It’s pretty obvious by now that the dudes running this fantastic website like to enjoy a glass or two of bourbon from time-to-time (read: every night).
Need a reason to celebrate? Awesome. Crack open that bottle of whiskey.
Had a shitty day that included a bunch of shitty diapers? No problem. Pour a finger (or two) of bourbon and live to fight another day.
Have a taste for something a bit more sophisticated and want to look pretty fucking cool in the process? Nothing cries pretentious dad more than a glass of 18-year old scotch. We’d argue that nothing tastes better than that premium scotch, either, so drink away.
In a follow up to one of our most popular posts to date, Bourbon, Scotch & Whiskey: A Primer on Learning to Drink Like a Real Man, our resident bougie bourbonista, Jason Schneider, returns to drop even more brown liquor knowledge on your ass. Consider yourselves ready for battle as Jason breaks down the difference between cheap shit and quality, yet affordable whiskey.
Side note: Jason has reason to break out that expensive scotch officially, as he welcomed twins (yes … T-W-I-N-S) into his life recently. We should all be buying him a drink … but not until you read this definitive guide to buying the right stuff.
How to find affordable whiskey, bourbon and scotch
I am self-proclaimed whiskey nerd. I’m not an expert but I do not more than the average bear when it comes to the brown stuff. And as much as I like drinking the stuff, I also enjoy talking about it and sharing my passion for it. One question I get a lot is what cheap whiskey do I like.
The answer is always none.
Now this has less to do with spending money on whiskey and more about semantics. Cheap whiskey is bottom of the shelf crap that burns like hell and is used by college kids to get wasted (I know, I was one of them).
I do however like inexpensive whiskey and “high value” whiskey. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of collecting whiskey is finding the relatively unknown brand turning out an incredibly high quality drink that I’m able to get a relatively low price because it’s not in demand (yet) and the distiller/distributor isn’t sending money on marketing, which gets factored in the cost.
So if you’re looking for cheap whiskey, that’s easy: Buy something cheap.
If you’re not interested in doing some leg work and have enough coin to buy what you want, that’s easy, too. Any liquor store will be more than happy to help. If you’re looking to enjoy some brown stuff without shelling out too much green stuff – or being able to brag about the whiskey you discovered, read on.
Side note: I define high value whiskey as something that drinks like a much more expensive bottle. Pappy Van Winkle is not high value. I would argue it’s over-valued.
Full disclosure: I’ve never had Pappy. But I have talked with a lot of much-more-expert whiskey drinkers. The consensus being that Pappy is good whiskey, but not more so than other labels that sell for half (or even less) than what Pappy goes for these days.
A few other notes about inexpensive/value whiskies.
Every dollar that distributors spend on marketing and advertising will get covered by the price of the bottle. That’s something to keep in mind about highly-advertised brands. You are paying for that commercial/sponsorship/billboard when you buy a bottle. The more advertising, the more your dollars are paying for those ads, rather than the quality.
That said, most of these are from large producers. It’s about economics. Large producers can procure ingredients on a large scale, driving down the cost per unit. Most are also long established and don’t have the aging challenges of newer, craft distilleries.
Keep in mind that whiskey distilled today will be sitting in a barrel for at least two years and likely much longer before it can be sold. While it’s sitting in a barrel it’s not helping to pay for any costs associated with producing it. It’s economics, stupid.
One last note (promise we’ll get to the whiskies in a moment) … and this is a really helpful note. Look for any bottle labeled as bottled-in-bond (BiB). To earn the BiB distinction, labels need to meet certain laws that take us way back to 1897 – when MF’ers were serious about their whiskey and whiskey taxes. Anything labeled as BiB is going to be a very good deal. Jim Beam and Henry McKenna are two very good options if you can find them.
The DaddyMindTricks approved list of affordable whiskey, bourbon and scotch*
*These are just my selections of what I like/drink. There are a lot of quality whiskies out there so if there’s something you like that isn’t on here, don’t take it personally. Or do. Fight me.
There’s a lot of new whiskies on the market these days and many are around the $40 price point or less. The good thing about the new market for whiskey is that there are several really good bottles in the $25-30 range.
Wild Turkey: The kickin’ chicken isn’t fancy and isn’t a find. It is however a really good whiskey for the money. For a long time, the 80-proof was my Tuesday night whiskey. Good to drink whenever, not so hot that you can’t enjoy it neat and not so expensive that you’d feel guilty mixing it with something. The 101-proof is even better.
Four Roses: This used to be hard to find but several years ago was bought by Japanese distilling giant Kirin and has made a comeback in the U.S. Four Rouses is fairly easy to find. Considered a high rye whiskey, it’s gonna have more bite than a wheated whiskey.
Maker’s Mark: This stuff is everywhere. And there’s a reason for it. It’s really good, approachable whiskey and carries pretty good price. It’s a wheated whiskey, so Maker’s tends to be a little easier to drink neat or on the rocks.
Eagle Rare: If you can find this, buy it. It’s gonna run you about $30-35, but it’s a steal at that price. The liquor store I frequent keeps this behind the counter with the really, really expensive stuff and limits it to one bottle per person. It’s that good and that much of a steal. I very much enjoy seeing how much Eagle Rare gets marked up at restaurants and then coming home to have some from my $30 bottle. Drink this neat or on the rocks. I wouldn’t put this in a cocktail.
