Best Value Bourbons

Over the past year, I’ve had several friends ask for my favorite bourbon recommendations at different price points. America is blessed to have a bounty of great bourbon under $30 a bottle (by the way, there are some great ryes and Tennessee whiskeys, too – notice the Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond in the photo above? –  but for today’s post, we’re sticking with bourbon). You could stay under $30 and have an almost endless variety of fabulous bourbons in your bar, but who can resist the opportunity to buy a bourbon that delivers a drinking experience far greater than its price would suggest?

That said, finding the bourbons that deliver value really comes down to personal taste, to determining what’s a good value for YOU. Do you like something easy drinking, or do you yearn for complexity? Is sweet your thing, or do you like the spice that a rye-heavy mashbill will bring? Do you tend to mix your bourbon into cocktails, or do you enjoy sipping it slowly and neat? All these things provide direction on which bottle you should pick up at the liquor store. But since you’re here, reading this, I’d like to share a few bourbons that simply deliver exceptional bang for the buck and are worth a try for any whiskey lover. Not everyone will find these to be the BEST value for them individually, but they are all worth the investment for anyone eager to tackle the depths of American whiskey. Here they are:

(Caveat: prices quoted are in Atlanta, Georgia, and will vary state to state. Also, please chime in with your favorite bourbons that you think deliver a great value – at any price.)

Under $20
There are a LOT of inexpensive bourbons out there – just go to your local liquor store and you’ll see probably half the shelf space dedicated to the low end of the price spectrum. Evan Williams does a fine job for entry level bourbon around $13, as does Very Old Barton 100 proof. But a step up from that, at around $16 (or, even better, $24 for 1.75l!), there’s one bourbon that really stands out from the rest in the under $20 price range, both in its character and in the value it delivers, and this is the Four Roses “Yellow Label.” Four Roses Yellow is just plain elegant, with floral notes that befit its name (and label color) weaving in and out of light baking spices and a bit of vanilla. This is a bourbon that is light and lively, but it’s this lightness and elegance that really separates Four Roses Yellow from other bourbons at the low end of the price spectrum that can be a bit rough around the edges.

By the way… here’s a great drink idea I picked up at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival – try topping off a flute of  Champagne (or sparkling wine) with a splash or two of Four Roses for a surprisingly great drink (called “The Longnecker”).

Under $30
Once you step up above $20, there are two very different bourbons that stand out in my mind for tremendous value. The first is Elijah Craig 12 year old at $22. Let me repeat that – 12 years old, 22 dollars. I’m not saying that age and quality rise in direct proportion to each other (in fact, I prefer the 12 year old Elijah Craig to its pricier, older, oakier 18 year old brother – which, incidentally, was recently discontinued in favor of limited releases of 20 and 21 year old Elijah Craig), but to get an aged beauty like this under $30 is a steal. Now, Elijah Craig 12 is basically at the opposite end of the bourbon spectrum from Four Roses Yellow – deep and strong rather than light and elegant. The age in the barrel brings loads of brown sugar, dark fruit, vanilla and oak, all those things you look for as time works its magic on the whiskey in the wood. Crazy value – Elijah Craig 12 tastes like many bourbons that go for three times the price.

The other bourbon value in this ballpark is simply one of the most enjoyable bourbons out there, again very different.  Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, at about $28, is like liquid caramel popcorn, in a very good way. There are plenty of other interesting layers of flavor here, but it’s the caramel popcorn that can’t be ignored, and the fact that this bourbon is just so dang delicious and melodious.

There are plenty of runners up in this category that will make you happy, but I don’t think they quite match the value of the Elijah 12 or Elmer T. Lee: Buffalo Trace ($20), Evan Williams Single Barrel ($22), Eagle Rare 10 year old ($28), and Four Roses Small Batch ($28) all come to mind.

Under $100
Once you get past $30, you first enter a fertile area of single barreled, small batched, and/or well-aged bourbons that tend to fall between $35 and $55. There are plenty of very good bourbons here in this range, but the trouble is that I don’t think any of them deliver the kind of bang for the buck that Elijah Craig 12 or Elmer T. Lee do. Don’t get me wrong, there are several here I really like (including Wathen’s Single Barrel at $32, Four Roses Single Barrel at $38, Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old 107 proof at $40, Baker’s Small Batch at $41, or Blanton’s and the red label Black Maple Hill at around $50), but I have a hard time saying that any of them knock it out of the park vs. other bourbons at their price range.

