If you’ve ever set out to find a good bottle of whiskey to add to your home bar — it doesn’t matter if it’s bourbon, Scotch whisky, rye, Canadian, or something else — you’re usually going to take into account a number of different factors that will influence your purchase. Among these, taste and price stick out as the two most important. While you might usually be able to drop a C-note on a bottle, sometimes you can’t (Unexpected vet bills or that parking ticket you forgot about and is now triple the fee come to mind). Instead, you need to find a lower price tag. Much lower … like under 20 bucks lower.
We won’t kid you — there is a lot of whiskey under $20 that is utterly disgusting. The nose is like inhaling literal 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 out there, which we have conveniently listed 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 – $14
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.
Rebel Yell -$15
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 – $19
For a long time (over 50 years), Four Roses didn’t make bourbon. Instead, they produced a blended whiskey that, if you ask someone who has had it (this writer included), they will tell you it’s pretty bad. Thankfully in 2002, Four Roses got back to their roots and began making bourbon again.
Old Overholt – $18
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 – $20
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 40.5 percent ABV), it still packs a flavorful punch, bolstered by Alligator Char in the barrels, which imparts a little smokiness to the liquid.
George Dickel Rye Whisky – $20
Made from 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Geroge Dickel Rye Whiskey is the only rye that goes through the charcoal mellowing known as the Lincoln County Process that is the key in being able to call a spirit a Tennessee whiskey. Full of rye spice, yet mellow at the same time, George Dickel Rye is an easy-drinking rye for those that may be just getting into rye whiskeys.
And if you feel like dishing out a little bit more for a rye, here are the best options under $50.
Speyburn Braden Orach Single Malt Scotch – $20
Scotch is by far the hardest category to find a bottle under $20. They are there, but it’s like going to a buffet — just because the tray of chicken wings is there, doesn’t mean you need to eat forty of them. You get the point. Braden Orach means “Golden Salmon.” This non-buffet-chicken-wing whisky is redolent of apples and honey with a palate that is vanilla and honey before a spicy finish.
Famous Grouse – $20
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.
Canadian Club Reserve – $20
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 with 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.
Jameson – $19
Jameson is the best-selling Irish whiskey in the world for a reason. Not only is is affordable, but a smooth body and calm palate make it easy to put down as a shot, over a rock, dropped into a beer, or in a mixed drink (what we’re saying is it’s easy to drink no matter how you take your whiskey.
If you’re looking for something that’s a little craftier, check out the whiskey winners of The Manual Spirit Awards 2018.
Article originally published February 5, 2016. Last updated September 2018, to include details of The Manual Spirit Awards 2018 and nore budget options.