It’s that magical time of year again, and – if you’re anything like me – the week and a half before Christmas means you have 9 days to go before you have to worry about getting any Christmas shopping done. However, what do you do when your loving partner has waited until the last moment to drop the hint that they’d like to try “that American stuff they saw in the supermarket last week” or a family member has suddenly began getting fancy with their cocktails? How do you handle buying a gift for the novice or veteran whiskey drinker in your life that is impossible to buy for especially now that you’ve missed the ‘Guaranteed delivery before Christmas’ cut-off dates for online shopping, and (with all your shopping still left to do) you don’t have much time to go from specialist off-licence to off-licence to get them something fancy? Well to you I say worry not, the answer may be simpler than you imagined! Luckily for us all the Irish bourbon scene has been consistently gaining momentum over the last year and what this means is there’s finally something on the market that you can both pick up in your local supermarket and that is just different enough that it will make for a great gift. I’m talking about that bottle bourbon behind the counter that you’ve squinted at in the past whilst waiting in the queue to buy your 8 items-or-less, lotto, or pack of smokes of course!
Yes, America’s finest export has finally landed on Irish soil in large enough quantities and varieties to make picking up a fantastic Christmas gift as easy as nipping down to the shops for a pint of milk and a sliced pan. Now you might be asking yourself, “ Yes, but which local shops?, and “Will this fancy new American stuff cost a fortune?!” These questions and more are exactly the questions that this guide will hopefully answer. Contained within are 5 of the best bourbons (and some further recommendations) that can be sourced with reasonable ease, and the best part? They’re all under €50 a bottle, and some significantly so! So let’s get to it because Christmas Eve will be here any day now!
Buffalo Trace Bourbon – 40% abv – €37 Dunnes Stores
First on the list is straight talking bourbon from the longest operating distillery in the US, Buffalo Trace bourbon. With over 200 years of experience under their belt Buffalo Trace set out to create the best bourbon they could and were so happy with the result they named the bourbon after their distillery. This bourbon is a mid-shelf classic among bourbon drinkers of all levels and is made using Buffalo Trace’s #1 bourbon recipe (featuring 10% or less rye as a flavouring grain). A smooth and very flavourful bourbon, this bourbon combines sweet caramel and vanilla, and delicately balances it with an oak spice that offers it’s drinker a true bourbon experience that they won’t want to end. Currently available in all Dunnes Stores with a premium spirits fixture for the absolute bargain price of €37 and has been known to dip as low as €34 on special offer.
I’m looking for something better that really shouts ‘USA! USA! USA!’
If the mighty Buffalo doesn’t quite do it for you and you’re looking for something a bit more majestic that both hits just under the €50 mark, and ups the game significantly, then why not pick up a bottle of Eagle Rare instead? Also from the Buffalo Trace distillery, this 10 y.o. age-stated bourbon comes from exactly the same recipe as Buffalo Trace bourbon, but what it picks up in those added years is lots more vanilla and sweet caramel, not to mention it clocks in at a respectable 45% (5% more than Buffalo Trace). Currently available from the Celtic Whiskey Shop for the bargain price of €49.99 here!
Bulleit Bourbon – 40% – €35 Tesco & Supervalu
Second on the list is a bourbon that looks more like it belongs on the wild Frontier than the shelves of Tesco and supervalu, Bulleit Bourbon. Based on an old family recipe that was revived 150 years after it’s original creator vanished, Bulleit bourbon is a high-rye bourbon that packs notes of citrus, caramel, baking spices, and a touch of smoke. the hallmark of Bulleit is that high rye grain content in the recipe which gives this bourbon a bold and spicy taste with a warm, delicious finish. A great bourbon for anyone looking to expand their tastes to something with a bit more rye spiciness, and fits perfectly into your favourite whiskey cocktails. Currently available from both Supervalu and Tescos on special offer for €35 (usually €42) until the 27th of December.
This is nice, but I prefer a bit more ammo.
The newest bourbon to grace Irish shores, Bulleit 10 takes your standard 6 shooter and replaces it with a Glock 45. This straight shooting bourbon is aged a full 10 years and offers a much improved flavour experience over it’s non-age stated younger brother. Currently available from the Celtic Whiskey Shop for €57.95 (above budget but well worth the extra few euros)
Maker’s Mark – 45% – €45 Tesco
Probably one of the most famous bourbons in the world, Maker’s Mark with its square-shaped bottle and it’s iconic red wax dip is the perfect present for that special someone that likes a present with a bit more flare. Made from a recipe that uses winter wheat this bourbon is a lot smoother than traditional high-rye bourbons and offers a sweet earthy experience where the wheat is the star of the show. This bourbon is one of the best wheated bourbons on the market and it’s no surprise given that, since opening in 1953, the distillery has only ever made three expressions; Maker’s Mark, Maker’s mint julep, and Maker’s Mark 46. This means they’ve been perfecting the art of making a great wheated bourbon for over 50 years and honestly it shows!
Already tried this and loved it, but I want an even better looking bottle, more wax, and an even more complex bourbon – it’s Christmas for goodness sake!
Already have a fan of Maker’s Mark and looking for something with even more style and flavour? Well here you have it, Maker’s 46. Whilst the standard Maker’s Mark is a fantastic wheated bourbon, Maker’s 46 is a whole new level. Taking the standard Maker’s Mark, which is around 6-8 years old, the geniuses at Maker’s mark then insert charred French Oak staves into the barrels before further ageing the bourbon for approximately another 2-3 months. What the addition of these oak staves and extra ageing does is it takes all those great Maker’s flavours and adds in a whole pile of further complexity and wood notes that balance it perfectly whilst making it sweeter. This bourbon is so good that it’s on Julian Van Winkle’s (the creator of the legendary Pappy Van Winkle bourbons) list of bourbon to get if you can’t get Pappy, and that’s all the endorsement I need! Bottled at 47% abv (2 more than standard Maker’s) this beauty is available in limited quantities from Mitchell & Son for the decent price of €50.