Thus, the jump in this category from $30 up to $100. Once you get to the $60-$80 range, you enter the land of special releases and severely limited allocations, bottles that are typically hard to find and even harder on the wallet.  I hate to keep riding the Pappy bandwagon, but once you’re above $50, I find it really hard to argue against Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old. Sure, it’s overhyped. Yes, the switch form the old Stitzel-Weller juice to the newer Buffalo Trace production stock is a bit controversial. Even still, Pappy 15 is simply one of the greatest bourbons you will ever drink. And that’s a great value. (see prior tasting notes)

Other recent bottles that I haven’t regretted at similar price points to Pappy 15 include the Four Roses 2012 Single Barrel Ltd. Edition (barrel strength), which is a darn good bottle at $70, and the annual release of George T. Stagg or William Larue Weller from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, also barrel strength beauty/beasts at around the same price.

That’s my take on the best value bourbons out there. What’s yours?

For a fun little follow-up to this post, see my (tongue in cheek) formula for computing bourbon value over on Creative Loafing Atlanta. Which led to reviews of Old Charter 8 and W.L. Weller Special Reserve, both under 10 at my local store!

About Thirsty South

Dedicated to all things drinking well in the South.
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79 Responses to Best Value Bourbons

  1. Dennis says:

    Nice report.
    I really like the Elijah Craig 12yr.
    My favorite in that range, and honestly, a favorite regardless of the value it holds.
    I won’t argue with the Pappy 15, but I’ll add that the Elijah Craig 18yr at ~$75 is mighty fine, too.
    Now I want to drink Bourbon. Is 8:00am too early?

  2. Ha! 8am means it’s 5pm somewhere in the world. I’ve yet to try the Elijah Craig 20 (or the soon to be release 21), but keep hearing good things.

  3. Jason says:

    Great article, some good recs. Having only had the Pappy 15 at restaurants, I have been unsuccessful in finding it to buy for home drinking in Atlanta. Do you have any suggestions on places that carry it when its available or how I can get some? I feel my bourbon bar is incomplete without it :).

    • Jason, best recommendation I have is to talk to your favorite liquor store and ask to get on their wait list for it. It rarely if ever actually hits the shelf at most stores.

    • Ian says:

      I’m pretty sure I remember seeing it on the top shelf at Mac’s in Midtown, but I haven’t been back there in a year or two. Don’t think I’ve seen it at Toco Hills, H&F Bottle Shop, or out here in the ‘burbs — as Brad said, place an order with your local booze shop. I bet the crew at H&F can get it for you, if nobody else can.

  4. Holiday BuHi says:

    W.L. Weller 7 year / 90Proof is the best value on the damn planet. $9.99 / 750. Hands down….no arguments…FACT.

  5. Allen says:

    My favorite bargains are Buffalo Trace and Old Weller Antique, both around $22 in these parts. I was late to the Elijah Craig 18 party, but managed to score a couple bottles before they closed it out for the 20 year at around $55. I would have stocked up a few had I known because that’s a nice bargain for bourbon that old.

  6. Ian says:

    Nice post, Brad! I’ll have to try out the Elijah Craig 12-year: it sounds wonderful.
    Buffalo Trace and Four Roses have long been my go-to bourbons, and I mainly use them in cocktails — Four Roses for light, dry, and spicy, BT if I want something a bit heartier. In my mind, the Buffalo Trace beats out a lot of the others that are pricier — Bulleit, Jefferson’s, Maker’s, and Knob Creek, for instance — and should not be left un-sipped.
    I’m a huge fan of Four Roses Small Batch — it’s my current favorite bourbon…but then again, I’ve yet to get my hands on some Pappy Van Winkle : )

  7. Pingback: Two $10 Bourbons: W.L. Weller Special Reserve & Old Charter 8 | Thirsty South

  8. Rob Roy says:

    First off, I just want to say that I am new to your blog and have really enjoyed your insights and this post on Best Value Bourbons has just rounded out my shopping wish list. I am a big Heaven Hill fan so the Elijah 12 is always in my cabinet, but will be looking out for a btl of William Larue Weller.

