Five Budget Bourbons


The bourbon market has seen an incredible expansion over the past 10 years. Major distillers have added new brands to their portfolio and the proliferation of craft/artisan distillers has exploded. And with demand at an all time high, prices have become exorbitant, making many good types of bourbon out of reach for the average consumer.

With all that said, there is some truly wonderful low-priced bourbon in the 20-30 dollar price range that will hold their own against many of their high-priced, over-hyped counterparts. Below is a list of five low-priced bourbons that will surely please the palate of the most demanding bourbon aficionado:

  • Elijah Craig Small Batch: A perennial favorite of many bourbon fans, Elijah Craig Small Batch offers up a very well rounded experience. Its 12-year age assures smoothness, strong oak notes and abundant flavor. There’s no standout flavors or uniqueness to this bourbon, but it is a perfect example of how bourbon should taste.
  • Wild Turkey 101: Wonderful bourbon that features a layered taste, with a complex mixture of sweetness and spice. The finish is slightly dry and lasts quite a while, which is rare in low priced bourbons. The high proof, and the heat it brings may turn off some, but I find it quite rewarding.
  • Evan William Single Barrel: This is truly excellent bourbon that is very mellow and features the perfect touch of sweetness and just a hint of spice. It’s ideal bourbon for someone who is just starting out in the premium bourbon world and it’s a great easygoing companion for more experienced drinkers.
  • Buffalo Trace: This is my go-to, everyday bourbon. For the price, it’s incredibly smooth, rich and complex. You’d think you were drinking a 50-dollar bottle of bourbon when you drink this stuff. Truly an excellent value.
  • Eagle Rare: I have a feeling this bourbon is priced regionally. I have seen it as low as 25 dollars in my hometown — all the way up to 40 dollars in parts of California, but it is meant to be in the 25-dollar range. If you can find it at a reasonable price, buy two bottles. This is fantastic bourbon, with a spicy, up front character that settles into a more balanced sweetness as it finishes. The finish is long, lingering and memorable.

If you do pick up one of these bottles I have mentioned, be sure to try it in each of these configurations, in order:

  • Neat: This is straight from the bottle. Do not dilute — this is how the master distiller intended the bourbon to be enjoyed.
  • Branch: Add two or three drops of spring/purified water to your drink to “open it up” a little. You’ll notice it tastes quite different than the neat configuration. If you want to explore more, add a few additional drops after you tried the initial two or three.
  • Ice: Cold bourbon has a completely different character than neat or branch. It usually creates a bit more of an intense experience, as the flavors tend to be very concentrated when the bourbon is ice cold. The character will change as the ice melts.

In conclusion, if you’re smart and knowledgeable, there are some great low-priced bourbons on the market that will both satisfy your curiosity and leave you wanting to explore the world of bourbon more.

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15 thoughts on “Five Budget Bourbons”

  1. So I’m smoking these cigars, they’re from Cigars International. They are some kind of knock-off Dominicans, but they are full strength and taste really good. Am I going to hell if I like these more than the Romeo Y Julieta I sampled at a local cigar shack? I mean, that was obviously a very good cigar, but I’m enjoying these more. Am I just a philistine?

    – Signed, social status crisis in Austin

    1. Most of the cigars I smoke are what cigar shop owners deride as “catalog cigars,” so you are in good company with me. I smoke the Diesel Unlimited Maduro, which is from Cigars International, and it is an absolutely fabulous smoke (I’ve even reviewed it on this site). You should try that one. Goes GREAT with Bourbon.

      1. Those look pretty tasty, and the FULL rating makes my heart flutter:

        Some writers use a formalized system of assessment for cigars, but for me it is gut feel, much as with pipe tobacco. It is entirely possible to enjoy both highly boutique blends (Gawith Hoggarth) and also appreciate the simple everyday pleasures (Prince Albert).

  2. Jeff says:

    Evan Williams is superlative for its price, and far better than another overhyped bourbon carrying the same label styling.

    If you’re willing to spend a little more, then Knob Creek is all class, too.

    Neat, always, ice, when you want to make it last. Water, never!

    Kentucky bourbon is the finest alcoholic beverage on earth. I like the rest, also, but nothing gives off that smoked, cabin in the Appalachians vibe like bourbon does.

