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To many, Bourbon can be intimidating. It is easy on the palate and can be easier to enjoy in excess. Yet Bourbon is a very gentle whisky, so don’t be afraid to pour yourself some. That being sad, navigating this thrilling Bourbon world can often be overwhelming, and it might be tough to turn on to this amber spirit. No worries: try these easy gateway bourbons and in no time at all you’ll be become a Bourbon enthusiast.

100% Corn Bourbon

By law, 51% of a bourbon’s mash bill has to be corn. However, the other 49% is down for experimentation. Still, there’s something very unique about 100% corn bourbon. It will often have a sweet, caramel packed nose and a bright gold color. All-corn bourbon makes for easy sipping, so if you’d like to try bourbon straight, this is a good option because it won’t frazzle your palate. Hudson Baby Bourbon is a widely available brand.

Wheated Bourbon

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the infamous Pappy falls under this category. But there are plenty of other options for you to try that will make you fall in love with wheated bourbon without spending more than five grand. Like all-corn bourbon, wheated bourbons aren’t too aggressive. You’ll taste some cereal characteristics and nutty flavors. You could try a wheated bourbon neat at room temperature or mixed with a sweet almond liqueur. That’s right, we told you to mix your wheated bourbon with amaretto. Nothing is sacred, even bourbon. Try Buffalo Trace’s W.L. Wellers.

Young Bourbon

As we’ve stated before, people are obsessed with aging statements, but young bourbons (bourbons aged under four years) can be quite delicious. These bourbons are usually peppery, brash, bright, and wonderful for someone looking for something a little offbeat. You might get some heat (a burning sensation), but if you’re tasting something undrinkable it’s not because the bourbon is young, it’s because the bourbon is just plain bad. Many craft bourbons are young, so check out your local distillery. One of my favorites is Rock Town Arkansas Bourbon Whiskey, available here.

Rye Bourbon

Rye is spicy, so rye whiskey is for pretty robust taste buds. That being said, bourbon with a little rye can provide just the right amount of bite an adventurous drinker needs. Mix a rye bourbon with a little honey or a bittersweet amaro and feel both the corn’s sugar and the rye’s fire. You can also try this bourbon with a little ice to dilute its strength. Try Bulleit Bourbon, which has a pretty high rye content.

Straight Bourbon

Straight bourbon has been hanging out in oak for at least two years. Because it’s more mature, straight bourbon tends to have more complexity and depth than younger bourbon. So if you’re someone who likes super dark rum or Scotch, you’ll probably like straight bourbon. Expect a lot of molasses, burned sugar – maybe even a little coffee or chocolate. This is a bourbon that should coat your mouth and leave you with a prolonged finish. Try Knob Creek straight bourbon, aged 9 years.


By Aliza Kellerman, VinePair