If you're going to be cheap when it comes to whiskey, you're taking a gamble. You may not want to spend over $20 for a bottle, but there's a good chance of buying something that you'll regret because cheap whiskey can be like drinking fire. Fortunately, there are a handful of decent American whiskeys that every frugal drinker should know.
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Few brands of whiskey are as recognizable as Jim Beam, and "White Label" is the flagship. Aged for four years and bottled at 80-proof, it can quickly become your everyday drinking whiskey and is a staple in most bars. It mixes well with almost everything, and you can expect to pay $18 or so for a bottle.
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Many people compare Evan Williams Black Label to Jack Daniel's. Though the bottle design is similar, there is a difference between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. The most notable in this comparison is that Evan Williams has a lighter profile. It is a reliable mixer that can work very well in simple whiskey highballs, and for around $15, it's surprisingly smooth. While this 86-proof whiskey may not be your first choice, it can grow on you.
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Four Roses produces some very nice bourbons. Most are quite pricey, but the portfolio's hidden gem of frugality is the standard Four Roses Bourbon, otherwise known as "Yellow Label." At right around $20 a bottle, it's a great value bourbon that you'll want to mix into highballs like the John Collins. At the least, serve it on the rocks to soften it a bit. That's a good rule of thumb for almost any bargain whiskey, so don't hold that advice against this 80-proof bottle.
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Fighting Cock Bourbon Whiskey
In some circles, the name of this bourbon may be offensive, but it's talking about "The Kickin' Chicken." Fighting Cock is a 6-year-old bourbon from Heaven Hill Distilleries that is bottled at a potent 103-proof. The mash bill has a good balance of rye and corn, making it simultaneously spicy and sweet. This bourbon is not one to drink straight. Instead, mix it up however you like—even if that's just a splash of seltzer or club soda.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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If you love a good wheat bourbon, Rebel Yell is the bottle for you. The wheat to corn ratio makes this one of the softest, smoothest whiskeys in this price range. That's an aspect that some people like and others (who expect the burn) don't.
Honey is the most notable flavor in this 80-proof sipping whiskey, and that's precisely what it is. Don't bother mixing it, simply drink it straight and add a splash of water if you like. It will get lost in mixed drinks, but at $17 or less, it's a fantastic find.
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Old Forester is an old name in the bourbon world. Their flagship bottle is everything you'd expect: a timeless, reliable bourbon that never disappoints. This one can easily become your go-to, and it makes a great whiskey sour. However, the nutty spice shines in highballs like the Presbyterian. While the suggested retail is $23, it's easy to find it for less.
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Old Grand-Dad is a quintessential back porch-sipping whiskey and a favorite among the whiskey crowd. Bottled at 80-proof, the bourbon has a lively spice due to the rye that was the distiller Basil Hayden's signature ingredient. Distilled today by Jim Beam (the makers of the top-shelf Basil Hayden Bourbon as well), it's a classic whiskey you won't want to miss.
While that bottle will set you back $20 if you have a few extra dollars to spend, pick up the bonded bottle. It's a robust 100-proof that continues to astound whiskey drinkers. Either OGD whiskey is excellent on its own and can stand up to any mixed drink, so have fun with these guys.
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It's hard to find a rye whiskey in the budget-friendly category, but Old Overholt is still here to fill the need. This bottle held on through the decades of the rye decline, and it's as reliable as it ever was. The formula has changed; it's now bottled at 80 proof rather than 100 proof. However, it remains a gentle introduction to the spiciness of rye, and at just shy of $20, it won't kill your budget.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Look down on the very bottom shelf at a liquor store, and you might spot Mellow Corn. It's a relatively obscure label, but bartenders have discovered that it's fantastic.
How can a $12 bottle of corn whiskey impress anyone? It's all about the sweet simplicity, which makes it an excellent candidate for many whiskey cocktails. At 100-proof and with a mashbill of 90 percent corn and 10 percent rye and malted barley, it has a great balance of sweet vanilla and soft oak flavors. It's also a bottled-in-bond whiskey, so you know it's been aged for at least four years and comes from a single distillery. That's something to look for in inexpensive American whiskeys because labels with no age statement have no such guarantees.
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Old Crow Bourbon
What do Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, and Hunter S. Thompson have in common? Old Crow Kentucky Straight Bourbon, of course. It's well-known that those three gentlemen were fans of this whiskey, and you can join the club.
If you're going for a true bottom-shelf whiskey, this should be your choice. It's one you won't forget, but it's not going to leave you hurting like its $10 counterparts, either. Mix it with cola or have a straight shot. Either way, you'll appreciate that it doesn't have a super-harsh burn. You might even enjoy its sweet side.