When you’re looking for a good bottle of whiskey — it doesn’t matter if it’s bourbon, Scotch whisky, rye, Canadian, or something else — there are usually a couple of factors that any drinker is going to look for. Among these, taste and price stick out as the two most important. If you had an unexpected vet bill or you’re just looking to stock up for a party and need a multiple bottles, your go-to whiskey can’t come in at a Benjamin is out of the question. 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.
Evan 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Scotch is by far the hardest category to find a bottle under $10. 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” (you can see why they went with what they did). This non-buffet-chicken-wing whisky is redolent of apples and honey with a palate that is vanilla and honey before a spicy finish.
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. CC 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.
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 5, 2018, to include details of The Manual Spirit Awards 2018.