No other drink is as American as bourbon, and there’s nothing like partaking in barrel-aged hard water like a true patriot. When it comes to birthdays, one of the best go-to gifts for anyone over the age of 21 and drinks alcohol, is bourbon. If you’re anything like we are, we love to crack open a special bottle we’ve been saving for our birthdays, and when you’re deciding on which bottle to buy for a friend, family member, or claim as your own victim for the celebration, stock the home bar with some of these birthday classics. Not all of these are hard to find(or cost you an arm and a leg), but they’re all extremely tasty, complex, and worthy of a sip once in your life. If you’re looking for gift ideas, this is your list. Here’s our list of the top 10 birthday gift bourbons:
This one is a given, I’m sorry. Made popular in mainstream by the hit tv show, Entourage, Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon is considered by many to be the world’s finest bourbon. Regardless of any exaggerated hype, the 20-year-old juice earns it’s place as one the legends. However, good luck getting your hands on any one of these bottles in the collection. The only way you can secure one of these is if you meet one of the following 3 pieces of criteria: besties with your local liquor store owner, pay thousands of dollars on the secondary market, or win the opportunity to buy one in a lottery among hundreds of others waiting in line to buy raffle tickets. I swear Pappy hunting is quickly gaining so much attention it’s quickly becoming an item on ones bucket list. If you some how manage to come out alive and a bottle securely stashed in your home bar it’s quite a treat to save for your birthday, or even gift it to a worthy friend or family member’s birthday. Its super, tingly sweetness and long finish that seems to last 20 years itself is almost worth the $100 pour(in some cases only offered in a flight) we’ve seen at some bars and restaurants. This is if all else fails, your best bet is to ‘treat yo self’ and shell out the cash for a fair pour(or 2) at a good bar. There doesn’t seem to be any interest in upping production to meet demand, so it’s not like it will just flood the shelves one day. Is it worth the price tag or is it just hype? That’s up to you, but we will say it’s a must have on your birthday. If you’re lucky enough to purchase this bottle at your local liquor store, it will run you approximately $450.
You can’t celebrate your birthday drinking fine spirits if you don’t have access to Old Forester’s yearly release of their signature Birthday Bourbon. I mean, the visible fact that it’s called “Birthday Bourbon” means you have to have this on your birthday. Aged 12 years, Old Forester Distillery(Brown-Forman) puts out their limited edition bourbon ever year on September 2nd, since 2002, in honor of founder, George Garvin Brown’s birthday. Although it started out as a semi-rare item in a market of nonexistent premium bourbons, the effect of the bourbon boom in recent years has caused the Birthday Bourbon to rise in demand and allocation causing the beloved bottle to move from most shelves, to lotteries. The 2016 release has a dark color, with a oaky and syrup mouthfeel, along with notes of cinnamon, toasted caramel, and orange peel. You can’t go wrong handing your money over for a bottle that not only has the sentiment of being the official “Birthday Bourbon” but tastes like something special you’d save for such an occasion. This years batch yielded 14,400 bottles to distribute and currently sells at retail price of $79.99(goes for nearly $450 on the secondary market). Ultimately what you’re left with is a truly unique bourbon that’s sure to make a highlight on anyone’s birthday. Of course, our dilemma is wanting to save this bottle for future birthdays only to find ourselves staring at it everyday, pacing back and forth wanting to sneak a pour.
With numerous awards and high praise surrounding Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon, no other bottle is a more ideal birthday bottle to gift to friend, boss, or family member. Since it’s a single barrel bourbon, there can be slight variations, but we’ve found the nose to be loaded with delicious cinnamon and vanilla notes with plenty of spice on the backend. The overall aroma and taste are more than fantastic, but the element that brings the appeal full-circle, is the packaging. From the horse and jockey posed at the top of the wax-sealed stopper, to the hand dated and numbered final touches, Blanton’s represents traditional bourbon look and feel. Peel back another layer beneath the look of the bottle and the taste of the juice, and you’ll find plenty of history. The rich heritage of horses in Kentucky paralleled the bourbon movement.
Beginning in 1999 a collector’s edition set of eight different stoppers was produced. The set features a horse and jockey in different strides and poses resembling the stages of a horse race. Each stopper is marked with a single letter that spells Blanton’s when the set has been completed.
The appreciation towards the execution on the outside of the bottle beautifully compliments the inside. Albert B. Blanton believed the best bourbon came from the “center-cut” of the warehouse, meaning the barrels were pulled from the middle section of the aging warehouse. A bottle with a story while your enjoying a few glasses on your birthday makes Blanton’s Single Barrel among our top 3 contenders. Batons runs approximately $55 at your average liquor store.
An all-time favorite of mine, Booker’s is truly what bourbon is supposed to taste like. Booker’s was the very first bourbon to be bottled straight from the barrel, meaning it’s not cut or filtered with water. The cask strength bourbon is one to get used to if you don’t normally drink high proof alcohol, but Booker’s provides an enjoyable and complex flavor profile in contrast with the liquid’s strength making it a pleasant drinking experience, toasted tastebuds aside. It should be noted that along with the excellent juice inside the bottle, the packaging itself is a home run and unlike any other presentation. Obviously the most important thing is the stuff inside the bottle, but when giving a bottle of alcohol as a gift, the packaging is sort of the icing on the cake. Booker Noe, the creator of this outstanding, dark liquor, first gave it as a holiday gift to his friends, and we’d safely assume you’d make someone very happy if you did the same. Just make sure they know sharing is caring. Booker’s runs approximately $60 at your average liquor store.
