If you ask ten bourbon enthusiasts with a wide range of bourbon-tasting experiences for their best bourbons under $60, all lists will likely differ. However, a few bourbons on my list will undoubtedly appear on other lists.
For this list, I chose bourbons that are readily available, non-allocated, and non-store picks. While compiling this list, I tried to think of delicious-tasting bourbons with different profiles and characteristics that would give new bourbon enthusiasts an excellent foundation for starting a bourbon collection and learning the difference between different types of bourbons. For instance, some of these bourbons have a heavy oak profile. With these, you can identify the oak clearly, and that taste will be etched in your memory. A couple of bourbons have spice-heavy profiles, while others are sweeter. Some are high-proof or barrel-strength, while others have considerably lower alcohol content. You will be able to note that a couple of these are more refined and balanced, while others are more aggressive and bold. Still, all of them are excellent bourbons in their own right. To add more bourbons to this list would be unnecessary.
It is beneficial to notice the differences between these bourbons. I think doing that will help you to determine your taste profile. Everyone's palate is different so learn what you like. This list will give you a good foundation for starting your bourbon collection and understanding the differences between flavor profiles.
The Bourbons To Start Your Collection
Rare Breed has a warm and cinnamon spice-heavy profile at 116.8 proof. It is one of the more refined and balanced bourbons at this price point, with black pepper, honey, and robust cinnamon notes. Comparing this to one of the other high-proof bourbons mentioned below with a similar profile would be good. In my opinion, Wild Turkey Rare Breed is quite possibly the best bourbon experience under $60.
Where can you find an 8 to 12-year-old bourbon that still sells for under $30 and has a creaminess and richness indicative of an aged whiskey? Elijah Craig describes it as "smooth and warm; pleasantly woody with accents of spice, smoke, and nutmeg." I think it is sweet, creamy, and decadent. If you are looking for a sweeter bourbon, start here.
Old Forester 1920 has probably the best mouthfeel of any bourbon on this list. When you combine its superb oily viscosity with dark caramel, graham cracker, and spicy notes, you get one of the best bourbons under $60. It is also remarkably smooth for a 115-proof bourbon.
Knob Creek Single Barrel Select picks are what I consider to be the prototypical bourbon. It is rich, it is sweet, and it is a little hot at 120 proof. This is what comes to mind when I think of a typical bourbon profile. These bourbons range from 8 to 12 years of age. If you can find a 10-year-old version, that's the one to add to your collection.
Wild Turkey 101 is a spicy, sweet, and bold bourbon with a creamy palate. Although it drinks hotter than its 101-proof, this is a very enjoyable neat drinker. It is one of those bourbons that get better and smoother as your drink it. Very few bourbon values are as good as this $24.99 retail bourbon.
Currently retailed at under $40, this barrel-strength Blue Note Juke Joint Uncut Bourbon is hard to beat for the price. Blue Note Juke Joint has an unusually complex nose and palate at this price point. Lite cherry, vanilla, and honey on the nose. Milk chocolate, allspice, and cherry notes on the palate.
Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond is surprisingly good for $17. While a little black pepper spice-heavy, this "bottom shelf" bourbon has a likable viscosity with caramel and vanilla notes. There are similar profile bottles that are $40 more and not as good.
Like its sister bourbon Old Forester 1920, Old Forester 1910 has a beautiful oily mouthfeel. However, this is not a high-proof bourbon like the previous selections. At 93 proof, getting such an oily mouthfeel, intense caramel char, and sweet palate is unusual and challenging. That is what makes 1910 so unique. If you want a refined yet sweet bourbon, this is where you want to start.
Would you like to know what oak smells and tastes like in bourbon? This bourbon is where you start. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked helped me identify the oak flavor when I began my enthusiast trek. It is another lower-proof bourbon at 90.4 proof. So, if you have trouble drinking higher-proof whiskeys, you can just start here.
Old Grand-Dad 114 has a very intense cinnamon, red hot candy taste profile. At 114 proof, this is one aggressive bourbon that drinks higher than its alcohol content. It is not for the faint of heart. However, it has one of the more assertive flavor profiles. When you drink this, compare it to Wild Turkey Rare Breed and see if you can identify the differences.
There you have it, the best bourbons under $60 to start your collection. Remember that higher-proof or cask-strength bourbons naturally have more intense flavors because they are not diluted with water. However, they will be more difficult to drink if you are new to the bourbon experience. Starting your collection with these whiskeys will help you learn what you like faster than randomly buying bourbons.