I've been drinking bourbon and for about 5 years. I try new ones whenever I can, and have a nice little collection.
My ancestors are rolling in their graves, but I just can't get into Irish Whisky - and while I've only tasted a few, the range of tastes seems pretty narrow, unlike the Single Malts where there are such differences it's sometimes hard to believe two scotches from across the island from each other are even the same spirit.
Bourbon is somewhere in the middle. There's enough variance to make it interesting, but not so much that you need to spend a lifetime to try everything.
I actually got into bourbon after trying to learn some things about scotch. There was a passage in Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt scotch talking about Glenmorangie; and how they were getting white oak barrels made in the Ozarks, that were then on loan to Heaven Hill for bourbon aging, before being sent back to Scotland to age scotch.
I was living in Kentucky at the time, and really was completely unaware of that bourbon played a role in the making of scotch, and then I found out more and more rich heritage of this American spirit. So I began reading, tasting, and collecting. Never did go on any of the distillery tours though, and I'm really bummed about it.
One thing I'm very interested in is who makes what. There's only a handful of actual distilleries in Kentucky. I forget the number, but I'm fairly certain it was under a dozen. However, there are probably a hundred different bourbon brands - so what gives?
I'd like to track the brands to the stills. I'm guessing Heaven Hill makes more than half; and half of those are their own brands, the other half to other labels. I don't know if Wild Turkey or Jim Beam do any distillations for other labels.
I just tried "Johnny Drum" at my aunt's place in Mrytle Beach and I'm 90% sure it came out of Heaven Hill's stills.
Some folks think bourbon has to come from Kentucky to be called bourbon, but that's not true. There are a handful of bourbons made outside the state. There's the odd case of Virginia Gentleman bourbon which is first distilled in Kentucky, (By Buffalo Trace) and then re-distilled (twice) in a copper pot still (although not one of the bulbous type ones used for scotch) and aged in Virginia. Weird eh? There's also one I just read about being distilled in Cincinnati called Woodstone Creek.
As far as my personal favorites; you just can't go wrong with Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 year old. (There's a 20 year old offering too, but I've never had it.) From what I've read it's a 'wheater', meaning the mashbill contains wheat. Maker's Mark and W.L.Weller are 2 other wheated bourbons. This surprised me, because I generally prefer the rye heavy notes in Wild Turkey to the rather bland Maker's Mark - but there's just so much flavor and depth to this bourbon.
And plain old Wild Turkey 101 is a damn fine bourbon in my book; and they've got a premium cask strength bottling called Rare Breed that is just outstanding.