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A Whiskey Writer Ranks His Favorite Mixing Bourbons Under $30

Christopher Osburn has spent the past fifteen years in search of “the best” — or at least his very favorite — sips of whisk(e)y on earth. He’s traveled to over 20 countries testing local spirits, visited more than 50 distilleries around the globe, and amassed a collection of bottles that occupies his entire basement.
In this series, he cracks open his worn “tasting diary” and shares its contents with the masses.

Unless you’re a super-rich person who doesn’t care about hand-crafted, high-quality whiskey and the painstakingly difficult work that goes into creating it, you’ll savor a super expensive glass of bourbon slowly, neat or on a deep-frozen rock. You certainly won’t use that bottle of Pappy, Weller, or EH Taylor as the base for a mint julep, Manhattan, or whiskey sour all too often. Fortunately, there are much less expensive, also-well-made bourbon options perfectly suited for mixing.

When I refer to “less expensive” bourbons, I’m not talking about the plastic-handled bottom shelf swill that seems much more suited to being fuel for your lawnmower than drinking. I’m talking about the great, value bourbons that are not only functional sippers but also ideal cocktail bases. Generally, these land smack dab in the second shelf — the $20-$30 range. Not so low on the quality ladder that they ruin your drink and not refined enough to make you feel bad about mixing with them.

Below, you’ll find my eight favorite mixing bourbons in the $20-$30 sweet spot — ranked with tasting notes.


8) Maker’s Mark

Maker

ABV: 45%
Average Price: $30

The Story:

One of the most well-known names in the bourbon world, Maker’s Mark is a 90 proof, small-batch whiskey (although they spell it whisky) that’s well-known for its iconic red wax-dipped bottles. With its cheap price and mellow, rich flavor, there’s a reason Maker’s Mark is one of the most popular bourbons in the world.

Tasting Notes:

This bourbon smells the way you imagine bourbon to smell in your mind. The basic aromas of vanilla, caramel, and oak are prevalent and… that’s about it. The flavor is soft, mellow, and highlighted by notes of butterscotch, vanilla beans, and subtle cinnamon. It’s a simple, straightforward whiskey that’s always there.

No frills and no flavors you don’t anticipate.

Bottom Line:

Part of the appeal of Maker’s Mark is that it’s a sweet, corn-centric, mellow whiskey that you can sip neat, but its sticker price won’t make you feel remorse about mixing with it.

7) Evan Williams Single Barrel

Evan Williams

ABV: 43.3%
Average Price: $30

The Story:

You might assume that the price for the only vintage-dated single barrel bourbon on this list would be pretty hefty. Well, It’s not. Evan Williams Single Barrel is made up of hand-picked barrels that are aged 7-8 years. Even though this whiskey retails for around $30, each bottle is labeled with its vintage date, the year it was bottled, and the barrel number.

Tasting Notes:

The aromas of cooking spices, brown sugar, charred oak, and light caramel are heavy on the nose. The palate leans into caramel apples, candied orange peels, oaky wood, and toasted vanilla beans. The finish is long and surprisingly mellow for a value bourbon.

Overall, a great whiskey for the price, but not overly complex and perfect for mixing.

Tasting Notes:

This well-priced whiskey feels like it was created to be used as a mixer. It’s sweet, flavorful, and stands up well even when mixed with bold, over-the-top ingredients.

6) Old Grand-Dad

Jim Beam

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $20

The Story:

By now, you likely know that the “Old Grand-Dad” on the bottle is none other than Basil Hayden. His face should always alert you that you’re about to crack open of the best value bourbons ever created. While you can opt for the bonded version, I feel that this high-rye, robust, oaky bourbon is better suited for cocktails.

Tasting Notes:

The first aroma that’s noticeable is vanilla. This is followed by caramelized sugar, honey, and wood char. The palate reveals hints of raisins, butter cookies, vanilla beans, caramel candy, and just a hint of cracked black pepper. It ends in a warming, sweet, slightly spicy finish that works well in drinks like the classic Manhattan or whiskey highball.

Bottom Line:

If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, or you simply don’t want to spend a lot on a mixer, you can’t do better than the crazy low-priced Old Grand-Dad. It was literally made for mixing.

5) Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Four Roses

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $25

The Story:

Four Roses is a big name in the bourbon world and offers a portfolio of high-quality expressions. Its lowest level is Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon (also lovingly known as Four Roses Yellow Label). It’s aged for five years, is 80-proof, and is noted for its fruity, rich flavor.

Also, it’s surprisingly cheap.

Tasting Notes:

Aromas include honey, cinnamon, dried apricots, and vanilla. The palate is made up of caramel apples, raisins, almond cookies, toasted vanilla beans, oak, and subtle spices. All in all a smooth, sippable, highly mixable whiskey.

Bottom Line:

The sweet honey, caramel, and slight spice make this an ideal whiskey for mixing. Use it as the base for a boulevardier and you’ll be stoked.

4) Old Forester 100

Old Forester

ABV: 50%
Average Price: $25

The Story:

This award-winning whiskey is just as well-known for its consistently low price as well as its 100-proof, robust, slightly spicy flavor. Made from hand-selected barrels, its high proof and well-balanced flavor make it one of the best value choices for bourbon cocktails on the market.

Tasting Notes:

The aroma is a great mix of sweetness and spice with notes of caramel and vanilla beans mixed with almonds, freshly brewed coffee, and just a hint of baking spices. The flavor follows suit with caramel apples, dried fruits, clove, cinnamon, rich, oaky wood, and slight peppery rye at the very finish.

Bottom Line:

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more mellow, sweet, slightly spicy 100 proof bourbon in this price range more suited for mixing into cocktails. Take a look, we dare you.

3) Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey

ABV: 50.5%
Average Price: $25

The Story:

One of the most beloved bargain whiskeys by both bartenders and bourbon drinkers, Wild Turkey 101 is one of the best mixing (and sipping) value whiskeys in the world. This high proof, high-rye bourbon, has been aged the same way (in heavily charred oak barrels) for more than sixty years.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is loaded with buttery caramel, sweet cream, charred oak, and just a hint of spicy rye. The palate highlights maple candy, butterscotch, vanilla beans, cracked black pepper, and cinnamon sugar. The finish is dry, sweet, and filled with a symphony of pepper, vanilla, and cinnamon spice.

Bottom Line:

I’ll get it if you stop right here. Wild Turkey 101 is unbeatable for the price. Fans of baking spice-driven, charred oak, caramel-forward bourbons will love mixing with this high-proof expression.

2) Elijah Craig Small Batch

Elijah Craig

ABV: 47%
Average Price: $30

The Story:

Legend has it that Elijah Craig invented bourbon when he aged his whiskey in charred oak barrels. Regardless of that story’s veracity, I love the bourbon made in his honor for its versatility and value. The brand’s flagship Small Batch has won multiple awards and is known for its spicy, sweet, slightly smoky flavor profile.

Tasting Notes:

Crack open a bottle and you’ll be greeted with slightly herbal aromas plus dried cherries, cinnamon sugar, and buttercream frosting. Sipping it brings forth notes of charred oak, cloves, cinnamon, treacle, and butterscotch. It all ends in a crescendo of toasted oak and sweet dried fruits.

Bottom Line:

Even though it’s around $30, Elijah Craig Small Batch is so flavorful, so nuanced, you might not want to mix with it. I implore you to push those feelings away and use this one as a base for your next Manhattan. You’ll be delighted you did.

1) Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%
Average Price: $30

The Story:

Buffalo Trace is one of the most respected distilleries in the world. Makers of Pappy, Weller, and almost all of the most sought-after bourbons on the market, Trace also makes a flagship value bourbon simply called Buffalo Trace.

Easily the most respected bargain bourbon on the market, Buffalo Trace is a small batch, slightly spicy, sweet whiskey that demands to be used as the base for your favorite cocktails.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is exactly what you hope for in a well-made, mixing bourbon. It’s filled with scents of sticky toffee, caramel candy, almond cookies, and gentle peppery spice. The palate has flavors of caramel corn, butterscotch, charred oaky wood, chocolate fudge, and dried cherries and raisins. It ends with a nice mix of cinnamon and caramelized sugar.

Bottom Line:

When it comes to a price to quality ratio, I don’t believe there is a better mixing bourbon than Buffalo Trace. It’s spicy, sweet, and perfectly suited for mixing into Manhattans, whiskey sours, and especially summery, fresh whiskey highballs.


As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.

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