Good cheap bourbon isn’t hard to find. The shelves are stacked with bottles that won’t break the bank. But those same shelves are also stacked with cheap bottles that leave… a lot to be desired. As a customer, how do you sort the bottles that kind of suck from the good ones?
A great place to start is this blind taste test of 20 cheap bourbons. For this blind tasting, I pulled every cheap bourbon off my shelf and put it to the test. The price range was between $10 and $30 (give or take a dollar here and there) with the bulk hitting around the $20 mark.
That makes our lineup the following today:
- Kirkland Signature Small Batch by Barton 1792 Master Distillers Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Very Old Barton 100 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Old Crow The Original Sour Mash Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Weller The Original Wheated Bourbon Special Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Benchmark Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Old Tub Unfiltered Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- 1792 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Benchmark Old No. 8 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Jim Beam Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- George Dickel Bourbon Whisky Aged 8 Years
- J.W. Dant Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Elijah Craig Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- J.T.S. Brown Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Old Fitzgerald Prime Bourbon Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
As for the ranking, it’s simple, folks. This is about taste alone. If it had a good flavor profile and real depth, it ranked higher. If not, it ranked lower. And perhaps surprisingly, the more spendy bottles didn’t beat out the cheaper ones by all that much. Let’s dive in!
- The 100 Best Bourbon Whiskeys Of 2022, Ranked
- We Put A Whole Bunch Of Bourbons To A Giant Blind Test And Discovered Some Absolute Gems
- The Affordable Vs Expensive Blind Bourbon Bottle Battle
- The Best-Known Basic Bottles Of Bourbon, Blind Tasted And Ranked
- The 30 Best Bourbon Whiskeys For Fall, Blind Tasted & Ranked
Part 1: The Tasting
Nose: Apple and pear open the nose up toward peach taffy with a hint of black licorice ropes, old leather, sweet winter spices, and a whisper of Nutella.
Palate: The palate lets the vanilla linger while a sweet and mild Red Hot vibe mixes with classic cherry cola, dried sweetgrass, salted caramel candies, and apricot jam on a Southern biscuit with a drop of fresh honey and butter.
Finish: The end stays pretty classic with a sense of spiced cherry tobacco, rich vanilla, and a few old oak staves.
This was pretty nice overall — solid nose, palate, and finish with a very classic sweet bourbon vibe.
Nose: This has a really nice nose full of buttery caramel, dark berries in a pie, soft oak, and a hint of peppermint.
Palate: The palate dials those berries into a slice of blueberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a dusting of cinnamon and leather.
Finish: The end is short and sweet but brings back the mintiness but more like menthol tobacco with a dry edge.
This hit pretty well. It wasn’t bold but had a standard solidness that helped stand out.
Nose: Fresh Wonder Bread and burnt popcorn lead to buttery caramel and a dab of vanilla oil.
Palate: The palate is very balanced between a sense of caramel, cherry, and “spice” with a wintry vibe.
Finish: The end is pretty short and watery with the vanilla and brown spice leading to a dash of dry straw.
This was pretty light and thin with a decent finish.
Nose: There’s a tannic sense of old oak next to sweet cherries, vanilla cookies, and that Buffalo Trace leathery vibe with a hint of spiced tobacco lurking underneath.
Palate: The palate has a creamy texture kind of like malted vanilla ice cream over a hot apple pie cut with brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and walnuts next to Frosted Raisin Bran with a hint of candied cherry root beer.
Finish: The end takes that sweet cherry and apple and layers it into a light tobacco leaf with a mild sense of old musty barrel warehouses.
This was far and away better than the last pours. The depth was far more evident from the jump.
Nose: Soft leather and old vanilla pods mix with old lawn furniture sitting in green grass with a hint of floral honey and apple pie on the nose.
Palate: The palate has a rich toffee vibe next to sweet cinnamon and plenty of eggnog creamy/spicy vibes that leads to a nutmeg-heavy mocha latte.
Finish: There’s a sense of dried corn husks on the finish with a mix of rum-raisin, vanilla pound cake, and cherry bark-infused tobacco layered into an old cedar box.
This is classic, deep, and simply tastes good. I like this one.
Nose: The nose has a sweet yellow corn meal, a hint of butterscotch, and a mix of creamy honey and creamy eggnog with plenty of nutmeg and allspice next to a very distant dry woody note.
