By Jake Emen
The best whiskey for your buck, $35 and under.
Older doesn’t always mean better for whiskey, and neither does more expensive. Phenomenal whiskey deals can be found for those looking to spend wisely by shopping the opposite side of the “Pappy” spectrum. While the availability of wonderful whiskey really explodes at the $40-$45 range, herein we’re digging deeper to find the top 10 best whiskeys under $35.
First, a few ground rules. With prices, taxes and availability so variable from one locale to the next, for consistency’s sake, only widely-available labels are included here, and prices are all taken from the same source—leading online retailer Binny’s, for full 750 ml bottles.
Wide distribution is an important distinction too as it eliminates certain regional brands to which not all consumers have access. Perhaps more importantly though, it also excludes allocated brands that imbibers can’t actually find on retail shelves. That means there’s no W.L. Weller 12 on this list, for instance, as the popular Pappy replacement has been cleaned off of shelves, and will quickly reach that same fate once again after its next release later this year.
While not a rule for inclusion, the below list is clearly centered on big, recognizable brand names. That’s no coincidence. The big boys in whiskey have achieved phenomenal economies of scale that enable them to deliver excellent product at excellent prices. Even when smaller “craft” brandsproduce great whiskey, pound for pound, or dram for dram, they don’t represent the same value.
1) Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon (100 proof), $19.99: Walking into a store with $20 and purchasing a bottle of Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon would be a big win. Bonded bourbons, often stashed away on the bottom shelf with old-timey labels, have always been excellent values. None more than this one. Don’t ignore them.
2) Wild Turkey 101 (101 proof), $21.99: Wild Turkey 101 has always been one of the best values on the whiskey shelf. For some reason, it tends to get overlooked, but shouldn’t be. It’s an iconic label, and an early example which proves that removing a bottle’s age statement need not reduce a spirit’s quality. With its hefty proofing, there’s extra bang for the buck, too.
3) Buffalo Trace (86 proof), $24.99: While Buffalo Trace Distillery has garnered so much acclaim for its experimental and limited edition offerings, not to mention that it produces the Pappy Van Winkle lineup, W.L. Weller, and Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace Bourbon remains a great introductory choice and an excellent value. Expect a profile dominated by vanilla and brown sugar sweetness.
4) Maker’s Mark (90 proof), $27.99: Maker’s Mark is known for its wheated mash bill, with 70 percent corn, 16 percent red winter wheat and 14 percent malted barley. As opposed to a high-rye bourbon mash bill, Maker’s therefore has a softer, smoother profile, which has become the brand’s signature. An easy sipper and a high quality label at the price.
[Photo: Russell’s Reserve/Facebook]
5) Four Roses Small Batch (90 proof), $29.99: Four Roses Small Batch is a blend of four of their different bourbon recipes. The result is a smooth, sweet sipping bourbon, with a well-rounded profile which features spicy and oaky notes, along with caramel and toffee sweetness.
6) Knob Creek (100 proof), $29.99: Knob Creek may be the gold standard for fantastic whiskey at budget-friendly pricing. It’s also one of the most common way stations for early enthusiasts looking to begin branching out into better bottles. Produced by Jim Beam—and thanks to that aforementioned economy of scale—Knob Creek might be the best value in bourbon, period. And at 100 proof, it packs a punch, too.
7) Russel’s Reserve (80 proof), $34.99: Just sneaking under the wire here, Russell’s Reserve is a 10-year-old bourbon from Wild Turkey. A much smoother and more refined dram than Wild Turkey 101—itself a steal worthy of inclusion on this list—Russell’s Reserve benefits greatly from its longer aging period.
8) Crown Royal (80 proof), $21.99: Crown Royal offers an easy and affordable introduction to the world of Canadian whisky for the uninitiated. It features the type of creamy, smooth, soft and sweet profile that not only defines the entire Crown Royal lineup, but the whole of Canadian whisky. Mix it or enjoy it on the rocks.
SINGLE MALT SCOTCH
9) Glenlivet 12 (86 proof), $34.99: Glenlivet 12 is a Speyside staple, and it represents the best value in its range. Snagging a 12-year-old single malt for less than $35, from one of the most well known Scotch brands, is a can’t miss, and the entry level offering from The Glenlivet is one of the best selling single malts in the world.
10) George Dickel 8, (80 proof), $24.99: George Dickel is a Tennessee whiskey, essentially a bourbon made in Tennessee, which has been charcoal filtered. In fact, after Jack Daniel’s, it’s the most popular big brand Tennessee whiskey available. It’s made with a sour mash process, and its mash bill consists of 84 percent corn, 8 percent rye and 8 percent malted barley. Robust, bold flavor, great on the rocks.