Underrated Whiskeys In The $20-Range, According To Bartenders

Calling something “cheap” isn’t always a compliment. While “low cost” is nice, “good value” is a much better measuring stick. With that aim, we’ve written about the best value bourbons, scotches, whiskeys, and ryes. Multiple times, in some cases.

And yet here we are, doing it again! Because there’s nothing so satisfying as a sip of liquor that tastes better than than the price tag indicates.

In our continuing quest to find you underhyped, excellent-value, very affordable bottles of whiskey, we looked to the experts for a little guidance. We asked 10 well-known bartenders to tell us their favorite underrated whiskeys in the $20 range. Some of their answers are classics but they definitely surfaced a few fun expressions that had fallen off our radar.

Best of all, they were honest — freely admitting that these picks are great for the price, but still unable to hang with top-shelf expressions.

Hell-Cat Maggie

Seth Falvo, bartender at The Hotel Zamora in St. Pete Beach, Florida

Everything about Hell-Cat Maggie – which sells for a very reasonable $18 per bottle — makes it a criminally underrated Irish whiskey.

For starters, it’s named after a legendary Five Points gangster who filed her teeth into fangs and wore brass claws into battle. If that, combined with the retro tattoo flash label on the bottle, doesn’t scream “awesome cheap whiskey,” I really don’t know what does.

Hellcat Maggie is deceptively smooth, pleasantly nutty and spicy, and mixes exceptionally well in cocktails. Much like its namesake, this whiskey packs a stronger punch than its weight class might suggest.

Price: $19.99

Old Crow


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

Old Crow has always been my standby for a budget bottle. It packs a punch on its own but can also work out in a last-minute old fashioned or another cocktail. Though, to be fair, these cocktails may be best for a camping trip rather than a dinner party.

Price: $22 (1.75ml)

Mellow Corn

Blake Jones, director of beverage for The Kennedy Bar in Pensacola, Florida

Mellow Corn or Heaven Hill White Label. They are both fantastic — whiskeys where people would have no idea that they cost less than $15-20.

Mellow Corn is bonded, so it’s 100 proof. But man, is it still smooth. Heaven Hill clocks in at 80 proof, I believe. I’ve taken this to whiskey tastings and it’s been blind-picked as the favorite more than once.

Price: $17.99

J.W. Dant Bottled in Bond

Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis

Coming in at around $15 a bottle, J.W. Dant BIB is my pick in the “bang for your buck” BIB bourbons. One of the few rye’d bourbons finished with a touch more malted barley than rye grain. The nose is punchy — honey and corn and oak dominate. Up front, it’s a lot of caramel and cornbread, a touch of spice and sour tannin wave goodbye as it finishes.

A solid, low tier expression from a family with rich bourbon history — it’s rumored Dant’s first still was made from a hollowed tree stump. Enjoy it neat or in your hot toddy.

Price: $15.99

Jim Beam White Label

Josh Curtis, bar director at Carbon Beach Club in Malibu, California

Jim Beam White Label bourbon is underrated in its mixability. The corn is readily accessible among its flavors, which has a rustic quality that I like.

Price: $18.99

Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon

Patricia Verdesoto, head bartender Beaker & Gray in Miami

I’ve ended many a night with a shot of Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon. Call it nostalgia or routine, but it is my go-to for “bottom shelf” whiskey. After working in this industry for a while, you get to taste a myriad of different spirits at all different price points and believe me, the difference is obvious. However, with Heaven Hill, you really get a bang for your buck. The price point is very reasonable and during these uncertain times when we all have to pinch pennies, its good to know that you can get a bottle of good, clean-tasting whiskey for under $20.

Price: $12.99

Old Grand-Dad

Ben Potts, owner and bartender at The Sylvester in Miami

Old Grand-Dad is a great swigger for me. It’s great for camping and other times where a plastic bottle is a little more practical.

Yes, I said plastic bottle.

Price: $25 (1.75ml)

Wild Turkey 81

Brandon Renfroe, bartender at The Glenmark Hotel’s Mila Rooftop Bar in Glendale, California

My go-to cheap, underappreciated whiskey is Wild Turkey 81. Compared to other bottom shelf whiskeys, this one tastes a lot smoother and very close to a top-shelf.

Price: $19

Four Roses Yellow Label

Cristina Suarez, beverage manager at Kush Coconut Grove in Coconut Grove, Florida

Oh man, Four Roses Yellow Label. It’s cheap, but pretty good. I found it pretty easy to use for mixed cocktails and not horrible as a low budget sipper.

Price: $19

Ancient Age

H. Ehrmann, owner of Elixir Bar in San Francisco

I recently changed my favorite cheap bourbon because the prior favorite raised its price. Now it’s Ancient Age, from Buffalo Trace. Same #2 mashbill as Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee, but younger and cheaper.

Price: $9.99