Buying a serious whiskey geek bourbon as a gift can be a nerve-racking proposition.

But truth be told, it doesn’t have to be. Bourbon fans pride themselves on being well versed in hot bottles and are always hunting for that next ethereal sip. For this reason, the trick to successfully gifting bourbon begins with finding something new, rare, or unexpected instead of that same-old whiskey you find every day. Here is a sure-fire cheat sheet of hot bourbons at prices starting under $50.

Photo courtesy of Elijah Craig

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch B521

Vitals: 118.2 Proof (59.1% ABV); $60

Elijah Craig releases its barrel-proof bourbons four times a year, with each batch individually numbered and labeled and each expression tasting (of course) very different from the others. For those looking for a serious bourbon at a reasonable price point, this Elijah Craig Batch B521 is your ticket. How do we know it’s good? it was awarded Aged Spirit Of The Year in our very own John Barleycorn Awards. Our judges loved the cherries and plums on the palate balanced with coffee, oak, and chocolate. –CL

Photo courtesy of Still Austin

Still Austin Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Vitals: 98.4 Proof (49.2% ABV); $45

If you’ve never dove into Texas whiskey, here is a beautiful place to start. Founded in 2015, the Still Austin team spent years perfecting their signature bourbon’s taste to match what they feel best represents the Lone Star State, including the Texas terroir in their grains. Billing itself as a grain-to-glass distillery, Still Austin sources 100% of its ingredients from the great nation of Texas, imparting flavors of almonds, cinnamon, and toffee. –CL

Photo courtesy of Baker's Bourbon

Baker’s Exclusive Selection Single Barrel Bourbon

Vitals: 107 (53.5% ABV); $100

While most of Baker’s bourbon is aged around seven years, this Exclusive Selection release is aged 11 years and 8 months, specially selected from the tastiest barrels in Baker’s (the grand-nephew of Jim Beam) favorite warehouses. The result is a nose of dark spices, sugar, and vanilla. The taste features more vanilla and caramel, with dark spices and the lingering pepper of rye. –CL

Photo courtesy of Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole Raceking Founder's Collection

Vitals: 109.2 proof (54.6% ABV); $295

Rabbit Hole founder Kaveh Zamanian continues his flavor grain-focused obsession with Raceking Founder’s Collection, a five-grain, double chocolate malt bourbon. This third release in the experimental series sees a familiar bourbon recipe of corn, rye, and barley turned on its head by including malted rye, chocolate wheat, and chocolate malt in the recipe. Bottled cask strength, the result is a deep, rich, and toasty bourbon, unlike anything you have likely ever tasted. –JM

Photo courtesy of Basil Hayden Toast

Basil Hayden Toast

Vitals: 80 Proof (40 ABV); $50

I can’t imagine why any bourbon fan wouldn’t want to try this innovative new bourbon from Basil Hayden. Toast employs brown rice as their secondary flavor grain in place of rye to produce a rounder, mellower sip. Further, the whiskey is matured in a combination of level four char wood and toasted barrels to deliver big vanilla and brown sugar. A great story behind a delicious bourbon equals perfect holiday whiskey, and here is a great example. —JM

Photo courtesy of Angels Envy

Angel's Envy Tenth Annual Cask Strength Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Barrels

Vitals: 120.7 Proof (60.35% ABV); $240

This holiday season sees the tenth annual release of Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Kentucky Bourbon. The special barrel finish series is one of the most anticipated bourbon releases of the year, and with only 15,000 bottles on sale nationally, it won’t be around long. Finished in port wine barrels and bottled a cut above 60% ABV, this whiskey is worthy of its 10-year-anniversary status, featuring a stone fruit nose and honey, vanilla, and dark spice flavors. –CL

Photo courtesy of Clyde May's

Clyde May’s Cask Strength Alabama Style Whiskey and Kentucky Straight Bourbon 15-Year-Old

Vitals: 120 Proof (60% ABV); $140; 112 Proof (56% ABV); $200

Technically, this “Alabama whiskey” isn’t a bourbon, but any bourbon fan will want to try it anyway. Each year Clyde May’s releases a scant handful of their Cask Strength Alabama Style Whiskey as part of their Cask Whiskey Continuity Program. The 6th in the series is a 13-year-old expression which scored 93 points in the latest Ultimate Spirits Competition. Clyde May’s also released their rarest whiskey ever just time for the holiday, a collectible Kentucky straight bourbon clocking in at 112 proof and aged 15-years. —JM

Photo courtesy of WIdow Jane

Widow Jane The Vault

Vitals: 99 Proof (49.5% ABV); $225

Widow Jane’s director of whiskey, Lisa Wicker, is amongst the most respected blenders in the business, and here is why. The 3rd release of Widow Jane’s Vault is a blend of 15-17-year-old bourbons finished in Adirondack oak. From there, the whiskey is proofed with limestone water from New York’s Rosendale Mines and is bottled non-chill filtered at a robust 99 proof. The result is exactly the complex, rich, and flavor-packed bourbon we’ve come to expect from Wicker and the Widow Jane team.—JM

Photo courtesy of Barrell Craft Spirits

Barrell Craft Spirits Gold Label

113.54 proof (56.77% ABV); $500

Barrell Craft Spirits is in the business of sourcing fine American whiskeys and rums from around the world. From there, the Barrell team expertly blends said spirits into something even more delicious before bottling non-chill filtered at cask strength in limited, one-and-done batches. This Gold Label expression is Barrell’s pièce de resistance of 2021, an ultra-rare mingling of 16 and 17-year-old straight bourbons distilled in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, then aged in a variety of barrels to create intricate layers of complexity. –JM

Photo courtesy of Treaty Oak

Treaty Oak Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon Cask Strength

Vitals: 123.5 Proof (61.75% ABV); $65

Named for a famous ancient oak tree in Austin, Texas Hill Country’s Treaty Oak Distilling has spent years perfecting its bourbon, and it seems they might have done it with this Ghost Hill Bourbon cask strength offering. A banana and caramel nose turns to a palate of baking spices, butterscotch, and dark chocolate, resolving with a lingering charred wood finish. –CL

Clint Lanier is a professor in the English Department of New Mexico State University. He is also the co-author of Drunken History, Bucket List Bars: Historic Saloons, Pubs, and Dives of America, and Craptails: the World’s Worst, Weirdest, and Most Disturbing Drinks. He has also written about spirits and travel for The Huffington Post, Fodors, Eater, and

John McCarthy is a spirit, travel, and lifestyle journalist, managing editor, and author of The Modern Gentleman and Whiskey Rebels: The Dreamers, Visionaries & Badasses Who Are Revolutionizing American Whiskey. McCarthy is also editor of Barleycorn Drinks and Director of Judging of the John Barleycorn Awards.