Wednesday, September 21, 2011

10 Great Bourbons Under $30

In celebration of National Bourbon Heritage Month, I thought I'd make a list of some bourbons that I enjoy that have great flavor but won't break your bank. Each of the bourbons listed below come in a 750ml bottle for under $30. Of course, pricing will vary depending on where you buy but I've tried to list an average price or price I've recently paid in Miami. In Miami, I've found the best variety is usually at Total Wine & Spirits but, contrary to popular belief, they don't always have the best price. Other shops I frequent are Crown Wine & Spirits, Grove Liquors (nice selection but usually high priced unless they have a special running so it's rare that I buy there), Big Daddy's, and ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.

Buffalo Trace - $25 - A great way to start off this list.  This is the namesake bourbon for what I feel is the best distillery standing in the United States today.  I love the complexity of this bourbon where flavor ranges from oaky, woody notes to vanilla, to some hints of citrus peel.  I enjoy this one with a few rocks or a bourbon ice ball and it also makes for a nice Old Fashioned.

Bulliet - $25 - This one is not a favorite of mine to sip neat or on the rocks, however, with a high rye content it's a favorite of most bartenders for fashioning classic cocktails.  The bite from the rye allows this bourbon to shine when mixed in a cocktail.  It's also pretty sweet with vanilla and honey flavor playing backup to the spicy rye.  I like the bottle.  It reminds me of the days of the wild frontier.

Corner Creek - $23- This one was previously featured here as a Bourbon Bargain Alert when Big Daddy's had it as low as $9.99 for 750ml and $19.99 for 1.75L!!  Though the flavor won't blow you away, it's an easy sipper that I enjoy on the rocks.  Real smooth, light bourbon that's grainy with notes of vanilla, caramel, char, wood, and a hint of cherry.  Smooth finish too.  I recently learned while doing some pricing research for this article that this bourbon uses corn, wheat, and rye in it's mash (most use wheat or rye) and that the corporate offices are located right here in Miami.  I'll be investigating that a bit further...

Eagle Rare 10yr - $28 - Another favorite of mine from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, this bourbon has a moderate amber color and a sweet yet spicy flavor.  Hints of vanilla, caramel, raisin, spice, and dried grain.  It's the "well" bourbon at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink and can be had for $5/glass during their happy hour (M-F 5:00-6:30pm).  I definitely recommend checking that out!

Elijah Craig 12yr - $25 - A fantastic value at $24, this bourbon is a sweet one with notes of butterscotch, vanilla, root beer, caramel, spice, and light oak.  It's a small batch bourbon that delivers in flavor.  Chef K and Chadzilla, my co-conspirators at Sol Kitchen, made a kickass root beer float with this at Podzilla.  Total Wine has had it on sale for as low as $22 as well.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage - $27 - I once got called out by Kelly Liken, a finalist on Top Chef, for expressing my distaste for Evan Williams bourbon.  I must admit that at that point I'd only tried the black label which I still have much distaste for.  The Single Barrel Vintage, however, brings much more to the table.  This bourbon was the first and only bourbon to list a vintage date on the bottle, depicting the exact day it was placed in the barrel to age.  I've had the 1999, 2000, and 2001 editions on my bar over the years and have enjoyed them, especially for the dollars I paid.  This one is oaky with vanilla, caramel, spice, and a little cinnamon.  The one that currently sits on my bar, the 2001, has a nice viscosity to it too that coats the tongue on each sip. 

Jefferson's Small Batch - $27 - I love Jefferson's 17yr Presidential Select but at $79 a bottle it wasn't making this list.  The small batch product pales in comparison to the 17yr but it's still a decent bourbon with tones of vanilla, cream soda, and little hints of peach.

Old Grandad 114 - $25 - This bourbon is a bit of an ass kicker at 114 proof.  However, the burn is very light, almost smooth, which I find to be odd yet very enjoyable.  Lots of vanilla and caramel going on here with a firey spice profile as well.  This one really grew on me the more I sipped and it's become one of my favorite value bourbons on the market.

Old Forrester Signature - $20 - A dark colored spirit rich with caramel and milk chocolate notes.  The rye spice notes in this bourbon also shine along with some grain and char.  A nice sipper on the rocks.

