Bourbons To Weather The Pappy Craziness

5 Bourbons To Avoid The Fall Madness

My demeanor towards the (fall) bourbon craziness varies. Sometimes I despise it, sometimes I partake in it and other times I’m apathetic. Visiting stores every morning doesn’t work for a lot of people’s schedules. Waiting in lines overnight isn’t an option for others (or something we want to do). Paying $1,000 for a bottle of Pappy will never be an option. What if we can’t spend thousands of dollars at a store to be on their “preferred” list. Or, maybe it wasn’t your year to win a lottery. Whatever your circumstances are these bourbons are a great consolation prize. Actually, “consolation” is too demeaning to these bourbons. These bourbons are great, high-end options to drink if you scored an entire BTAC and Pappy set or if you struck out.

For clarification this isn’t a “substitute” list. With the popularity of bourbon, there’s no easy substitutes for Pappy and BTAC. This is a “save your time and energy” list of bourbons. They’re great bourbons that in blind tastings would outrank many limited edition bourbons. They also come with a much nicer price tag.

Smooth Ambler Barrel Proof

Smooth Ambler 10 Bourbonr

I’ve said it a lot on this blog, but I’m a fan of what the guys in West Virginia are doing. So much that we purchased a barrel for the BourbonHunt Pro members. We did have a few bottles left over so if you hurry you may be able to snag one. I’ve also tried the barrel pick done by Nasa Liquors and it’s a great pour as well.



There’s a few bottles that will always have a spot on my shelf. Blanton’s is one of those bottles. It’s a wonderful toffee forward bourbon with notes of orange peel and cinnamon. What’s even more interesting is most barrels are only aged 6 years. The unique flavor comes from their time spent Warehouse H which has metal walls.

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit

wild Turkey kentucky spirit

Wild Turkey has been in a little bit of a slump lately. Not everyone loved the Diamond release. They dropped the proof of the 101 rye. Several years ago they dropped the 8 year age statement from their bourbon. Yet, Wild Turkey still doing a lot of things right. Kentucky Spirit is a single barrel bourbon and I’ve never had a bad bottle. Look for ’07 or before on the neck if you can.

High West A Midwinters Night Dram (or, Son of Bourye)


If you love sweet, dessert bourbons you’ll love HWMND.

Knob Creek


The San Francisco World Spirits Competition named Knob Creek “Best Bourbon” which surprised people. After the initial questioning, it made a lot of sense to me. Knob Creek has a great rye spice with caramel that does well when tasted blind. Since then I’ve had some Knob Creek store picks that remind me a lot of Booker’s 25th.

This list of bourbons could be labeled “How to Fool Your Friends in Blind Tastings”. Try adding one or two of these bourbons in a blind tasting with some higher profile bourbons. I can almost guarantee some guys choose Blanton’s over Eagle Rare 17 or Kentucky Spirit over a Van Winkle.

I feel like every list I do should include at least one Four Roses bourbon. But, most of the Bourbonr readers already know how good Four Roses is. What bourbons will you be drinking while others “hunt” rare bourbon releases?



    I agree about Blanton’s. My normal is Woodford Reserve but have tried the last couple of weeks Stagg Jr. I really like it. Managed to score an Elmer T. Lee and Eagle Rare 17 over the last few weeks.

    Laguna Niguel,Ca

    Elmer is a wonderful mid priced bourbon. Used to be one of my wife and I’s go to bourbons that was easy to get. But now it is so nearly impossible to find that the bottle I bought a year ago is still 2/3rds full because I am afraid I will not be able to replace it.

    Just saw that Woodford has thoughtfully made a holiday gift box with a nice original Glencairn glass included: get em while they’re hot!

    Elmer T. Lee has been hitting the shelves in select retail stores in south eastern Michigan this past week. One store sold all there’s (1 case) in 1 shift. I’m certainly glad I stocked up on mine. Picked up a bottle of Kentucky Spirit today. Can’t wait to try it but it’s not 5 O’clock yet.

    Blantons has been non existent in my neck of the woods for close to a year. I tripped over a bottle while traveling in IA a few months back. Glad I did. Still can’t find it on the shelf here. I am now rationing it out judiciously!

