Life

The Best Straight Bourbon Whiskeys Under $50

Every bourbon journey has to start somewhere. For a lot of us, that journey begins with affordable “straight bourbon whiskey.” These are the bottles that are one step up from the huge plastic jugs on the bottom shelf, labeled simply as “bourbon” — which are generally blends featuring a touch of bourbon mixed with grain spirits (think Everclear or vodka). That’s why they cost $5-$10 for a gallon. We’re not here to talk about those.

“Straight Bourbon Whiskey” is a legal designation. If that moniker is on a label, it means that the whiskey was aged a minimum of two years in new oak and doesn’t have any coloring or flavoring agents added. It’s the entry-point for pretty much all real-deal bourbon brands. From there, you get into bottled-in-bonds (aged at least four years under the government’s watchful eye), small batch, high proof, wheated, high rye, 100 percent corn, barrel proof, single barrel, four-grain, and various age statement releases (though those are usually limited releases from a handful of brands). Of course, then there’s the whole world of special barrel finishing that can dip into pretty much any category — besides bottled-in-bond — and covers everything from double barreling to toasted oak to honey barrels to stout, port, or red wine casks (plus every other kind of barrel you can imagine).

There’s a big ol’ world of bourbon out there, is what we’re saying. And with our price point exploration winding down (we’ve gone from $20 bottles to $1,000 expressions), we’re going to start diving into it according to styles. Today, we’re starting with the standard, low-ish ABV, average mash bill bourbons that you can find pretty much coast-to-coast. If any of these bottles pique your interest, click on the links to give them a try yourself.

Wild Turkey

Campari Group

ABV: 40.5%

Average Price: $22

The Whiskey:

This fairly new expression is Eddie Russell’s stamp on his dad’s legacy. The younger Russell devised this lower-proof bourbon to be another workhorse whiskey for the mixing crowd who also might take a sip on the rocks every now and then. This is achieved by letting the juice rest in deeply charred oak for six to seven years before it’s cut down to 81 proof for bottling.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a matrix of mild spice, bitter oak, ripe stone fruits, creamy vanilla, and, dare we say, salted caramel up top. The taste delivers and expands into peach cobbler territory with plenty of vanilla, brown sugar syrup with baking spices, and an almost smoky oak edge. The end is another left turn — featuring a dusting of dark chocolate over the top of a honeyed underbelly as the oak, spice, and stone fruit fade away.

Bottom Line:

Every bourbon whiskey journey should start with Wild Turkey. This expression has all the depth on a classic Wild Turkey 101 without that high-proof burn. That’s what makes it an easy win for any newbie.

Old Forester 86 Proof

Brown-Forman

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $24

The Whiskey:

Old Forester’s 86 Proof is a very straightforward whiskey. The mash bill is mid-range rye with 18 percent next to 72 percent corn and a final ten percent malted barley. The juice is aged in a fairly heavily charred oak barrel for an undisclosed amount of time (the youngest barrel is likely older than four years). The whiskey is then blended and proofed down to a very manageable 86 proof.

Tasting Notes:

This has a big nose of vanilla-cherry tobacco with a hint of fresh mint lurking in the background next to a touch of floral honey. The taste has a grilled corn-on-the-cob vibe with a hint of pepper and butter next to small doses of citrus and soft oak. The end is surprisingly long and leaves you with a spicy warmth and a touch more of that sweet corn and butter.

Bottom Line:

This really is a great mixing whiskey. We’d argue that it also works on the rocks. When that water starts to cut into the whiskey, it’ll open up for some of those flavor notes while cooling it down a bit.

Jim Beam

Beam Suntory

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $24

The Whiskey:

Classic white label Jim Beam has a low-rye mash bill. It’s aged for four years before the barrels are blended and it’s cut down to 80 proof. This is a lot of folks’ entry point into the wider world of bourbon because it’s a quaffable whiskey that’s very affordable and on pretty much every liquor store shelf right at eye level.

Tasting Notes:

You can sense the corn next to classic bourbon notes of caramel, vanilla, and orchard fruit — especially cherry. The sip centers the vanilla and caramel as a distant echo of oak arrives on the tongue. The sip warms with a bit of spice next to a sweetened caramel corn edge on the fast finish.

Bottom Line:

This is a simple and perfectly constructed high-value straight bourbon whiskey. It’s straightforward and will never challenge you while still maintaining a robust bourbon vibe.

Fistful Of Bourbon

William Grant & Sons

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $27

The Whiskey:

This is one of the more interesting sourced whiskeys on the shelf in the U.S. The juice is the design of Scottish Master Blender (for William Grant & Sons) Kelsey McKechnie. McKechnie left Scotland for the U.S. to work in bourbon in the same ways she worked in blended scotch. Fistful of Bourbon is the fruit of that labor — blending five straight bourbons (from undisclosed distilleries) into one bottle.

Tasting Notes:

This is whiskey by design and hits classic and deep notes starting with bespoke but not too sweet Red Hots, vanilla pods, and a touch of mint on the end of the nose. The palate refines the spices and broadens to a clear Christmas spice feel next to a touch of dried fruit, leather, and oak. The end sharpens the spiciness while holding onto the bold vanilla as the oak and fruit fade completely out.

Bottom Line:

This is designed to mimic crafty bourbons with a touch of nostalgia built-in — those Red Hots cannot be denied. The spiciness makes it a great candidate for cocktails and on the rocks sipping.