W.L. Weller 12yr - $25 - This wheated bourbon has a deep color and grainy nose and palate to it that continues all the way through the finish.  Like most wheated bourbons, I like the spiciness of this spirit.  Perfect for classic cocktails too.  I also found it was great when I infused it with citrus peel and vanilla. 

You will notice that I've left Maker's Mark off the list.  The reason behind that is that Maker's is what I call "the gateway bourbon".  Most bourbon drinkers have likely had it before or know of it because its' signature red wax dipped bottle can be found sitting on nearly every bar shelf in the country.  It's still a good bourbon at a good price.  In fact, my travel plans have taken a turn for the worse and I'm sipping one right now as I type this post in an airport lounge.

I hope you find this post useful and that it leads to you discovering a new bourbon that you enjoy.  Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and, as always, please respect your bourbon and drink responsibly.

17 comments:

The Chowfather said...

Dissing the Four Roses!!!

Anonymous said...

Best bourbon for sipping neat?

SteveBM said...

Chowfather - I wouldn't classify Four Roses Yellow Label as a "great bourbon" and Four Roses Small Batch and Single Barrel are both above $30. Can't count a mysterious sale on the Single Barrel at $29.99. It's usually $39.99.

Anon - if you're picking one from this list to sip neat I'd go with Eagle Rare (well balanced), Elijah Craig (sweet), Old Grandad (firey) or W.L. Weller (spicy). It really depends on the flavor profiles you enjoy most. That's part of the reason I created this post, so you could know that there are some good bourbons out there at reasonable prices and go out and experiment to find your favorites. BTW, 3 of these 4 can be found at Total Wine. The Weller can be found at ABC.

The Chowfather said...

I hear you on the single barrel but I've seen the small batch at 2-3 spots for $26 within the past couple of weeks. ABC, Crown and I think Total

SteveBM said...

Those are sales. The average price is around $35. I did find a few online that were as low as $19.99 and even $16.99 but I thought it was a scam under the "too good to be true" mantra

Whack-a-mole said...

I'd be interested in what you think of the just announced Old Forester Birthday bourbon for 2011. It looks to have an excellent heritage.

SteveBM said...

That's a great question. Truth be told, the 3-4 times I've sought out that bourbon it's been sold out. The 2011 is on my target list.

sku said...

Great list! Though it's Tennessee Whiskey (and I guess it's not National Tennessee Whiskey Heritage Month), I think Dickel 12 is one of the great budget pours.

Cheers,

sku.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the list! I really enjoyed the Evan Williams Single Barrel neat. It starts off sweet, but then just warms my soul.

SteveBM said...

Glad you enjoyed, Anon. I actually shared some of that with friends during the Super Bowl. Made a nice Old Fashioned with Weller Special Reserve today too.

Whack-a-mole - not sure if you'll get this but I finally had a chance to try the Forester Birthday bourbon from 2011 and it's a keeper for the price I paid at $35.

Brad said...

Fantastic list, I'll be using it while shopping for the weekend. Buffalo Trace tastes like a $40+ bottle in my opinion.

Bourbon Honk said...

ETL under $30.00 is the bourbon buy of the year. I can also buy Bookers at $41.00 here in Northern Ky which at $41.00 may be a better value than ETL.

Garret Brough said...

Hi, a good friend and I are getting together next week while I prefer a sweet bourbon with some complexity and spice his taste run along a lighter path. I was going to get some knob creek but that might prove to strong and angel's envy is not cheap. Any recommendations

Garret Brough said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SteveBM said...

Hey Garrett,

Basil Hayden is the call. High rye content will give you that spice you enjoy but 80 proof will keep it light enough for your friend to enjoy. Good neat, wet, rocky, or in a cocktail.

Anonymous said...


Ancient Ancient Age 10yr $22
W.L. 12 year $28
Old Grand Dad Bonded $20
Old Grand Dad 114 $27
Elmer T Lee $28

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of all Evan Williams bourbons, including black label. It's smooth, it has a kick, and it has complex flavors aplenty. And it's cheap. What's not to like? I also really enjoy Benchmark. Neat or in an Old Fashioned, it has loads of flavor!