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Bartenders Name Their Favorite ‘Value Bourbons’ For Bourbon Heritage Month

We’ve written about bourbon a lot this month. A lot. This is partly because the gap between summer and fall is perfectly suited for the corn-based spirit. Also, September is Bourbon Heritage Month — making it the perfect time to get acquainted with America’s “Native Spirit.”

As far as hobbies go, bottle collecting can get pricey. But starting your bourbon collection doesn’t require you to spend a month’s rent. There are excellent value bourbons on the market just waiting to be discovered. (Seriously, we profile a ton of them!) When Megan Martinez, bartender at Condado Tacos in Indianapolis, thinks value bourbon, her mind immediately goes to one of the most iconic brands on the market.

“When it comes to a reasonably priced bourbon for a daily drinker I always turn to Jim Beam,” she says. “I don’t mean their white label, pick up Jim Beam Double Oak or a bottle of Jim Beam Black — both capture the rich woody notes of fall.”

The world of reasonably-priced bourbons goes well beyond Jim Beam, of course. That’s why we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the best value bourbons (and one corn whiskey) to drink this month.

Old Grand-Dad Bonded

Arturo Deakins, bartender at Kuleana Rum Shack in Hawaii

Old Grand-Dad Bonded. I love high rye bourbon and this stuff rocks enough sweetness while the extra dry spicy notes from the rye grain still make it through. And it comes in under $30. I can’t not mention Wild Turkey 101, either.

Most people have tried it but I beg them to try it again it’s just solid and I think it has a bad image for some people.

Old Forester 86

Suman Pradham, director of outlets at Viceroy Snowmass in Snowmass Village, Colorado

Old Forester 86. Old Forester is the longest-running bourbon brand on the market and was the first bourbon sold exclusively in sealed bottles. The brand is also noted as one of the few whiskeys that were allowed to be sold during Prohibition for medicinal purposes (it’s even featured on the bottle’s label). Bold oak, punchy pecans, and caramelized maple syrup drive home the richness of this sip. The mouthfeel, however, is thinner than expected, based on the heft of the flavors.

Very Old Barton

Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami

Very Old Barton. Produced in Bardstown and aged by Sazerac? Say no more! It might not be your top-shelf dinner bourbon, but it can be as smooth as you like stirred into an old fashioned or right up front in a rocks glass.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

Gavin Humes, bartender at Scratch Bar & Kitchen in Encino, California

Elijah Craig Small Batch is my go-to for a typical cocktail. It’s easy drinking and nice and smooth, but with the extra proof (94 proof) it holds up nicely in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned as well.

Clyde Mays

Nestor Marchand, director of food and beverage at Plunge Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Clyde Mays Straight Bourbon. Well priced at around $25, this bourbon is different from others in this price range. It has complex flavors, a full mouthfeel to it, and hints of “wood” at the finish.

Maker’s Mark

Christopher Farzanrad, bartender at Mila Rooftop Bar in Glendale, California

Maker’s Mark is my pick for reasonably priced bourbon. It has a smooth finish and tastes amazing with ginger ale or on its own on the rocks.

Old Crow

Kurt Bellon, general manager and beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis

Old Crow is almost too reasonably priced but a perfect way to get that smoky taste that’ll have you crowing in no time.

Mellow Corn

Veronica Flores, bartender in Austin, Texas

I’m normally a rye whiskey drinker. But I could always go for the cult classic of Mellow Corn. People don’t realize they’re sleeping on! I’m also a fan of Old Forester. I do enjoy all their expressions, but their bourbon is a home run hitter.

Buffalo Trace

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Reniel Garcia, bar director of Havana 1957 in Miami

Buffalo Trace is good as a sipper and in cocktails. It’s the perfect do-it-all whiskey — a solid bourbon that has good yet unremarkable flavors.

Jefferson’s Ocean

Jon Joseph, director of food and beverages at JL Bar Ranch, Resort & Spa in Sonora, Texas

Jefferson’s Ocean is my pick… when you can get your hands on it. It has a great story and concept for how the bourbon is made and is very good. Aged at sea, this is a highly drinkable, well-priced bourbon.

Bulleit

Aaron Miyakawa, director of restaurants and special at Prince Waikiki in Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

Bulleit. It has a longtime family tradition as a Kentucky bourbon maker but is unique with its wonderful nuance and balance of rye flavors. It has true hints of your typical bourbons such as vanilla and caramel with oaky tones but what gives it character is the spicy smooth finish that sets it apart. It is great for making traditional cocktails such as Manhattans or old fashioneds — which seem to be making a strong comeback with an emphasis on good quality and mixing techniques.

Noble Oak Double Oak

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Zachary Shore, bartender at The Nest in Seattle

If you haven’t tried Noble Oak’s Double Oak Bourbon yet, get out there and give it a try while the price remains reasonable. Being such a new brand and watching it gain popularity, I wouldn’t be surprised if they blow up and have to start raising prices to keep up with demand. At $40.00 (roughly) a bottle, this is one of the most versatile bourbons I have had the pleasure to work with and talk about with my guests.

With flavors of honey, vanilla, and dried fruits like cherries and apricots, it is perfect neat, on the rocks, or in an Old Fashioned.

Angel’s Envy

Sabari Kanth, lead bartender at Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Angel’s Envy. This port finished bourbon is a delicious whiskey with a great balance from start to finish. On the nose, we get caramel, raisins, and vanilla — three things I love!

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