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Cigar Spirits: Five Good Value Bourbons Under $20

19 Nov 2013

One of the great things about bourbon, when compared to, say, scotch whisky, is the quality of spirits available at affordable prices. The five bourbons I highlighted in my article about five good bourbons under $30 demonstrate the impressive spirits available at that price range.

bourbon-under-20Those are all bourbons I’d recommend to anyone, even if you told me price were no concern. Diving deeper into the value range, the following list of bourbons are available for $20 or less.

At the $20 price, you’re probably giving up at least one thing (complexity, proof, intensity), but I’m still impressed at what you can trade for a twenty-dollar bill: a satisfying bourbon that you can drink straight-up or with a few ice cubes, at a price that doesn’t make you wince when you mix it into your friend’s bourbon and Diet Coke.

Four Roses Yellow Label — I’m a big fan of Four Roses Single Barrel and Small Batch ($38 and $32, respectively), but my go-to house bourbon is Four Roses Yellow Label ($18). The bourbon is a blending of ten different bourbon recipes (two mashbills and five yeast strains). The result is a surprisingly rounded, complex bourbon with honey and fruit. My only wish would be to have a proof higher than just 80.

Evan Williams 1783 — The phrase “small batch” isn’t terribly descriptive, but the Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch is almost certainly smaller batch than it’s younger, more ubiquitous cousin who you might have encountered in a frat house. It’s also a nice step up for just a few bucks more (around $15). The 86-proof bourbon is a straightforward and pleasant combination of vanilla, oak, and burnt corn. (Read my full write-up here.)

Old Grand Dad 100 — For the money, I’m not a fan of the $40, 80-proof Basil Hayden, but I think highly of the $20, 100-proof Old Grand Dad. Which is interesting because they are basically the same whiskey (both use Beam’s high rye bourbon mashbill) and are named after the same guy (Basil Hayden is the “Old Grand Dad”). While Basil Hayden may be a bit thin, Old Grand Dad 100 shows off the rye spice with floral notes and a bit of citrus. Even better is Old Grand Dad 114, though it’s $5 more than the $20 Old Grand 100.

Wild Turkey 81 — The $18 Wild Turkey comes from the same barrels Wild Turkey 101 uses. While lacking an official age statement, it’s reportedly 6-8 years old. (The old, discontinued, 80-proof edition was made with four-year-old bourbon.) It has classic Wild Turkey bold flavors with oak, caramel, vanilla, and lots of cinnamon spice.

Old Forester — Old Forester uses the same recipe (mashbill and yeast) as Woodford Reserve. Reportedly, choice barrels are picked to be Woodford Reserve and the others end up as Old Forester, which isn’t aged quite as long and is bottled at 86-proof for $19. Old Forester is similar to its more expensive relative with lots of caramel, buttered corn, and dried fruit. Taste it side-by-side with Woodford and you’ll be surprised how well it measures up at half the price.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

7 Responses to “Cigar Spirits: Five Good Value Bourbons Under $20”

  1. Andy Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    I really find these articles helpful. Made several excellent purchases based off your $30 bourbon list, and I'm certain to try a few of these as well. I love that expanding my horizons of bourbon doesn't necessarily mean I have to pay more… In many cases, I'm paying a lot less.

    Please feel free to do similar write-ups for rum, and maybe even scotch if there's some value there.

  2. mighty Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 2:30 am #

    You mention that you wish one of these bourbon's had a "higher proof." What would that accomplish for you as someone who seems to know their bourbons? (Just curious as I am not well versed in these matters.)

    I have not had a chance to try many bourbons, nor would I consider myself anything of a hobbyist in this field. I know that when I have tried various liquors, I do not do it to catch a buzz, just like I don't smoke cigars for the "kick" but rather for the taste and complexity.

    • Patrick S Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

      It's a good question and one I asked when I first got into bourbon. Alcohol level isn't just about how hard much of a buzz you get. Higher proof means more bourbon and less water, because out of the barrrel aged bourbon is far higher than 80 or even 100 proof.

      Bookers which can be under 7 years old can be 128+ proof. I have a bottle of George T Stagg, which is 17 years old and 142 proof. Those are both barrel proof (or uncut) but most bourbon is cut with water before being botttled.

      So basically most bourbon is really part bourbon and part water added to bring it down to proof.

      At a certain point the water dilutes the flavor. Stagg is a touch hard to drink straight (even though it's fantastic with the smallest splash of water), but I've come to find that somewhere between 90 and 110 proof is just the right amount of flavor without too much alcohol burn for most bourbons. In my opinion 80 (or even 90 proof) bourbon, like the ones in this article except for the OGD, can often dilute the flavors too much.

      If you really want to see the difference, take a higher proof bourbon and add a little spring water. You'll find that while a touch of water might make it more drinkable if it's extra high proof, too much water just waters down the flavors like watery soup or watery beer.

      • mighty Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 12:09 am #

        Excellent! Thanks for your thoughts here!

  3. mighty Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    Hey Patrick, could I get you post your thoughts on my previous comment?

    It would be appreciated AND I could learn something too!

  4. cdj Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    Where I live, Old Weller 90 proof is 16.99 for 750ml and the 107 is just over $20. Both are a cut above…or two or three…above most for around $20.

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