Pretty gets my attention but I've always had a soft spot for well packaged goods.
Being an noob myself, I can only speak to the bourbons on your list that I have tried. When I was first starting out, one of the first few bourbons I got was Buffalo Trace. I thought it was a good starting bourbon because it was smooth, fairly straightforward noes and taste, and at 90 proof, its a baby step toward the higher proofs. It's not a sexy pick, but a solid one. Also, congrats on having a friend who wants to spend money on bourbon :grin:
90 proof works fine for me, about the only ones I buy that are higher in alcohol are BIBs, unless something new strikes my fancy.
There are a couple on your list I've not had, but ETLee is a super whiskey and fits your requirements of value and relative complexity for the dollar. The 2000 EWSB underwhelmed me. I'm a huge VOB fan - I think VOB BiB is one of the best whiskies in the world.
I have to recommend Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. It's the only bourbon I've given a 10 out of 10 on my blog. The others I love are a little pricey; Noah's Mill and Vintage Bourbon 17 yr. I copied my review below and cited a review from this forum ;)
my blog awhiskeydrink.com
It finally happened. I reviewed my first ten out of ten whiskey. I found Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit about a year ago while searching for “bourbon ratings OR rankings” on google. A post over at straightbourbon.com came up rating Kentucky Spirit very high on taste and moderately high on value; I agree with both (Forbes).
Kentucky Spirit is a single barreled bourbon, and each bourbon is hand selected. Master distiller Jimmy Russell selects for qualities of vanilla, a touch of sweetness, almonds, honey and leather. It is a fuller body bourbon and 50 percent alcohol, yet still manages to be remarkable smooth (Wild Turkey).
taste - bright and sparkling upfront, orange, meringue, warm, white chocolate, dark caramels, vanilla spice, light oak, pepper, white smoke, hint of woods and earth on finish.
smell - vanilla, white oak, orange blossoms, honeysuckles, rosewater, tree sap, cinnamon bark, boiling sugars, effervescent (I want to add “forests and log cabin” because of that woodsy, earthy tone).
look - grade “A” maple syrup, amber honey, deeply aged Grand Marnier, burnt orange (a nod to Texas).
rating - 10, my first 10!
price - $37.50 - $50
Work CitedForbes. "Bourbon Comparison - Quality, Taste and Cost - Straightbourbon.com." Straight Bourbon: Makers, History, Brands, Tastings, Reviews, FAQ, Drinks ... Web. 19 Feb. 2011. <http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=742>.
"Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit." Wild Turkey Bourbon. Web. 19 Feb. 2011. <http://www.wildturkeybourbon.com/>.
I'd vote for ETL or WTKS at this price point (gotta be a scotch drinker if $50 is "mid-priced"!)
Agree with EWSB or VOB BIB for base+complexity profile.
$50 is mid-priced? I usually have to think long and hard about throwing down that much for a bottle (although I have many times).
I was thinking the same thing, to me mid price Bourbon/Rye is under $20.