Finding a quality bottle of whiskey—be it bourbon, rye, Scotch or some other style—isn’t always the easiest thing.
Sure, if you grew up in a place where whiskey in plastic handles was as prominent at community events as sweet tea, then you probably already know what your go-to value whiskey is. If not, you’re in the right spot.
We’ll be the first to admit, many whiskies under twenty bucks are absolutely terrible. It feels like you’re drinking actual fire and the taste profiles hover somewhere between the stuff they use to clean hospital floors and that glass of iced tea you set down and forgot about. For six weeks.
There are, though, a number of great tasting and affordable whiskies out there. While the majority of the list is composed of bourbon (being affordable and delicious seems to be as American as, well, bourbon), we have worked to find other types of whiskies as well, for those that want a little variety on their liquor shelf.
Evan Williams ($14)
Evan shows up on lists like this all of the time, and deservedly so. At fourteen bucks 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 bourbon 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 ($19)
For a long time (over fifty 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 81 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 (81 Rye clocks in at 40.5% ABV), it still packs a flavorful punch, bolstered by Alligator Char in the barrels, which imparts a a little smokiness to the liquid.
Scotch is by far the hardest category to find a bottle under twenty bucks. They are there, but more often than not 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. Anyway, you get the point. Braden Orach mean “Golden Salmon” (you can see why they went with what they did) that is redolent of apples and honey with a palate that is vanilla and honey before a spicy 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. 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.
Article updated by Sam Slaughter December 6, 2016.
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