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The Most Overrated Bourbons (Plus Alternate Bottles We Love)

When the market for any spirit grows saturated, people will soon start identifying overhyped and overrated expressions. Partially because the competition is improving the overall quality and “good” bottles slide down that ranking to “mediocre.” Partially because branding occasionally helps the wrong bottles get mainstream love. And partially because of plain, old luck. The biggest reason people will trample their grandmothers for a bottle of Pappy is that Anthony Bourdain famously loved the stuff. Then there’s the awards circuit, where some bottles pile up win after win — adding a certain luster.

In 2020, with more expressions on the shelf than ever, there are a lot of bourbons competing for your attention. And yes, some of them seem to get a little too much shine.

That’s not to say any of the bottles below are bad. What we mean is that you shouldn’t limit yourself. Whiskey is about exploring and we’re encouraging you to do just that. As drinkers and aficionados, we have a real love for the art of whiskey making and the craftspeople producing it — hating on expressions isn’t fun for us. So for each bourbon that we’re calling out as overhyped below, we’re also naming another (cheaper) bottle as a solid alternative.

Bulleit Bourbon

Bulleit Bourbon

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Four Roses Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY (Diageo)
Average Price: $30

The Bottle:

It was almost impossible to get away from this whiskey at one point. That’s not some grave injustice — this is a perfectly fine bourbon, for what it is. The whiskey is sourced from the Four Roses Distillery (for now) and then aged at Bulleit’s facilities, adding their own mark on the juice. That being said, recent controversies and that over-saturation have taken some of the sparkle off of this expression.

What To Buy Instead: Four Roses Yellow Label

In my humble opinion, this is just as fine as Bulleit and about $10 cheaper. And given that the juice is coming from the same place, you’re within reason switching these out for each other.

George T. Stagg

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 58.45%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac)
Average Price: $500

The Bottle:

Look, if you want to spend $500 on a bottle, we’re not going to stop you. But whiskey can only get so good, right? This release from the Buffalo Trace’s yearly Antique Collection is a very fine bottle that’s incredibly well-crafted. But this price tag is more for investment than drinking if we’re being brutally honest.

What To Buy Instead: Stagg, Jr.

You can buy six of these bottles for the price of one George T. Stagg. And you know you’re still getting a great bourbon. Stagg, Jr. has been cleaning up the awards recently and is, itself, about to go into a shortage situation. That also means that this bottle isn’t going to stay this cheap for much longer.

Angel’s Envy Bourbon

Angel

ABV: 43.3%
Distillery: Angel’s Envy Distillery, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $50

The Bottle:

Angel’s Envy does some great work in aging whiskey. Many would argue — myself included — that this expression isn’t the best example of that work. For me, it’s too sweet. Verging on high-fructose pancake syrup. If that’s what you dig in bourbon, please don’t let me stop you from loving this. Still, I find their more adventurous and refined expressions to be what people are really talking about when they name drop this brand.

What To Buy Instead: Angels Envy Rum Cask Rye

And this expression is exactly what I’m talking about. This dram is a really lovely sip. The use of Plantation XO rum casks that previously held Cognac makes for a wholly unique experience in bourbon that’s worth every cent.

Blanton’s

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 46.5%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac)
Average Price: $85

The Bottle:

This is a cool looking bottle with very fine bourbon inside of it. But when it comes to Buffalo Trace, there are so, so many great bottles to choose from that are, frankly, cheaper than this. In the end, it kind of feels like you’re paying a premium to collect little horses for behind your bar.

What To Buy Instead: Buffalo Trace Bourbon

This is one of the best deals in all of the bourbon world, in my opinion. This is a well-rounded bourbon that works as a sipper on the rocks or a cocktail base. The fact that you can basically get three bottles for one Blanton’s seals the deal for me.