    I also really enjoy Blanton’s. It was my first top shelf pour that I tried to keep for special occasions. I have recently gotten to try Blanton’s Gold and Straight From The Barrel and both are amazing, too bad they’re not available in the US.

    Mark H….Drink your ETL….I’ve seen “reasonably ” priced bottles on the secondary market and ‘ ” has the best prices….yeah, you will pay more…but the old man is worth it! Lucky for me when I had the opportunity to stock up on some bottles, I took it…I now have 8, but you are right….I haven’t been able to get another one since….at retail price that is….Anyways, good luck and drink up!

    Woodford Reserve is a constant on my shelf along with Blanton’s. Garrison’s is my special treat these days since it has been about 5 or 6 years since I got my hands on the one and only bottle of Pappy I’ve ever had (walked in a bought it off the shelf of a local store just opening and now gone … sigh … didn’t even realize it was something incredibly special beyond being really expensive for my budget back then until I opened the bottle, by which time it was too late to stock up for the future famine.)

    My go to is Col. EH Taylor small batch. I’m also a big Blanton’s fan. I’m not knocking anyone for what they are willing to do, or pay, for a “white whale” bottle of bourbon but it’s just not my bag. If I can come up on a bottle with minimal effort or if the price isn’t too outrageous I’ll jump on it, but I like great bourbons that are readily available. I don’t save bottles for months or years either. A far as I’m concerned every day above ground is a special occasion so when I want a taste, bottoms up!

    I am surprised and disappointed by this list. I am the spirits buyer for a large store and in our region Blanton’s has been unavailable in retail for 8 months, Smooth Ambler for 6 months, and there were maybe a few cases of HWMSND in the entire state this year and the vast majority went to bars and restaurants. Why promote so many hard to find bourbons instead of more readily available ones like the re released Barterhouse 20yr, Stagg Jr, and Pikesville Rye? They are as fine a drink as can be and are more readily available.

    Thanks for the comments, James. I think Barterhouse is overpriced. Stagg Jr. is harder to find than Blanton’s for most people but it’s a good option. Pikesville still hasn’t been distributed nationally yet. Until it arrives in FL and I try it, I’m not putting it on a list. That’s the problem though. Distribution varies greatly from state-to-state. That’s why I added links so if someone wants to buy they can

    State Allocation is crazy. In Louisiana, stagg jr. is readily available while Blantons rears its pretty head once a quarter and if you see it you’d better snatch it. The trend lately is the cost of baby saz in some states. I hear of prices as high as 80 bucks. I can get baby saz in louisiana at the gas station. distribution is nuts. lol

    Blanton’s my favorite. I have the Single Barrel, Special Reserve, Gold, Straight From the Barrel and a Paris edition. Can never go wrong with Blanton’s

    All are readily available in our area. There are even a couple of grocery chains that carry Blantons.Of course the price varies by $15 to $20 a bottle. A couple of the big box beverage stores just over $50.

    Blanton’s and McKenna 10yr are always on my shelf, but let the McKenna breathe for 10 minutes first as it has a green nose right out of the bottle.

    Blamton’s is in my top three always. A. Smith Bowman distillery out of Fredericksburg, Va makes a nice single barrel worthy of shelf life. It’s only shipped to a few states outside of Va.

    About the only buffalo trace product I can locate here in GSO, nc is Eagle Rare. ABC might be keeping the supplies in Raleigh and Charlotte.

    I can assure you if there is a supply in Raleigh I am not seeing it. Wake County ABC seems to only have interest in high-volume whiskeys.

    Eagle Rare is always in stock in Charlotte… It’s crazy to me.

    Even the 1.75’s that still have the 10 year age statement can be found on the shelf… I bought one on sale… that’s right: EALGE RARE 1.75L ON SALE. $59

    Not sure where you live but I find Blanton’s, Stagg Jr, Elmer, Eagle Rare in Jacksonville NC and Wilson NC regularly. I get Weller 12 a lot also.

    I recently bought my first bottle of EH Taylor small batch and couldn’t be happier. I liked it so much I had to try the single barrel and rye. I haven’t opened the rye yet but the single barrel was quite a treat. The Colonel will definitely be in my rotation for a long time to come.

