Top 5 Amazing Yet Affordable Whiskeys You Probably Haven’t Tried

Autostraddle 5th B'day_Cats plus changes_Rory Midhani_640px (1)
We’re celebrating Autostraddle’s Fifth Birthday all month long by publishing a bunch of Top Fives. This is one of them!


Hi my name is Alex and I have an obsession with whiskey. This is me at our whiskey tasting at A-Camp:

My love for whiskey is a really expensive hobby. There was a time that me and a friend managed to spend about $400 on whiskey at Seven Grand one night (which my girlfriend rightfully loves to make fun of me for!). And I think that it’s worth spending $65 on a unique craft whiskey (like Balcones True Blue Cask Strength or Brenne Whisky).

But good whiskey, or even amazing whiskey, doesn’t have to break the bank. These are five whiskeys that prove it, and there are definitely more out there. We all know Jack, Makers, and Knob Creek, and everyone and their mom (except my mom, despite my repeat efforts) buys and loves Bulleit. That’s not to say these aren’t quality whiskeys (they absolutely are), but what would be the point of telling you what you already know Instead I opted to find and include whiskeys that you’re guaranteed to enjoy for around the same price as a bottle of the usual Bulleit.

Also, I’ve stuck only to American whiskies, like bourbon, because that’s what I know and love. I am not a woman of scotch (yet!).

So with that, grab your Glencairn glass and on with the whiskey!


three_of_the_top_5_whiskies

The three of the Top 5 that I actually own: Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare 10, and Old Weller Antique 107

5. W.L. Weller 12 Year Old / Old Weller Antique 107

Price: $25 – $30

I have to admit I’m a bit hesitant to put W.L. Weller 12 Year Old on this list because it’s hard enough to find without more people knowing about it! W.L. Weller 12 Year Old is a wheated bourbon that comes from the same stocks and warehouses as the notoriously hyped Pappy Van Winkle whiskies. They’re made of the same mashbill. So you’re really getting something special for such an absurdly low price, not just with taste but also historically, as the Weller company name dates back to pre-Prohibition.

“A “wheated” bourbon, meaning that it doesn’t have the spicy rye notes found in a more traditional “ryed” bourbon. A pleasantly sweet, easy-going, well-balanced experience. Creamy vanilla, caramel, candied corn, and ripe berried fruit , along with more subtle notes of glazed orange, cocoa powder, and wood shavings. If I were going to ease a new bourbon drinker into the category, I might pick this one.” – Whiskey Advocate

I couldn’t agree more. W.L. Weller is rich, delicious, well-balanced, inexpensive, and I make sure I always have a bottle on hand. That’s if I can find it, which is becoming increasingly difficult. I was lucky enough to find it for our first whiskey workshop at A-Camp last year. Needless to say, if you see W.L. Weller 12 Year Old at the store, buy it. Even if only so I can buy it off you!

If you can’t find the 12 Year old, Old Weller Antique 107 is a good backup option while we brave the great whiskey shortage.


buffalo trace

4. Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Price: $20 – $25

It’s perfect, it’s available everywhere, and it’s less than $25. If you haven’t tried Buffalo Trace yet, what is honestly wrong with you I mean really.

It’s a classic, a lovely balance of sweet and warm spices with brown sugar and vanilla notes. So so good. It doesn’t hit you too hard and it’s complex enough to where I could (and often do) savor a dram for hours.

Buffalo Trace really nails it in general: their Antique Collection is award winning and the Experimental Collection yields one of the most unique series of whiskies from a major distillery, in my opinion. Anything Buffalo Trace does is solid, so it’s no wonder their original bourbon really hits the mark.


eagle rare

3. Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10 Year Old

Price: $30

Speaking of Buffalo Trace, the Eagle Rare label is part of the Buffalo Trace family. I don’t know how it took me so long to try Eagle Rare 10. I did so at a bar specifically for this review, and I loved it. When it comes to a single barrel whiskey, I think the bottlings can vary a lot. With that said, I experienced a pleasantly balanced bourbon with sweet fruit and oaky vanilla flavors. It’s a truly satisfying drink.

At under $30 for a bottle, it’s unbelievable that you can get this taste for that price.


Evan_Williams_Single_Barrel_Vintage

2. Evan Williams Single Barrel

Price: $27

Evan Williams makes more than just that black label bottle that looks like a Jack Daniel’s rip off. Evan Williams actually has a lot going on (and, for the record, I actually really like their black label). But even better is the 10 year old Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage series.

What’s a single barrel? Well, most whiskies are a combination of barrels of whiskey that can even be different ages that are used to create the desired flavor characteristics. Single barrel whiskies are bottled solely from one barrel and one barrel only. Every bottle is marked with the exact date that it was placed in oak and bottled, in addition to the exact serial number of the barrel from which it was drawn.

Available now is the Vintage 2004 release, which is getting great reviews and stands to be as good as any of the other years. I tried the Vintage 2001 for this review and have been on the lookout for my own bottle ever since.