    1. Right on with that Jeff. I get more of the southern gentleman vibe when I drink my bourbon, but that’s just me.

      1. thomasw_ says:

        kentucky bourbon the finest alcoholic beverage on earth??? it is a fine beverage no doubt; but in my tasting, even excellent bourbon lacks the refined, complexity of a quality single malt scotch. i reason that this has in part to do with the ‘smokiness’ originating in the new oak for bourbon, whereas for scotch it can be from both the peat and the older oak barrels.

  3. Rainer Weikusat says:

    While generally legal for some inconeivable reason, alcohol is seriously poisonous and prolonged overdrinking, even when kept below the level of outright incapacitation, damages parts of the body one would usually prefer not to think about, as in “years of diarrhea”.

    NB: This is not supposed to be a statement in favour of teetotalism, more the kind of realistic warning I could have needed about 16 years ago instead of the well-known horror stories ideologically driven abstainers like to carry around with them. There’d be a lot less “drug casualties” (of all kinds of levels) on this miserable planet if the notion that the general populace has to be kept ignorant and scared into submission with grisly fairy tales could be overcome.

    1. Ludvig B.B (vOddy) says:

      It’s legal because it’s old.
      If cocaine was old and part of our culture, like alcohol and tobacco are, then it would surely be legal.

      Which raises the question: Should cocaine be legal? Should alcohol be illegal?
      And by what criteria should a drug be legal or illegal?

    2. Subconscious desire says:

      Some might prefer a slow, painful death.

      1. Rainer Weikusat says:

        There is no such thing as »a slow, painful death«, that’s just a meaningless word combination supposed to trigger subconscious angst archetypes, or, more generally worded, marketing speak, albeit unusually employed. Similar to a well-known joke about pregnancy, it’s impossible to be a little bit dead and the more accurated »prolonged, painfull illness ultimatively ending with death« could be regarded as a definiton of life.

  4. OliveFox says:

    I just paid 48 for a bottle of Basil Hayden’s. It is certainly good…but I think I got ripped off. I have a hard to time pricing/valuing out Bourbon so this is a good guide.

    If you can find it on the net, their was just a really interesting article about CLEVELAND whiskey…bourbon aged for 24 hrs and then mechanically manipulated to taste older. A real slap in the face of tradition, but a very good read none the less. Enlightening social ideas are accidentally wrapped up in a lot of the interviews.

    1. You definitely paid too much for the Basil Hayden. It is good, but for the price there is much better. I would take any on my list above Basil Hayden. That being said, there is another whiskey in that collection that is quite good, and it is called BOOKERS. It’s pricey (50-60 per bottle), but it an excellent expression of bourbon. It’s uncut and straight from the barrel at 127 proof. No water needed. Drink neat. Drink slow and you will be enveloped by flavor.

      I’ve had the Cleveland Whiskey Black Reserve and I wasn’t impressed with it. It had all the flavors bourbon should have (honey, spice, wood), but these flavors did not meld well and were far from harmonious. On top of that the nose consisted of too much alcohol. That’s just me though.

    2. Kermit the Fucking Fuckface Frog says:

      Yeah you overpaid by about $10, so not too much. I’d shop around. There are comparatively fewer bourbons in the sub-$40 range so it’s pretty easy to remember what each one costs.

      I generally stick with Jim Beam but that’s because I’m usually pretty poor. I do second the Booker’s recommendation, though.

  5. Vigilance says:

    Good to see Buffalo Trace getting a mention. I had a friend turn me on to it years ago. Never looked back.

  6. Article Addendum:

    I noticed something peculiar about my latest bottle of Elijah Craig — it was missing the 12-year age statement. I found out — as of about 6 months ago — they stopped putting age statements on their bottles because demand was so high that the bourbon now has to be blended in order to keep up with demand.

    Once I found this out, I did a side-by-side comparison between the age-statement Elijah and the blended version. I must say, the master distiller did a hell of a job capturing the authentic 12-year old taste. I did discern a slight harshness to the blended version, but it’s negligible, and after the first sip you don’t even notice it. The recommendation still stands, although the label really should have a statement saying this is a blend. I find the labeling a bit deceptive.

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