5 Budget Bourbons
…Suitable for Mixing or Keeping Your Glass Full in Lean Times
The bourbons on this list are not the crème de la crème, nor are they necessarily the choice for that special occasion where you want to impress with your refined taste or deep pockets. But for anyone who has ever cringed when you watched as your dearly-purchased single-barrel was poured in a shaker with vermouth or looked ruefully at those top-shelf bottles while selecting a plastic handle of rotgut out of financial consideration, here are five bourbons that can be mixed up in a great cocktail or enjoyed sipped on their own, all available for around $25.
This winner from Evan Williams has to appear early on a list like this. It’s readily available, beautifully bottled, and really punches way above its class. When you can get Whiskey Advocate’s second most highly-rated tipple of last fall for $25, that’s what I call an easy decision. This whiskey has a Christmassy spice profile and dark fruit notes paired with a very drinkable 43.3% abv that makes this work as well neat as it does in an Old Fashioned.
The Buffalo Trace Distillery just doesn’t get much wrong, and their standard offering is no exception. The quality you get at this price point really exceeds any number of higher-priced competing bottles. This bourbon leans much more toward the nutty and sweet end of the taste spectrum, with a nice level of vanilla and wood involved. This is a great choice for cocktails, as the flavor and 45% abv is distinct enough to read as bourbon even when mingled with other ingredients, but not so assertive as to steal the show. Another consistent and very versatile bourbon.
Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey
Bulleit is one of those bourbons that gets a lot more love from drinkers than than writers. Generally not lauded for exceptional quality, complexity, consistency, etc., it’s nevertheless a staple in about every liquor cabinet around. I imagine most people were initially attracted by the wild west look of the bottle, but it’s also a nice bourbon in there, certainly for the price. Bulleit is Candy Land sweet but with enough rye content to balance it out with some spice. It’s also got some nice peppery citrus notes to make things interesting. A solid choice for an everyday sipper.
Old Grand-Dad Bonded
Old Grand-Dad is one of those bourbons that your actual granddad probably drank while repairing a lawnmower or something. Point is, generally not looked at as a very sexy selection. However, it is a brand rich with history and I’ve always kinda liked it, even as a bottom-shelf, plastic-and-shiny-label type of offering. Now, the bonded expression of this workhorse whiskey has gotten a nice reboot with a new look (no more screw cap) and a solid 100 proof strength. This is a really vibrant bourbon with a burn- cinnamon and candied orange playing alongside a hot rye spice. Great bourbon for the price and just the ticket for a low-pressure get together with the guys.
Old Weller Antique 107
Now it may be cheating to include this on the list, as this is a bourbon that often sees a markup far and away above retail when you can find it, but if you do (and there are any number of smaller liquor stores hereabouts that stock it at MSRP), it should be in this budget range. And in that range, you’d be hard-pressed to do any better. This wheated whiskey is a close relative of the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year, using the same mashbill and occupying the same spot in the warehouse. The thing that strikes me most with the Antique is how wonderfully balanced it is- it doesn’t really push any one flavor. Nearly every note mentioned above is at play somewhere here, but in a harmony that is really elegantly orchestrated. For this price- for that matter, for twice this price- competitors are few.