The best bourbon doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s a long list of great bourbons that all clock in below $50. To get a little more specific, there’s a particularly great list of bourbons that cost between $40 and $50. It’s a narrow window but full of tasty pours.
For this list, I pulled 20 bottles of bourbon that I think are worth drinking that cost just under $50. These bottles have value but some are a little more refined than others, so I’m also ranking them according to taste and how I’d use them. Some tend to work better as cocktail mixers (at the bottom of the ranking) while others shine as rewarding sippers too (at the top of the ranking).
Overall, this is a list full of great bourbon whiskeys that are worth seeking out. You can get a lot for your cash with bourbon, so check the tasting notes and find a few that sound like you’d dig them. A word of warning: These prices are from Kentucky’s Total Wine liquor store. Local prices will vary depending on wherever you are.
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20. Rabbit Hole Cavehill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $49
This four-grain Kentucky bourbon is made with 70% corn, 10% malted wheat, 10% honey malted barley, and 10% malted barley. That spirit is then aged for three years in toasted and charred barrels before it’s batched from 15 barrels, proofed, and bottled.
Nose: This has a lot of apple cobbler on the nose with sweet and bright stewed apples, plenty of dark brown spices, brown sugar, buttery pastry cobbles, and a touch of honey sweetness.
Palate: The honey becomes creamy and spiked with orange zest as the malt shines through as a digestive cookie with a hint of fresh mint and more of that honey with a flake of salt.
Finish: The finish brings about that spice again with a little more of a peppery edge this time as the fade slowly falls off, leaving you with a creamy vanilla tobacco feeling.
This is a good place to start both at this price point and with Rabbit Hole as a brand. The flavor profile is distinct and full-bodied. I tend to lean toward simple whiskey cocktails with this — drinks where the bourbon can shine.
19. Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $44
This Wyoming whiskey is a grain-to-glass crafty. The mash is wheated (with corn and malted barley) and left to age for at least four years before blending, proofing, and bottling.
Nose: There’s a sense of floral fruit orchards on the nose with a hint of tapioca pudding cups, caramel apples, oatmeal cookies, and mildly spiced root beer.
Palate: That floral vibe takes on a slight nasturtium spiciness with old and woody winter spices, vanilla custard, and wet brown sugar cut with butter.
Finish: The vanilla amps up alongside a sharp cinnamon stick with a hint more of the apple by way of orchard bark in the background.
This is a nice and easy-mixing bourbon. It makes a killer cocktail.
18. Johnny Drum Private Stock 101 Kentucky Bourbon
Average Price: $44
This whiskey is hewn from Kentucky Bourbon Distillery barrels (also known as Willett). The barrels are batched and proofed down with local Bardstown water for bottling.
Nose: This starts out with apple pie filling overstuffed with a lot of cinnamon, butter, brown sugar, and vanilla that all leads toward salted caramel.
Palate: The taste has this mild orange feel with a note of dark chocolate, cinnamon cream soda, and apple fritters with a hint of sourdough funk to them.
Finish: The end has a lightness that feels like Dr. Pepper with a hint of cherry syrup next to woody winter spices and a touch of alcohol warmth (or a “Kentucky Hug” if you will).
This is perfectly suited for mixing cocktails thanks to that higher ABV and pretty classic bourbon aura. It’ll stand up nicely in a heavy mix like a whiskey sour or Sazerac.
17. Jeptha Creed Bloody Butcher Corn Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $49
This four-grain bourbon is all about the farm-to-glass experience. The juice is made from a mash with Bloody Butcher corn — a sweeter red corn used by Indigenous Americans throughout the Midwest and South for millennia — grown right outside the still house on an expansive Kentucky farm. The red corn is mixed with malted rye, wheat, and barley in the mash and aged for an undisclosed amount of time before proofing and bottling.
Nose: This is like your grandmother’s garden on a berry-picking day on the nose with huge notes of rhododendrons and wisteria next to blackberry jam, blueberry pie, and mason jars of apricot jam with plenty of dark spices layered in.
Palate: The palate holds onto the jammy notes but adds in the rich vanilla pudding, candied walnuts, nutmeg-dusted eggnog, and a tiny echo of cherry sasparilla.
Finish: The dry spices circle back around on the finish with a touch more of that vanilla and a whisper of fresh mint from the garden with a little dirt still on it.
This is another solid cocktail bourbon that also has some charm as a sipper over plenty of ice.
16. Daviess County Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $41
This Lux Row bourbon is a blend of high rye and wheated bourbons from select barrels that Lux Row pulled from local distilleries. Those barrels are then masterfully batched and proofed down with local water.
Nose: Old honey candies mingle with orange oils, vanilla wafers, salted caramel sauce, and a hint of mint on the nose.
Palate: A mild note of sweet cedar drives the palate as floral honey and spicy vanilla pudding round out the taste toward the mid-palate.
