Finding the best values in the bourbon industry is getting harder and harder thanks to just too many bottles on the shelves these days. There’s a true plethora of options and, truth, they’re mostly very mid — even in the $50-$100 range. It’s a confusing prospect if you want to find a really good whiskey that also doesn’t cost a fortune. I want to help you avoid wasting your money, but — more importantly — I want to help avoid drinking mid or shitty bourbon.
That means it’s time for a blind taste test to find some truly good bourbon that doesn’t cost a goddamn fortune. For this blind taste test, I grabbed bourbons that have a truly high value. That does not mean “cheap” bourbon. “Value” is about hitting the following marks:
- Easy to find — if you can’t find it, then price, taste, and value don’t really mean much.
- Great price — I’ve kept these bottles mostly under $50 per bottle.
- Amazing taste — taste is the most important thing every time.
- Uniqueness — If the whiskey isn’t unique, then what are we doing here?
Easy to find, price, taste, uniqueness — it’s a good set of parameters to judge a whiskey by. With that in mind, I collected eight bourbons from my shelves and had my wife shuffle and pour them for a blind tasting. Our lineup for today is the following bottles:
- Russell’s Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 10 Years Old
- Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Bulleit Bourbon 10 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Evan Williams Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Green River Kentucky Straight Wheated Bourbon Sour Mash Whiskey
- Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Aged 10 Years
- Bardstown Bourbon Company Origin Series Bottled-In-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- George Dickel Bottled in Bond Tennessee Whisky Fall 2008 Aged 13 Years
As for the ranking, I’m looking squarely at the taste since these are all already a great value in general. What tastes best? What has the most depth? What bottles do I actually want to go back to? These are all slices of the tasty pie that combine to make a bourbon worth your time and money. Let’s dive in!
Part 1 — The Value Bourbon Tasting
Nose: This really is a classic bourbon nose with clear notes of spiced cherry cola, lush vanilla, salted caramel, and soft oak next to almost botanical winter spices.
Palate: The taste delivers with more lush vanilla next to spice barks, soft cedar, and deeply dark and red fruit with a whisper of smudged sweet sage.
Finish: The end dives into a dark spiced cherry vibe next to soft and luxurious vanilla, tempered oak, and a mild sense of just “bourbon.”
This has a solid beginning, middle, and end with a spiced sweetness that felt very classic and, well, tasty. It didn’t jump out at me, but kind of didn’t need to.
Nose: There’s a welcoming aroma of marzipan, blackberry, toffee, and fresh honey next to a real sense of pitchy, dry firewood.
Palate: The taste drills down on those notes as the sweet marzipan becomes more choco-hazelnut, the berries become increasingly dried and apple-y, the toffee becomes almost burnt, and the wood softens to a cedar bark.
Finish: A rich spicy and chewy tobacco arrives late as the vanilla gets super creamy and the fruit and honey combine on the slow fade.
This has a really solid nose and body but a softer finish. It didn’t wash out or fade too quickly. It just sort of melted away in the end, leaving you with a nice, classic bourbon vibe.
Nose: There’s a lot going on with cinnamon butter and spicy stewed apples, maple syrup, Christmas cakes full of nuts and dried fruit, and a hint of savory herbs (maybe some smudging sage) all pinging through your nose.
Palate: The palate brings about smooth and creamy vanilla cream soda cut with dark cherry with plenty of buttery toffee, sourdough crust, more Christmas spice, cedar bark, and a hint of dried roses and pipe tobacco.
Finish: The finish lasts pretty long and leans into the dark and stewed fruits with plenty of woody spice and chewy fresh pipe tobacco with a creamy vanilla underbelly.
This was a pretty damn good and very deep bourbon. It 100% felt like a bourbon-y bourbon and very much like a crowd-pleaser that actually delivers something a little extra.
Nose: This has a really nice nose full of woody cherry, salted caramel with a tart apple edge, and a soft leatheriness.