    I am curious as to your opinions/suggestions on some of the higher-end collectibles based off price/value/availability. Have you ever tried any of the Parker’s Heritage Collection releases or the older Pappy’s and Eagle Rare?

    • Rob Roy (good name!), yes, in general Heaven Hill does a fantastic job of bang for the buck, Elijah 12 especially.

      I think Pappy 15 and Van Winkle Reserve Rye are definitely worth retail price if you can find them (that’s a big IF, I always recommend getting on the list at whatever your preferred liquor store is rather than hoping to stumble across one), and while I’ve had both the 20 and 23 on several occasions, I don’t think they merit the jump in price (actually, I like the 15 better than the 20 even if they were the same price, but the 23 can be ethereal and worth ordering if you see it a decent price at a bar just to try it).

      I’ve liked most of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bottles I’ve tried and do think they are worth a splurge depending on your tastes – the William Larue Weller, the Sazerac 18, the George T Stagg specifically. It’s been a long time since I’ve had an Eagle Rare 17, so can’t comment on that one.

      Parker’s Heritage has been up and down for me, I’ve never had a bottle at home, but have tasted a few of the past years (have not had this year’s yet). Of course, each one is very different. I’m hesitant to buy bottles of these at the prices they charge.

      I’ve not been a fan of the Woodford Reserve master’s collection bottles I’ve tried given the prices they charge (same thing, each one will be very different).

      Finally, I’ve found the Four Roses limited edition bourbons to be generally stellar and worth it if you can find them.

  9. Jim Walters says:

    Completely agree with you on Four Roses Yellow Label – it’s hands down the best bourbon for under $20.

    I know you spend some time on the range and divide within, but even so, isn’t $31 to $99 a big range? Even the stuff that costs $60 shouldn’t be in the same league as the stuff that goes for about $35. The distinction is at least as wide as the under $20 and $21 to $30 set.

    • Jim, yes, I certainly could have gone up in increments of $10 or $20, but when I sat down to look at those breaks above $30, I didn’t see much reason to spend more than that (based on value) until you hit the bourbons that typically come in around $70-$80/bottle. Of course, there are plenty of worthy bourbons out there in that range, but what I’m saying is I don’t see the same level of bang for the buck at $40 or $50 that you find at $30 or less. It’s subjective based on personal taste and pocketbook, of course.

  10. e says:

    No one has mentioned the weller 12 year old. At 25-30 per bottle, this stuff cant be beat for the price. The new eh taylor small batch is also worth noting at 40 bucks.

    The top 3 ryes on the planet are saz18, van winkle family reserve and high west 21 yr old. Handy deserves an honorable mention.

  11. Ferb Gomez says:

    I want to purchase a bottle of bourbon for my uncle but can’t decide what to get. He loves bourbans but there are so many great recommendations, not sure what to go with. HELP! Thanks! Ferb

    • Ferb, it depends on how much you know about what he likes and how much you want to spend (and what’s available at your local store). Happy to make some suggestions with a bit more guidance!

      • Ferb says:

        Appreciate your response! Ok, I remember that he enjoyed very much Crown Royal, which I believe is a Canadian Whiskey; but to tell you the truth, I don’t know what he truly likes and dislikes. Now, I’m not an expert in this field at all but as I continue to do research and read about about bourbons, I’m finding it quite fascinating and could possibly be a fan of it; I just need to acquire a taste for it… dangerous! :) Now, I just read your response to Scooter about Elijah Craig 12 year old… maybe I’ll surprise him with that. There are so many choices and my guess is that he will be content with whatever is gifted to him. On the other hand, I want to gift him something that he will enjoy. I was intending on spending between $30-$45 and I live in Holland, Michigan. Does this help? Ferb

        • Ferb says:

          Oh, but if you have a better recommendation, I’m all ears… or eyes in this case. Thanks! Ferb

          • I do think he’ll be happy no matter what you choose. But if you can find Elmer T. Lee, try that. Otherwise, Elijah Craig 12 year old or Eagle Rare 10 year old or Four Roses Small Batch are all great choices, as are a number of other bourbons in that price range. (you really can’t go wrong)

  12. Scooter says:

    Decent review. I do like how it is categorized. Over-all a B+ on the whole review. My only thing is how much emphasis was placed on four roses and elijah craig. Four roses is great for a cheap, “large party” bourbon. Elijah Craig is ok for the price, but not nearly as good as this post made it sound. Maker’s Mark is under $30 a bottle where I am at an E.C. does not come anywhere near the taste that Maker’s provides. For a novice, that does not have an experienced pallet with bourbons E.C. can be an outstanding choice, but if you know what a good bourbon taste like real bourbon drinkers will spend the extra 5-7 for Maker’s ANY day of the week. Now if you are mixing, or don’t like the taste of a GOOD well ROUNDED bourbon I agree E.C is the way to go for sure ! good review.

