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The Best Bottles Of Whiskey For Under $20

The best “cheap” bottles of whiskey manage to be versatile yet accessible. What we mean by that is that you can use these expressions as a base for a cocktail or highball or, in a pinch, pour them over some rocks. You can drink them like a shot, too, if that’s your thing. (It might not be the easiest shot you ever take, but nonetheless — shootable.)

Cheap whiskey doesn’t have to be bad is what we’re getting at. Sure, you have the bottom of the bottom shelf bottles — you know, that stuff that comes in big plastic jugs that you can use as a cleaning agent in case you run out of Lemon Pledge. But we’re not there to talk about those. We’re calling out the bottles that come in actual glass but still won’t break the bank.

The ten bottles below are perfectly drinkable examples of whiskey from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. We’re not saying these are the best whiskeys in the world. Pretty far from it. We’re saying that they’ll get the job done if you’re looking to tie one on and don’t have a lot of scratch to spare.

Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, KY
Average Price: $8

The Whiskey:

Heaven Hill’s brands are going to come up a lot on this list. They’re the Kentucky distillery that’s shed all pretension to bring us solid whiskey at affordable prices with no bullshit. As with this whiskey, there’s little meddling besides classic distilling and aging with the added bonus of charcoal filtration to smooth things out.

Tasting Notes:

There’s the thinness to this sip that works in its favor. There are subtle notes of bourbon vanilla, caramel, and a hint of apple. The vanilla and caramel really carry through with a slight alcohol burn, minor woodiness, and bitterness that leads towards the swift and mild finish.

Old Fitzgerald Prime Bourbon

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $9

The Whiskey:

Another Heaven Hill entry at a great price. Prime is a simple bourbon that meets the minimum requirements to be called straight bourbon. From there, it’s bottled and sent out without any fuss on the part of the distillery, making it easy-drinking and very affordable.

Tasting Notes:

This is simple bourbon so expect hints of vanilla, caramel, and oak up front. The sip flows towards a Graham cracker bite with a hint of fresh mint before the alcohol edges bring about a quick, warm finish.

Evan Williams Green Label Bourbon

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, KY
Average Price: $10

The Whiskey:

Some would argue that Green Label is a step down from the more common Black Label or Bottled-in-Bond versions of Evan Williams. Well, if it is, it’s barely a half-step down. This bottle holds all the value of a dram of Evan Williams at a lower price. You can’t beat that.

Tasting Notes:

There’s mild simplicity at play here — with a nose of alcohol supported by vanilla, caramel, and oak. The sip then edges toward an almost dry coconut flake flavor with a mild fruit essence lingering in the background. The heat, vanilla, and oak kick back in on the finish.

Ancient Age Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $11

The Whiskey:

The name of the whiskey is kind of ironic, given it’s only aged for three years. Otherwise, like most of the bottles on this list, the making of this bourbon follows an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” model, with a classic mash bill and old school methods throughout.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a deeper sense of the corn on the nose with a clear hint of vanilla and caramel. The sweetness moves into toffee territory as small flourishes of spice kick in. Finally, the sip settles into an oakiness with a nice dose of vanilla and a whisper of citrus.

Black Velvet Reserve Aged 8 Years

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Black Velvet Distillery, Lethbridge, AL (Heaven Hill)
Average Price: $13

The Whiskey:

This is a surprisingly quaffable rye from Canada. The ripple is that the rye and corn mashes are distilled and then blended and distilled again. Then the juice rests for eight years in new oak before bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Clear rye spice mingles with a bottle of fizzy and sweet cream soda. Dark fruits, black pepper, and toffee pop alongside a clear sense of alcohol. The oak comes in late with more vanilla-heavy cream soda that’s cut down by a hint of citrus at the very end.

Henry McKenna Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

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Both expressions of Henry McKenna are back in stock.

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ABV: 40%
Distillery: H. McKenna Distillery, Bardstown, KY (Heaven Hill)
Average Price: $15

The Whiskey:

This brand from Heaven Hill is named after the Irish immigrant who was the first person (on record) to age whiskey in new charred American oak, creating bourbon. This accessible expression is meant to be a “table whiskey” much in the same vein as a table wine — i.e. very drinkable in everyday situations.

Tasting Notes:

Very mild spice, toffee, and vanilla mix initially. There’s a bump of fruitiness that takes a backseat to the classic bourbon notes. The toffee sweetness is cut by a mild oak and spice that leads to a brisk end.

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $15

The Whiskey:

It’s Jim Beam. It’s classic, easy, and affordable. There’s really not much more to say besides that this is a quality bourbon that has applications from shots to cocktails and everything in between.

Tasting Notes:

A hint of corn is dominated by clear bourbon vanilla and sweet caramel. There’s a clear sense of an apple orchard amongst the vanilla as the caramel edges towards maple syrup. The end is short, sweet, and full of vanilla.

Grant’s Family Reserve

ABV: 40%
Blender/Bottler: William Grant & Sons, Dufftown, UK
Average Price: $16

The Whiskey:

This blended scotch is a nice departure from this bourbon-heavy list. This is a mixing whisky by nature, though you can throw it over some rocks in a pinch. The blend is a mix of a few dozen different whiskies aged in three different types of barrels: New European oak, new American oak, and ex-bourbon barrels.

Tasting Notes:
Wet grains, wisps of smoke, and sense of oak come through up top. The sip has a clear dark spice edge with a note of caramel and straw. A minor bitterness comes into play with a small note of fresh herbs on the short end.

Ezra Brooks Straight Rye Whiskey

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#ezrabrooksrye #straightryewhiskey #whiskey

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ABV: 45%
Distillery: MGP Indiana (Bottled at Lux Row Distillers, Bardstown, KY)
Average Price: $19

The Whiskey:

This new(ish) rye from Ezra Brooks is one of the more affordable ryes on the market. The mash bill is a departure from the usual MGP rye which is 95 percent rye grain. This expression actually clocks in at 51 percent rye with 45 percent corn supporting the mash bill (the rest is barley).

Tasting Notes:

The rye is there but this one feels more like a spicy bourbon with a clear sense of vanilla and caramel next to oak. That vanilla and oak carry a mild peppery spice towards a medium-long end with a very distant echo of smoke.

George Dickel Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey #8

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Cascade Hollow Distillery, Tullahoma, TN (Diageo)
Average Price: $19.99

The Whiskey:

This Tennessee sour mash has a mash bill of 84 percent corn, supported by equal parts rye and barley (8% of each). The juice is mellowed over sugar maple charcoal and then aged in both medium and heavy charred barrels before being blended into the final bottle.

Tasting Notes:

Vanilla and pepper mingle with oak upfront. The sip has a refreshing balance of Christmas spices and pound cake mixed with a slight sense of corn, fruit, and wood. The finish offers a dialed-in sense of each element that slowly fades from your senses.

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