These were my tasting notes:

“A little smokey/charry, then becomes sweet — like butterscotch or custard. It reminds me of a creme brulee! So awesome. Medium body, very drinkable. A delicious balance of smokey (char character) and sweet.”

Apparently I really liked it.


Four-Roses-Yellow-Label

1. Four Roses Bourbon (Yellow Label)

Price: ~$20

As I sampled whiskies for this list, Four Roses Bourbon wasn’t on my radar at all. It was only after I tried and ruled out Elijah Craig 12 Year Old and Wild Turkey 101 that I noticed the regular ol’ Four Roses there on the bar shelf. I’m more familiar with the Four Roses Single Barrel and Small Batch releases, which are special (and award-winning) limited edition releases. I decided to give the Yellow Label a shot and I was so happy I did — for $18.99 at BevMo, Four Roses is a steal.

It’s soft and incredibly smooth. I never understood what people meant when they described a whiskey as “floral” — that is, until this bourbon. THIS. The nose is fruity and floral and the taste is soft warm spices with a little citrusy sweet happening in there as well. I actually ordered my Four Roses with a side of ice and never used it. I just enjoyed this bourbon way too much to throw an ice cube into it.


Can’t find something in stores? Check out Caskers for whiskies and other liquor situations, especially for sending gifts.

Header Image by Rory Midhani

Profile photo of Alex

Cofounder and Design Director of Autostraddle. Professional web/graphic designer. Whiskey enthusiast. Drumming hobbyist. A past speaker at the 2010 BlogHer Conference ("Good Blog Design: The Role of Layout in an Online Medium"), 2013 Salon LGBTQ Conference ("Innovative Best Practices for Brand-Blogger Campaigns") and featured in the Los Angeles Edition of Refinery29's 30 Under 30 in 2013. Co-owns and manages Tully's Training, a dog training company in Los Angeles. Twitter: @a_ex Instagram: alexxxvegaaa

Alex has written 111 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. Thumb up 3

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    I’m a bartender here in Lexington, Ky. If you’re ever trying to go on the Bourbon trail, let me know you’ve got a tour guide and a place to stay with me.

    Our Pappy 23 year goes for $50 neat by the way SOOOO

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    These are all fine choices! Especially agree with Four Roses – an under-appreciated whiskey for sure.

    In a slightly lower price bracket, but still good enough to drink neat, I’d strongly recommend Ancient Ancient Age for bourbon, and Old Overholt for rye. Old Overholt is, as far as I’m concerned, the best value in whiskey: around $15 for a fifth, good enough to drink neat, cheap enough to mix with, and a less aggressive rye than others so you can sub it for bourbon in cocktail recipes if you happen to be out.

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    Solid list! A couple of other suggestions:

    Very Old Barton’s – I’ve only found it in Kentucky/Indiana, but it’s SO GOOD and SO CHEAP. Like, $11. And it comes in proofs ranging from 80 to 100, so you can pick how quickly to be drunk.

    Johnny Drum Private Stock – Here in NYC it’s about $27 at reasonable liquor stores. A bit fiery/spicy, but I like that in a whiskey. This is pretty much my standard one to keep on hand.

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    Thanks for sharing your suggestions, guys! Well done, I’m loving them so far.

    Leslie – def taking you up on that. I have not made the Bourbon Trail pilgrimage yet!

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    I used to work in liquor store in Lexington, KY so I know my bourbons pretty well. Eagle Rare is my go-to for an affordable bourbon with an expensive taste. I also know a lot of old-timers who preach up-and-down about Old Weller. Also, some of Pappy Van Winkle is hyped, but the 15 year is not. It’s an amazing bourbon worth the fairly steep price. The 23 year is over-aged and just not as smooth as the 15, so I don’t think it justifies it’s price. Good luck on finding that one though, we used to get a case – maaaaybe two – of it every couple of months, and it would be all be claimed within an hour. Now I live on the West coast and its sick what they charge for it, and its hella rare.

    Also, I’m counting down until all the native Kentuckyians come running to yell about how not to call Bourbons whiskeys and vice-versa. If there is one thing Kentuckians will make you learn before you leave the state it’s that, and that Wildcat basketball is 2nd only to religion there.

    Oh but how I miss Keeneland and girls in their sundresses sneaking flasks of bourbon in…

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    Tagging on to Leslie … I can give you the hookup for the Louisville side of the Bourbon Trail — the Bardstown distilleries.

    Also, speaking of Buffalo Trace … their bourbon cream. I hate Bailey’s, but love that stuff. Friends who hate bourbon love that stuff. Originally, you could only get it at the distillery. Then it was a very mixed-emotion day when they began selling it at some local liquor stores. I could now buy it more frequently than just when I went to Frankfort which makes my mouth happy … but then I could buy it more frequently than just when I went to Frankfort, which makes my wallet unhappy.

    Let me know if some should make a visit to the post office.

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    I realize this article is a bit old but we were at a whiskey bar for a work happy hour last night and I didn’t know what to order from this giant list of whiskies. So, I looked up this article and tried the Buffalo Trace. Really nice. Several of my colleagues liked it too. Thanks!

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