You can find a high-quality bourbon in just about any price range. That said, most of the bottles that typically capture the attention from bourbon aficionados and the whiskey press tend to be one-off releases or special casks. Who wouldn’t want a showcase bourbon on their bar cart that tells a story every time they pour a bourbon neat or on the rocks? There’s a time and a place for the rare, local, hard-to-find bourbon (or a whiskey that’s all three of those things), but every bourbon drinker needs a go-to quality option that they know they can find at an affordable price no matter what town they’re in.
That’s not a tall ask for bourbon. The biggest brands with wide distribution networks put out remarkably good whiskey, and the flagship options are often just as good mixed into a cocktail as they are completely unadulterated in your favorite glass.
Regardless of how you like to drink your whiskey, you can always rely on these affordable bourbons—and, best of all, you can easily find one (or likely all) of them always in stock at your local liquor store.
Prices vary depending on location. The prices shown are the average prices according to Wine Searcher.
Four Roses Bourbon
Four Roses is hyper transparent about what goes into its bourbon. That’s equally true for the flagship as it is for the special releases. All you have to do is check out the code on the bottle, match it up with the recipe reader on the brand’s website, and you’ll have the exact mashbill (either A or B) and yeast strain (out of five options). Or don’t. It doesn’t make this very good whiskey taste any better, but it is a nice talking point. The Four Roses flagship is a fruity and floral bourbon that’s easy drinking on its own and plays well with cocktails. If it’s on the shelf next to it, spring the extra bucks for the Four Roses Small Batch.
Knob Creek 9 Year Bourbon
Technically, a bourbon only has to sit in barrel for two years before it can legally be called a bourbon. The best spend far longer, as the whiskey tends to get better over time (to a point, at least) as it ages. More years typically means a higher price point, but Knob Creek’s 9 Year Bourbon brings the benefits of time without the downsides of a high price point. The woody and sweet whiskey has the barrel-inflicted notes of caramel and vanilla that one would expect while not letting the wood completely overpower the bourbon itself. Plus, at 100 proof, this whiskey packs a punch.
Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
Elijah Craig is named after the man who, legend has it, created bourbon as we know it today. The signature Small Batch Bourbon from the brand that uses his name is a crowd pleaser. It has a subtle smoke characteristic and the baking spice flavors one wants in a sipping whiskey. At 94 proof, it can handle a rock or two if you want to sip it on a warm day.
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
The perfect option who prefers their whiskey with a bite. Bottled at 101 proof (hence the name), Wild Turkey 101 is aged between six and eight years in barrels that get a high level of char—level four, or “alligator char”—to deliver an oaky whiskey that does well with ice or a couple of drops of water. Upping the spice factor even more, the whiskey is made with a high percentage of rye in the mashbill.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Maker’s Mark’s hand-dipped red wax top is a statement—even on what is by all means an affordable whiskey that punches above its price point. The brand uses red winter wheat in the mashbill for an easy drinking bourbon packed with oak and vanilla notes and rounded out by a light fruitiness.
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
A Woodford bottle makes a statement on a bar cart. First from a more literal sense (there aren’t any other bottle shapes like it), second from a brand awareness perspective. Long the official whiskey of the Kentucky Derby, Woodford’s flagship bourbon overdelivers on flavor and reputation. It’s lightly sweet with baking spice notes and a hint of fruit and floral characteristics as well at 90.4 proof.
Evan Williams Black Label
In my college years, green label Evan Williams was ubiquitous. The Evan Williams Black Label signified a fancier occasion for just a couple of dollars more. I’ve had a lot (a lot) more types of whiskey since then, but Black Label still holds a special place on the bar cart for me. The brand takes its name from a man who started Kentucky’s first commercial distillery in 1783, and today the name is synonymous with reliable and affordable bourbons. Black Label clocks in at 86 proof and is perfect for sipping on the rocks or in cocktails without spending more than $20.