Finish: The orange comes back late with a dusting of black pepper next to more soft cedar dipped into that floral honey.
This has such a nice dark orange throughline that it damn near begs to be used in an old fashioned.
15. Castle & Key Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $49
Castle & Key Distillery is the renovated Old Taylor Distillery outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. This distillery has spent years contract distilling for other brands, until this year when they released their first batch of this expression in April. The juice is a mash of 73% white corn, 17% malted barley, and a scant 10% rye. After four years, 80 barrels are chosen for this small-batch expression and proofed down with local water.
Nose: This opens with a sense of unbaked sourdough cinnamon rolls next to Graham Crackers dipped in vanilla-creamed honey served with a warm can of peach soda.
Palate: The palate leans into the fruitiness with a pink taffy vibe that’s countered by slight pepperiness, a touch of “woody,” and more of that creamy honey laced with vanilla.
Finish: The fruity take on a savory essence — think cantaloupe — on the mid-palate before circling back to the pepperiness with a bit of woody spice on the short end.
This is an excellent cocktail bourbon. It kind of works with everything from a boulevardier to a Manhattan to a highball to a sour.
14. Blade And Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $45
This is a fascinating and unique bottle from Diageo. The core of this whiskey is orphan barrels from Diageo’s Stitzel-Weller distillery (which is now dedicated to the brand). Those last barrels from the iconic distillery — that once made Old Fitzgerald back in the day — are blended with sourced whiskeys from unnamed distilleries. The blend is then proofed and bottled with no age statement.
Nose: This is a nuanced bourbon with hints of dried apricot, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, and a slight whisper of banana pulling you in.
Palate: The palate veers more towards the dried stone fruits and raisins, as a counterpoint of juicy pear leads towards hints of soft oak next to grain touches.
Finish: The end leans into the warming spices with a Christmas edge, with the oak and fruits fading out slowly.
This is one of those whiskeys that feels like it’ll be a great sipper but really works better for mixing up great and interesting cocktails. Try it in your next Manhattan, it’s perfect for that application.
13. Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 1870 Original Batch
Average Price: $45
This Old Forester celebrates the distillery’s founding in 1870. Back in the day, Geroge Brown would pull barrels from his three distilleries to create a consistent blend to bottle. Today, the good folks at Brown-Forman pull three barrels from three of their Kentucky warehouses. Each barrel will have a different day of distillation, a different entry proof before aging, and different ages. Those barrels are batched and then proofed down.
Nose: This opens with a rush of fresh wildflowers next to bold citrus notes, especially grapefruit and orange oils with a dash of lemon zest in the mix.
Palate: The taste takes that lemon and layers it into a very vanilla and butter-forward shortbread with a dusting of raw sugar that leads towards an eggnog spice mix.
Finish: That spiciness drives the finish as a hint of cherry and lemon mingle on the warm and fairly long end.
This has a great citrus vibe that makes it a perfect candidate for old fashioneds, smashes, and sours. It’s also pretty good over some rocks too.
12. Rowan’s Creek Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $49
This whiskey used to be a 12-year small batch offering named after the creek that runs through Willett Distillery. It’s still named after the creek, but the 12-year age statement is gone. The whiskey is cut down to a very specific 100.1 proof with that Kentucky limestone water before bottling.
Nose: The nose draws you in with notes of salted caramel, woody cherry tobacco, a touch of leather, and vanilla wafers countered by savory herbs (think rosemary and maybe sage) next to light but fresh roses.
Palate: The taste goes hard with the cherry tobacco to the point that it’s nearly sticky on the palate as the roses dry out and the vanilla and caramel almost feel dried out and attached to a dry cedar bark.
Finish: A hint of winter spice comes in late as the finish leans back into the dry roses and singed cherry tobacco leaves.
This is pretty damn fine whiskey overall. It’s a little floral for my taste, but it’s spot-on otherwise. If you do grab a bottle, try it on the rocks first and then integrate it into your favorite cocktails.
11. Wilderness Trail Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey Bottled In Bond
Average Price: $48
Wilderness Trail is the whiskey nerd’s whiskey. Dr. Pat, who started off selling yeast to brewers and distillers, helped start this distillery based on making the best of the best. This expression starts off with a high rye mash bill of 64% corn, 24% rye, and 12% malted barley. That whiskey is aged on-site and then only 12 barrels are pulled for this small batch expression.
Nose: This draws you in with a piping hot apple pie full of stewed apples, wintry spice, and a lard crust accented by vanilla, a touch of applewood, and subtle salted caramel drizzle.
Palate: The palate leans into the stewed apples at first then counters with freshly cracked black pepper before the caramel sweetness takes the mid-palate towards the finish.
Finish: The end is full of winter spices with a hint of peppery tobacco leaf and a touch of dry wicker furniture.