Redemption Bourbon

Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits

ABV: 44%

Average Price: $30

The Whiskey:

This MGP sourced juice from Redemption is a masterclass in blending. The juice inches towards a high-rye mash bill (21 percent) and is comprised of barrels picked by Master Blender Dave Carpenter. The whiskey is then proofed down to a very drinkable 88 proof with that soft Kentucky water.

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted with a mix of dark caramel with a touch of salt, bitter dark chocolate, and maybe a hint of anise and nutmeg. Those spices enter an eggnog vibe with a vanilla pudding drizzled with caramel sauce and a touch of black pepper. The end isn’t too long and delves further into the spices and vanilla before finishing on a sweet popcorn note.

Bottom Line:

No list would be complete with a classic MGP bourbon. And this is a great one to get a handle on how the Indiana mega-distillery creates pretty amazing juice that’s then treated well and expanded upon by a master blender.

Buffalo Trace

Sazerac Company

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $32

The Whiskey:

This is the whiskey that heralded a new era of bourbon in 1999. Famed Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee came out of retirement to create this bourbon to celebrate the renaming of the George T. Stagg distillery to Buffalo Trace when Sazerac bought the joint. The rest, as they say, is history — especially since this has become a touchstone bourbon for the brand.

Tasting Notes:

Classic notes of vanilla come through next to a dark syrup sweetness, a flourish of fresh mint, and a raw leather that veers towards raw steak. The palate cuts through the sweeter notes with plenty of spices — like clove and star anise — next to a hint of tart berries underneath it all. The end is long, velvety, and really delivers on the vanilla and spice.

Bottom Line:

Like most of Buffalo Trace’s releases, this is a much-sought-after bottle. Luckily, it’s still pretty affordable because, let’s face it, this is an ideal cocktail whiskey.

Four Roses

Kirin Brewing

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $24

The Whiskey:

Four Roses’ entry-point bourbon is a blend of the brand’s ten signature whiskey recipes. The distillery uses a high-rye and low-rye mash bill, each fermented with five different yeast strains, bringing a lot of variable flavors to the whiskeys. The juices are then blended, proofed, and bottled with the idea of mixing in mind.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a definite steel note to this whiskey that leans toward minerality when water is added. The nose also brings along dried flowers, plenty of honey, and orchard fruits, with a hint of dark spice. The palate adds vanilla to the honey and apple foundations. The end is short but full of fruit, sweetness, spice, and green oak.

Bottom Line:

You can’t really go wrong with Four Roses. It is a little funkier than the standard straight bourbons on this list, and that’s why we dig it. The florals, honey, and minerality with a green woodiness all stand out in good ways.

Woodford Reserve

Brown-Forman

ABV: 45.2%

Average Price: $38

The Whiskey:

Woodford Reserve is a unique bourbon with a pretty typical medium-rye mash bill (18 percent). However, it’s triple distilled, a la Irish whiskey, giving the Kentucky juice a serious edge. The bourbon is then matured for a minimum of six years before blending, proofing, and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a nice mix of dark chocolate-covered raisins next to a flourish of orange zest and plenty of bourbon vanilla and spicy tobacco. That slight tobacco chew leads back towards creamy vanilla, buttery toffee, and rich chocolate, with a hint of orange cutting back in. The end is just the right length, with a well-rounded creaminess that beckons you back for more.

Bottom Line:

This is the bottle you graduate to when you start taking bourbon drinking a bit more seriously. There’s real craft behind the juice and it comes through in every sip. It’s also versatile in that it works as well as a cocktail base as an everyday sipper.

Woodinville Bourbon Whiskey

Woodinville

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $42

The Whiskey:

This craft whiskey is a grain/corn-to-glass Washington experience. The grains are all grown near the distillery. The oak is toasted and aged outside of the distillery’s warehouses for 18 months before the hot juice goes in for maturation. After around five years, the whiskey is blended, proofed, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

Tropical fruits meld with Christmas spices and plenty of brown sugar, vanilla, and nuts leading towards an almost dark rum nose. The palate delivers but dials into butter-fried bananas, creamy vanilla pudding, rich toffee, and a hint of toasted wood. The end doesn’t overstay its welcome and brings about a mild spicy chewiness and more of that toasty oak, with a nice return of the toffee.

Bottom Line:

This is a pretty high-end bourbon at an affordable price point. It absolutely works wonders in a cocktail or as a sipper (on the rocks or neat). This expression also beats out tons of bottles that cost twice as much, making it a hell of a bourbon stepping stone.

Heaven’s Door Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Heavens Door

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

Bob Dylan’s whiskey company is still sourcing their juice from Tennessee distilleries (though they’re making their own distillate now, too). This expression is a blend of Tennessee bourbons that aged a minimum of six years in new oak. The whiskeys are then vatted and watered down to a drinkable 92 proof in a bespoke bottle with a Dylan-designed wrought iron gate image as the label.

Tasting Notes:

You’re drawn in with a nose full of freshly buttered salted popcorn next to hints of bourbon vanilla, eggnog spices, and wet oak. The taste delivers on those promises and adds in a buttery cinnamon toast made with raisin bread next to a whisper of eggnog latte with a dusting of chocolate powder. The end is a medium-length with a nice fade from sweet to warm to buttery.

Bottom Line:

This is a cool bottle and a cool whiskey. It’s not overly crafted and remains a very easy-drinking bourbon that’ll take your tasting abilities up a notch.


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

Promoted Content

×