    Hoyt, if you run across a EHT barrel proof, pick it up. its the closest you will get to GTS and its quite divine. its being released this month. ask around and keep your eyes open! 🙂

    I’ve been buying Smooth Ambler’s Old Scout since it came out. Had a bottle from batch 1 I should have saved. It was $22/bottle then and remember thinking I struck gold. The price has slowly raised to where it should be for such a smooth, quality bourbon.

    I have to agree that Evan Williams Single Barrel is a great product for the money. I recently tried it for the first time and was pleasantly surprised. Now I’m keeping a bottle on hand at all times. I’ve tried 20 year old Pappy and it’s very good, but in my opinion, still not worth the outrageous prices being charged for it. Woodford Reserve and WR Double Oaked are my go tos, but I’ve also got Blanton’s, Weller Antique, Knob Creek and Four Roses Single Barrel in my rotation. Lots of great bourbons out there without having to spend a fortune. As far as personal taste, I go with “as long as you enjoy it, then it’s good bourbon”. Bottoms up!

    For my money, I love the Old Grand Dad Bottle Bonded – nice and balanced with a great vanilla note on the front end which is just how I like it. And at $25 for a handle you get plenty of bang for the buck. I do love the high end juice but this is my daily go-to.

    Blanton’s is a good choice, so is Smooth Ambler.

    Here are some others, in my mind.
    Basil Hayden
    Evan Williams 10 year
    Makers 46
    Knob Creek 100 proof

    With Makers Mark I taste what I describe as outside barrel and find it overwhelms the other flavors. I don’t notice it on the cask strength.

    I really wish Kentucky Senators would introduce a resolution clarifying the 1964 Congressional resolution and specifically amend the resolution to define bourbon has ONLY hailing from the State of Kentucky where 95% of all bourbon is produced and the true origins of Bourbon.

    Your inculsion of Smooth Ambler and High West is unwarranted and I am frankly disappointed by your list.

    US Senate…..not Kentucky Senate. Bourbon is only bourbon if made in state of Kentucky imho. All else is just Whisky. And in Tennessee Whisky is legally defined as Tennessee Whisky per law because of Charcoal filtering Process.

    I now anyone can call their Bourbon “bourbon” outside of Kentucky but it is misleading for purists of heart.

    I guess we’ll have to agree to (completely) disagree on this one. The term “Tennesee Whiskey” still isn’t officially recognized. Sure Diageo is pushing for it but it’s a pure marketing move. The charcoal filtering doesn’t disqualify it from being bourbon. The majority of all bourbons are charcoal filtered with a similar process.

    Bourbon is America’s spirit and “purist” recognize it as such. Happy Veterans Day! U-S-A…U-S-A!

    I agree with Blake. Just because it isn’t made in Kentucky I don’t see any reason to not try a highly recommended bourbon, and I can judge for my self if I will purchase it again. I also love craft beer and love trying thee huge variety produced through out this great country. Besides more and more of the Kentucky bourbon is headed to offshore markets.

    I think the only purist here is someone that is misinformed. Tennessee Whiskey is officially defined by the Tennessee legislature, but has no consistent federal definition. When it comes to international trade, tarriffs, etc. it’s a bourbon.

    And why do you care if Kentucky or Alaska are making bourbon? That’s not purism, that’s protectionism. If the best bourbon is made in Nevada, I’m drinking that. You have little to worry about however, as the best bourbon is still made in Kentucky. I’m far less worried about new distilleries making bourbon outside of Knetucky and far more worried about people being dishonest about where their product comes from, regardless of what it’s called.

    To Blake and Doctormac,

    Well, please allow this non Kentucky native to stand humbly corrected. If Federal Law, defines bourbon as a spirit produced in the USA so be it.

    My only beef lately I guess is a lot of new distilleries outside of Kentucky have imho really failed to come close to producing anything even remotely close to quality Kentucky straight bourbon and should stick to just calling their product just plain old whiskey.

    A toast to our Veterans! God Bless and thank you for your service.

    Yeah, I’m just giving you a hard time. I agree with you. There are very few non-KY distillers that have produced a quality product (yet).

