Oh bourbon, you luscious, sweet, American-born nectar of the gods… how can we thank you for all that you’ve provided us – the flavor-intense-craving consumer. With your ruby and deep-amber complexion, sweet and robust body, and fiery demeanor… Do you believe in love at first taste?

Please stop me if I’m getting out of hand, but there’s just something special about this particular spirit. Maybe it’s my natural sense of American patriotism, maybe it’s the history of it, or perhaps the incredible attention to detail and tradition; following a precise, unique set of guidelines unlike any other.

The 15 Best “Buffer” Bourbons

The seasoned bourbon drinker goes through many changes in their evolution of the bourbon drinking hobby. Where once the goal was simply to make an old school cocktail, many will quickly evolve to the stage of acquiring a collection of rare and premium selections. It’s at this stage you’ll want to look back at the more affordable stepping stones that bridged that gap between “cocktail bourbons” and your prized collection. We like to call these – “buffer bourbons”, as they’ll act to satisfy your nightly bourbon cravings without depleting your quintessential resources.



Every bourbon on this list can be found for $30 and under. That’s not to say you won’t see these bourbons priced higher in varying markets. Every bourbon on this list (with the exception of 1 or 2) can be easily found.
  1. Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select

    Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select bourbon
    For many, Woodford Reserve is the bourbon that paved the way to the “big leagues”, showing what a quality, craft bourbon had to offer in a price point that was just attractive enough to pull your cheap ass into this crazy game. And while we encourage fans of WR to get out there and try bigger and better things, this is still a great bourbon to sip at in the meantime. Flavors range from cinnamon and chocolate, to caramel, toffee, floral, and oak.

    • Price: $30
    • Distillery: Woodford Reserve Distillery
    • Location: Versailles, KY
    • Proof: 90.4
  2. Hirsch Small Batch Reserve

    Original Hirsch bourbon was distilled at the famed Michter’s Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. This A.H. Hirsch 16 year old bourbon has now reached legendary status and can typically be found for northwards of $1,300! Alas, this is not that bourbon. Michter’s Distillery closed its doors in 1988 (distilleries closing their doors is equivalent to a suicidal artist in the bourbon world) and the bourbon is now produced by Anchor Distilling Company (yeah, they make beer too), though it’s not quite known where it’s actually distilled… Trivia aside, this bourbon may not hold up to its legendary name, but it’s still pretty darn good. It has a classic bourbon profile of vanilla, caramel, and oak; and though it’s not very complex, it gets the job done!

    • Price: $30+
    • Distillery: Undisclosed (Thought to be Kentucky Bourbon Distillers)
    • Location: San Francisco, CA (brand location)
    • Proof: 92
  3. Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage

    This bourbon contains the second lowest alcohol of any on the list, which, at 86° is somewhat counterintuitive to the bourbon mindset. Nonetheless, this is a great bourbon with the advantage of its single barrel selection – giving the opportunity for unique samplings from bottle to bottle. Aged for 9 years, EWSBV shows silky smooth notes of vanilla, oak, honey, and citrus.

    • Price: $25 – $30
    • Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery
    • Location: Bardstown, KY
    • Proof: 86.6
  4. Jefferson’s ‘Very Small Batch’ Bourbon

    Jefferson's Very Small Batch bourbon
    As with the Evan Williams, this is a very low proof bourbon, clocking in at a mere 82 proof. But don’t let that scare you off – with a well-blended mixture of bourbons ranging up into the high teens, there is a nice complexity that is very enjoyable. Jefferson’s is another non-distiller, having the freedom of procuring their bourbons from whomever they please, giving their releases a nice diversity. On this, their entry-level bourbon, the bourbon is crafted in very small batches, offering more control over the flavor, with less chances of a “green barrel” slipping into the mix. Flavors are sweet and fairly mellow, and include citrus, oak, vanilla, honey, and sweet corn.

    • Price: $30+
    • Distillery: Undisclosed
    • Location: New York, NY (brand location)
    • Proof: 82
  5. W. L. Weller Special Reserve

    W. L. Weller Special Reserve bridges the gap between “budget bourbons” and “buffer bourbons”, as this can actually be found for as little as $15! This is also the first “wheater” on our list, which means the bourbon uses wheat in substitution of the usual rye content in most bourbons – making for a smoother, less spicy experience. Weller has shot up in popularity in the midst of a Pappy-crazed bourbon market, with more and more becoming keen to Weller’s little secret… This bourbon is the same recipe as the legendary Pappy Van Winkle – of course, the age is different and the barrels aren’t hand-picked (which accounts for quite a bit of that “Pappy magic”). This is easily the best “affordable bourbon” on the market, it is deliciously smooth, with loads of vanilla flavor, as well as oak, butter, and sweet corn.

