Shopping for a fine bottle of bourbon, a special single malt Scotch, a rousing rye, or an interesting Irish whiskey? Then you may think you need to shell out enough cash to where price is a factor in your decision, but in fact there are a number of perfectly decent whiskies priced under $20. At that rate, you might as well stock your home bar.
But you can still count on spirits that will sip well on their own and taste great with ice, seltzer, or mixed into cocktails, because for every $100 bottle of Kentucky Owl Bourbon or $50 bottle of Stranahan Blue Peak Single Malt, there’s a cheap but acceptable whiskey out there.
Below, you’ll find a selection of some the best cheap whiskey you can get under 20 bucks – we know because we did the field research. We’re heavy on the American whiskeys in this list, but we’ve also thrown in a couple of Scotch whiskies, a Canadian whiskey, and an Irish whiskey to boot. If you’re wondering how to drink whiskey, we’ve got you covered there, too.
Best Whiskey Brands Under $20
- Evan Williams ($14)
- Rebel Yell ($15)
- Mellow Corn ($15)
- Four Roses Bourbon ($19)
- Old Overholt ($18)
- Wild Turkey Rye ($20)
- George Dickel Rye Whisky ($20)
- Speyburn Braden Orach Single Malt Scotch ($20)
- Famous Grouse ($20)
- Canadian Club Reserve ($20)
- Jameson ($19)
- The Sexton ($20)
We won’t kid you — there is a lot of whiskey under $20 that is utterly disgusting. The nose is like inhaling fire and the palate (if you can even call it that) is something close to industrial floor cleaner.
There are, though, a number of good, cheap whiskies to be had, and we have conveniently listed them below. While the majority are budget bourbons (being affordable and delicious seems to be as American as, well, bourbon), we worked to find other types of whiskies as well, for those that want a little variety on their liquor shelf.
Note: Costs may vary by state and retailer, but the price tag is generally what you find in the store.
Evan Williams shows up on lists like this all of the time, and deservedly so. At $14 for a bottle, you really can’t go wrong. Drop an ice cube or two in and you’re set. The flavor profile is what you expect in a bourbon — vanilla, caramel, oak — and you don’t need to add much (if anything) to make it drinkable.
Mellow Corn Whiskey
This one is not a bourbon, but rather a corn whiskey, and therefore the bourbon category is still the closest place to put this budget whiskey. Mellow Corn is made with 81% corn and is the only bottled-in-bond corn whiskey on the market. A light whiskey, you can expect the corn flavor to come roaring through, with notes of oak and vanilla as well.
Not just for Billy Idol fans, this whiskey is made in the style of W.L Weller’s wheated bourbons. Full of honey and raisin flavors, Rebel Yell is a bargain, as it displays the flavor profile of something much more expensive. By buying Rebel Yell, though, you’ll be left with cash money in your pocket to either a) buy ingredients for some cocktails or b) buy another bottle. If you’re in this position, choose Option B.
Four Roses Bourbon
For a long time (over 50 years), Four Roses didn’t make bourbon. Instead, the brand produced a blended whiskey that, if you ask someone who has had it (this writer included), they will tell you is pretty bad. Thankfully in 2002, Four Roses got back to its roots and began making bourbon again.
Best Rye Whiskey
This is, according to most, the best budget rye you can find. Used in countless bars, Old Overholt is everything you want in a rye without having to shell out too much. Black pepper and other spice notes make for a flavorful, somewhat intense whiskey that goes perfectly in pretty much any rye cocktail you can think of.
Wild Turkey Rye
A bit rarer than Old Overholt, but well worth it if you happen upon it on the shelf, Wild Turkey’s 81 Rye is sweet on the front before displaying the characteristic rye spice notes. A little lower in alcohol than other spirits on this list (this 81 proof rye clocks in at 40.55% ABV), it still packs a flavorful punch, bolstered by Alligator Char in the barrels, which imparts a little smokiness to the liquid.
And if you feel like dishing out a little bit more for a rye, here are the best options under $50.
Best Scotch Whisky
A blended Scotch whisky, Famous Grouse is a solid option when you are looking for a blend on a budget. Sourcing single malt whiskies from The Macallan and Highland Park (both of which are owned by Edrington, which also owns Famous Grouse), the whisky has citrus and fruit notes that lead into a medium, clean finish.
Best Canadian Whisky
Canadian Club Reserve
Because of Prohibition, it was only in the last few decades that bourbons overtook Canadian whiskies as the top seller in the United States. I kid you not. While Americans were cleaning out their bathtubs to cook up some gin and finding spots in the mountains to set up their stills, Canadian whisky makers were chugging away, growing every year. Canadian Club Reserve is full of sweet toffee and oak notes, a result of a longer aging process than the brand’s other expressions. Better for cocktails than straight, it’s a formidable Canadian whisky for the price.
Best Irish Whiskey
The Sexton Irish Whiskey
Distilled in copper pots, this Single Malt Irish Whiskey is smooth and easy to drink and, if you shop around is often priced at $20, making it a great deal. The Sexton is a fine substitute for your favorite affordable Scotch, and the bottle looks cool on the bar, so put it front and center.
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