We’ve all heard of the great bourbons that exist somewhere, even if we’ve never seen or tasted them. Pappy Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, Parker’s Heritage, and A.H. Hirsch Reserve are just a few. The problem is you’ll never see them on the shelves of your local liquor store. And if by some miracle you did actually find them, you probably wouldn’t want to pay the price tag.
But fear not! Despite everything you might have heard or read about bourbon shortages, strict allocations, and skyrocketing prices, there are still plenty of top-quality whiskeys that can be found without too much trouble and won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
These aren’t bargain bourbons, per se. They’re reasonably priced, but aren’t the cheapest, and they generally come from a slightly higher spot on the quality scale.
If you’re more interested in getting good booze for cheap, I’d recommend trying bourbons such as Very Old Barton, Benchmark, Evan Williams Black, Old Grand Dad, and Jim Beam Black. Each of them can usually be had for under $20. They might not be as good as these, but I think you’ll find them quite acceptable.
On the other hand, if you want to drink some really fine whiskey, here are some suggestions that I enjoy.
|Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon ($30-$40)
Made by Buffalo Trace, this still has an age statement and remains a fine bourbon no matter the price. This is made with a “low-rye” mashbill and is an excellent balance of sweet and spice.
|Maker’s Mark Bourbon ($25-$30)
A wheated bourbon — just like Pappy! — that you can always find and always enjoy. Maker’s is a shining example of Kentucky distilling excellence on proud display. There are few spirits in the world that reflect such a high level of craftsmanship as this. (The cask-strength version is a more expensive, but even better.)
|1792 Small Batch Bourbon ($25-$35)
This brand, from Sazerac’s Barton distillery, seemed to fly under the radar for a long time. But with the new variations they’ve been producing (full proof, sweet wheat, etc.), it’s suddenly become a hot brand. You probably won’t be able to find those other labels. But that’s okay because the regular expression is very good, too.
|W.L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon ($30-$40)
You’re unlikely to find the 12-year-old Weller for a reasonable price, but the Special Reserve (90 proof) and Antique (107 proof) can often be found, especially the former. Weller is one of the original wheated bourbons and if you’re craving Van Winkle, this is probably the next best thing.
|Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon ($30-$35)
Another old standby from Beam, this is a high quality whiskey at a good price. With nine years in wood and a full 100 proof, Knob Creek packs a wallop, both in alcohol and flavor. If people say there are no good, affordable bourbons around, hand them a bottle of this and see if you can’t change their mind.
| Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon ($25-$35)
One of the best ongoing releases in the bourbon world, these annual single-barrel picks from Heaven Hill never disappoint.
| Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon ($30-$35)
Despite not producing a whiskey with a Pappy-level cult following, Four Roses is one of the most popular distilleries with bourbon conniseurs. The reason is no surprise: they made damn good bourbon.
| Henry McKenna Single Barrel ($30-$40)
This is probably the least well-known bourbon on this list, but it’s also one of the best. A single-barrel, bottled-in-bond whiskey from Heaven Hill for around $35? Yes, please!
There you have it. Good whiskey at good prices, and any halfway decent liquor store should have several of them on the shelf. So drink up! The good folks of Kentucky are hard at work making more.