What does “value” mean to you? Importance? Utility? Those definitions certainly have a place. But when you’re talking about bourbon whiskey it’s a little more direct. It just comes down to quality-compared-to-price.
Is the juice worth the squeeze? Or is it worth even more?
“How corn heavy is the mash bill?” asks Dan Marlowe, mixologist at Modena in Washington, DC. “What is the intended use — sipping or cocktails? What’s the proof? There’s a lot to consider.”
The gather opinions on the best value bourbons, we went to the folks who spend their days mixing up drinks behind the bar. We asked some well-known bartenders to tell us the favorite bottles, dollar for dollar. Check their picks below.
Felipe Muñoz head bartender at Sweetleaf Cocktails in Long Island City, New York
I still think that Maker’s Mark Bourbon is the best value for your money. It has become underrated and underappreciated. Since it has wheat in it, it offers a creamy sweet instead of a bolder sweet that most bourbons show.
Wild Turkey 101
Brandon “Habi” Habenstein, beverage director at The Kitchen & Bar at Bardstown Bourbon Company in Bardstown, Kentucky
Wild Turkey is making some of the best value bourbon on the shelves today. Maybe it’s in their process or maybe it’s in their yeast strain they kept alive in two separate refrigerators in two different counties in case of a power outage. There are lots of great bourbons out there at great prices. Old Forester’s caramelized banana profile is delicious. Beam’s peanut butter bombs are great. But Turkey’s bourbons are like cinnamon candied walnuts.
These are my absolute favorite bourbons outside of our own.
Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch
Mike Renzulli, bartender at City Works Eatery & Pour House in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
The best value bourbon in my opinion is Colonel E.H. Taylor by Buffalo Trace. Coming in at under $40 price point, it is considered a world-class bourbon with flavors of plum and dry raisins and notes of vanilla and a smooth toffee finish.
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Buffalo Trace always comes through with the assumed profile of vanilla and toasted barrel age, channeled through a clean expression.
Elijah Craig Small Batch
Gavin Humes, bartender at Scratch|Bar & Kitchen in Encino, California
I enjoy the Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon for a value bourbon. It’s a higher proof than some others, which makes it stand up great in cocktails, but it’s smooth enough to work as a sipper if you’re so inclined. It’s got a nice winter spice quality of nutmeg, vanilla, star anise, etc. But with a well-balanced toasty, caramel quality that balances out the harshness of the overproof quality and makes it very enjoyable.
Eagle Rare 10
Dan Marlowe, mixologist at Modena in Washington, DC
If you can find it, Eagle Rare 10 year is one of the best priced 10-year whiskeys in the market, often as low as $35. It has a high corn content with no more than 15% rye, but the masterful aging and blending process makes it sip warm and mellow instead of hot and crisp like some rail bourbons tend to do.
Old Grand-Dad Bonded
Frederic Yarm, USBG bartender in Boston
Old Grand-Dad Bonded offers an amazing value with a long history. It’s a bourbon that has been in continuous production since the mid-19th century and is currently made by Jim Beam in Clermont, Kentucky. I love its high rye spicy nature, and that combined with the barrel notes offer up cinnamon, black pepper, vanilla, and other baking spices on top of caramel, citrus, and dried fruit flavors.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
Eric Vincent, bartender at Sparrow in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.
I will always sip this in any fashion, as well as make cocktails with it. It’s a jack-of-all-trades kind of whiskey that has great flavor at an affordable price range. Fantastic balance of char (after all, it was invented by Elijah Craig himself), leather, caramel, and a decent amount of sweetness from having a high corn content. Gives the impression of a creamy mouthfeel.
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength
Erin Delaney, food and beverage director at Barn8 Restaurant & Bourbon Bar in Goshen, Kentucky
Maker’s Mark. We like getting Maker’s 46 or the Cask Strength because they deliver high-quality bourbon, they truly care about their people and their prices are great for the market. Those are both fuller-bodied and higher proof, which I thoroughly enjoy. They also just released a special bottle for the LEE Initiative, which provides relief for service industry workers and families that are out of work during COVID.