This is a whiskey nerd’s pour. It’s damn near perfect as a bourbon but that makes it a tiny bit boring. So I tend to use this for cocktails where you can add a little liveliness to it, then it shines brightly.
10. Jefferson’s Reserve Very Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Very Small Batch
Average Price: $42
Jefferson’s really hits it out of the park with their sourced juice. The “very old” element of this small-batched blend means that eight to 12 barrels of four unique bourbons were selected to be married, with the oldest clocking in at 20 years old. That juice is then proofed with soft Kentucky limestone water to bring it down to a very approachable 90.2 proof.
Nose: Notes of vanilla meet spicy tobacco, leather, oak, and very buttery toffee with a hint of popped corn and apple pie mingle on the nose.
Palate: The palate holds true to those notes while adding a mellow cherry with an almost cedar-infused cream soda.
Finish: The finish is short but full of all those woody, spicy, and apple pie notes again, with plenty of buttery mouthfeel and a cedar box full of rich tobacco leaves.
This is a classic and very easy-drinking bourbon. The lower ABV/proof means that you don’t need any ice to calm it down. Just pour one and enjoy.
9. Pinhook High Proof Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $49
This contract distilled juice from Pinhook celebrates the young racehorse “Bourbondini.” The whiskey in the bottle is made from a mash of 75% corn, 15% rye, and 10% malted barley. After a long rest, the whiskey is just touched with water and bottled.
Nose: This opens with a big nose full of hot apple cider spiked with clove, raisins, and molasses next to a soft bar of high-quality marzipan all with a whisper of figgy jam in the background.
Palate: The palate leans toward that savory fruit with a hint of dry tropical fruit before a chili-infused dark espresso takes over with a dash of powdered dark chocolate.
Finish: The finish sweetens with rich toffee and brown butter vibe as the charred barrel makes an appearance at the very end.
This Castle & Key-made whiskey is a shining example of the good work going on out there at the Old Taylor facility. I like this on the rocks with a dash of Angostura bitters, which means it works really well in an old fashioned too if you want to put in the effort to make one.
8. Knob Creek Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Aged 9 Years
Average Price: $46 (one-liter)
This is Jim Beam’s small batch entry point into the wider world of Knob Creek. The juice is the low-rye mash aged for nine years in new oak in Beam’s vast warehouses. The right barrels are then mingled and cut down to 100 proof before being bottled in new, wavy bottles.
Nose: The nose on this feels classic with a bold sense of rich vanilla pods, cinnamon sharpness, buttered and salted popcorn, and a good dose of cherry syrup with a hint of cotton candy.
Palate: The palate mixes almond, orange, and vanilla into a cinnamon sticky bun with a hint of sour cherry soda that leads to a nice Kentucky hug on the mid-palate.
Finish: That warm hug fades toward black cherry root beer, old leather boots, porch wicker, and a sense of dried cherry/cinnamon tobacco packed into an old pine box.
This is your standard bourbon “bourbon.” It’s great as a cocktail base and works perfectly well as a sipper on the rocks, especially if you’re specifically looking not to be challenged.
7. Bulleit Bourbon 10 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $45
This is classic (sourced) Bulleit Bourbon that’s aged up to 10 years before it’s blended and bottled. The barrels are hand-selected to really amplify those classic “Bulleit” flavors that make this brand so damn accessible (and beloved) in the first place.
Nose: There’s a lot going on with butter and spicy stewed apples, maple syrup, Christmas cakes full of nuts and dried fruit, and a hint of savory herbs all pinging through your nose.
Palate: The palate brings about smooth and creamy vanilla with plenty of butter toffee, sourdough crust, more X-mas spice, cedar bark, and a hint of dried roses.
Finish: The finish is long, warming, and really embraces the toffee and spice.
This is just good. I like it as an easy, everyday sipper over some rocks or a go-to Manhattan base.
6. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $49
This expression takes standard Woodford Bourbon and gives it a finishing touch. The bourbon is blended and moved into new barrels that have been double-toasted but only lightly charred. The juice spends a final nine months resting in those barrels before proofing and bottling.
Nose: There’s a welcoming aroma of marzipan, blackberry, toffee, and fresh honey next to a real sense of pitchy, dry firewood.
Palate: The taste drills down on those notes as the sweet marzipan becomes more choco-hazelnut, the berries become increasingly dried and apple-y, the toffee becomes almost burnt, and the wood softens to a cedar bark.
Finish: A rich spicy and chewy tobacco arrives late as the vanilla gets super creamy and the fruit and honey combine on the slow fade.
This is another bourbon that’s just good. Pour it over some rocks or mix it into your favorite cocktail. Either way, you’ll be all set.