    • Scooter, thanks for the B+! : )

      Everyone has different preferences – I much prefer Elijah Craig 12 year old over Maker’s Mark, especially given the price. I know Maker’s has lots of fans, but personally find it a just a bit lacking in character, a bit too easy. To each his own.

    • David says:

      Haha. Pallet? Like the one you stack boxes on? Or palate, like the one in your mouth? Thirsty south was way too polite in response to your arrogance and apparently ‘novice’ spelling skills. And grading his post? Who the hell are you? yeah it’s a year late but I’m posting this just in case you revisit this. His review is pretty much in line with my own experience and most of the reviews I’ve read in the blogosphere and literature. But I suppose you love Moscow Mules in a copper cup, too.

    • Rob Roy says:

      Have to agree with David here as well. Thirsty South was being too nice. For the record, Maker’s Mark is wheated Bourbon, meaning that it has no rye in the mashbill. Rye is a traditional Bourbon grain and gives the whiskey a spicy flavor. If you like wheated Bourbons, you prefer a softer smoother (i.e. wheat) flavor profile. To compare E.C and Maker’s is a novice’s error. They are two completely different Bourbon styles. Also, Maker’s is a usually a combination of 5-7 yr old whiskey barrels whereas E.C is MINIMALLY 12 yrs old, higher proof and lower cost. Makers does have a really cool wax dip though. I rate your Bourbon knowledge an (I) Incomplete.

    • mashcooker says:

      Makers? Laughable! Mentioning Makers in the breath as E.C. is grounds for spending life in the bourbon heresy prison.

  13. Ferb says:

    After doing some hunting around… found it! And just as you predicted, he loved Elmer T. Lee. He was very happy with it and stated that ETL is one of his favorites. Thanks for your recommendation. Ferb

  14. Frank says:

    What are your thoughts on Lexington?

  15. Spooner says:

    I second the recommendations for the Elemr T Lee and the WL Weller 12 year for the “under $30″ range. Evan Williams single barrel is also great option, though I haven’t tried the 2013 version yet.

    Enjoy your blog, great stuff!

    • Thanks Spooner. Also a fan of the EWSB, though I stocked up back in 2010 when I really liked that particular release and haven’t bought any since then. I did try the 2011 release and thought it was not quite up to 2010.

    • btalbert25 says:

      I love Elmer T Lee. I am new (last 3 months or so) to bourbon drinking and Elmer has been about my favorite. I have some others that I like, but come back to the Elmer every time. We have a bar here in Northern Kentucky that is a bourbon bar, so I see suggestions made on sites like this and go try different ones at the bourbon bar. I’m trying to find a bottle of Weller 12, but it’s no where to be found. I just bought a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel that I’m really looking forward to cracking open.

      I’ve been recommending Elmer to everyone though. I’m also looking forward to getting an Evan Williams Single Barrel bottle. I bought one for my brother-in-law for Christmas of 2011 and he really liked it. My mother-in-law, thinking she bought it for me for Christmas got me a bottle of the Evan Williams 1793. I have yet to open it, but for the 10 dollar price tag I’m not expecting much. Hoping it’s closer to the single barrel than the regular Evan Williams.

  16. Raymond says:

    You left out one of my faves which is Old Forrester Birthday bourbons–about $40 here in Michigan. Finished a 2006 recently and waiting to try my 2010 which is supposed to be very good.

  17. OregonWhiskeyMan says:

    What about Jefferson’s reserve?

