Versatile, quintessentially American, and undeniably delicious, bourbon’s popularity in the U.S. shows no sign of dwindling. For fans of the iconic whiskey, that’s good news — the promise of a growing cadre of new styles and producers to add to your bar lineup, along with exciting expansions from established distilleries.
To help wade through the never-ending collection of bottles available on today’s market, we asked bartenders across the country to share their wallet-friendly picks that won’t disappoint. From a bourbon that pays tribute to an African American bootlegger and a spirit produced in the American Southwest, to high-proof whiskeys that hold their own in cocktails, here’s what the experts recommend.
The Bourbons That Offer the Best Bang for Your Buck, According to Bartenders
- Four Roses Yellow Label
- Four Roses Single Barrel
- Larceny Small Batch
- Frey Ranch Bourbon
- Weller Antique 107
- Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
- Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
- Virgil Kaine Ginger Infused Bourbon
- Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style
- Old Forester 86 Proof
- Old Forester 100 proof
- Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
- Noah’s Mill
- Bertie’s Bear Gulch
- Evan Williams Black Label
- Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond
- J.T.S Brown Bottled-in-Bond
- J.W. Dant Bottled-in-Bond
- Bulleit Bourbon
- Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon
- Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7
- Eagle Rare Bourbon Whiskey
- George Dickel 8 Year Bourbon
- Alltech Town Branch
- Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star
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“Four Roses is the best bourbon selection for your buck. Coming in at just under $20 a bottle, this bourbon lends itself seamlessly to crafting the most classic cocktails. It also can be enjoyed on a large rock. It boasts a warm honey sensation on the nose and finishes with a spicy citrus taste.” —Brianna Olimpio, food and beverage operations, The MC Hotel, Autograph Collection, Montclair, N.J.
“The most affordable recommendation I have is Four Roses ‘yellow label’ (retailing around $25). This is a classic bourbon aged for a minimum of five years. It is 80 proof and has hints of pears, honey, and vanilla. Great for cocktailing or drinking on its own. My second recommendation would be Michter’s US 1 Bourbon (retailing around $40). This is my all-around go-to bourbon. It is small-batch, 91.4 proof, and has oak influence in abundance, giving it shots of vanilla, caramel, and cigar smoke. As much as I dislike the descriptor of a ‘masculine’ flavor profile, this has it in spades.” —Scott Taylor, beverage director, Harris’ Restaurant, San Francisco
“Four Roses yellow label is an excellent sipper for just under $20.” —Mary Ellen Angel, owner, Angel Share, Houston
“My top pick for ‘bang-for-your-buck’ bourbons would be Four Roses Single Barrel. From a distillery with a rich history, this expression checks all the boxes for me: a rich mouthfeel, smooth finish, and a proof of 100. At $40, this bourbon is hard to beat and is readily available.” —Dillon Cotton, lead bartender, 1791 Whiskey Bar, College Station, Texas
“When it comes down to quality bourbon for a reasonable price, it’s hard for me to find many that can step up to the plate like Larceny Small Batch. It’s got a beautiful balance of spice, honey, and nuttiness that people desire from a wheated bourbon that gets pulled together nicely with some funkier notes of grassiness and a little barnyard profile. It also doubles down past being a sipping bourbon as it works very well in cocktails and can stand up to other flavors without getting lost in the mix. Working in a space with a clientele that wants good whiskeys to pair with their cigars, Larceny tends to work well with the gambit of smoke profiles, so it can move fast during a shift. I’ve yet to see it for over $25 in any liquor store, and I always keep a bottle at home for when guests come by. Heaven Hill did well producing this one.” —Jared Kelly, head bartender, Merchants Cigar Bar, NYC
“I had the privilege to experience Frey Ranch Bourbon from the very first batches ever made, and as a judge to some top-tier spirits competitions, I realized right away that this Nevada-made bourbon had great potential to stand up to the more well-known Kentucky brands once it reached the right aging in the barrel. The enveloping balanced aromas of oak, dry hay, and sun-dried orange peel nuances mingle with notes of banana bread and dry herbal rye spiciness. Opulent and projected on the palate, it leaves a structured and lingering aftertaste. Whether enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails, this is a solid Nevada true grit bourbon and should be part of every serious whiskey bar selection.” —Francesco Lafranconi, vice president of beverage and hospitality culture, Carver Road Hospitality and Carver Steak, Las Vegas
