When the weather is hot, there’s nothing quite like reaching for one (or a few) of the best bourbons to drink on the rocks. That said, many true aficionados will almost always opt for their whiskey neat.
The best bourbons to drink neat typically have a nuanced flavor profile. While the colder temperature and water dilution will dampen the flavors of your beverage, sipping bourbon neat allows the full range of aromas and flavors to express themselves. Nuance and full flavor doesn’t have to mean expensive, though. Even some of the most readily accessible and affordably priced bourbons on the market are a fit for this type of sipping.
What is Whiskey Neat?
Before we get into our picks, a word on enjoying neat bourbon. In terms of glassware, you might opt for the more specialized Glencairn or the eponymous NEAT Glass, both of which are often used by experts and judges in competitions. However, your favorite rocks glass is also an excellent option.
Whiskey neat is served at room temperature in unchilled glassware. No mixers, bitters, or any flavors are added. Two ounces is considered the standard serving size for bourbon and whiskey, but you can just eyeball it when serving yourself at home. You’ll often hear servers colloquially refer to one or two fingers of bourbon, which is a loose measurement of the width of your finger.
If you want to enjoy your bourbon like a master whiskey distiller, you’ll want to savor the experience and concentrate on the flavors present. Pro tip: consider adding a few drops of water after trying it straight so you can dampen the alcohol burn and release some of the more nuanced flavors.
The Best Affordable Bourbons to Drink Neat
Old Forester 100
Considering this bourbon falls below $30, it punches well above its weight. Though it is quite hefty. Bottled at 100 proof, Old Forester 100 is an excellent option for a budget bourbon. With relatively gentle sweet and spicy notes, this bourbon is great for sipping neat or mixing in a cocktail. There’s plenty of wood, caramel, and baking spices throughout for a lovely, warming drinking experience.
Larceny Small Batch Bourbon
Larceny Small Batch is another solid bourbon that outshines its modest price tag. You can often find this bourbon priced under $30, making it a no-brainer as your go-to whiskey neat of choice. The flavor characteristics are stunning with notes of butterscotch, baked bread, and honey. It’s a unique bourbon that has earned admiration from critics and whiskey enthusiasts.
Buffalo Trace Bourbon
While Buffalo Trace might appear to be a rather middle-of-the-road bourbon, its affordability belies a very solid flavor profile. You’ll find dark fruit, baking spices, and a well-rounded sweetness, which results in an excellent bourbon to drink neat. Sure, it might not blow your mind but as a sipping whiskey, it’s a very good option. Plus, you’re likely to find it regularly stocked for a very wallet-friendly price at your favorite liquor store.
Four Roses Single Barrel
Four Roses Single Barrel is my personal favorite bourbon to drink neat. I try to have at least one bottle on hand at all times. The $50 price tag is stellar for such a quality bourbon. With lovely, strong spice characteristics from the high rye mash bill, expect a strong yet impressively complex drinking experience. Expect flavors of spice, oak, candied fruit, and honey to linger long after your first sip.
Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Michter’s tends to populate the higher end of the bourbon spectrum with impressive releases priced well over $100. But, the brand’s US1 Kentucky Straight is no slouch. This bourbon offers a breadth of flavor expressions with rich caramel, stone fruit, oakiness, and a touch of smoke. Impressively, this bourbon is truly small batch with just twenty barrels used in each release. This is a bourbon worth savoring on a long evening.
Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
At $55, Angel’s Envy is another very solid bourbon for your regular rotation. With a lovely sweetness, this is a treat of a bourbon. You’ll find notes of vanilla, fruit, maple syrup, and baker’s chocolate. Don’t use this one in a cocktail, simply enjoy this one neat.
Widow Jane 10-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey
This New York whiskey brand is an impressive bourbon to drink neat. The 10-Year-Old Straight Bourbon is rich with deep dark fruit flavors alongside smooth caramel, honey, and vanilla notes. I enjoyed this one neat on my wedding day and would highly recommend getting a bottle for yourself on a celebratory evening.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
Elijah Craig is a gift-worthy whiskey brand that’s complex with a truly luxurious quality. Opt for the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof for a good whiskey to drink neat. Priced at just under $90, it might seem a bit expensive for regular enjoyment, but it delivers some consistently stellar flavors. The black pepper spiciness meets some fruit sweetness for a well-rounded drinking experience that pairs brilliantly with dessert.
Barrell Bourbon Batch 025
Coming in at just under $100, this award-winning bourbon from Barrel Craft Spirits is a blend of various years that results in a chorus of enticing notes. Bright citrus and spicy pepper combine with subtle floral flavors. A rich caramel character runs throughout and you’re left with a luscious bourbon worth drinking neat.Buy Now $90