Rye whiskies are probably some of the best value whiskies. They’re not really a product for the masses because of the flavor. These suckers can be spicy and the average whiskey drinker probably isn’t drinking these neat. They do make for great cocktails because they have such strong flavor profiles. In fact, if you’re making your Manhattan Cocktail right, you’re making it with rye whiskey.
Rittenhouse: Along with Eagle Rare, the best value for the money in all of whiskey-dom at $25-30 a bottle. It’s BiB so that’s a plus, but it’s also a well-balanced rye whiskey. This has been my go-to rye whiskey for years and I usually buy two bottles at time. My favorite drink is a Manhattan and my favorite rye whiskey for said drink comes from this label.
Redemption: Another good rye at a good price point. If I can’t find Rittenhouse, I’m usually turning here. It’s not as balanced at Rittenhouse, but the mash bill is 95% rye; it’s not gonna be a balanced rye whiskey … just a really good rye whiskey.
Other ryes: Like I said, there are a lot of good, inexpensive rye whiskies out there. Old Overholt and Dickel are two others. A lot of people like Bulleit Rye (including Pete), which is good but I think there are others less expensive that are better. Sazerac is a really nice rye, but it can be tough to find in some areas.
If you find a Wild Turkey 101-proof rye, buy it. It’s pretty much discontinued, but every now and then a bottle will show up. Great whiskey for the price and was my go-to before I couldn’t find it regularly and ended up making the switch to Rittenhouse.
Did you know Southeast Asia makes whiskey? And really good whiskey? Yep. This is a thing. And you can find some major value from the Far East. Most people don’t associate Asia with whiskey (exception is Japan of course), so there isn’t a huge consumer market for this.
Because of the high variation in temperature and humidity in the region, the barrels “breathe” a higher rate than barrels in more temperate climates (i.e. Scotland and most parts of the U.S.).
Breathing is the term used for how whiskey in barrels moves in and out of the wood, which is how whiskey ages. The high rate of breathing, the faster a whiskey will age. Basically that means that these whiskies, though aged for 10 or 12 years, will drink like a much older whiskey. This is where the value kicks in.
The flip side is that more whiskey is lost to evaporation, which means the yield per barrel is lower which does actually limit the value proposition a bit. There’s that economics stuff again. In my oh-so humble and uneducated opinion, the best values in whiskey are to be found here.
Note, I didn’t say cheap. These aren’t cheap but are high value.
Kavalan: This label is from the King Car Distillery in Taiwan and has won tons of international awards. It’s usually priced around the $80-100 range so certainly not a cheap whiskey, but you’re not gonna find many better values. If this whiskey came from Scotland, you’d probably pay twice as much.
Amrut Fusion: For a while this was my favorite whiskey. Again in the $80-100 range depending on where you find it. Though, I’ve seen some online retailers listing this for $60. Fusion, which refers to the Scottish barley used in the Indian scotch, has a ton of flavor up front and has a great balance and smooth finish. If, for example, MacCallan made this, you’d probably at least $100 for a bottle. If you happen to find it for $80 or less, snap it up.
Here’s the thing about inexpensive scotch (we’re talking less than $40/bottle), there isn’t much to choose from in the single malt scotch. Some of the big producers have an entry level scotch at that price point. But, if you’re gonna spend $40 on scotch, you’re better off on a blended variety.
Johnny Walker Black, despite what I wrote earlier about marketing driving up the cost of the bottle, is a really good blended scotch at that $40 price point. Famous Grouse is another (I have a bottle in my cabinet right now).
If you’re really set on a single malt, you’re better off not buying a $40 bottle now and waiting to get a bottle at a higher price point later. At about the $80 price point, there are plenty of interesting single malts available that provide a good value. If you’re set on getting a single malt at $40 or less, Glenfidditch and Glenmorangie are good options.
Generally speaking, Irish and Canadian whiskies are good values. Crown Royal, despite its ubiquitous advertising and purple bag gimmick, is good whiskey. I’ve enjoyed many a night sipping on Crown Royal.
Same goes for many Irish whiskies. Jameson, Bushmill’s and Tullamore Dew are all nice blended Irish whiskeys under $25. No shame in that game and since these are all widely available in most bars, you can try it before you decide on a bottle.
When it comes to whiskeys and scotch, start slow. Ease yourself into the kiddie pool and learn how to swim before you make the leap to doing laps in the Olympic pool. Check out our guides on how to drink the brown liquor and ask your buddies, bartenders and liquor store experts for advice.
Once that bourbon maraschino cherry is popped, it’s a wonderful ride to enjoy some of the fantastic labels out available. There are countless entries into this game, so have some fun and keep trying until you find the one that works best for you. Yes, we just gave you the green light to enjoy scotch, whiskey and bourbon on the regular.
Drink early. Drink often. Drink responsibly (duh … don’t be a dumbass).
Special thanks once again to Jason for chipping in here with his advice on finding affordable whiskey labels that are enjoyable for any occasion.
What do you drink? What’s your favorite label and do you have any tips or tricks for finding more inexpensive, yet quality, bourbons and whiskeys? Chime in below with your comments.