I just started a thread over in the general section about rating whiskey. I'm starting this thread here because a lot of people who are new to bourbon don't know where to start. Some turn to books, magazines or web sites like this one for recommendations. But it can be confusing.
I've often felt, for example, that newcomers do themselves no favors by trying to find a consensus 'best' bourbon or other whiskey. The products enthusiasts rave about tend to be atypical products that are hard to appreciate if you are still learning the basics.
My recommendation for a beginner is to work your way through the leading brands from the major producers -- Jim Beam white, Jack Daniel's No. 7, Evan Williams black, Wild Turkey 101.
Compare them to each other, get to know them.
Taste them the right way. Start your journey by developing your tasting technique. I recommend tasting everything both neat and diluted with room temperature water.
Remember that smelling is a crucial part of tasting.
For the next round, pick the two or three of the first group that you liked best and figure out what that producer's step-up is. If you like Wild Turkey 101, you might want to step up to Russell's Reserve, Rare Breed or Kentucky Spirit. Which one? It doesn't really matter, though budget might play a role as Kentucky Spirit costs twice as much as Russell's Reserve.
After that you should be able to fly solo.
Most of all, resist the lure of short cuts. They're a waste of time because they don't work. You don't become a bourbon connoisseur just because you drank a bottle of Pappy 23. That's probably the hardest thing to get across to a young person so I'll repeat it, because they love it when you do that. Short cuts don't work.
Okay, vets. What are your tips for beginners?