Palate: The palate has a touch of candy corn next o Almond Joys, sweet cinnamon Hot Tamales, and black cherry tobacco leaves rolled up with dried sweetgrass.
Finish: The end is lightly dry with a sawdust vibe next to apple stems and burnt orange.
This is nice and sweet but has a little roughness to it.
Nose: The nose opens with a woody cherry bark next to sour apple pies, distiller’s beer, and caramel candies next to vanilla cream with a counterpoint of cumin and dry chili lurking in the deeper reaches of the nose.
Palate: The palate opens with a Cherry Coke feel next to rich and buttery toffee, vanilla malts, and sharp Hot Tamales cinnamon candy with a nod toward allspice and root beer.
Finish: The end is soft and lush with vanilla smoothness leading to black cherry tobacco braided with cedar bark and wicker.
This is really nice bourbon. It has a great balance of spicy and sweet with a classic vibe through and through.
Nose: It takes a minute to find the nose on this one. There’s a touch of lemon honey next to vanilla wafers but that’s about it.
Palate: The palate is very middle of the road with clear hints of leather, brown spice, cornmeal, and vanilla.
Finish: There’s a dash of buttered popcorn and caramel toward the end, but the finish is pretty watery overall.
This smells cheap — think cardboard by way of lemon pepper from the 90s. It’s pretty thin all the way through too.
Nose: Vanilla pound cake and salted caramel are countered by spicy cherry tobacco, mulled wine vibes, and dark chocolate cut with orange zest and a hint of corn husk.
Palate: The palate brings in some floral honey sweetness and more orange oils with a sticky toffee pudding feel next to more spicy cherry tobacco and a hint of coconut cream pie.
Finish: The end amps up the cherry with a little more sweetness than spice before salted dark chocolate tobacco folds into dry sweetgrass and cedar bark before a hint of fountain Cherry Coke pops on the very back end with a sense of sitting in an old wicker rocking chair.
This is a winner from the first nose to the bold yet nuanced finish. This is a really good pour. I also am 99% sure I recognize it.
Nose: The nose is full of those heavily charred oak barrel notes next to classic hints of caramel and vanilla with a grassy underbelly.
Palate: That grassiness becomes vaguely floral as slightly spiced caramel apples arrive, along with a chewy mouthfeel that leads towards a soft mineral vibe — kind of like wet granite.
Finish: The end holds onto the fruit and sweetness as the oak and dried grass stays in your senses.
This is nice and has a wheated vibe (grassy). The end is a tad thin but that doesn’t really take anything away from the overall depth of the pour.
Nose: The nose opens with creamy vanilla next to spiced tobacco with plenty of apple pie vibe and winter spices with a butter underbelly.
Palate: The palate has a light bran muffin with a molasses vibe next to vanilla/nougat wafers (hello, Tennessee) that then leads to peach skins and gingerbread.
Finish: The end leans into the nutty chocolate and vanilla wafer with a touch of orange zest, marzipan, and mint tobacco with a dry wicker end.
This is clearly the Dickel and it’s pretty good. There’s depth, clear flavor notes, and plenty to enjoy.
Nose: The nose on this one is pure banana bread brimming with buttery cake, walnuts, cinnamon and nutmeg, and a touch of honey.
Palate: The palate leans into the wood with a No. 2 pencil vibe that leads towards dry vanilla husks and a touch of salted caramel-covered peanuts.
Finish: The back end of the sip stays sweet and nutty as wintry spices cut with orange oils drive a slowish finish.
This was fine. It’s classic bourbon that’s clearly cheap (No. 2 pencil is a dead giveaway).
Nose: There’s a lovely nose at play with soft taco mix spice next to creamy vanilla, caramel-dipped cherries, a hint of pear skins, and plenty of nutmeg.
Palate: The palate has a minor note of cornbread muffins next to cherry-vanilla tobacco with a dash of leather and toffee.
Finish: The end leans into some fresh gingerbread with a vanilla frosting next to hints of pear candy cut with cinnamon and nutmeg.
This, again, was fine. Nothing to really find fault in beside it just being average bourbon.
Nose: There’s a sweet sense of oak on the nose next to mint chocolate chip ice cream, brown sugar, and dried cinnamon sticks.