    • Price: $15 – $20
    • Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery
    • Location: Frankfort, KY
    • Proof: 90
  6. Pure Kentucky XO

    Fans of cognac will recognize the XO in this bourbon as a serious “plus”, as the term is given to the highest quality cognacs, which indicates at least 6 years of age. And while this particular bourbon arrives without an age statement, it was once labeled as 12 yr old bourbon. Contrasting #14 on the list, Pure Kentucky shows a healthy dose of strength, smacking you in the face with spicy, intense notes of clove, bitters, oak, corn, and rye. This bourbon is more on the dry side, with strong flavors that may not be the most balanced, but offer a fun ride.

    • Price: $30
    • Distillery: Kentucky Bourbon Distillers
    • Location: Bardstown, KY
    • Proof: 107
  7. Buffalo Trace

    Buffalo Trace bourbon
    Buffalo Trace is the distillery from which all others are compared in today’s market. Professionals agree, with Jim Murray, creator of the Whisky Bible, recently declaring Buffalo Trace as the best distillery in the world! (that includes Scotch, gents). So it goes without question that their standby bourbon, the one they display their name on, would be rock solid. I’ll tell you straight off, this is my daily bourbon. It’s exactly what a bourbon should be, when explaining what bourbon tastes like, one might as well just say Buff’ Trace. And with its affordable price, there’s really no excuses not to have this bourbon on your shelf. Tastes are full and classic – caramel, oak, brown sugar, vanilla, and a little spice.

    • Price: $20 – $25
    • Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery
    • Location: Frankfort, KY
    • Proof: 90
  8. Four Roses Small Batch

    To understand what makes Four Roses so great, first you need a little knowledge on how it’s made. Most distilleries have about 2 recipes, 4 if they’re really getting crafty. Four Roses, on the other hand, has 10! They accomplish this by combining 2 mash bills (mixture of grains) with their 5 proprietary yeast strands, making for the 10 different combinations, which they put to good use. Of course, they offer single barrel selections and other rarities, but the one that fits right in our wheelhouse ($30) is the Four Roses Small Batch. Because of their large flavor gamut, they’re able to come up with some pretty interesting blends. Small Batch incorporates 4 recipes to create the final product. This bourbon is heavy on rye content, making for a spicy, full bodied profile of pepper, leather, vanilla, caramel, and fruit.

    • Price: $30
    • Distillery: Four Roses Distillery
    • Location: Lawrenceburg, KY
    • Proof: 90
  9. Bowman Bros Small Batch

    This is a great example of why bourbon origins, recipes, and final products can be so difficult to keep track of. You’ll notice, we’ve listed this bourbon under 2 distillers, that’s intentional. Being owned by the same parent company as Buffalo Trace, Bowman then re-distills the Buffalo Trace whiskey, having a total of 3-times distilled whiskey, before going into barrels. So, while most of the important stuff (barrels and aging) goes down in Virginia, this is still Buffalo Trace whiskey at heart (the same recipe as Blanton’s, actually). This is an easy-sippin’ bourbon, with delicate flavors of apple pie, gingerbread, cinnamon, maple syrup, and allspice.

    • Price: $28+
    • Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery
    • Distillery: A. Smith Bowman Distillery
    • Location: Fredericksburg, VA
    • Proof: 90
  10. Henry McKenna Single Barrel

    Henry McKenna Single Barrel 10 Year Bourbon
    Henry McKenna is the story of an Irishman turned bourbon fanatic! The man brought his family recipe with him to Kentucky, soon tweaking it to meet bourbon standards – it became known as “Kentucky’s finest table whiskey.” Now being produced at Heaven Hill, the bourbon is made up of the same recipe as Evan Williams and Elijah Craig. Henry McKenna Single Barrel boasts the only extra-aged Bottled-in-Bond Single Barrel Bourbon – which means it meets an even more strict set of bourbon standards! It’s a different experience trying HMSB for the first time. Unlike your typical bourbon, it isn’t sweet-forward, it’s dry and almost resembles more of a rye whiskey. Flavors of cocoa powder, rye, mint, oak, and vanilla will throw your taste buds on their head, and eventually win them over.