  18. Stevo! says:

    I agree with your assessment about Four Roses (Yellow Label) ! It is one of the best values out there. However, I think “Bookers” by Jim Beam is the best value for any bourbon priced at $50. Bookers is close to 130 proof which is not for the faint of heart. It is named after the the bourbon master Noe Booker. He is the sixth generation of master distillers at Jim Beam. Pappy Van Winkle is too limited in supply. It is an amazing bourbon but realistically most people cant get their hands on a bottle. I saw a 15 year old bottle priced at $140. It is sad when discussing / rating products like Pappy Van Winkle or George T. Stagg.
    – It is like talking about rare coins. We appreciate their beauty but wont be able to have them in our collections due to the scarcity.

  19. Daniel says:

    Enjoyed this post quite a bit. I’d had a bottle of Elmer T Lee sitting in my cabinet for a few months, birthday gift from one of our friends that I had forgotten about until reading this a month or so ago. Man what a find that night. Just excellent, and probably one of the best whiskeys I’ve had under $30. Since then I’ve gone through 3 bottles.

    Currently for me, its ETL, Weller 12 (thanks for advice to pick up at Greens, can’t believe so few shops carry), and then everything else for bourbons in that price range.

    And a heavy splash of Four Roses into a good cheap american lager makes a great tailgate treat.

    • Daniel says:

      Well, a tailgate treat for everyone who doesn’t show up to tailgates with a 750 of bourbon as his contribution to the day. :)

  20. Bruce Gale says:

    Ancient Age 90 proof at $8.99 is the best of the cheap. Ancient Age Distillery was renamed Buffalo Trace Distillery, and Buffalo Trace is the source of half the bourbons named above. And if you can find a bottle of Old Charter 13 y.o. Proprieter’s Reserve at around $30, count your lucky stars.

  21. Emily says:

    I’m a fan of the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked – it’s around $80 a bottle where I live, so it’s not affordable for everyone, but for an under-$100 bourbon I find it to be extremely smooth and pleasant in flavor. (I drink mine neat – no mixers, no ice, just straight pure bourbon, and this one has absolutely no rough edges for me.)

    I haven’t tried the Elmer T Lee – it sounds interesting!!

    • Richie says:

      Finally someone mentions woodford reserve my favorite bourbon that and bookers, keep the ice and water out of something that beautiful

  22. James says:

    Limited distribution, but if you can find it Ancient Ancient Age 10 yr might be the best under $20 pour on the planet. In Louisville it can be found easily for $17 for 750ml. Make no mistake, this bourbon doesn’t even resemble its brothers of the same name. Don’t be fooled by the 10 star designation either, get the one aged ten full years.

    • Thanks, James. That’s one I haven’t tried (at least I don’t recall trying).

    • B. Gale says:

      Don’t bother. Ancient Age 90 proof is better at $8.99. Don’t be taken in by symbols of prestige. Taste, choose, enjoy.

      • TL says:

        Sleepers in $30 range – Rowans Creek and Henry McKenna (BIB). And Costco brand Kirkland bourbon (bottled by woodford reserve) is really good for the price. Best bourbon ever: 2009 William Larue Weller BTAC.

  23. Fitz says:

    Great review. I see see no mention of Woodford Reserve or Larceny, my two tabs in the 20-30 range?? Two great values imo.

  24. Pingback: Here are some whiskey longreads for National Bourbon Day | Unlikely Words

  25. Kyle M says:

    Agreed with the Ancient Ancient Age. Tremendous bourbon for under $20 and I believe scored 96 on Jim Murrays bible. EC and Elmer are for sure the best bourbons going right now for price with Four Roses coming in a close third. Grab your Ancient Ancient Age now while you can as it has been discontinued. If I had to rank a top 5 for under $50

    1) Elmer T Lee
    2) Elijah Craig 12 yeqr
    3) Four Roses Single Barrel-Barrel Strength
    4) Old Forrester Birthday Bourbon
    5) Buffalo Trace

  26. I got my hands on two bottles of the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. At $40 a bottle it is my current great value in the bourbon world. Hard to find at this point, but worth it if you can.

  27. Jerry says:

    Ok, this may sound strange but I want to buy a good bottle of bourbon for my 3 year old son. Before you judge me, I am going to store it away for 18 years and give it to him on his 21st birthday. First off, will this bourbon keep for 18 years? Second, what is a good bottle for this special gift?

