Purists often give the cold shoulder to people who order bourbon on the rocks, but there’s no need to be ashamed—so long as you’re drinking the right whiskey. After all, science has already found that a little dilution goes a long way in improving the way we recognize a spirit’s flavors, and whiskey is the only liquor that effectively neutralizes most of the bacteria in ice. Of course, not all bourbons are up for a chill. In general, you want one that’s affordable, has bold flavors and is a little higher in alcohol than your standard 80 proof. These six bourbons fit the bill in one or more ways, making them the best bourbons to drink on the rocks.
Buffalo Trace is a steal no matter how you drink it, and it sits at just the right price point, where you won’t feel guilty chilling it with ice, to treat it like a summer sipper. Ice will draw out a fresh orange zest aroma, so Buffalo Trace on the rocks goes down easy—almost too easy.
This 10-year-old, 100-proof, bottled-in-bond bourbon is as fiery as a Kentucky summer. It’s woody and nutty with classic vanilla and caramel notes. The light sweetness is clear even though it’s on the high end in terms of ABV. Ice brings the fire down to a simmer and really lets the other flavors in the bourbon shine. This is one whiskey that doesn’t lose any of its prominent characteristics when you ice it down.
You probably know Wild Turkey 101. Think of that, then take it up a notch. Wild Turkey Rare Breed is bottled straight from the barrel and isn’t cut with water, so it’s a scorcher when sipped neat. But throw it over ice, and you get more of the vanilla, custard and honey notes, and less of the spice and white pepper. Ice will calm it down some, but Rare Breed won’t be tamed by a rock or two. This is for people who like to drink chilled bourbon that’s still bold and full of flavor.
If there’s any line of bourbons that you can trust to taste reliably good, no matter the price point (even in the $12 range), it’s Evan Williams. Made at the same distillery as Heaven Hill, Evan Williams Single Barrel is aged 10 years and bottled at 43.3 proof. It’s already smooth on its own with apple, caramel, citrus and vanilla notes. Ice will draw out that fruitiness even more and put you right in an orchard of flavor.
Four Roses uses a high rye mash bill for its Single Barrel, giving it a touch of that classic rye spice that you don’t get in more corn-forward bourbons. Add that to the fact that it’s 100 proof, and you have a big bourbon ready for a hunk of ice. You’ll catch notes of plum and cherry that aren’t dampened by the cold. It doesn’t need too much—a single cube will do—to make it the perfect bourbon to sip on all day long.
This isn’t your everyday Bulleit. The cask strength sits at nearly 60-percent ABV, and it doesn’t shy away from its power. Round out the initial burn of the whiskey with some ice, and more flavors will shine through. Bulleit Cask Strength on the rocks will show off cool nutty flavors as well as oak, cherry, maple and baking spice. It’s a little higher of a price point than the other whiskeys on this list, but one taste of the whiskey’s long and lasting finish, and you’ll see why it’s worth it.