    • Price: $29
    • Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery
    • Location: Bardstown, KY
    • Proof: 100
  11. Eagle Rare 10 Year

    Eagle Rare is kind of like Buffalo Trace’s older brother. Distilled from the same mash bill, Eagle Rare is bottled as a single barrel, 10yr-aged bourbon. As you may expect, this is very similar to Buffalo Trace; age has matured the bourbon nicely, making for a darker, more refined whiskey. Any harsh qualities you may find with BT have been buffered out, it offers a wonderful balance of boldness and silky smooth texture. Flavors are caramel, vanilla, cherry, leather, and toasted oak.

    • Price: $25 – $30
    • Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery
    • Location: Frankfort, KY
    • Proof: 90
  12. Larceny

    This is a seriously good bourbon that is fairly new to the scene, though its distillers sure aren’t. Made at Heaven Hill, this is another “wheater”, a recipe you don’t see very often, especially in this ridiculously attractive price range! As with Buffalo Trace, this is a bourbon that you should have on supply at all times – Buffalo Trace for your traditional and Larceny for your wheated recipe! The bourbon is dumped from small batches of less than 100 barrels, ranging in age from 6 – 12 years. Expect a smooth, yet full-flavored bourbon, with sweet flavors of vanilla, caramel, sugary candy, butter, and a hint of spice to finish.

    • Price: $20 – $25
    • Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery
    • Location: Bardstown, KY
    • Proof: 92
  13. Knob Creek

    Knob Creek bourbon
    Yes, Jim Beam may be best known for that stuff you mix with your coke, but fear not, this distillery also knows how to craft fantastic bourbons worthy of any aficionado’s cabinet. In fact, it was Beam’s Master Distiller Booker Noe that re-introduced the world to small batch, craft bourbon – the way it was made pre-prohibition. That’s exactly what you will find here, with Knob Creek. The small batch bourbon is aged 9 years, longer than most small batch bourbons. It also benefits from the highest char level for its barrels, allowing the bourbon to soak up more of that sugary goodness from the barrels! To retain its essence as a big, powerful bourbon, it’s bottled at 100 proof. Here you’ll find a ton of rye spiciness, balanced by a syrupy, chewy texture of toffee, toasted nuts, oak, and caramel.

    • Price: $25 – $30
    • Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery
    • Location: Clermont, KY
    • Proof: 100
  14. Elijah Craig 12 Year

    Elijah Craig is another Heaven Hill bourbon; it gets its name from Reverend Elijah Craig, a man who allegedly invented bourbon, storing his whiskey in barrels that had been charred in a fire. But then again, it seems every bourbon is named after someone that invented bourbon these days… As you can tell from this list, Heaven Hill is a serious contender in the bourbon world, and this is just their affordable stuff! This bourbon is, again, very small batch – using 70 or less barrels per batch. The age is quite impressive as well, tying for the oldest on the list. All these stats eventually add up to one of the most well-balanced bourbons on the market. Flavors are classic, a true bourbon-lover’s bourbon – expect notes of butterscotch, vanilla, oak, honey, chocolate, and a touch of salt to keep things interesting.

    • Price: $25 – $30
    • Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery
    • Location: Bardstown, KY
    • Proof: 94
  15. W.L. Weller 12 Year

    W.L. Weller 12 Year bourbon
    Remember when we said there were a couple bourbons on this list that may be a little tricky to find? This is one of them. The reason being that this stuff is so darn close to that magical Pappy Van Winkle bourbon (as we mentioned before with Weller Special Reserve). Again, this is not equivalent to Pappy’s, as it’s basically the stuff that didn’t get chosen for the Van Winkle bottles. But that doesn’t keep it from being freakin’ tasty! From our experience, age seems to really agree well with wheated bourbons, more so than the rye varient – if you agree, you will love this bourbon. Granted, nowadays you’ll only find this on the shelves a few times per year (if you’re lucky), but sometimes it’s that chase that makes this hobby so much fun! The palate of Weller 12 is soft and silky, having smooth notes of sweet vanilla, oak, cherry syrup, almonds, and sweet corn.

    • Price: $30
    • Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery
    • Location: Frankfort, KY
    • Proof: 90
We always recommend drinking your bourbon neat – that’s no water, and certainly no ice! Many bourbon drinkers do occasionally add a few drops of water to open the flavors, but we’ve always preferred to drink it as is (the closer to barrel proof, the better).