    That’s why Kentucky bourbon has added STRAIGHT to the label. You can’t have a straight Kentucky bourbon unless it is 100 % Kentucky. You won’t see straight bourbon on a bottle not made in Ky. I would definitely have to have Larceny on my short list along with Stagg Jr. and E.H.Taylor SmB or SgBrl. Regular Buffalo Trace is a great everyday drink IMHO.

    “Straight” can come from any state. Look at Smooth Ambler who sources from Indiana. “Kentucky” is the only term that designates Kentucky bourbon. I do agree with your shortlist of bourbons!

    Does anyone have any thoughts on Old Bardstown 101? It tastes very Heaven Hill to me with great depth. Generally available to me @ around $35.

    EH Taylor is my standard and love the cask strength.

    I enjoy Evan Williams BIB, and single barrel as well.

    My go-to bourbon for mixing Old Fashioneds is OGD BIB. Other favorites from a daily perspective are Elijah Craig and OWA 107, both good options. I need to pick up a bottle of Stagg Jr. again, good stuff. Lots of good alternatives on the market to the whale bourbons everyone is chasing.


    Elijah 12 impressed me a lot , very wide range of pricing in NY: pre-tax from $23 to $36 for 750ml
    I liked 4 roses single barel (50 proof), Blantons, Willett rye 2 year, Sazerac 6.
    All reasonably priced and frequent on shelves. Blantons I don’t see often and at least $60.
    Still want to try EC barrel 128 proof I got 🙂

    Okay, so I may not be up there with some of you more serious bourbon aficionados, but I am a big bourbon fan. Over the past year I have set out to broaden my background with bourbons and have sampled over 40 different “award winning” bourbons during that time. Truly, there are a lot of really good bourbons out there. But for me, after all is said and done, when I sit down in the evening and am ready to pour one on the rocks (sorry, I really like it cold rather than neat…), Maker’s Mark 46 is still my go-to bourbon.

    If the topic is fine bourbons that are easily found and great alternatives to the rare stuff, I’ll submit that Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is every bit the equal of Kentucky Spirit. In fact, in my own taste tests I actually preferred the RRSB. I don’t care for the “regular” Russell’s Reserve 10 year 90 proof stuff. Also, the Single Barrel version of Knob Creek is nice. Even nicer is a good store select version. Stagg Jr is interesting and has a little bit of the “Big Stagg” flavor and nose, but I haven’t been able to tame my bottle yet. I figure Jr. is not aged quite enough. I need to experiment more with different amounts of water (any suggestions out there?). Big Stagg doesn’t need taming because it’s been aged properly. Blanton’s is complex and exquisite and you can’t go wrong with this one.

    I have found the Stagg jr to be very variable, but the 132.1 proof 3rd release is great in my opinion. I regularly go back and forth between that and the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof 128 proof release and love to contrast and compare.

    Blanton’s is great. The Midwinter’s Nights Dram is really excellent, not easy to find but a real treat if you can get one. I’m dying to try the WT Kentucky Spirit, havent done so yet.
    Lately I’ve been sipping on the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. A really great bourbon for about 55-60 bucks. I’ve had more expensive bourbons that are not as good.

    Re: midwinter nights dram
    anyone else tried it? For $100 i am reluctant to buy without a little more info. I have easy access to bottles as well so i dont feel any pressure for a quick decision. Saving my money for the highly allocated stuff at the moment, but perhaps i should reconsider . . .

    I just scored 2 bottles of the latest release of midwinters night dram–this is amazing bourbon–sweeter than typical bourbons and definitely a treat. Worth every penny IF you an actually find some at SRP which is about $95 i believe. I am a relative newbie to the Bourbon craze and just building my collection but love the suggestions on this board!

    Read through all these posts, and I agree with many of them as far as the bourbons listed. I was waiting for someone to mention the Double Oaked. It is glorious!

    On another note. . .

    What do people think of Angels envy cask strength 2014 and EH Taylor Cured Oak? Are they worth hunting and/trading for? Would people trade BTAC/van winkle line for them? I like tasty high proof bourbon so I am seriously considering making a trade but I have never tried either and I know I love my BTAC/winkle juice

    EH Taylor Cured Oak is definitely worth hunting/buying if you can get it at retail price. Someone with a duplicate bottle of BTAC might trade for it.

    People are definitely interested in Cured Oak and might trade for it. Personally it was the most overrated juice I’ve tasted this year. Plenty of $35-$50 stuff I’d take over it.