    • Jerry, a noble endeavor. Quick answer – yes, unopened bourbon will keep for 18 years. It will not “age” though as it would in barrel. (So a 6 year old bourbon right now won’t in effect be a 24 year old bourbon in 18 years).

      Longer answer, I think what would be most interesting would be a bourbon with an age statement and bottled on/distilled on type date that would match up with his birth year – that way, when he turns 21, he’ll get a bourbon of the same age. People do this with wine a lot, in part because the vintage is more commonly known, and in part because some really good wines will actually benefit from sitting around for 21 years in a bottle. That said, most bourbons you would want to do this for won’t even be released for several more years, and most will be in the 6 to 10 year old range when released. Just a thought!

  28. Rob says:

    Hello everyone,

    I am setting up a Scotch, Bourbon and Cigar bar at a local establishment on Friday nights. I have the Scotch and Cigars taken care of, but i could use everyone’s expertise. Below is a list of Bourbon’s I want to bring in. Please review and let me know if you think I have some holes that need filling. All comments are welcome.

    Rob

    Four Roses Yellow Label
    Buffalo Trace
    Makers Mark
    Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel
    Elijah Craig 12
    Elijah Craig 20
    Eagle Rare 17
    Pappy Van Winkle 15
    Blanton:s

    • Todd says:

      I couldn’t help but chuckle at “let me know if you think I have some holes that need filling”.

    • Nick Cee says:

      I would for sure knock off the Makers Mark (too expensive – you are paying for their name an advertising), Replace the Blantons with Bookers, and add Old Grand Dad 100 Proof Bonded (bright orange label). Strip off the the OGD label and tell them it is high end (if you’re the sneaky type like me).

  29. Duane says:

    Hello,

    I would have to say the best bang for your buck, eveen better than most high priced bourbon is Very Old Bartons! This bourbon is not high in price and is one of Kentucky’s finest taste bourbons around. It has the best smells a bourbon can have , with dog gone good flavor ! I do think Four Roses small batch has a very close match. If Your in to a great sweet bourbon flavored with a little twist , Have some Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream!
    Duane

  30. Marc Tierney says:

    Very nicely done. For my money, Evan Williams single barrel is great value at less than $25 dollars; my go to whiskey. Great article.

  31. Nick Cee says:

    I appreciate this article and everyone has an opinion but I think you have missed a huge, amazing, ridiculously cheap bourbon hiding in plain sight. I got hooked on $60+ bourbons a few years back. I don’t drink a lot (a bottle every two weeks) so like the good stuff. One night, a friend brought over a new taste in a mason jar. We served it as I serve all my bourbon: Heavy rocks glass chilled for 10 minutes (by stuffing with ice and splash of water), 2 jiggers of bourbon in a shaker containing five ice cubes, shake for 10 seconds, and pour in chilled glass. After preparation, i gave this “mason-jar whiskey” a try. Delicious, smooth, the right bite and a clean raisiny finish. I know it’s $100+ but what’s the name as I want a bottle. My bud pulled out the bottle from his coat – Old Grand Dad Bonded 100 Proof! I was floored that i could get a taste this amazing for $19.95. I strongly suggest that ya’ll on this board prepare it and give it try – its the one with horribly bright 1970 Plymough GTX Vitamin C Orange label!. P.S: I don’t work for OGD and would suggest Booker’s if you want to spend $60 – which I don’t! P.S.S: The 80 is just OK and 114 Proof is good but a little harsh so stick with the 100 Proof.

  32. Pingback: Four Roses Bourbon: Yellow Label, Small Batch, Single Barrel | Thirsty South

  33. JDH says:

    Fantastic thread here. Was just given a bottle of Elijah Craig 21 yr, read your reviews and then checked out the site. Very nice reads and good opinions.

    I have many favorites but I’m partial to the Kirkland Single Barrell Bourbon for value. My brother just gave me a 12 year old Weller so we’ll see what that holds also.

    Great site! Cheers

    • Dan says:

      Stumbled on this thread while looking for comparisons between Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare 10 year. I’m a beer drinker from way back but enjoyed bourbon while in college at Kentucky. My cigar buddy is a regular bourbon drinker and would grab me a shot every time he went for a refill. Eventually I started seeking out the shots and used a beer as a chaser. My buddy drank low end bourbon but I started experimenting looking for value and a bourbon that fit my tastes.

