Finding the best value bourbon is getting harder and harder. There are more bottles on the shelf these days in the $40-$75 price range that are more about marketing than anything else than ever before. There are still great bottles of bourbon in the $15 to $30 range, they’re just being pushed more and more to the fringes as the bourbon boom carries on unabated. One thing that’s truer than it’s ever been is that it pays to be a knowledgeable consumer, which is why I’m going to help find you some great value bourbons with a blind taste test.
Below, I’ll be tasting eight bottles of bourbon whiskey that all punch far above their price points (the average price of all of these bottles is just $22.62). One of the secrets of bourbon is that a whole hell of a lot of it is between four and six years old when it’s batched and bottled. At that age, it can only get so good, no matter what a marketing team tells you. So the question becomes, why pay $50, $60, or $75 for a four to six-year-old sourced bourbon with a fancy label when you can pay $20 for what’s essentially the same juice? Consumers often pay twice as much for the same thing in a different bottle.
Yes, different brands create unique flavor profiles that make them stand out from each other, no one is arguing that’s not true. But the quality of that brown juice is only going to be microscopically better or worse — that’s where true value resides. So maybe read through the below blind tasting and ranking, and then when you’re at the liquor store and you see that fancily labeled bottle of regular old bourbon for $60, buy two or three of the bottles below instead. Just a suggestion.
Our lineup today is:
- Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond
- Kirkland Signature Single Barrel by Barton 1792 Master Distillers
- J.T.S. Brown Bottled In Bond
- Jim Beam Single Barrel
- Benchmark Small Batch
- Wild Turkey 101
- Elijah Craig Small Batch
- Woodford Reserve
Let’s dive in.
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Part 1: The Tasting
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. The palate has a minor not of cornbread muffins next to cherry-vanilla tobacco with a dash of leather and toffee. The end leans into some fresh gingerbread with a vanilla frosting next to hints of pear candy cut with cinnamon and nutmeg.
This is a damn good place to start. This is well-rounded, deep, and not overly sweet while maintaining a nice and varied fruitiness.
This is a classic nose full of salted caramel next to dried red chili, Mounds bars, mulled wine spices, and creamy vanilla malt milkshakes with a cherry on top. The palate really leans into the sour mulled wine focusing on star anise, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, and maybe even some cumin next o brown sugar clumps, creamy eggnog, and a cherry-dark chocolate tobacco vibe with a slightly woody edge. The end into the spiciness and wood with a hint of black potting soil, firewood bark, and warm cinnamon in a cherry-apple hot buttered rum cider.
Goddamn, this is delicious. It’s lush and bold at the same time. It’s higher in ABV but never overpowers or burns your palate. It’s also a classic bourbon that runs deep into the woods and dirt in a way that makes sense on that finish.
There’s a clear sense of cream soda cut with cherry syrup next to Hot Tamales cinnamon spiciness, dry leather gloves, caramel chews, and a hint of a Graham Cracker crust for a pie. The palate opens with a rush of classic cherry-vanilla creaminess next to plenty of nutmeg and cinnamon toast with a hint of woody pipe tobacco. The end has a note of creamy eggnog with a woody cinnamon stick dipped into cherry syrup and rolled up in an old tobacco leaf.
This was very standard but very good for being standard. It wasn’t bold or life-changing but it was kind of everything you need from a pour of bourbon whiskey.
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. 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. 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 just f*cking delicious. It’s straightforward but then goes that little bit deeper (orange, coconut, sweetgrass, old wicker), which helps this really stand out.
This opens with a clear sense of old boot leather, wet wicker with a hint of mold, floral honey, and dried chili-infused cherry crumble with a scoop of malted vanilla ice cream with just a speck of dark chocolate and salt. The palate is classic bourbon with sweet cinnamon, dark cherry, eggnog creaminess, and a hint of toffee mocha lattes. The end has a hint of butter cornbread next to rum-raisin, vanilla white cake, and cherry-bark tobacco stems in an old cedar box.
I don’t know how else to say it, this is really nice too. It was deep and interesting.
This is a cherry bomb on the nose with deep notes of burnt orange, buttery toffee, old oak staves, and cumin-heavy taco seasoning with a hint of old leather gloves. The palate has a vanilla pudding cup vibe next to butterscotch candies, nougat, and a twinge of menthol tobacco on the mid-palate. The end of this is a classic cascade of bourbon notes: caramel, vanilla, cherry, winter spice, and light woodiness.
