Rumor has it Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln all enjoyed a glass of whiskey at the end of a hard day. But the amber-colored spirit is no longer an “old man’s” drink. Recently 20-somethings are lining up to order old fashioneds and whiskey sours at bars devoted to the distilled beverage.
While a whiskey drink might set you back a pretty penny at a cocktail bar, buying a bottle doesn’t have to burn a hole through your wallet. We asked the experts for brands that come with bottom-shelf prices but actually taste good going down (no burn here!).
Editor’s note: Prices reflect the average cost for a 750-milliliter bottle on Wine-Searcher.com.
Bourbon is made in the U.S.A. from corn.
1. Buffalo Trace
While it may not get as much press as other popular bourbon brands (we’re looking at you, Jim Beam), you’ll be a big fan after a glass or two, says Noah Rothbaum, author of The Art of American Whiskey. Plus, this smooth bourbon goes down even easier once you know it’ll only set you back three Hamiltons.
2. Elijah Craig 12
As its name suggests, this bourbon is aged for 12 years—and it happens to be an amazing value, says Heather Greene, a whiskey expert and author of Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life. The bold, spicy, and vanilla-filled spirit delivers a woody finish and will work perfectly fine in a cocktail, she says. Serve it over ice for a refreshing summer drink.
3. Old Ezra 101
This powerful whiskey—aged for a minimum of 7 years in Kentucky, the bourbon capital of the world—is filled with notes of caramel, marshmallows, cinnamon, and oak. For such a low price point, this whiskey has a surprisingly bold finish. If you’re not used to a strong drink, Tommy Tardie, owner of The Flatiron Room, a whiskey and fine spirits bar in New York City, recommends adding a drop or two of water before you take a sip.
Made in—you guessed it—Scotland, scotch must be made mostly from barley.
4. Cutty Sark Prohibition
A combination of single malt and grain whiskey, this is the perfect introduction for any scotch newbie, especially if they’re game for a drink that’s a little smoky, Greene says. The 100-proof spirit is much stronger than the typical blended scotch (most are 80 proof) and fuller and richer than many of its competitors.
5. Speyburn 10-Year Single Malt
This whisky goes for half the price of most single malts that have been aged for 10 years, so most people assume it’s half as good. But that’s not the case: It’s a decent, medium-bodied sipping whisky. “The nose and palate have crisp fruity notes with a nice touch of sweet peat smoke on the finish,” Tardie says. If you’d like to amp up the floral notes, add a splash of water.
Probably the most confusing type of whiskey, American rye whiskey needs to be made from a majority rye while Canadian rye whisky (yes, they dropped the ‘e’) must be made with rye, though it doesn’t need to be the main ingredient.
Take one sip of this rye and your taste buds will think you’ve entered a candy store with its notes of butter cream, dark caramel, and brown sugar. Rittenhouse is Rothbaum’s go-to recommendation because it’s downright delicious and flavorful enough to stand up in cocktails. And at 100 proof, you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck.
7. Mister Katz’s Rock and Rye
If your standard bar order is an old fashioned, Rothbaum says you have to try this rye whiskey from the New York Distilling Company. It’s flavored with orange peels, dried cherries, cinnamon bark, and rock candy (yum!). Just add ice and a few bitters, and you’ve got a homemade old fashioned.
8. Old Overholt
This 80-proof liquor is the oldest straight rye whiskey on the market today, and it has been the go-to rye for bartenders around the country for years, says David Perrine, a mixologist and the beverage director at Wild Horse Tavern in New York City. This old-school spirit isn’t just likable for its low price point. It also gets high marks for its strong notes of brown spice and fruit and smooth finish.
Distilled in Ireland, this can be made from any fermented grain.
Paddy is one of those Irish whiskeys that might go down just a little too easy, Greene says. The mellow, sweet, fruity, and creamy drink is a combination of grain, single-malt, and pure pot still whiskey.