      Evan Williams was drinkable and affordable but once I found Elijah Craig 12 the smoothness and value was difficult to beat so it became my go to when I could afford it. When a buddy from KY brought some Elmer T Lee during a visit I was blown away and figured this would be my every day libation if I could afford it but I decided to experiment and see what was out there.

      A coworker turned me onto the the bourbon family tree (Google and check out if you haven’t seen it) and then gave me a bottle of Weller’s 107 which was very nice. Then I tried Buffalo Trace and began looking for Weller’s 12 but haven’t been able to find it. BT was very nice and I thought it is in the ballpark with Elmer T although would still give the edge to ETL. I gave my coworker a bottle of Elijah 12 and received a bottle of Henry McKenna 10 year as Christmas gifts. At this point I realized how much fun my bourbon journey had become. Next Eagle Rare and for $1 more over BT I’d say it tipped the scale for a very nice 10 year. Still planning to try several more but here’s my list at this point:

      1. Elmer T Lee
      2. Eagle Rare
      3. Elijah Craig
      4. Buffalo Trace

      Got into a discussion with a person at the liquor store and they said they liked bourbon but were wary of single barrel bel cause of inconsistency. It seems like blends should more consistent but I’m not sure about any downside to single barrel. Eagle Rare 1.75 is $53 here in VA and same size Buffalo Trace was $52 also it seems like a easy choice but after searching I’ve seen mixed reviews on ER which could be due to inconsistencies. From what I could find BT is a blend 6-8 years. What do you folks think?

      • Ian says:

        I have two additions to the list. In the under $20 – Evan Williams “1783” (not the black label stuff). At $18 it’s an incredible bourbon. On the Binny’s website it’s referred to as “the best value in the Whisky world bar none” and I would agree. It’s not a spicy bourbon like Buffalo Trace, it’s very smooth and creamy.

        My higher end addition to the list is Jefferson’s Reserve. I’ve seen this rated from really high to just mediocre by others, but it’s my favorite right now. Big and warm up front, smooth as silk with an amazing slight sweetness, followed by almost no burn at all. The stuff almost floats down your throat. Just amazing.

        As you can probably tell, the spicy bourbons are not my favorite. I like them, and my Elijah Craig 12 and Buffalo Trace bottles are nearly empty, but these smoother, slightly sweeter bourbons really do it for me. I have been meaning to try the Elmer T for a while now, and your description seals the deal for me! Sounds like my kind of bourbon!

  34. Eric says:

    Local liquor store bought a barrel of Buffalo Trace, which of course makes the bottles they are selling single barrel bourbon. For $23 it’s just amazing. Slightly better but very close to ETL. Im guessing when someone buys a full barrel they must pick a couple of their very best for them to choose from. Does anyone know if they sell bottles at the distillery? I would think they pick the best stuff to sell there too.

    • They sell bottles at the distillery, but it’s not going to be more special than you could get elsewhere. When i was there they only had buffalo trace and eagle rare 10 yr for sale by the bottle even though they were bottling blantons and elmer t. lee 100ft away. Due to liquor laws they cannot simply pop open a barrel, bottle it and then sell it to you. It has to first be sold to a distributer and then they have to buy it back, just as any other liquor store would. It’s unfortunate.

  35. K'man says:

    Surprised to see the same bourbons repeated throughout the comments…
    Didn’t come across some of my all time favorites,
    Every one should try;
    Basil Hayden’s < $50 my first favorite ever ( then I scored a bottle of Pappy 15yr)
    Rock Hill Farms just over $50 & my answer to the Fiasco that is PappyVanWinkle distribution
    1792 Ridgemont reserve $35
    Jeffersons Reserve <$50
    Henry McKenna single barrel <$50
    For value
    Bulleit
    Knob Creek
    And believe it or not the Trader Joe's branded <$15 ( made by one of the big three here in Ky)

    • DrinkyDrew says:

      I’m shocked it took someone so long to mention 1792. It is a fantastic value buy which can typically be found for under $25.