5. Four Roses Small Batch Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $49
This expression uses six of Four Rose’s ten whiskeys in their small-batching process. The idea is to blend both high and low-rye bourbons with yeast strains that highlight “delicate fruit,” “slight spice,” and “herbal notes.” The whiskeys tend to spend at least six years in the barrel before blending and proofing with just a touch of Kentucky’s soft limestone water.
Nose: Raspberry and cloves mix with old oak and draw you in on the nose.
Palate: The palate amps up the dark berry sweetness with a bit of tartness as a stone fruit vibe comes into play. The spice heightens and leans into winter spice with a focus on nutmeg.
Finish: Finally, a wisp of fresh mint arrives to counterpoint the whole sip as the oak, vanilla, berries, and spice all slowly fade out.
This is where we get into the very good bourbon. This stuff rules neat, on the rocks, or in a simple cocktail.
4. Stellum Bourbon
Average Price: $49
The whiskey in that bottle is a cask-strength blend of whiskeys from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Basically, the process is a sort of hybrid reverse solera technique where the blend gets more juice to keep the proof high and the blend consistent in flavor as the batch is drained off. It’s a delicate balance of mixing great whiskeys to make something better than the individual parts.
Nose: The nose is a holiday cake with fatty nuts next to woody spice barks — think anise, clove, and cinnamon — with a nice dose of dried red fruits and honey-dipped over-ripe Granny Smith apples.
Palate: The palate edges away from the spice towards a powdered sugar sweetness with a hint of dry vanilla. Then a counterpoint bursts onto the scene with a hit of spicy, dried chili pepper flakes next to blackberry pie with a nice dose of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Finish: The end lingers for just the right amount of time as the spice fades back towards the honeyed sweetness and a final touch of vanilla tobacco buzz lands in the back of the throat.
This is a fun sipper. You’ll always find some new or fresh nuance or note every time you go back for another nose or taste. It also makes a hell of a Manhattan.
3. George Dickel Bottled in Bond Tennessee Whisky Fall 2008 Aged 13 Years
Average Price: $44
Master Distiller Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This release is a whiskey that was warehoused in the fall of 2008. 13 years later, this juice was bottled at 100 proof (as per the bottled-in-bond law) and left to rest. Last fall, new releases of that Tennessee whiskey were sent out to much acclaim.
Nose: Sour cherries, maple syrup, and pecan waffles mingle with dried apple chips, old leather boots, and winter spice with a hint of vanilla wafers on the nose.
Palate: The taste leans toward spicy apple pie filling with walnuts, plenty of cinnamon, and some raisins before malted vanilla milkshakes, blueberry cotton candy, and dark chocolate milk arrive on the mid-palate and lead toward a moist oatmeal cookie dipped in salted caramel.
Finish: The end has a dry woody spiciness with star anise, cinnamon, and allspice mingling with marzipan and cherry/cinnamon tobacco.
This is one of the best whiskeys at this price point on the shelf today. This could easily cost twice as much and people wouldn’t bat an eye. All of that aside, this is a great cocktail base or sipper over some rocks. It’s just good, period.
2. Michter’s US *1 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $46
Michter’s really means the phrase “small batch” here. The tank they use to marry their hand-selected eight-year-old bourbons can only hold 20 barrels, so that’s how many go into each small-batch bottling. The blended juice is then proofed with Kentucky’s famously soft limestone water and bottled.
Nose: The nose on this is very fruity with a mix of bruised peach, red berries (almost like in a cream soda), and apple wood next to a plate of waffles with brown butter and a good pour of maple syrup that leads to a hint of cotton candy.
Palate: The sweetness ebbs on the palate as vanilla frosting leads to grilled peaches with a crack of black pepper next to singed marshmallows.
Finish: The end is plummy and full of rich toffee next to a dash of cedar bark and vanilla tobacco.
This is a quintessential bourbon whiskey. It’s also the best mixing bourbon on the list for simple, whiskey-forward cocktails. That said, it works just as well over some ice in a rocks glass.
1. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky
Average Price: $42
This special release from Maker’s Mark is their classic wheated bourbon turned up a few notches. The batch is made from no more than 19 barrels of whiskey. Once batched, that whiskey goes into the barrel at cask strength with no filtering, just pure whiskey-from-the-barrel vibes.
Nose: Burnt caramel candies and lush vanilla lead the way on the nose with hints of dry straw, sour cherry pie, and spiced apple cider with a touch of eggnog lushness.
Palate: The palate has a sense of spicy caramel with a vanilla base that leads to apricot jam, southern biscuits, and a flake of salt with a soft mocha creaminess.
Finish: The end is all about the buzzy tobacco spiciness with a soft vanilla underbelly and a hint of cherry syrup.
This is delicious whiskey. It’s so clearly a good and lush bourbon, even the newcomer can taste the excellence (and the flavors are dialed, which makes analyzing it a little more clear-cut). Get some!