Palate: The palate has a light smooth vanilla base with a pecan waffle vibe next to maple syrup and cinnamon butter.
Finish: The end adds a layer of warm but mild chili pepper spice next to cherry/vanilla tobacco with a whisper of sweet oak.
This is also fine but has a pretty thin finish.
Nose: Sweet and buttery toffee is countered by burnt orange, old oak, and a hint of cumin and red chili pepper flakes.
Palate: The palate leans into soft vanilla pudding cups with a touch of butterscotch swirled in next to orange oils, nougat, and a hint of menthol tobacco.
Finish: The midpalate tobacco warmth gives way to a finish that’s full of woody winter spices and a whisper of Cherry Coke next to orange/clove by way of a dark chocolate bar flaked with salt.
This is leaps and bounds better. It’s not “wow” better but has serious depth and character that tracks through a bold beginning, middle, and end.
Nose: There’s a light sense of rickhouse wood beams next to that mild taco seasoning on the nose with caramel apples, vanilla ice cream scoops, and a hint of fresh mint with a sweet/spicy edge.
Palate: The palate opens with a seriously smooth vanilla base with some winter spice (especially cinnamon and allspice) next to a hint of grain and apple pie filling.
Finish: The end leans towards the woodiness with a hint of broom bristle and minty tobacco lead undercut by that smooth vanilla.
This is also pretty damn nice. Bold, deep, and kind of charmingly tasty.
Nose: Cream soda with a dash of cherry opens the nose next to dry leather patches, caramel sauce, and a light touch of floral honey.
Palate: The palate brings forward dry and woody spices with a hint of eggnog creaminess leading toward Graham Crackers and a sweet tobacco chew.
Finish: The end turns the woody spice into old oak with more vanilla, honey, and leather lingering the longest.
This is another classic that has some depth to it. It’s not a “holy shit!” good, but it’s well put together for what it is.
Nose: The nose is very light but does meander through apple candy, dry corn, vanilla, and a touch of caramel.
Palate: The taste stays on a similar path with a hint of brown spice and “oak.”
Finish: The end is short but does touch on more vanilla and oak with a hint of cherry tobacco way in the background before an ethanol note takes over.
This is pretty thin and cheap.
Nose: This opens with a rush of Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Cider, pear candy, and vanilla cake with a hint of dark chocolate, orange zest, salted caramel, and some sour red berries tossed with fresh tobacco and mint.
Palate: The palate opens with some dried apple skins next to cinnamon sticks floating in hot and spicy apple cider, a hint of mint tobacco, and salted orange dark chocolate bars.
Finish: The end has a nougat wafer vibe next to caramel and vanilla cookies with a hint of old porch wicker and boot leather.
This has a nice sense of classic bourbon notes that are never overplayed. I dig it as a good average bourbon pour.
Nose: This is a bit thinner on the nose with a touch of vanilla and dry cinnamon next to a hint of caramel and maybe a little straw.
Palate: The palate is fine but feels very average bourbon — orchard fruit, vanilla, wood, caramel — and not much more.
Finish: The end is a little washed out (this has to be a lower proof) and ends more watery than bourbon-y.
This is pretty pointless.
Part 2: The Ranking
20. Old Fitzgerald Prime Bourbon Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 20
Average Price: $11
This is the entry-point wheated bourbon from Heaven Hill to the Limited Edition Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond seasonal releases. Overall, this is the same wheated bourbon as that, just aged far less and barreled at a low 80 proof.
Yeah, this is hard to defend. It’s just watery and cheap tasting. I’d skip it altogether.
19. Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 18
Average Price: $12
This is more of an entry point for Evan Williams. The whiskey is a mix of four to seven-year-old barrels of the standard Heaven Hill bourbon. The difference in this bottle is that it’s proofed at a slightly higher 86 proof, giving it a slight edge against Evan Williams Green Label at 80 proof.
This was very thin and had a cheapness to it. It was fine but I can’t see doing anything with this besides mixing it with Coke.
