The Bourbon Taste Test

There is a perhaps no better way to end a long day in the outdoors than with friends around the campfire and a good bourbon in hand. Embracing this idea we had a bourbon taste test at Outdoor Life magazine.
Yes that means we got to drink on the job, and yes it is as awesome as it sounds. But what distinguishes a bourbon from other whiskeys? - It must be produced in the U.S.A
- The grain recipe must be at least 51 percent corn
- Distilled at less than 160 proof from fermented grain mash
- The product must be matured in new, charred, white oak barrels at no more than 125 proof
- Nothing can be added to the final product except pure water
- Must be bottled at 80 proof or higher
We blind taste tested eight different bourbons (and one Tennessee whiskey but we'll get to that later) and gave each one a score. At the end of the test the scores were averaged and a winner was picked. Unlike most of the tests we conduct at Outdoor Life this wasn't purely scientific, but hey, we're drinking bourbon, not testing the speed and quietness of a bow. Here are our results. The winners may surprise you, they definitely surprised us.
9th Place
Makers Mark
This 90 proof bourbon is distilled in Lorettto, Kentucky and is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. It's easily identified by its unique red wax seal. Comments: "High octane. Nice taste but too harsh"
8th Place
Baker's

This is a 7-year-old 107 proof bourbon from the Small Batch Distillery in Kentucky. It's named after Baker Beam, the grand nephew of Jim Beam. According to the distillery, Baker's is best served in a sniffer with a splash of spring water. Comments: "Very harsh up front, but nice color."
Seventh Place
Woodford Reserve

Woodford bourbon comes from a small but growing distillery in Kentucky. The bourbon is handcrafted by a small team that reports directly to the Master distiller who selects only the best barrels for bottling. Comments: "This bourbon has some heft to it--really rich and thick."
Sixth Place
Wild Turkey

This Kentucky straight bourbon holds a special place in hunter's hearts and the country in general; it's one of the best selling bourbons in the U.S. It was introduced in 1940 and is made in a variety of different proofs. Our sample was 80 proof (personally I prefer the standard 101). Comments: "Buttery smell and taste--smooth."
Fifth Place
Evan Williams

This was the big sleeper of the group. It was by far the cheapest bottle in the mix (you can buy a bottle of Evan Williams for $12 in many parts of the country) but it still finished in the middle of the pack. Comments: "Very nice. Good color, well-balanced."
Fourth Place
Evan Williams Single Barrel

This 86 proof is the standard Evan Williams' older, classier cousin. It's more expensive, but it tastes better too. It has been voted Whiskey of the Year five times. Comments: "Smooth and sweet and woods"
Third Place
Elijah Craig (12 years)

This 12-year-old 94 proof bourbon has some high accolades. It recently won won Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and was named winner in the Premium Bourbon category in Whisky Magazine 's bi-annual "Best of the Best" tasting competition. The OL editors liked it too. Comments: "Nice middle-ground flavor"
Second Place
Elija Craig (18 years)

At 18 years old, this is the oldest single barrel bourbon in the world. Each barrel is hand selected by Parker and Craig Beam (descendants of Jim Beam himself). When the barrels are finally selected about 2/3 of the original contents have evaporated. Comments: "Yummy, vanilla!"
First Place
Jack Daniels

OK, before you write an angry comment, we know that Jack Daniels is not actually a bourbon, it's a Tennessee whiskey. The distinction lies in the way its made. Jack Daniels is dripped slowly through 10 feet of firmly packed charcoal before it goes into charred oak barrels for aging. We couldn't help but see how Old No. 7 stood up against the competition so we included it. Turns out Jack did pretty well. Comments: "Smooth. Very nice"
10 BEST BOURBONS: More bourbons sampled in years past
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old

Richer than molasses, this deep, dark bourbon checks in at an easy-sippin' 107 proof. If you want to respect your elders, there's no need to add water or ice. Just kick back, put your feet up and let Pappy do the rest.
Price: $80
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Buffalo Trace
The flagship bourbon of the heralded Buffalo Trace distillery starts off with vanilla mint spiciness and mellows on the palate with a deep molasses finish. Keep a bottle of this in your liquor cabinet at all times and call it your 'house bourbon' and you'll be sure to impress your connoisseur friends.
Price: $20
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Woodford Reserve
The official bourbon of the Breeder's Cup and Kentucky Derby, this 90.4 proof bourbon walks the line between complexity and mixability. You can enjoy its notes of corn, caramel and oak in a rocks glass by itself or you can use it in a mint julep or Manhattan. Price: $30
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Booker's Aged six-to-eight years, this heavy duty bourbon is not for the light of tongue. At 121 proof it can be a little more intense than your average bourbon. But its notes of vanilla, tobacco and oak help you ride the long, intense finish.
Price: $50
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Knob Creek
Sweet and rich, this 100-proof bourbon has hints of brown sugar and toasted nuts. It's aged nine years and was named National Whiskey Champion by Wine Enthusiast.
Price: $40
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Eagle Rare 10 Year Old
This 90-proof well balanced bourbon is brimming with vanilla and toasted nut flavors which garnered it a double gold at the prestigious San Francisco spirits competition. If you're feeling flush, pick up a bottle of the even rarer Eagle Rare 17-year-old
Price: $30
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Bulleit
Incorporating more rye into its mashbill than most other bourbons, Bulleit gives your palate an added spicy kick. The bottle that houses this 90-proof tipple was designed in tribute to the old-fashioned brown medicine flasks.
Price: $23
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Maker's Mark
These distinctive wax-dipped bottles are like snowflakes-each one is different. But on the inside, each bottle contains the same smooth signature 90-proof bourbon that starts off with sweet corn and leather notes and sits on the palate with a long, rich caramel finish. ** Price: $21
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Wild Turkey Rare Breed
The Thunder Chicken got its name after a distillery executive used to bring this bourbon on turkey hunting trips. This 108 proof bourbon is a blend of six, eight and 12-year old barrels that gives it hints of citrus, caramel and sweet tobacco.
Price: $33
Outdoor Life Online Editor
George T. Stagg
The grand daddy of all bourbons, this 140+ proof bourbon has been nicknamed 'Hazmat' because of its high alcohol content. Add a little water to this 15-year old and it will open up the coffee, citrus and oak flavors.
Price: $60
Outdoor Life Online Editor

Kentucky is known for two things: Derby and Bourbon. We've compiled a list of the best bourbons the state has to offer.