    Anyone try the Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon? It’s a little pricey and I could only find it in online New York stores but it sure found it’s way to the top of my list very quickly!

    A person can walk into almost any liquor store in this country and find either Knob Creek Single Barrel, Booker’s Reserve, Russell’ Reserve Single Barrel, Evan Williams Single Barrel. IMHO these can be very enjoyable pours at a reasonable price. Hats off to those distilleries, for providing us with readily available, economical bourbons.

    Interesting regarding Blanton’s… my local liquor store guy tells me that it’s officially being allocated these days. They got a single bottle and now it’s priced at $70. Yikes! Regarding high quality bourbons, I’ve got to second Evan Williams Single Barrel… absolutely delicious. I also really enjoy Elijah Craig, but I feel they may drop the 12 yr age statement any time now.

    Well, there’s allocated and then there’s allocated. It’s getting much harder to find. It’s not worth $70 in my opinion.

    No one has mentioned Eagle Rare. I think it’s great bourbon, especially for the price and availability. I have a bottle of my local bar’s single barrel selection that I put side by side with ORVW 10 and it’s just as nice. I know they’re entirely different mashbills but it’s equally as good.

    Little off topic, but not really, is EC18 a good buy at $170? Place down the street has two for that, another place has a few at $200

    That’s a little high. It’s $149.99 here in Colorado and in Oklahoma I heard it was going for $99. It’s up to you though. I’d probably buy $170 worth of Smooth Ambler Old Scout instead, but that’s just me.

    The Bitcoin Alcohol Market website is a scam. Do not order from the website. Spread the word and put this fraudulent site out of business.

    Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

    Technical details of permanent failure:
    Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the server for the recipient domain by [].

    The error that the other server returned was:
    550 No Such User Here”

    There is at least one Tennessee Whiskey grandfathered in by the TN Legislature. It is Pritchard’s Tennessee Whiskey made in a small former school house about 20 miles down the road from Jack Daniels. They did not have any for sale when we visited this summer but their rye is very good though a bit pricey. Also believe they are opening a 2nd distillery in Nashville.

    Great thread here. Thanks to all for the contributions. My 2 cents…..Evan Williams Single Barrel is a steal at its retail price and Woodford Double Oak is one of the best out there. Mmmmmmmm…… tasty and smooth.

    Still holding on to a bottle of George Stagg and two bottles of 20 and 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle that I purchased in 2010 before the “PVW and Stagg” craze hit. I thought that I was foolish to pay the price I did at the time. However, now I’m glad that I did. They are still unopened and am undecided on whether to keep them longer and open or to sell them down the road.

    I figure it’s like holding onto Cristal or Dom Perignon vintage collections at this point.

    Last year I was fortunate to buy, at regular prices, a PVW 23, 20 & GTS & I can’t allow myself to open them…yet. I have about 15 other bourbons & ryes to fill my liver until I find the guts to crack those. I’ll never sell them, though I might look to trade my 20 for a few others I want. I did crack my other 20 so giving up that for 2-3 others should be worthwhile…I think.

    What good is an unopened bottle on the shelf. You buy bourbon to drink, not look at. Open them, taste them, and even share them. Otherwise what do you have them for?

    Everyone wants to CASH IN on the broad interest in quality Kentucky bourbon. Note the brands which say bottled in Kentucky versus distilled/made and bottled in Kentucky. Build your brand by making what people like rather than disingenuous smoke and mirrors.

    Dude, I am with you. I just find it to be average. I want to like it to fit in, but it just doesn’t do it for me.

    For my taste, the best high end, hard to get is William Larue Weller. The best lower cost but hard to get is Elmer T Lee with W.L Weller 12 year coming in a close second. The best easy to get low cost is Eagle Rare.

    There are tons others I really like, but Blanton’s just doesn’t make my list, here are some of my favs: Knob Creek Small Batch, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, and Larceny

    FYI: A really good drink (though not a bourbon) is the Pearse Lyons Reserve Kentucky Whiskey….smooth.

    What do you all think of the W. l. Weller Special Reserve? I have heard good things about it and it is only $25.00.
    I am a newbie in the Bourbon world.

