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We’re Picking Affordable Bourbons That Are Still Good Enough To Drink Straight

The best bottle of affordable bourbon doesn’t have to be something your bury in a cocktail or under half-a-can of Coke. Bourbon, by definition, is a fairly refined whiskey that generally ages for at least two years, if not four years, under very specific rules. That makes it really hard to screw up. Sure, some varietals are going to be superior to others as more care is given to particular elements, but when you’re talking whiskeys in the $15 to $30 range that variation is going to be minimal.

Look, we’re not saying there aren’t astringent, ethanol-smelling bourbons out there. There are. But you don’t have to break the bank to get a perfectly decent and very sippable (or shootable) bourbon. And that’s what we’re talking about — bourbons that are, yes, cheap but also easily sippable on a rock.

The ten bottles below are both cheap and easy to find right now. They’re also whiskeys you can drink straight. No, these aren’t the most refined versions of any particular label but each one will be tasty and satisfying. Some days, that’s all you need.

EVAN WILLIAMS BOTTLED IN BOND

Price: $16.99

The Whiskey:

This bottled-in-bond bourbon is made under strict regulations according to the U.S. government meant to assure quality. The mash bill of 78 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and ten percent rye adds to the depth of this sip. The 100 proof bottling means you’re going to get a nice kick that lasts.

Tasting Notes:

This is a classic bourbon. There are notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel up front, with a hint of that barley. The taste moves with the vanilla as notes of bright citrus pop and the slight note of rye pepperiness kicks in. Finally, the dram carries that spiciness and vanilla towards a caramel sweet and light finish.

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JIM BEAM REPEAL BATCH

Price: $16.99

The Whiskey:

Jim Beam is always a good, cheap bottle of bourbon to have on hand. The best part of Jim Beam is that it’s never too expensive and gets better and better as the expressions ascend without increasing the price too much. Case in point, their Repeal Batch recreates the first batch Jim Beam made after Prohibition ended and stays within a very accessible price range.

Tasting Notes:

Oak leads the way with clear hints of bourbon vanilla and a nice line of caramel corn. That caramel carries through to an almost cream soda feel with plenty of vanilla while the grains pop up alongside more corn and oak. Finally, a note of mild spice ebbs as the warming end lingers with the apple and caramel corn.

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OLD GRAND-DAD

Price: $16.99

The Whiskey:

Old Grand-Dad, also hailing from Jim Beam, is a throwback to bourbon from 1882. The old recipe is a classic that hasn’t really needed to change over the years and remains a great mainstay for anyone looking to sip something with a little heat on it or take a shot without a chaser.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a nice hint of oaky char mixed with vanilla and syrupy sweetness. Orchards full of cherries and apples mingle on the palate as the vanilla sweetness edges towards a Vanilla Coke. Hints of oak and spice come in late and counter a fruity and sweet finish.

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OLD FORESTER 86 PROOF

Price: $19.99

The Whiskey:

This is another if-it-ain’t-broke throwback to bourbon from the late 1800s. The corn, rye, and barley mash bill are keyed into what makes this bourbon so drinkable. The ever-so-slightly higher proof means you get a tiny bit more bang for your buck without adding any burn.

Tasting Notes:

Fresh tobacco and mint mix with vanilla and wildflowers. Pine resin mingles with oak as sweet corn counterpoints rye spice. A slight orange zest and vanilla presence make themselves known as the spice carries you towards a dry and full finish.

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FOUR ROSES

Price: $21.99

The Whiskey:

Four Roses Bourbon is a great starter bourbon for any whiskey-curious drinker. It’s also a very unique dram. Each bottle is a blend of two mash bills. Recipe “B” and is 60 percent corn, 35 percent rye, and five percent malted barley. Whereas, recipe “E” is 75 percent corn, 20 percent rye, and five percent malted barley. This adds a bit of nuance to the final product and certainly makes it stand out.

Tasting Notes:

Fruits, florals, and honey combine on the opening of this sip. That fruit becomes a clear pear and apple with a sharp sense of both caramel and rye spice. Those last two elements peak as the long finish lingers and warms your senses.

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LARCENY BOURBON

Price: $22.99

The Whiskey:

Larceny Bourbon has two nuances that set it apart. First, this is a wheated bourbon. No rye here, folks. Second, this bourbon is aged for six long years before it’s bottled. That extra aging adds layers of depth with each passing year.

Tasting Notes:

Butterscotch, rich toffees, and freshly baked loaves of bread open this dram. That buttery toffee turns into more of a buttery caramel as notes of vanilla and oak mix with honey. All of that sweet carries through to the end with a distant echo of spice and oak bringing the sip to an end.

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WILD TURKEY 101 PROOF

Price: $24.99

The Whiskey:

Wild Turkey 101 is a classic bourbon of corn, rye, and malted barley that’s taken out of the barrel at a high proof of 109. That’s then nudged down to the iconic 101 proof for bottling, creating one of the smoothest high-proof, high-rye bourbons on the shelf (at this price point).

Tasting Notes:
This is a shockingly complex dram. Summer flowers, burnt sugars, caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, and a slight hint of citrus greet you. That caramel and vanilla carry on as toasted oak, fresh honey, peaches, and a wisp of bitter dark chocolate dance together. The rich caramel and vanilla finally lead to a sharp dose of peppery spice as the warm final note exists with a big ol’ hug.

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BUFFALO TRACE

Price: $26.99

The Whiskey:

This low-rye mash billed bourbon, made with soft Kentucky spring water, is another stellar expression for this price. Buffalo Trace’s standard bourbon is a multi-award-winning spirit that keeps things simple and straightforward, which allows for an accessible price and dram of the good stuff.

Tasting Notes:

Vanilla and molasses mingle with fresh sprigs of mint. That sweetness ebbs towards a wet brown sugar with hints of oak, dark red fruits, anise spice, and a sense of rye spice lurking behind it all. The spice fades as the sweetness and fruit rise with the oak for a lush finish.

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EVAN WILLIAMS SINGLE BARREL VINTAGE

Price: $28.99

The Whiskey:

We’re almost ending where we started with Evan Williams. Their Single Barrel Vintage is proof of how great whiskey can be with the right circumstances in the right spot in a rickhouse. This seven to eight-year-old bourbon is hand-selected from single barrels and is a freakin’ steal at this price.

Tasting Notes:

The char of the oak comes through with a clear note of rich bourbon vanilla and slightly overcooked caramel. Caramel apples, orange zest, rye spice, fresh honey, and oak all mingle on the palate. That spice and oak carry through as a nice dose of sweet apple flourishes on the lingering end.

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BALCONES TEXAS POT STILL BOURBON

Price: $29.99

The Whiskey:

This is the most unique whiskey on this list and amazingly affordable for what you’ll get. The mash bill is a four-grain mix of Texas blue corn, Texas wheat, Texas rye, and malted barley. The juice is only aged for 24 months in the hot Waco, Texas climate before being hand-selected for barreling.

Tasting Notes:

Tart and sweet apples fresh off the tree, buttery kettle corn, toasted oak, a slight Graham cracker feel, and well-worn leather greet you. That leather carries on with notes of sweet corn, pecan pie with vanilla-infused whip cream, and a distant note of sandalwood. Mild rye peppery spice kicks in late and brings about a spicy, sweet, and lush end with a nice sense of the oak.

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