Speaking of perfect bourbons to give someone for a birthday gift, my best friend and SFBC cofounder Max Christy acquired this treasure for my own birthday this year. What makes this a great bourbon is it’s uniqueness, mainly because it’s finishing process is unlike any other, and the fact that this bottle is no longer being produced. This unique limited release garners it’s labels by taking the normal Michter’s US*1 Bourbon and finishing it for 26 days in a brand-new toasted white oak barrel that has been under a low heat open flame for 60 minutes! The average char on a barrel is under high heat for less than a minute. This process was done with trail and error and makes a huge impact on the overall flavor. So how do you get a bottle of this? Like I said, this bottle is no longer being produced due to the Bourbon Bubble. Discontinued at the end of 2015, Michter’s was no longer able to keep up with the high demand for the limited release while maintaining their normal US*1.
“The problem is every drop of our Toasted Barrel Bourbon that we release this year is one less drop of our Michter’s US 1 Bourbon that we have to allocate to our distributors and importers.” – Joseph J. Magliocco
Don’t lose hope yet! If you can’t find this on secondary and aren’t willing to spend the approximate $100, there will be a day when the bubble pops and limited releases will be available again. When that day comes you can probably expect this bottle to return with it’s original $50 price tag.
If you have been around bourbon long enough, or at least someone you know has, you’ve probably heard the name, “Buffalo Trace Antique Collection” thrown around many times. Well, of the coveted collection released annually, the William Larue Weller is the crème de la crème. The Antique Collection’s only wheated bourbon packs a huge punch bottled at barrel proof – this year landing on 135.4 – you’d think it would burn a hole in your throat, not to mention your wallet. However, only one of those is true because when you take the first sip, only happiness follows. A very subtle tingle starts to spread around your tongue as brilliant notes of candied nuts and dark fruit dance on your tastebuds. For a barrel proof, the gentle finish on this bourbon is exactly what you want, no watering down necessary. Now for the ‘burn a hole in your wallet’ part. Like the Van Winkle, the Antique Collection has moved mostly off the shelves of liquor stores, to lotteries, and the secondary market for close to a thousand bucks. If you can secure one of these for their retail price of $89.99 then kudos to you. I’ve seen some stores hold these hostage for up to $700 and in some states you can’t even find these.
Jefferson’s Wood Experiment makes an awesome gift. Sure you can buy someone any one of these bottles on the list and throw a bow on it, but this box set from Jefferson’s turns the birthday into a fun mini tasting. Along with five 200 ml bottles, each with a different aging process, the box comes with it’s own tasting sheet to write down your notes and ratings for each one. The Jefferson’s Wood Experiment was created as an experimental aging program inspired by a visit to a wine barrel cooperage. They took four-year-old straight bourbon whiskey and aged it in one of 13 different experimental aging environments. Afterwards, the spirits were bottled and packaged in sets of five, with a random selection of five of the 13 different experiments in each set. It’s a cool concept I wish other distilleries would adopt because it’s creative and elevates your palate by forcing you to sit down and compare each one to another. These box sets are available at many liquor stores for approximately $109
Although Weller 12 year is hard to find in most states, it’s a top quality, wheated bourbon for only $30! Even better, if you can’t get ahold of the Van Winkle, the Weller 12 is the closest you can get. It comes from the same recipe as Van Winkle ‘Lot B’, but doesn’t get to age in the best spots of the warehouse. Speaking of the William Larue Weller above, it could possibly be the barrel proof selection of Weller 12! This simple fact that this is a far better bourbon than many twice its price, you understand why it’s so hard to find. Don’t be deterred by the screw cap. It’s one of the few bourbons on the market that is underpriced and is sure to be a perfect birthday bottle, especially if you are on a budget! Heck, if it’s at the store, spend the extra $30, get a 1.75L bottle, and still make out of there still spending a low amount of money for a lot of great whiskey.
Following number 3 on this list, Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon, it’s cousin, Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon is sure to impress. Created using Buffalo Trace’s mash bill number two, Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon certainly stands out as the highest proof option of the mash bill number two single barrel group and has an equally cool bottle design. On all sides present an beautifully etched design including a gold horse in front, and topped with a glass stopper. Even though both Blanton’s and Rock Hill Farms are from the same mash bill, warehouse selection and flavor profile definitely causes diversity in the overall flavors of each bottle compared. I do find Rock Hill Farms to have a more complex and deeper flavor. Buffalo Trace has consistently produced great whiskey, and that holds true with this bottle. It’s around the same price as the Blanton’s at around $55, and is fairly easy to find at most liquor stores.
When it comes to Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, I say skip the regular bottle and grab the 1.75L. When you want to impress someone who doesn’t have a whole lot of whiskey knowledge, slam one of these giant-ass bottles in front of them. Out of any 1.75L bottles available, the Eagle Rare’s version just visible looks a lot bigger than the others which, lets be honest, is pretty cool to have sitting there as your table whiskey. It could cost anywhere from $55-65 at most liquor stores, and also fly off the shelves despite a large supply. Although stripped from the labeling, Eagle Rare is a 10 year old bourbon and using Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #1, so the quality of this juice is also underpriced, but hey, who’s complaining?
It should be said that this list was determined by us, Superfly Bourbon Club, and detailed discussions between us and a handful of friends. This list is purely based on opinion, but with thoughtful taste testing.