    Thanks all

    I love any of the Weller’s. Weller 12 is the best and I really like the Weller Reserve. It’s $35 here on Long Island, if you can find it.

    Like a lot of folks on here I confess to having more than a few trophy Bourbons… some open some not.
    That said this weekend I’ll be drinking some Smooth Ambler barrel proof… Jimmy Russell Russel… Russell’s Reserve single barrel from K & L in San Francisco…

    Got a bottle of Johnny Drumm Private Stock while down in Lexington a month or so ago and really enjoying that too.
    Very good bourbon at a very reasonable price!

    A friend recently turned me on to Stranahan’s out of Colorado… a little overpriced at around 60, but very delicious. In my top ten right now.

    Blantons was the 1st “premium bourbon” I had tried and used to be my go to as it was usually easy to find, along with Willet Pot Still, but now both are pretty spotty around me in So Cali.
    interesting enough I did score some Blantons at my local Costco a few weeks ago!!

    How about something different:
    Don Quixote Blue Corn Bourbon, made in Las Alamos, NM ( lots of flavor)
    you can only order it $35 a bottle,
    Balcones Brimstone, Waco, Texas ( Barbecue Ribs and Bourbon !)
    about $62 and several store
    Del Bac Classic, Single malt, Tucson, AZ ( Outstanding!)
    about $41 a bottle in AZ and Wyoming only
    I suggest these if you can get them to try them, no disappointment there

    Top 5 bourbons for the money (my opinion.. and not in particular order)

    1. Henry McKenna
    2. Corner Creek
    3. Blantons
    4. Rock Hill Farms
    5. Four Roses Store Picks

    Top 5 bourbons that are “moderately hard to find (depending on area)

    1. W.L. Weller 12
    2. Elmer T. Lee
    3. Michters Toasted Barrel
    4. Sazerac Rye (baby saz)
    5. Smooth Amblers Single Barrel

    Top 5 ridiculously hard to find bourbons:

    1. Pappy Van Winkle 15 year
    2. George T. Stagg
    3. Michters 10 year
    4. Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye
    5. Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition

    (Those are solely my personal opinions)

    Digging to the back of the shelf at out of the way liquor stores is a great way to find gems. I recently purchased 3 bottles of WL Weller 12 that had been sitting ignored at the back of a jumble of bottles of bourbon at one such shop.

    One I have found and shared with others (never seen reviewed here, however) is Larceny. Highly affordable, but a great sipping bourbon.

    Cannot disagree about Larceny, it is just a great bourbon and a great price. None of the extremely complex or nuance flavors that you will find with a special release or single barrel, but just a smooth, honest bourbon.

    Holy Bourbon! Longest, most subjective (meaning personal bias) thread I’ve seen to date.
    Underscoring, once again, that taste – in bourbon, as with all olfactory experiences – is something
    personal, period. There is no “best” or “better” rule for bourbon. It’s only what YOU like that matters.
    We ought to be thankful for this, or everyone would like/buy one or two bourbons, with availability/pricing
    consequences we can only guess at.
    A Happy Thanksgiving to ALL Bourbonrs!

    I have a different list:
    For $50 or so, which I consider spendable for a good bourbon, I’d suggest Elijah Craig barrel proof or Stagg Jr. I’ve had a lot of people taste both, and the ECBP wins out every time. The flavor is intense. Just be certain to take very tiny sips (or just dip your tongue in)! In fact, any of the Elijah Craig products are good. And best of all, you can buy a 1.75L bottle of the baseline EC so you can get a great value.
    All of the Old Scout/Smooth Ambler products are worth trying.
    Eagle Rare is pretty good, and you can get the 1.75L bottle again if quantity/value is important.
    The orphan barrel series are pretty good, with the exception of gifted horse. But they are more expensive and some argue are not worth the price. But I find them quite tasty.
    E.H. Taylor series are good, but again more expensive. The quality of the single barrel can be variable, the others are very consistently excellent.
    The 1792’s are good – I’ve had the standard and the full proof.
    The Old Forester series are good. The 1897 bottled in bond/100 proof at $60 bucks is reasonable but not as good as the ECBP.
    I haven’t had a bad “bottled in bond” whiskey yet!

Leave a Reply to Jim French Jr Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *