When it comes to bourbon whiskey, or any libation for that matter, it really depends on your own palate. What may taste great to one person may not even remotely float your proverbial boat. But, there is one quality of this spirit that doesn't necessarily rely on individual taste--its smoothness.
Hands down, the smoothest of the bourbon whiskeys has always come down to two specific brands: Maker's Mark Bourbon Whiskey and W.L. Weller Special Reserve 7-Year-Old Bourbon Whiskey. The first is said to have a mellow flavor that lingers with a soft, sweetish taste. It has a bit of spice to it with a hint of oak. The second is a less complicated bourbon that has a pleasant flavor with a well-rounded aftertaste. Both are considered to have a good nose, meaning good scent or aroma, a very important factor in any tasting of wines and spirits.
A close second to the two fine libations listed above is that of Wild Turkey Rare Breed. This is probably considered one of the boldest bourbons with its sweet nose and flavors that are both said to linger well beyond the glass. It has hints of both vanilla and clove and an aftertaste with a slight pepper and spice. Hancock's Reserve is another high-ranking bourbon with a fairly malt flavor that finishes quite clean and dry. Though often recommended to be cut with water, its smoothness is only enhanced by this addition.
If you're not looking for a bold bourbon, which both Maker's Mark and W.L. Weller as well as Wild Turkey and Hancock's Reserve are considered, one of the smoothest of the softer bourbon whiskeys would be that of Gentleman Jack Daniels. Consistently, tasters have commented on its mild, yet deeply rounded taste and floral aroma that many of the other bourbon whiskeys don't seem to possess. If you've ever had Jack Daniels, this variety tastes a lot like the original, just far smoother.
Much like scotch, you'll not only use your sense of taste to taste bourbon, you'll also take into account the way it smells (or its aroma), the way it feels in your mouth and the lingering taste left when the spirit has been swallowed (or its aftertaste). But, when deciphering a given bourbon's smoothness, it really revolves around how painful it is--more specifically, isn't--when going down. The smoothest bourbon shouldn't bite you back, and this is what you'll find in Maker's Mark, W.L. Weller, Wild Turkey Rare Breed and Gentleman Jack Daniels.
For years, we've often heard from one person or another that "you get what you pay for." Generally, it's hard not to agree, but, with bourbon whiskey, this just isn't the case. A hefty price tag doesn't necessarily make a better bourbon. There are a number of high-priced bottles on the shelves that are rather harsh and don't even stand up to bourbons at half the price.