“Weller Antique 107: Wheated bourbons replace the spicy flavor profile of rye typically found in bourbon with the sweeter and softer flavors of wheat. The elusive Pappy Van Winkle line of bourbons are made in this style (and have created a large demand), which Maker’s Mark then brought to the masses. Pappy was originally made at the Stitzel-Weller distillery until its doors shuttered in 1992. The brand sat in limbo until it signed a deal with Buffalo Trace in 2002. Of all the whiskey made at Buffalo Trace Distillery, Pappy Van Winkle and Weller are the only two wheated bourbons. This has led to whiskey aficionados referring to the Weller line as ‘poor man’s Pappy.’ Weller Antique 107 is one of the more robust expressions in this line with bold flavors of cinnamon, cherries, and a distinct herbal note. The body is full and oily, a great example of the ‘chewiness’ that many whiskey drinkers hunt for. While this bottle tends to be marked up past the point of common decency, if you can find it for under $50 (as it was intended), this is an absolute steal.” —Andrew Nichols, head of mixology, Atlas Restaurant Group, Fla./D.C./Md./Texas
“Wyoming Whiskey is a bottle of whiskey that is a bang for your buck as more of a sipping whiskey rather than a mixing whiskey. This beautiful spirit is distilled in Kirby, Wyo., by the Mead family, who are fourth-generation cattle ranchers. It’s my personal favorite — I always have a bottle at the house, and it is a treat to offer guests. No doubt the bottle is worth more than the $40 it retails for. I also love Old Grand-Dad bonded, Wild Turkey 101, and Henry McKenna straight bourbon.” —Trevor Langer, head bartender, Bar Calico, NYC
“I’m a big fan of Wild Turkey 101 as one of the best value bourbons one can buy. It is high-proof, and the spicy backbone of flavors helps to create a delightfully nuanced Old Fashioned and Manhattan. It is definitely a steal at $27 a bottle and great to make so many classic cocktails with!” —Benjamin Brown, head bartender, Porchlight, NYC
“Living in the South certainly has its advantages if you love and drink and appreciate bourbon, as the major players in whiskey production have roots in this region. Since the end of Prohibition, it is easy to seek and find newcomers on the whiskey shelf. However, Virgil Kaine remains it in flavor and complexity, and at a price that gently reminds that pricier doesn’t always mean better. Bourbon and ginger is a classic cocktail that just makes sense to put together in the bottle. Virgil Kaine Ginger Infused Bourbon uses locally grown Hawaiian ginger to add a hint of spicy ginger bite balanced with the subtle smoky sweetness to the bourbon. It’s perfect for blending into classics like a Manhattan or sour, but also tastes damn good by itself over an ice cube. Sometimes, the thing you reach for most is the best thing.” —Trace Conway, director of operations, Butcher & Bee, Charleston/Nashville
“The bourbon with the best bang for your buck is Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style. This is a delicious slow sipper and is fairly regularly available. At 115 proof, you’ll find that it may last longer than other bottles at its price point, and the heat does not overpower the experience that this whiskey has to offer.” —Caleb Olson, bartender, Society Cafe, NYC
“Old Forester 1920 isn’t exactly a budget bourbon. But at under $70 a bottle retail, it punches well above its weight when stacked against bourbons from the $90-$300 range.” —Dimitre Darrocca, lead bar director, Moon Rabbit, Washington, D.C.
“Old Forester 86 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a best-kept secret as an affordable option and should cement its place in home whiskey collections everywhere. Strong oak flavor, medium-bodied, and drinkable neat or a perfect choice in a Kentucky Mule or an Old Fashioned.” —Greg Coll, director of food and beverage, Agriculture Public House at Dawn Ranch, Guerneville Calif.
“This is a fun one because we love a robust, high-proof bourbon when making bourbon cocktails, and for that reason, we adore Old Forester 100 Proof. It is a pinch hitter for bourbon lovers. It handles dilution very well while also keeping its flavor intact. The mash bill is favorable, and the flavors of pecan and caramelized maple [are] just what Abigail Hall calls for in its cocktails.” —Derek Jacobi, beverage director, Abigail Hall at the Woodlark Hotel, Portland, Ore.
“With plush, overlapping flavors, Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon offers a soft texture that stands up to its heat. Possibly too sweet for Scotch lovers, this spirit provides richness with a low price point.” —Karl Paredes, head bartender, Big Alma, San Francisco
“Noah’s Mill is one of those good small-batch whiskeys made by Willett Distillery. It has great acidity, with floral, nutty, and fruity notes. Every dollar paid for this whisky is worth the price.” —Ferit Ozergul, bar director, Cranes, Washington, D.C.
“Noah’s Mill: An underrated bourbon with big home-run flavor, depth, and value per year of aging.” —Wilson Trang, bartender, Shake Bartending, Seattle
“Bertie’s Bear Gulch by St. Liberty Distilling honors legendary bootlegger Bertie Brown, who homesteaded in Fergus County, Mont., back in the 1920s. She was a famous African American bootlegger who sadly died in a fire during a distillation at her home. It has a sweet earthy nose, luxurious mouthfeel, and zesty finish.” —Judy Elahi, bar director, Gravitas and 101 Hospitality, Washington, D.C.
