford Reserve Double Oaked cost?

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked costs around $50 per bottle.

Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Basil Hayden’s is a stand alone bourbon, enjoy it neat, on the rocks, or triumphantly in an Old Fashioned. It’s a bourbon sparked with rye, so yes, it’s spicy. But the rich aromatic notes of honey, peppermint, and citrus envelope the senses, welcoming your taste buds like an old companion.

Rarely does such a unique combination of quality and craft manifest itself in a way you’re left wondering; why haven’t I experienced this before? Basil Hayden’s is a single small batch bourbon patiently aged and bottled at 80 proof. However, don’t mistake its proof as a sign of a mild temperament. No, this bourbon is bold and savory.

At first sip, you’ll be curious who was asleep at the wheel when it was priced. Few, other rye-laced bourbons can compare to Basil Hayden’s quality at this price point. So, if you’re looking for an amazing addition to your Old Fashioned recipe, this is a must-try spirit. Really, what’s stopping you?

How much does Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Bourbon cost?

Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon costs around $45 per bottle.

Bulleit Bourbon

Bulleit Straight Bourbon offers a unique and interesting taste for those who are interested in being able to enjoy a great old fashioned. This bourbon will help to ensure that you have an old fashioned that has a lot of spicy flavors as it is loaded with both black pepper and ginger.

One of the things that make Bulleit Bourbon unique is that it is made with a high rye mashbill. This means that it has more of the pepper flavors of a traditional rye whiskey along with the smooth and mellow flavors of vanilla and caramel corn that come with a bourbon.

What Does Bulleit Straight Bourbon Cost?

Bulleit Straight Bourbon costs around $30 per bottle.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

Elijah Craig bourbon is named after a Baptist preacher who lived in Kentucky in the 19th century, widely known as the Father of Bourbon. Keeping with tradition, this whiskey is a truly exceptional bourbon for its price.

Elijah Craig is a strictly maintained small batch, distilled, aged, and bottled in Kentucky from a traditional Bourbon mashbill of 78% Corn, 10% Rye and 12% Malted Barley and then aged for 8 to 12 years in #3 char new American oak barrels.  As a result, each batch is unique yet consistently sweet and smooth. The hints of vanilla, caramel, and fruit complete Elijah Craig bourbon in stellar fashion.

How much does Elijah Craig cost?

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon costs around $35 per bottle. 

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon is the third release in the Old Forester Whiskey Row series. A 115 proof expression that “celebrates the brand’s continued distillation during Prohibition,” when Old Forester was granted a permit to continue distilling on Louisville’s Whiskey Row.

This Whiskey is bold on the nose, with deliciously intense notes of cherry, caramel and dark chocolate. The palate is rich with sweet caramel, nuttiness, and cedar. The finish is wonderfully tart with a long smoky finish.

How much does Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon cost?

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon costs around $50 per bottle

Four Roses Small Batch

“Small batch” may not be a legal term, but what you’ll find in the Four Roses bottle will taste spot-on. Caramel, butterscotch, undercut by spice and a prickle of red berries.

What I really like about this version of the cocktail is that the oak flavors that are present in the base whiskey balance really nicely with the brighter and crisper bitters and orange zest. It’s more of an earthy take on the Old Fashioned, but just as delicious and enjoyable.

As for the other flavors, the caramel and vanilla also stay present and make for a particularly sweet drink when combined with the sugar cube. It’s one where you can probably get away with skimping on the added sweetness, but it does need a little bit to be perfect. And, of course, that peppery spice is still there making itself known.

How much does Four Roses Small Batch

Four Roses Small Batch costs around $35 per bottle

Larceny Small Batch Bourbon

Larceny is a great intro to the wheated bourbon category, with an attractive butterscotch nose, leading to a rich, honeyed palate. This whiskey tastes great neat, on the rocks, or in any classic bourbon cocktail It has dessert-like qualities, refined yet rowdy texture and benedictine meets bourbon spiced cherries scent make you one hell of a cocktail bourbon.

