“Craft” is a contested term in the spirits world. For some, the word connotes quality; for others, quantity; and still, for others, it’s merely marketing.
When VinePair organized this craft whiskey tasting, we considered the definition to be brands that are independently owned and operated. This means they are not owned by larger spirits conglomerates, such as Buffalo Trace, Diageo, Midwest Grain Products (MGP), Pernod Ricard, or Sazerac; however, it can also include brands that source whiskey from larger operations before aging, blending, and bottling. The selections below include Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) craft members, as well as small producers that fall under the American Craft Spirits Association’s definition of “craft.”
Most importantly, however, this list includes the best boutique whiskeys for the best value, chosen from dozens of brands our panel evaluated over the course of two days.
VinePair’s panel tasted dozens of craft whiskeys to determine our favorites. Few whiskeys under $50 made the final cut, which we found to be a noteworthy takeaway; while those in the $50 to $60 range demonstrated more complexity, depth, and overall value.
Below are 15 of the best craft whiskeys in the U.S. under $60, ranked.
Last on our list only because of its limited availability, this Hawaiian brand pours pale with subtle bread crust on the nose, laced with vanilla icing, and a hint of fennel. The palate is gentle and juicy, with tropical fruit flavors and no residual burn. A mango flavor punctuates the finish. Average price: $60.
This Tennessee whiskey has “something different about it,” one panelist said. Hay-like, farmhouse aromas are followed by vanilla and oak. It’s fragrant, floral, and earthy on the palate, with an oily “slickness.” After noting its bitter finish, one taster said, “I’m salivating.” Then, going in for another sniff, they said, “it’s a fruity potpourri.” Average price: $56.
This whiskey’s unique mash bill combines rye, barley, and wheat. It has pronounced herbal and earthy aromas, followed by sweet vanilla bean. Peppery, savory flavors lead into a tingly finish. Average price: $58.
Sweet on the nose, spicy on the palate, and oaky throughout, this California rye starts with candy-like cherry and vanilla aromas, followed by grainy, smoky flavors. “I’d double down and use this for an Old Fashioned or Manhattan,” one panelist said. Average price: $51.
This cask-strength Tennessee straight rye is intense in every way, from its mahogany color to its warming finish. Earthy, leafy aromas are delightfully delicate, however, and a “beautiful roundness” smooths out the finish. “This is a winter warmer, for sure,” one taster said, noting its lingering finish felt “cozy.” Average price: $50.
This widely available, “super-drinkable” rye whiskey offers caramel, orange peel, and Maraschino cherry aromas. Its flavors are balanced and mild, with a pleasant wave of spice but no burn. “This is an easy-sipping whiskey,” one taster said. Average price: $59.
This barrel-proof Kentucky rye reminded our panelists of a morning at the diner: “Pancakes and maple syrup, for sure,” one panelist said of its aromas. Past that, it’s herbal and leafy, with faint eucalyptus and a touch of mint. Light, savory, and lingering, this whiskey “sticks around for a while,” another taster said. (They weren’t complaining.) Average price: $33.
Brown-sugar aromas “like cake or brownie batter” precede a more savory nose, “smoky and woody as a campfire,” one panelist said. Citrusy, earthy flavors follow on the palate, making this port-cask-finished whisky “satisfying and sippable.” Average price: $58.
Tasters found this single-malt whiskey distilled, aged, and bottled in Sante Fe, N.M., “fascinating” thanks to its aromas spanning cheesecake, pork, and maple bacon. It’s smoky, sweet, and gently peppery on the palate, with a long finish. Average price: $55.
This whiskey is delicate on the nose, “floral, elegant, and light,” one panelist said. Rye, corn, barley, and wheat are all in balance, yet its flavor is “classic — it tastes like bourbon,” another taster said. They concluded, “It’s very easy to sip this neat.” Average price: $41.
Sagamore Spirit’s handsome bottle is eye-catching, but what really impressed our panel was the contents. “Woody, baking spices, coconut, pear… it’s got everything,” one panelist said. It’s full-bodied and smooth, with dessert-friendly sweetness carrying through to a warm, spiced finish. Average price: $59.
This “vatted” 100-proof rye whiskey was a favorite among our panelists for its “light and pretty” aromas, including pink flowers and vanilla cake. Oak and toffee flavors add complexity, and a soft, spicy finish made it “seriously delicious,” one taster said. Average price: $42.
This single-barrel rye starts with pepper, grain, and cumin aromas. “It’s really pleasant,” one taster said, adding, “I want to keep smelling it.” Smooth for a rye, it’s perfect for those “who like the taste of rye, but don’t like the kick in the [palate],” another panelist said. It’s light, fruity, and spiced, “a good rye to drink with dessert.” Average price: $54.
Oaky caramel aromas, mellow fruit flavors, and a silky-smooth mouthfeel made this all-around delicious whiskey our panel’s ultimate favorite. “This is good,” one panelist said. “This is what I’m groovin’ on,” said another. Average price: $45.