Woodford Reserve Bourbon – 43.2% – €43 Dunnes Stores & O’Brien’s Off Licence
The fourth bourbon on the list is Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select. Featuring a blend of triple-distilled pot still bourbon and column still bourbon, this bourbon has a unique mellow taste that gently beckons without overwhelming its drinker. Long hailed as the perfect bourbon for introducing those that already have a taste for Irish and Scotch Whiskies, Woodford shows off classic bourbon flavours of caramel, vanilla, baking spices, and a crisp maltiness that smells like cherries dipped in dark chocolate. Despite having a high percentage of rye in the recipe (18%) there’s a lot more balance when it comes to Woodford reserve and all the flavours combine to create a very well rounded bourbon that’s smooth and easy enough to drink on its own, yet carries its flavours well enough to hold its own in a whiskey cocktail like an Old Fashioned or Whiskey Sour.
Please sir, can I have some more?
Want more Woodford goodness but not sure how to get it it? Luckily the good people over at Woodford Reserve have heard your call and have come back with a solution: Woodford Double Oaked. If ageing in heavily charred barrels gives bourbon those fantastic caramel and vanilla flavours, then imagine what another few months in a cask that’s very lightly charred but heavily toasted will do. Without going too much into the technicalities of it, toasting a barrel brings out all the wood sugars and vanilla flavours from the wood whilst mellowing out any harsh flavours a barrel might add. This bourbon is the standard Woodford Distiller’s Select that has been aged further in virgin oak barrels with a heavy toast and a light char. The results are a bourbon that is darker, richer and has an amazing taste of toasted wood and maple syrup that really rounds out the traditional Woodford Reserve experience at the same abv of 43.2Personally, I always end up going for the Double Oaked over the Distiller’s Select, and luckily this bourbon is now available exclusively from the Celtic Whiskey Shop in limited quantities for €65.95 and is well worth the price.
Wild Turkey 81 – 40.5% – €28 Tesco & Dunnes Stores
The final bourbon on the list is Wild Turkey 81. Regardless of your level of previous experience in whiskey, I’d argue that anyone should be able to enjoy a pour or two of Wild Turkey 81. However, for this guide, I’m going to aim this bourbon specifically at the newcomers to the bourbon table. Newcomers typically want something that is flavourful, well-balanced, and easy to drink both neat or in a cocktail, but doesn’t overwhelm with a crazy high ABV content. This sounds easily done but it’s important to remember that the lower the ABV, the more water in the mix, and the more water in the mix the more you’re dampening those incredible flavours that bourbon is famous for – but not this time! Thanks to Wild Turkey’s way of doing things you’re getting a fantastic blend of 6 – 8 year old bourbons with all the flavour trimmings at a respectable 40.5%. ‘What is this dark magic?!’ you ask? This miracle of bourbon is made possible through the use of heavily charred casks (more flavour) and a high-rye recipe (even more flavour and earthy, spicy balance) which combine to give you huge flavours even at a low ABV (take a bow Wild Turkey!). Always a great choice and currently €28 in Tescos? You’d almost be mad not to!
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a proper Turkey, now bring out that 19 lb big boy I see in the back there!
Already a few months into a relationship with Wild Turkey 81 and ready to take the next step? Then Wild Turkey 101 is the big Tom for you! Big and bold bourbon flavours await all ye who dare to pass. Wild Turkey 101 was my first taste of bourbon and to this day, all bias aside, still remains one of the best bourbons I think you can spend your money on. Choosing this over the 40.5% Wild Turkey 81 is similar to the difference between listening to your favourite song on a standard car radio versus seeing the performer live, and being blown away by how much better it is, i.e., you’re in for a big surprise in the best way possible. This Wild Turkey expression has those same flavours found in the 81 but at a whole new level. For many the 10% ABV jump might seem like a lot but once you taste this bourbon you’ll be happier for it – trust me! The catch is that this expression isn’t the easiest to source but a quick google search turned up the promising result of it being in stock at the Celtic Whiskey Shop for €45 – again well below the initial budget.
So there you have it now, 5 of Ireland’s best bourbons, readily available for less than €50 each. I’ve even made some further recommendations (most within the €50 budget) for those that will have access to independent off-licences such as the Celtic Whiskey Shop or others in the run up to the big day. Like I said, the bourbons featured in this article are some of the best you can buy for a €50 budget, and now with easier access than ever before there’s no reason for any whiskey lover or newcomer to be left disappointed on the big day when they realise Santa Claus has overlooked their much anticipated bottle of bourbon.
Should you still find yourself wondering what to get your whiskey lover before the big day I would highly recommend a trip or a phone call to the very helpful people over at the Celtic Whiskey Shop. The reason these guys show up so much in this article is for the simple reason that they have probably the best Irish bourbon selection on the shelves at the moment (especially the more premium bottlings), and their staff are very knowledgeable when it comes to recommending something for even the most difficult of people. Now go forth with the confidence that the perfect Christmas present may be as easy as taking a trip to your local supermarket, and remember to sip responsibly this Christmas (i.e. try not to spill any – I’m sure it’s a sin).
Nollaig Shona Daoibh!