18. Old Tub Unfiltered Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 6
Average Price: $20
Back in 2020, Beam decided to release this “distillery-only” expression nationwide. The classic Jim Beam whiskey is a tribute to what the brand was before Prohibition. “Jim Beam” used to be “Old Tub” as a brand back then. Anyway, the whiskey in this bottle is Beam’s low-rye bourbon that’s batched to comply with Bonded laws, meaning the barrels are from one distilling season, from one distillery and distiller, and bottled at 100 proof.
This was solid until the mid-palate then it got a little jagged around the edges. That said, I can see this being okay with Coke or ginger ale.
17. Benchmark Old No. 8 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 8
Average Price: $10
The whiskey in this bottle is from Buffalo Trace’s Mash #1, which has a scant amount of barley and rye next to mostly corn. This is the same mash that’s used for bigger-hitting brands like Eagle Rare, Stagg, and E.H. Taylor. In this case, this is a standard straight bourbon that’s sort of like a base-level Eagle Rare, in theory, but from barrels that didn’t make the cut and were then proofed all the way down for bottling.
This also clearly fell into the “cheap” pile with a thinness and alcohol astringency. Still, this felt like it’s work with a Coke or even Cherry Coke mixer.
16. Old Crow The Original Sour Mash Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $11
This is a classic bourbon that became part of Jim Beam about 30-odd years ago. Until then, it was famed for being the drink of choice of President Grant, back in the 1870s — which gave it a lot to hang its hat on as a brand. The whiskey in the bottle is a year younger than a typical Jim Beam bourbon — so three-ish years — and it is cut way down to 80 proof for bottling.
This was the epitome of “fine” with nothing really to latch onto. Mix it with Sprite or ginger ale, you’ll be fine.
15. Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 14
Average Price: $13
Heaven Hill’s Old Style Bourbon is always affordable and very palatable. The whiskey is Heaven Hill’s classic bourbon mash that goes into this, Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, and so forth. This expression adds an extra two years (or so) of aging to Heaven Hill’s entry-level “Old Style” whiskey (their White Label version).
This had a really solid start but kind of petered out by the finish. Still, this was solid enough that I can see this shining in a highball with good fizzy water and twist of orange or lime.
14. J.W. Dant Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 12
Average Price: $13
This is the same mash bill from Heaven Hill as the bottle above. The difference is that the barrels chosen for this brand follow a different flavor profile than the ones for the bottles above and below this entry.
File under “fine.” This is a solid mixer that I think inches into making simple old fashioneds.
13. Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 13
Average Price: $16
Look, Heaven Hill makes great whiskey, especially inexpensive bottled in bonds. This b-i-b is tailored for the Evan Williams flavor profile. Still, this is Heaven Hill, so we’re talking about the same mash bill, same warehouses, and same parent company as several entries on this list. This is simply built to match a higher-end Evan Williams vibe.
This was also fine. I can see this working well in a highball or cocktail. It also feels like it’d be a good shooter with a beer back.
12. Very Old Barton 100 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 2
Average Price: $13
This was an old-school “bottled in bond” from the Barton Distillery in Bardstown, but they dropped the “b-i-b” designation. The whiskey in the bottle used to be at least six years old but today it’s at least four. All of that sounds like deterrents from this bottle but it’s still 100 proof and there are still barrels up to six years old in the mix, meaning this still works well at this price point.
This was pretty good all things considered. I can see mixing some good, simple cocktails with this and being pretty content.
11. George Dickel Bourbon Whisky Aged 8 Years — Taste 11
Average Price: $34
The whisky in the bottle is the same Dickel Tennessee whiskey but pulled from barrels that leaned more into classic bourbon flavor notes instead of Dickel’s iconic Tennessee whiskey notes. The barrels are a minimum of eight years old before they’re vatted. The whiskey is then cut down to a manageable 90-proof and bottled.
This was a nice departure that felt classic in its own way. That said, this feels like it’d be a great cocktail candidate for sours or smashes.
10. Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 10
Average Price: $24
This is Maker’s signature expression made with Red winter wheat and aged seasoned Ozark oak for six to seven years. This expression’s whiskey is then sourced from only 150 barrels (making this a “small batch”). Those barrels are then blended and proofed with Kentucky limestone water before bottling and dipping in their iconic red wax.
This had a nice, unique profile that stood out. The end was a tad thin, but mixing this into a Manhattan would easily patch that over.