This was another classic but was a little light on the finish. It wasn’t low-ABV but it kind of just ended.
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. 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. The end leans towards the woodiness with a hint of broom bristle and minty tobacco lead undercut by that smooth vanilla.
This was very smooth but also a little light. It landed really well but also kind of just ended without a lasting finish.
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. 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. The end has a nougat wafer vibe next to caramel and vanilla cookies with a hint of old porch wicker and boot leather.
This was also light but way deeper than the last two. This is a fun pour with a nice balance that’s just inviting.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Elijah Craig Small Batch — Taste 7
Average Price: $26
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.
I was surprised to see this last but here we are. Overall, this was a fine pour but that light finish informed this more as a cocktail base than anything else. This is something that you build with.
7. J.T.S. Brown Bottled In Bond — Taste 3
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 stock to their iconic Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond, amongst others on this very list.
This was also a decent pour of whiskey. I feel like you could get away with this on the rocks but you really want to be mixing with this one. It’s a great base for cocktails (and holy shit, this is cheap).
6. Wild Turkey 101 — Taste 6
Average Price: $20
Classic Wild Turkey 101 starts with their classic 75/13/12 mash bill that inches the malted barley just above the rye in the mix. That whiskey then spends at least six years in the cask before it’s batched and just kissed with Kentucky limestone water before bottling.
Another classic pour but, again, this felt like a cocktail base more than a sipper.
5. Benchmark Small Batch — Taste 5
Average Price: $19
This is a one-step-up “small batch” from Buffalo Trace’s budget brand, Benchmark. There’s not a whole lot of information on what this is exactly when it comes to the mash bill or aging. The “batch” could be 20 barrels or 200. We do know that the bourbon is cut down to 90-proof before bottling.
I liked this a lot. It was well-rounded but felt more like something I’d passively drink on a weekday eve when I really didn’t want to think about anything else.
4. Woodford Reserve — Taste 8
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.
This really is a solid goddamn bourbon whiskey. It’s deeply hewn and has a varied profile that’s always fresh and fun. It’s also a great value in that you’re getting a bourbon that’s a little extra (thanks to more distillation and longer aging than your average juice). Still, this is very much in the “great cocktail whiskey” category that also works on the rocks with a dash of bitters.
3. Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond — Taste 1
Average Price: $17
The juice is standard Evan Williams that’s blended from bonded barrels. The juice is brought down to 100 proof, allowing a bit more of that Heaven Hill craft to shine in the bottle compared to a standard Black Label Evan Williams bottle.
This is where we get into the sippable on the rocks bourbons. I use this for cocktails too, don’t get me wrong. But this really has a nice flavor profile that delivers serious depth. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is that it didn’t quite pop as much as the next two.
2. Jim Beam Single Barrel — Taste 4
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 juice is pulled from less than one percent of all barrels in Beam’s warehouses, making this a very special bottle at a bafflingly affordable price.
This is a killer pour of whiskey. It’s deep yet familiar. There’s nice nuance but it doesn’t get lost in the weeds. You always know that you’re sipping stellar and classic bourbon whiskey.
1. Kirkland Signature Single Barrel by Barton 1792 Master Distillers — Taste 2
Average Price: $32 (1-liter bottle)
This Costco release is sourced from Sazerac’s other Kentucky distillery, Barton 1792 Distillery down in Bardstown, Kentucky. The whiskey in the bottle is very likely the same distillate/barrels as 1792 Full Proof. However, this is proofed down a tiny bit below that at 120 proof instead of 125 proof, adding some nuance to this release.
This was the winner with ease. There’s so much good stuff going on with the whiskey from the deep nose to the fresh and fun taste profile to the long and satisfying finish. This is a killer bottle of whiskey (it popped as number one blind without knowing the price) that’s also an amazing value at $32 for a one-liter bottle.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
There’s just no beating that Kirkland Signature Single Barrel. It lives up to the hype while also delivering something truly solid. Moreover, it is an amazing deal for a liter of single-barrel whiskey at 120 proof. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, it might just be the best deal in bourbon whiskey right now.
All of that said, every bottle on this list is a great deal/value. Every one of these bottles offers a little something different on the profile but everyone is also truly well-made and even better priced. In the end, you cannot go wrong grabbing any of these bottles. But to really amp up that value prospect, you have to go to Costco, folks.