The Best American Whiskey Under $30By Jake Emen
Some nights you want to sip and appreciate the very finest whiskey you possibly can. Other times, you have a $20 in your wallet, maybe a little more or a little less, and you want a whiskey you can depend upon for consistent, everyday quality and value. That said, a strict $20 limit really paints you into a corner in terms of your options. Add in another ten spot though, and the world is your oyster, particularly when it comes to American whiskey.
Budget American Whiskey Picks
Barton 1792 Distillery has been a sleeping giant waking up, and more imbibers are starting to appreciate that fact. Its 1792 Small Batch comes in right around $30. It’s made with a high-rye mash bill and is bottled at 46.85%. This American whiskey offers a strong introduction to the brand if you haven’t yet included them in your go-to rotation.
You can line up in queues at your local liquor store and sign up for lotteries for a chance to get your hands on some of the distillery’s highly allocated offerings. Or you can throw down $25 any day of the week for the backbone of the distillery’s lineup, its eponymous bourbon.
The staple of Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig lineup is its Small Batch (go laugh with your local craft distiller about how a small batch for a bourbon powerhouse is around 200 full-size barrels). At $30 or less, 94 proof, and including whiskey between 8 and 12 years of age, it’s an excellent value.
From the other side of the Heaven Hill family, Evan Williams Single Barrel is perhaps the most cost effective single barrel bourbon on the market. The exact aging specs may change for this vintage bourbon coming in around eight years of age. But for a fan of the overall flavor profile, being able to routinely try different barrels at this price point is a wonderful change of pace.
Named Yellow Label only unofficially now, Four Roses Bourbon has long been a budget bourbon standby. It’s made from the distillery’s B (60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley) and E (75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley) mash bills, along with a combination of all five of its yeast strains. Therefore you get the full spectrum of 10 recipes to represent the range of what the distillery produces.
George Dickel’s Original No. 12 is made with a 84% corn, 8% rye and 8% malted barley mash bill. Not to name names, but for my hard-earned $20 or so, it’s the Tennessee whiskey I’d purchase at the price.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Knob Creek, as it was my first go-to upgrade from the bottom shelf. And the good news is that the 9-year-old age statement has returned. That makes it a no brainer American whiskey that often squeaks under our price point limit.
From the wheat mash bill side of the Heaven Hill family tree, Larceny is produced with a 68% corn, 20% wheat and 12% malted barley mash bill. Matured for six years, this is a wheater which shows great for its price and age.
To show you how much the bourbon marketplace has evolved, consider Maker’s Mark was once the category’s standard bearer as a premium product. Of course the quality of this classic wheater has remained, but the market has exploded in the other direction. At the end of the day, that leaves Maker’s as an excellent value.
Old Forester’s 100 Proof offering is, in my opinion, a substantial uptick in profile from the standard 86 proof label. Made with a 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley mash bill, it’s the best affordable entry point into the Old Forester family.
For my money, Old Grand-Dad is the king of the bottom shelf. Said without disrespect, and in full appreciation of the bottom shelf.
For a few bucks more than the standard Old Overholt, you can upgrade yourself in style to the bonded entrant from the brand. You’ll be living large at a low cost.
If you walked into a craft cocktail bar a decade ago, it was almost as if Rittenhouse Rye was this secret elixir bartenders were deploying. The value at the price! The applications for cocktails! People couldn’t believe it. Bottled-in-bond, and therefore four years of age and 100 proof, it’s also made with a 51% rye, 35% corn and 14% malted barley mash bill. This is a marked difference from the 95% ryes which have become ubiquitous.
What’s the magic of the 101? Is it all in the number? Maybe. But Wild Turkey’s core product has stood the test of time, even with some tweaks to the formula here and there, and is now matured for between six and eight years before bottling at its signature strength.
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