9. Kirkland Signature Small Batch by Barton 1792 Master Distillers Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 1
Average Price: $19 (1 liter)
This is the entry point to Costco’s new lineup of Kentucky Bourbons (along with a Bottled-in-Bond and Single Barrel release). The whiskey in the bottle is from Sazerac’s Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown with a mash bill of 74% corn, 18% rye, and 8% malted barley. That juice is left to age for four to five years before being blended, proofed, and bottled for Costco.
This was pretty damn good. I can almost see sipping this in a glass of rocks, but it really shines as a cocktail base.
8. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 19
Average Price: $30
The mash bill on this bourbon is mid-range rye heavy with 18% of the grain in the bill for support. Triple distilling in pot stills (like Irish whiskey) and blending with column-distilled whiskey is utilized. The bourbon then rests for six to seven years — taking time to mature before barrels are pulled for blending, proofing, and bottling.
Again, this was pretty damn good but felt like a quintessential cocktail base more than anything else. Plus, it just felt classic from top to bottom.
7. J.T.S. Brown Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 17
Average Price: $13
This is a quality whiskey from Heaven Hill’s expansive bourbon mash bill (78% corn, 12% malted barley, and 10% rye). That means this is the same base juice as Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, several Parker’s Heritages, and Henry McKenna. It’s a bottled-in-bond, meaning it’s from similar stocks to their iconic Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond and a few other whiskeys on this list.
This one really popped with a purely classic bourbon profile that had some nice depth. I can see sipping this over ice or in an old fashioned.
6. Elijah Craig Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 16
Average Price: $25
This is Elijah Craig’s entry-point bottle. The mash is corn-focused, with more malted barley than rye. The whiskey is then rendered from “small batches” of barrels to create this proofed-down version of the iconic brand.
This was a nice, solid, and classic bourbon. No notes!
That said, I’d lean more toward Manhattans and old fashioneds than sipping on its own.
5. Benchmark Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 5
Average Price: $19
The bourbon in this bottle is a standard “small batch” though there’s not a whole lot of information on what that entails, exactly. What we do know is that the base juice comes from Buffalo Trace’s Mash Bill #1, which is the same base as Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor, Stagg, and Buffalo Trace Bourbon.
This really started leaning into “I could see sipping this neat territory.” That said, this felt like a classic utility bourbon that can work however you want to use it.
4. Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 15
Average Price: $19
A lot of Wild Turkey’s character comes from the hard and deep char they use on their oak barrels. 101 starts with a high-rye mash bill that leans into the wood and aging, having spent six years in the cask. A little of that soft Kentucky limestone water is added to cool it down a bit before bottling.
This was bold and distinct with a great balance of flavors. I wanted to pour some over some ice and just go from there.
3. Weller The Original Wheated Bourbon Special Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 4
Average Price: $24
This is a classic wheated bourbon from Buffalo Trace, which doesn’t publish any of its mash bills. Educated guesses put the wheat percentage of these mash bills at around 16 to 18%, which is pretty average. The age of the barrels on this blend is also unknown. Overall, we know this is a classic wheated bourbon, and … that’s about it.
This had some serious depth while still feeling approachable. I can see mixing this into any cocktail.
2. 1792 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 7
Average Price: $29
This whiskey from Barton 1792 Distillery is a no-age-statement release made in “small batches.” The mash is unknown, but Sazerac mentions that it’s a “high rye” mash bill, which could mean anything. The whiskey is batched from select barrels and then proofed down and bottled as-is.
This had a lot of nuance to it while still feeling quintessential as bourbon. I think I’d probably mix with it more but I can see sipping this over some rocks too.
1. Jim Beam Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 9
Average Price: $24
Each of these Jim Beam bottlings is pulled from single barrels that hit just the right spot of taste, texture, and drinkability, according to the master distillers at Beam. That means this whiskey is pulled from less than 1% of all barrels in Beam’s warehouses, making this a very special bottle at a bafflingly affordable price.
This had the best and deepest flavor profile by far. It clearly works as a slow sipper but would pop as a Manhattan or Sazerac base too.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
The thrust of this blind taste test shows that there are a lot of perfectly good bourbons between $15 and $25. There are legitimate winners that truly taste good and deliver classic bourbon vibes.
I would say, you can grab any of the top 10 bourbons on this list and you’ll be set.