Palate: The palate feels and tastes “classic” with notes of wintry spices (eggnog especially) with a lush creaminess supported by soft vanilla, a hint of orange zest, and plenty of spicy cherry tobacco.
Finish: The end is supple with a hint of tart apple tobacco with a light caramel candy finish.
This is pretty good but didn’t quite pop like the last pour. Still, it’s clearly built classic bourbon but kind of died on the finish (that’s me being insanely nit-picky).
Nose: This pops on the nose with rich caramel next to soft roasted peach and apricot, cinnamon bark and nutmeg with a creamy vibe, and a hint of Cream of Wheat cut with maple syrup.
Palate: Toffee drives the palate toward Nutella and honey over buttermilk biscuits with an apple/pear tobacco aura that leads to a soft orange.
Finish: The end is rich and full of stewed fruits — peach, pear, orange, raisins — and a mild sense of oaky spice and a mild graininess.
This is a nice bourbon with a crafty vibe (sweet grains) that gives way to classic bourbon tones. It was a little more well-rounded than the last pour but not an “OMG” bourbon by any stretch.
Nose: Old leather boots, burnt orange rinds, oily sage, old oak staves, and buttery toffee round out the nose.
Palate: Marzipan covered in dark chocolate opens the palate as floral honey and ripe cherry lead to a winter cake vibe full of raisins, dark spices, and toffee sauce.
Finish: The end has a balance of all things winter treats as the marzipan returns and the winter spice amp up alongside a hint of spicy cherry tobacco and old cedar.
This is a really good bourbon. The depth is real and you go on a journey with this one.
Nose: The nose draws you in with a sense of orange Jolly Ranchers, powdered cacao, and stewed peaches with classic bourbon vanilla and an oaky vibe.
Palate: The palate is a mix of apricot jam, pear cores, and red berries with a mix of spiced orange candy tobacco wrapped around dry wicker and cedar bark.
Finish: The end leans into the sweet and spiced orange while the tobacco slowly fades through sweet caramel and vanilla buttercream toward a silky finish.
This is fun, fresh, and deep. The nose really drew me in with a hint of nostalgia next to classic notes. By the end, I felt like I was drinking a bourbon lover’s bourbon with real pizzazz.
Nose: Sour cherries, maple syrup, and pecan waffles mingle with dried apple chips, old leather boots, and winter spice with a hint of vanilla wafers on the nose.
Palate: The taste leans toward spicy apple pie filling with walnuts, plenty of cinnamon, and some raisins before malted vanilla milkshakes, blueberry cotton candy, and dark chocolate milk arrives on the mid-palate and lead toward a moist oatmeal cookie dipped in salted caramel.
Finish: The end has a dry woody spiciness with star anise, cinnamon, and allspice mingling with marzipan and cherry/cinnamon tobacco.
This is so clearly Tennessee whiskey. Still, it’s goddamn delicious. I can’t decide if the Tennessee-ness of it all holds it back or puts it over the top.
Part 2 — The Value Bourbon Ranking
8. Evan Williams Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 4
Average Price: $38
This is Heaven Hill’s hand-selected single barrel Evan Williams expression. The whiskey is from a single barrel, labeled with its distillation year, proofed just above 86, and bottled as is.
This was the thinnest pour on the list, but still a great classic bourbon. That’s how good these pours are. That said, this really felt like it’d shine as a foundation of a really good cocktail more than a sipper.
7. Green River Kentucky Straight Wheated Bourbon Sour Mash Whiskey — Taste 5
Average Price: $37
This new release from Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Green River distillery is a wheated classic. The whiskey in the bottle is made from a mash bill (recipe) of 70% Kentucky-grown corn, 21% wheat, and 9% malted 6-Row barley. That whiskey then spends four to six years mellowing before batching, proofing, and bottling as-is.
This had an interesting balance of craft and classic. That said, the craftiness was a tad distracting to the overall vibe of this one, leading me to think I kind of want to hide that aspect in a cocktail. “Value” should never be about “hiding” anything in a cocktail.