Rebel Yell

Luxco

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Lux Row Distillers, Bardstown, KY (Luxco)
Average Price: $18

The Bottle:

Sorry, but I can’t get past the name of this brand. It feels like a statue that needs to fall. We live in a world where NASCAR gets that message, it’s time this whiskey did too.

What To Buy Instead: Ezra Brooks Bourbon

Sticking with Luxco and a similar price range, Ezra Brooks gets the job done. This whiskey isn’t going to knock your socks off but at least it’s not directly associated with the Confederacy.

Kings County Bourbon

Kings County

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Kings County Distillery, Brooklyn, NY
Average Price: $45 (half bottle)

The Bottle:

This is the entry I sweated over the most. I really like the juice this craft distillery puts out. But it’s really hard to get past the price point for half bottles. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it does create a pause where you wonder if it’s worth it.

What To Buy Instead: Kings County Distillery Peated Bourbon

Here’s my pitch: If you’re going to pay $30 to $40 for a flask of whiskey, that whiskey had better be something truly special. King County’s Peated Bourbon matches that ideal. This is a special whiskey that’s changing minds about what bourbon can be by adding in peaty malted barley with the corn.

This bourbon opened up a whole new world of flavors for me when it comes to bourbon and it will for you too.

Old Grand-dad

Beam Suntory

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $20

The Bottle:

This is a solid, cheap bottle of bourbon. No one’s arguing that point. Yet we’re not here to talk about rail shooters or cheap cocktail bases. People love the throwback labeling and idea of the bottle, and that’s perfectly fine. But at the end of the day, it’s just a standard bourbon that’s no different than many, many others.

What To Buy Instead: Jim Beam

Call me crazy, but Jim Beam doesn’t get the love it deserves. Maybe because it’s so huge or because Jim Beam puts out so many other expressions that get lauded by drinkers and pros. Still, this is a great workhorse bourbon that sets the bar for what solid, cheap bourbon should and can be.

Bib & Tucker Small Batch Tennessee Bourbon

Bib & Tucker

ABV: 46%
Distillery: Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits
Average Price: $50

The Bottle:

This is probably the only bourbon I think should be cheaper than it is. Basically, if this was closer to $30 a bottle, it wouldn’t be on this list. The expression is well-crafted but, let’s face it, there are scores of $30 bourbons that are just as well-crafted from big international brands and small local independents.

What To Buy Instead: Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Case in point, Redemption from the same shingle is equal in every way at the $30 price point. This high-rye bourbon is also an award winner that hits the right balance of depth and accessibility in both taste and price.

Evan Williams

Heaven Hill

ABV: 43%
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, KY
Average Price: $15

The Bottle:

Bartenders tend to love this bottle. It’s cheap, meaning profit margins really pop when you keep this one on the rail. And it’s fine. I’ve called it out a lot in the past as a great cheap bourbon. But we all need to stop pretending this is something more than it is. It’s a workhorse bourbon that you take shots of and chase with a beer.

What To Buy Instead: Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond

There are a lot of great brands to call out at Heaven Hill. But for this exercise, we don’t even need to call out a different brand. Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond — or White Label — is a big step up. One, it has a higher ABV (50%). Two, it’s legitimately more flavorful and works better as a cocktail base. That should be enough to lay down a few extra dollars for this bottle.

Pappy 23

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 47.8%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac)
Average Price: $2,500

The Bottle:

There’s no way this list couldn’t end up talking about this particular bottle. No bottle of whiskey is worth $2,500. Sadly, the MSRP of this bottle is only $300. That’s a shame because us mere mortals will probably never get a chance to pay that much for this bottle. If we could, then this bourbon 100 percent lives up to the hype and is absolutely a bourbon worth celebrating.

What To Buy Instead: Weller Special Reserve Bourbon

For now, Weller Special Reserve is the play if you want to get in on the wheated bourbon action from Buffalo Trace. These whiskeys come from the same stills and rickhouses. They’re damn near twins. But people are catching on to that fact and Weller isn’t going to stay this cheap much longer.

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