So for all you bourbon aficionados, this list might not include some of your higher-end favorites. But if you’ve got $10 to $25 to spare for a fifth of decent whiskey, then this list is for you. Now you may have noticed I called them whiskeys and might be confused, saying “I thought this was about bourbon.” While all bourbons are whiskeys, not all whiskeys are bourbons. For more info on the distinction, check out this guide on all things whiskey and bourbon.
Regardless, all the bourbons on this list are a great choice for any occasion.
1. Old Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond: 100 proof, $12
First up is a bottle that may not be incredibly well-known, or even widely available. I’ve never personally had it, but many friends tout it as one of the best deals you can get. At 100 proof, this stout bourbon is made by the same company as Evan Williams and Elijah Craig, and serves as a great mixer for any of your favorite bourbon drinks. Try it in an Old Fashioned, or if you like a strong sipper, serve it on the rocks.
2. Old Crow Reserve: 86 proof, $13
Adding the “reserve” onto the end of a classic basic bourbon, Old Crow Reserve adds an extra year and 6 proof to the normal Old Crow. Boasting hints of cinnamon and caramel, the Reserve takes a step up from its little brother to give drinkers a smoother sip with a distinctly dark finish. As always, you can drink it on its own, but I prefer it as a base for another classic bourbon drink, the Whiskey Sour.
3. Evan Williams 1783: 86 proof, $15
This is my go-to budget bourbon. Again, it’s a step up from the regular Evan Williams fare, and is worth the $3 or $4 dollars to make the move. Evan Williams is a staple brand of bourbons, and their 1783 is a great example of why they’ve been around so long. Featuring a honey-centric flavor peppered with hints of vanilla and strong oak, the 1783 has a smooth finish that makes this one of my favorite bourbons just to sip on the rocks, no extra frill needed.
4. Bulleit Bourbon: 90 proof, $22
Now I know this price is a step up from the rest of the list so far, but I couldn’t help but include it. As far as regular purchases go, this is far and away my favorite bourbon on the list. If I’ve got the funds, this bourbon is my choice for a middle-shelf that won’t break the bank. Bulleit has a stronger edge thanks to its higher rye content, but finishes with a subtle toffee flavor that leaves you wanting another sip. This is another favorite to sip on its own, and I even enjoy it neat. Why water down it down?
5. Buffalo Trace: 90 proof, $25
The most expensive on my list, this is for the bourbon drinkers that just can’t stomach what some people call “bottom shelf.” While none of the cheaper whiskeys on the list are bad by any means, some bourbon fans are simply not impressed with anything less than a $25 bottle. So here is a batch that can satisfy those higher end tastes with a price that isn’t outlandish.
Made by the same distillery that owns the coveted Pappy Van Winkle line of bourbons, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a smooth, sip-able drink that displays a complex array of flavors, including toasted nuts, candied fruits, toffee, vanilla, and a smooth oaky finish. I will drink Trace on its own, but if you’re really trying to impress, use it as a mixer in a Kentucky Mule, and maybe just go light on the ginger beer to really appreciate the sweet bourbon tasting notes.