6. Russell’s Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 10 Years Old — Taste 1
Average Price: $39
This small-batch expression is hand-selected by both Jimmy and Eddie Russell (the father and son team behind all of Wild Turkey’s line). The duo picks out 10-year-old barrels that hit just the right spot in both flavor and texture then small-batch them into this tasty bourbon.
This was another that I really enjoyed but is clearly made for mixing up cocktails. It was a tad thin and really just a basic but really good bourbon. Ah hey, sometimes simple and straightforward is the best value of all. Still, I was still looking for that “pop” that rises above and this wasn’t it.
5. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 2
Average Price: $49
This expression takes standard Woodford Bourbon and gives it a finishing touch. The bourbon is blended and moved into new barrels that have been double-toasted but only lightly charred. The juice spends a final nine months resting in those barrels before proofing and bottling.
This is getting into the really good stuff. This rules on the palate with a great textural experience. Again, it didn’t quite land the finish (it wasn’t thin, per se, but did leave me wanting a smidge more). Still, this is a pretty fine pour of classic-tasting bourbon.
4. George Dickel Bottled in Bond Tennessee Whisky Fall 2008 Aged 13 Years — Taste 8
Average Price: $44
Master Distiller Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This release is a whiskey that was warehoused in the fall of 2008. 13 years later, the whiskey was bottled at 100 proof (as per the bottled-in-bond law) and left to rest. Last fall, new releases of that Tennessee whiskey were sent out to much acclaim.
This is really good whiskey. If you’re looking for a classic bourbon, then look elsewhere. Still, the depth and balance of unique flavors really shine in this pour and you cannot beat the value here for such an old whiskey at such a great price. So if you are looking for a little funkier bourbon with a deep profile, then this should 100% be on your shelf.
3. Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Aged 10 Years — Taste 6
Buy Here: $51
This might be one of the most beloved (and still accessible) bottles from Buffalo Trace. This whiskey is made from their very low rye mash bill. The hot juice is then matured for at least 10 years in various parts of the warehouse. The final mix comes down to barrels that hit just the right notes to make them “Eagle Rare.” Finally, this one is proofed down to a fairly low 90 proof.
This had pop but felt classic more than iconic. It was simply a very good bourbon with superb depth … that I couldn’t wait to make a cocktail with.
2. Bulleit Bourbon 10 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $45
This is classic (sourced) Bulleit Bourbon that’s aged up to 10 years before it’s blended and bottled. The barrels are hand-selected to really amplify those classic “Bulleit” flavors that make this brand so damn accessible (and beloved) in the first place.
I’m shocked I chose this over Eagle Rare or even Woodford. Shocked.
I’m not the biggest fan of Bulleit — I often find it kinda basic. But this really popped for me today. It’s classic, sure, but goes so much deeper while staying understandable and just lush. It really stood out as a nice sipper with serious bourbon-y depth.
1. Bardstown Bourbon Company Origin Series Bottled-In-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 7
Average Price: $49
This brand-new release from Bardstown Bourbon Company is 100% their own whiskey. The juice is made from a wheated bourbon mash bill — 68% corn, 20% wheat, and 12% malted barley — down in Bardstown, Kentucky. The whiskey spends about six years mellowing before it’s just kissed with local water and bottled at 100 proof.
I’m also kind of shocked this won out. Pretty easily I might add. The depth here started out with this nostalgic vibe that turned into a truly deep and rewarding bourbon experience with a lot of extra nuance and fun. This is a great pour for amazing cocktails or easy everyday sipping.
Part 3 — Final Thoughts on Value Bourbons
Honestly, every bourbon on this list is a great value. I don’t even care if you think that that is a cop-out. They simply are. The best-tasting ones are in the top five of the ranking, sure, but they all offer something worthwhile.
That said, you can find Bulleit 10 everywhere and it’s under $50. So all things considered, that’s probably the best overall value bourbon (if you add more weight to being easy to find). Still, click that price link for the Bardstown Bourbon Company Bottled In Bond, that’s the true winner today — maybe you can get some!