Larceny Bourbon gets its name from John E. Fitzgerald who was a treasury agent who used his keys to Kentucky bourbon warehouses to steal premium barrels of bourbon and bottle them under his own brand Old Fitzgerald. Over the years the Old Fitz brand changed hands many hands and was once owned by Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle but now is owned by Heaven Hill, the maker of Larceny Bourbon.

What Does Larceny Small Batch Bourbon Cost?

Larceny Small Batch Bourbon costs around $25 per bottle.

Knob Creek Straight Bourbon

Knob Creek Bourbon has some good blood. Aged nine years, Knob Creek is the oldest by a couple years. The extra aging draws more flavor and sugar from the wood, providing a full-bodied, fruity flavor with hints of grass and grain. It’s 100-proof, which is considered the honest age of bourbons made a century ago.

Knob Creek Bourbon is comfortable on the top shelf of any home bar, but how does it mix? Its bold, organic flavor stands up well in cocktails. It mixes for a very nice old fashioned with orange, bitters and a cherry. Whatever you do, taste it with a little extra patience. It spent nine long years getting to you. Don’t rush it.

Pro tip:
Try a new fashioned. Instead of sugar, use Amaretto as a sweetener. Mix that with bitters and an orange peel. 

How much does Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey  cost?

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon costs around $38 per bottle.

Four Roses Single Barrel

According to Desoblin, a high rye content “makes the cocktail come alive with character,” and this bourbon does the trick. With its rye-forward mash bill, it has the spicy, herbal, and fruity notes that an Old Fashioned asks for. And at 100 proof, it’s powerful enough to “show up strong even after dilution,” Krueger notes. “Its big fruit flavors are really satisfying.”

What Does Four Roses Single Barrel Cost?

Four Roses Single Barrel costs around $30 per bottle.

Honorable Mention

Eagle Rare 10 Year
Wild Turkey Rare Breed
Breckenridge PX
Russell’s Reserve 10
Jefferson’s Reserve

These bourbons are solid but didn’t quite make our list for the 11 best bourbons for an old fashioned.

Best Bourbon for Old Fashioned FAQs

Should I Mix bourbon for an Old Fashioned?

The Bourbon theme Old Fashioned drink is a new twist on an old drink as it used to be made strictly with rye whiskey.  That said, you can switch the original recipe up a bit with bourbon in it and you will always have the same cocktail. By switching out the bourbon you use, you will get a slightly different different taste.

Is Old Fashioned similar to Manhattan?

No. These two cocktails are not the same, as the Old Fashioned is made with bourbon whiskey, bitters and sugar, whereas the Manhattan contains rye whiskey and sweet vermouth with sugar.

Is the Old Fashioned a manly drink?

Well, I wouldn’t put the Old Fashioned as only a man drink, but it certainly is ordered among many men due to its strong combination of bourbon, bitters and sugar.

Choosing the best Bourbon for Your Old Fashioned

One of the things that can make or break your Old Fashioned is the bourbon that you choose to use. There are so many bourbons that are available on the market today that you might find yourself becoming overwhelmed at the thought of picking the best bourbon for an Old Fashioned.

Thankfully we took the guesswork out of this for you. We went through and tasted different bourbons both on their own and as they had been mixed with the ingredients to form an Old Fashioned.

That being said, my personal favorite bourbon to use for an Old Fashioned is Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon. This is now how I order the drink when I am out at a bar or how I make the drink when I am sitting at home and using bourbon instead of rye.

Some people are not fans of bourbon. But for a bourbon lover, I simply cannot understand why someone would not enjoy a delicious Old Fashioned using “America’s Spirit” – bourbon.

Stay Gold & Drink Up.

Todd

About Todd Smidt

Todd is a man of simple tastes: traveling, words, whiskey, & dad jokes. He enjoys first-rate banter, long walks along the coast, High West, and Vonnegut. He spends his free time traveling the world, drinking whiskey, and writing about it.

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