“Evan Williams Black Label sits right in the sweet spot of what bourbon should taste like. Great as a sipper or in a cocktail. Available in 1.75-liter packaging for added value per ounce.” —Michael Neff, bar director, Bar Loretta, San Antonio, Texas
“Evan Williams Single Barrel: Aged for 7 years and really shining as a single-barrel whiskey. Beautiful caramel notes. The only vintage-dated single-barrel bourbon on the market.” —Harrison Ginsberg, bar director, Overstory, NYC
“Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond is a solid whiskey distilled by Heaven Hill. It primarily consists of corn with malted barley and rye to round it out. This whiskey has a very nice mouthfeel with just enough sweet notes to counter the 100 proof. It is readily available nationwide and is extremely affordable (sub-$20), which makes it an excellent home bottle as a ‘sipper’ (with moderation, of course) and provides high enough alcohol content to be used in just about any whiskey-based cocktail.” —Mathew Resler, bartender, Bar Goto and Bar Goto Niban, NYC
“I’m sticking with Evan Williams Bonded here. High-proof and bargain pricing makes this as versatile in cocktails as it is friendly for your wallet. An all-around winner.” —Mark Phelan, beverage director, 16 On Center, Chicago
“I’m honestly hesitant to share my picks for my favorite ‘bang-for-your-buck’ bourbons, as great deals have gotten harder to find in recent years. Heaven Hill takes top honors here with three of their bonded (100 proof) expressions. J.T.S. Brown, J.W. Dant, and Evan Williams Bonded are all a great value for use in cocktails at around $20-$22 a bottle. Learning a bit about required labeling helps here too; each of these is designated as ‘straight bourbon’ with no other age statements on the bottle. This guarantees everything has spent at least four years aging in new charred barrels. Runner up: For something you can find in nearly any liquor aisle, Bulleit Bourbon is a great choice. At $26-$30 a bottle, it’s classically styled and comes with a welcome bit of added oomph at 90 proof.” —Charles Joly, mixologist and co-founder, Crafthouse Cocktails, Chicago
“Bulleit Bourbon is iconic and has been around for years, but it’s still one of the best values you can find. With the 150-years-old family recipe, Bulleit Bourbon blends smoothly in every bourbon-based cocktail you can imagine. The unique blend of rye, corn, and barley malt, together with special yeast and Kentucky limestone-filtered water, in my opinion, makes this one of the greatest bourbons ever made. With its strong notes of maple, oak, and toffee, it is both unique and a classic. You really can’t go wrong with this one!” —Federico Doldi, director of food & beverage, Gansevoort Meatpacking, NYC
“Recently off a trip to Hillrock Estate Distillery, I have to say their Solera Aged Bourbon is my current favorite bourbon. Utilizing the solera system favored by Spanish bodegas for centuries for aging their sherries, ports, and wines, it has a multitude of layers of flavor and character. Beautifully balanced with red grape, chocolate, and vanilla notes, they’ve created a truly drinkable tipple. ABV of 46.3 percent and generally around $90, it’s a great example of farm-to-glass whiskey.” —Darron Foy, bar manager, The Flatiron Room, NYC
“Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, baby. Yes, it’s labeled as a Tennessee Whiskey, but it is also technically a bourbon. Anyway, a Jack and Coke is my go-to drink in a lot of situations because it’s goddamn delicious, and that is a hill I’m willing to die and be buried on.” —Iain Griffiths, creative director, Hidden Leaf, Midnight Cafe, and Midnight Theatre, NYC
“Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace Distillery is still one of the best 10 year single barrels out there, even considering the market is full of them. It’s also conveniently consistent for a single-barrel product, which is by definition not a guarantee. Though it’s neither the flagship or one of the highly sought-after annual release products from the distillery, it still manages to run short almost everywhere it’s sold. That itself speaks both for its quality and its popularity.” —Mike Trow, director of bar operations, RPM Restaurants, Chicago
“My go-to has always and will always be Dickel 8 Year Bourbon. Having a bottle with this age statement for the price is the definition of bang for your buck. It has traditional vanilla and caramel notes, a touch sweeter than Kentucky bourbons, and yet still holds a strong presence of barrel char. All of that together makes it a strong sipper and all-around great candidate as a base for any whiskey cocktail” —Phil Collins, beverage director, TableOne Hospitality (Mother Tongue, Los Angeles/La Société Bar & Cafe, San Francisco), NYC
“For the price and for the rich mouthfeel of a well-made bourbon, I’m very fond of Alltech Town Branch. For a year-round, have-at-the-ready bourbon, I have found few better than this one.” —Kai Wilson, beverage director, Mercat a la Planxa, Chicago
“Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star: Not just Ancient Age, but Ancient Ancient Age. Formerly sporting a 10-year age statement, this clever bottle has dropped the ‘years’ for ‘stars.’ Even if it’s not a 10-year bourbon these days, at $15 for a liter, you can’t really compare anything against this guy when it comes to value. The nose has subtle baking spices, and while it’s a little thin, the short finish has some great burnt caramel and oak notes. Hands down the best value, but good luck finding this plastic-bottle, screw-top treasure anywhere outside of Kentucky.” —Dustin Grilli, beverage director, Funkenhausen, Chicago