The right bourbon, as American as apple pie, is a key component of a well-stocked bar.
The most American of spirits can be made anywhere in America, though Kentucky is king. It has to be at least 51% corn but is often more. And it has to age in new charred oak barrels and be bottled at least 40% alcohol. But within that framework there are many tastes and traditions. And by all means, have your first mint julep of the season on Derby Day (May 5). Just not your last. Buffalo Trace ($40). Ignore the hokey label and you’ll discover a perfect balance of corn and other grains. An excellent everyday bourbon. Bulleit ($35). This could pass for rye. The minimal sweetness and spicy profile make it great for cocktails. Maker’s Mark 46 ($55). Maker’s first new product in forever is like a spiked butterscotch pecan pudding. Sweet and complex. Booker’s ($56). Roasted coffee and vanilla, but quite feisty in a memorable way. If it were Scotch, it would be an Islay. Jim Beam ($25). Good ol’ Jim Beam. It’s simple and light and makes an ideal bourbon to learn on. Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year-Old ($175). Truth? Unless you’ve tried it and like it, give this ultra-premium a pass, as its bitter profile is jarring.