It’s tempting to break open your wallet when shopping for a fine bottle of bourbon or Irish whiskey. But here’s the truth: There are plenty of perfectly decent whiskeys priced under $20. Yet bargain shopping in the whiskey aisle can be a gamble since there are some cheap selections that are as disgusting as spoiled milk or industrial floor cleaner.
To aid you in your search, we’ve gathered the best cheap whiskey brands that every frugal drinker should add to their home bar. 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 whiskeys as well for those who want a little variety on their liquor shelf. Although the cost varies by state or retailer, the price tag is generally what you find in the store. Once you’ve snagged some cheap bottles, it’s time for you to learn how to drink whiskey the proper way.
Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Evan Williams shows up on lists like this all of the time, and deservedly so. 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. It’s a light whiskey, so you can expect the corn flavor to come roaring through, with notes of oak and vanilla as well.
Rebel Yell Straight Bourbon Whiskey
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.
Old Overholt Rye
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.
Famous Grouse Blended 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.
Canadian Club Reserve (Aged 9 Years)
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.
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