With Pappy Van Winkle lotteries, barrel picks, and annual limited-edition releases garnering so much attention these days, it’s easy to forget about entry-level bourbon. But when you do explore the cheaper bottles of America’s native spirit — those that come in at, say, under $30 — it soon becomes clear just how well bourbon performs at a lower price point.
In fact, when compared with whiskeys from Scotland and Ireland, there’s a strong argument in favor of bourbon claiming the crown of best-value whiskey when sipping stateside. This is partly because of the lack of import taxes, but is also a reflection of its bold but approachable profile. For as little as $15, you can get your hands on a bottle that offers a robust and versatile base for cocktail creation but also isn’t out of the equation for drinking neat.
Of course, this is not to say that every bourbon found on the lower shelves of liquor stores is deserving of your attention or dollars. But there is no shortage of cheap gems to enjoy.
Here are nine of the best bourbons under $30.
This bourbon fits the brief of offering standout quality at less than $30, and is even more remarkable when considering that you’re paying for 1 liter, rather than 750 milliliters, of 100-proof bourbon. Economics aside, this whiskey is notable for its sweet but slightly hesitant honey and orange aromas, and a palate that serves rich helpings of corn, vanilla, and caramel. Average price: $29 (1 liter).
The most refined example at this price point, Elijah Craig Small Batch begins with fresh and dried berry aromas and no shortage of rye spice. The influence of oak takes a back seat on the nose but really comes to life on the palate. The proof is perfectly poised, heightening all the flavors but not overtaking them. This is not as obviously approachable as other bourbons on this list, but if you’re a regular whiskey drinker, that’ll only make you enjoy it more. Average price: $29.
It’s hard to find decent wine for 15 bucks, let alone 100-proof bourbon. And yet, Evan Williams somehow manages to deliver. This bottled-in-bond release is a little rough around the edges, but in no way lacking charm or appeal. A distinct crack of pepper mixes with fruit on the nose, with the fruit gaining even more traction on the palate. The price tag says we’re in cocktail territory but don’t turn your nose up at a neat pour or a hearty splash on the rocks. Average price: $15.
Four Roses’ focus on rye-driven mash bills and multiple yeast strains translates to a bourbon that is rich in cereal and fruity fermentation notes. The palate is bright and delicate, and while lacking the luxurious richness of other bottles, this bourbon serves an attractive and memorable spice note on the finish. Average price: $19.
If you want to understand wheated bourbon, there’s hardly a better place to start than Larceny Small Batch. The grain lends a signature sweetness to the whiskey’s aromas, which draws you in and then amplifies the subtler vanilla and baking spice notes. Everything that’s great about the nose continues onto the palate, and for the first time a hint of charred oak arrives to liven things up further. It’s baffling how good this bourbon is for the price. Average price: $25.
The lowest-proof and lowest-priced bourbon in Old Forester’s impressive lineup, this bottle is a great all-rounder that delivers flavor and depth. Dried fruit, baking spice, and light caramel aromas lead onto a palate that is light and lively, but doesn’t disappoint on flavor. A spicy rye note adds intrigue, while toasted oak lingers onto the finish. Average price: $21.
You won’t find too many barrel-proof offerings when shopping at this price point, and you certainly won’t encounter any better than “OGD 114.” A high-rye bourbon owned and made by Beam-Suntory, this release serves in-your-face proof and spice, but its sweet vanilla and rich caramel core reveal a softer side. Polished it is not, but that’s all part of the charm. Average price: $29.
Another wheated offering, the grain’s sweet character defines this bourbon and shines from start to finish. Vanilla and toasted oak notes provide further depth, with subtle hints of fruit also present. This is a really well-rounded dram and one that offers both the option of cocktails and sipping neat, though we tend to favor it for the former. Average price: $29.
Wild Turkey 101
Wild Turkey’s higher proof stands out when tasted alongside other bottles at this price range, but not in an industrial alcohol type of way. Instead, it only heightens the intensity of aromas and flavors, which run the gamut from rye spice and charred oak to licorice and other confectionary delights. Given the proof, each sip is surprisingly light-bodied, but pulls no punches on the flavor front. As the finish lingers, the overall impression is one of awe at the harmony of it all. Average price: $24.
Published: March 23, 2021