  36. Rob says:

    Greetings,

    I almost hesitate to discuss this for purely selfish reasons. I am afraid once this gets out, I will have a hard time finding this Bourbon. Run, Do Not Walk, to your nearest quality liquor store and get a bottle of Angels Envy. WOW!! I consider it Nectar of the Gods! I always rate Scotches and Bourbons based on value. What it cost vs the quality. I think Angels Envy is now at the top of my list. I picked it up here in St. Louis for about $48.00. I would really be interested to know what others think about it. I hope I didn’t set the expectation too high, but I really think it is fantastic. I hope you all find it and I look forward to reading your comments.

    Rob

    • Dennis Nelson says:

      Rob,

      If you are in the St. Louis area and are a fan of Angels Envy, you should check out the Angels Envy dinner at Glen Echo C.C. in St. Louis on Thursday, April 10. Go to Face Book and find Bourbon&Banter. There is more info there. Also, you can buy Angels Envy at the dinner for $40 to be picked up at an area Randall’s store. If you would like the bottle(s) signed, you can also request to have the bottle signed by Wes Henderson, COO of Louisville Distilling Company.

    • Vlade Divac says:

      100% agree with Rob. Angel’s Envy is a must-have in my cabinet at all times. My only gripe is the bottle’s femininity and borderline doucheiness. It looks too much like Benson Henderson’s back tat.

  37. Bud Woods says:

    Enjoyable site and lots of biased comments – like mine. I just recently enjoyed a couple of servings (on the rocks) of James E. Pepper bourbon1776 [100 proof] that runs about $28. It is excellent. It will replace my other brands in the “impress your bourbon loving friends” section of the liquor cabinet. My everyday stuff is usually the 100 proof Evan Williams which around here is $17/ 1.75 L. It may not win snobby taste tests but nobody turns down refills either. I do think that Blanton’s. Pappy’s, Maker’s Mark and a few others have low bang/buck ratios. Maybe I should putt some Pepper in a Blanton or Pappy bottle… I do appreciate that real bourbon drinkers are forcing the industry to somewhat backtrack from their watering-down campaign over that last half century. 94 proof, 86 proof now 80…A good bourbon is a pleasure with a few rocks or a ‘splash’ of water even bottled at 100 proof or more. {The Scotch (& others) industry was a co-conspirator in the watering-down scheme.}

  38. David K. McWhorter says:

    My cousin has both Pappy’s 23 and 20 year, also Elijah Craig 18 and 12 Year. So 3 of us held a taste test. Hands down number 1 was, Pappy 23, 2cd was Pappy 20 year, closely followed by EC 18 then 12 year old. They were all good but Pappy’s 23 was clearly superior. There is a good story of how He got the bottle of 23, and He only paid retail for it. I’m glad we are friends or I never would have had that wonderful experience.

  39. Zapped says:

    This thread has migrated from “Bargain Bourbon” to “Best Bargain Single Barrel”. For a pure Bourbon value I am had pressed to pick anything other than Beam Black (8 years) for everyday plonk, whether mixing or sipping. Common street price of around $35.00 for 1.75l makes this a slam dunk.

  40. James says:

    Well as being new to the Bourbon way of life, my tongue, gut, and brain gravitated towards Vodka my whole life. I have tried unsuccessfully to find Pappy’s all the hoopla I wanted to know for myself.
    Well anyway a friend of mine was introduced to Blanton’s and was told by a family member that most Kentuckians consider Blanton’s to be one of if not the best. So my friend and I have come up with an ambitious plan to collect the whole set B,L,A,N,T,O,N,’S, you know the Horses.
    Is my introduction and quest futile, or is it respectable as a young man who will be climbing into the 40 ring in a year and want’s a mature spirit to experience these next 50 years with GOD willing?

    • Rob Garcia says:

      Awesome James!! I also love Blantons. Do yourself a favor and buy a bottle of Four Roses Small batch. Make sure it’s the Small Batch. It is not quite as good as Blantons but I think it is similar in taste, almost as smooth and almost half the price. My next step up from Blantons is Angels Envy. About the same price as Blantons but a better flavor. You will not be disappointed.

      Cheers,

      Rob

  41. James says:

    Thanks Rob will do, will let you know what I think soon as I get a taste.

  42. DrinkyDrew says:

    I know this thread is now a few years in the making but I’m glad I stumbled upon it. I’m shocked to see no long for Old Grandad 114. It is an absolutely wonderful bourbon for just over $20.

  43. Tonatoyzz says:

    what do you think of Angels Envy

Comments welcome, y'all!