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It’s hard to be a budget-conscious bourbon drinker these days. Without a thick wallet full of money to burn, you may not have the means to acquire highly sought-after bottles, like Pappy Van Winkle, Old Forester Birthday, or even Blanton’s. Moreover, the once lowly W.L. Weller Special Reserve could be had a few years back for under twenty bucks. Today, $80 is considered a deal, and we’ve seen it twice as high as that.
For our fellow whiskey connoisseurs, it’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s worth the reminder: You don’t have to empty your bank account to drink great bourbon. Turns out, you can still find good whiskey for less than the cost of a tank of gas. So, if high prices have you down, here are the best cheap bourbons.
An omnipresent fixture on many bars, Knob Creek 9 Year is probably the most versatile and affordable bourbon on the market. The brainchild of legendary Jim Beam master distiller Booker Noe, Knob Creek has become an archetype of the whiskey style since its debut in the '90s. Bottled at 100 proof, it’s not too hot to sip neat, but it’s hearty enough that ice won’t dent the deep vanilla, caramel, wood, and spice. Plus, those flavors are big enough to stand out in a delicious cocktail.
Four Roses Bourbon might just offer the best value in whiskey. Not only is it cheap, but it’s also incredibly good. Not long ago, the brand called this entry-level whiskey Four Roses Yellow Label, but it’s still the highly approachable, well-rounded, and balanced glass it was before. Aged at least five years, it’s a whiskey that you are going to find near the bottom of the shelf at your liquor store—but pay that product placement no mind. It’s a rich and delicious bourbon loaded with caramel, vanilla, and spice.
This classic stalwart needs no introduction—perhaps just a reminder that it’s a tasty bottle at an affordable price and not just something to pound before chasing with a beer. Wild Turkey 101 is a wonderfully versatile bourbon. Not only does it make a super sipper, but that 101 proof also gives it the heft to battle a good portion of ice and let flavors ring out in a cocktail. Caramel and candy corn balance oak spice and a deep char that leads to a peppery, fruity finish with just a hint of mint.
Thanks to its price point and quality, Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage is one of our favorites. There simply aren’t many cost-conscious single-barrel bourbons on shelves these days. Affordability coupled with its typical dynamic flavor profile makes this bottle an instant buy in our estimation. Of course, as it’s a single barrel, the precise tasting notes change from cask to cask, but a fruit and honey sweetness, oak, and spice are all hallmarks of this classic expression from the folks at Heaven Hill Distillery.
David Nicholson 1843 is a bottle that won’t jump out at you on the shelf, but if you see a bottle, grab it and put it in the cart. This bourbon punches so far above its price point that you’ll feel almost criminal at the checkout. Part of the Luxco portfolio, David Nicholson 1843 is a wheated bourbon with no age statement, but big-time flavor. Vanilla, honey, and buttery biscuit marry warm wood, smoke, and spice to create a rich mouthful that will leave you wondering why you didn’t buy two.
Even when you're imbibing in a mixed drink, like an old-fashioned, you don't want to use low-quality bourbon. For those on a budget, we suggest Fistful of Bourbon. The expression is a 90-proof blend of five bourbons from spirits juggernaut William Grant & Sons, so a hunk of ice isn’t an issue. Lovely notes of toffee, caramel, and cinnamon work well with the spice of bitters and tart sweetness of cherry in this classic cocktail.
It’s almost impossible to believe that in this day and age of bourbon, you can score a bottle of Old Grand-Dad 114 for around $30. It’s an intense whiskey with a serious ABV—the 114 in the name is a reference to the proof. We recommend a dash of water or a small ice cube to mitigate the heat if you’re going to sip this one. Loaded with dark fruit and oak with a decadent tobacco note and healthy portion of rye spice, it’s a yummy glass on its own or as a base for nearly any bourbon drink you can shake a bar spoon at.
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Nicholas McClelland is a passionate whisk(e)y drinker who has written about spirits for Men’s Journal, Fatherly, and Inside Hook. His bar is deep with rare single malts, hard-to-find bourbons, and ryes, but he doesn't believe there's anything too precious to share with friends.