Value in bourbon is a fickle beast. Not that long ago, it’d be easy to say “get this $20 bottle and you’re set!” Those days are pretty much gone. The best value-per-dollar bottles of bourbon whiskey reach much further than the simple “cheap but solid.” In 2022, a 10-year-old bottle of bourbon could cost anywhere from $50 to $500 (or more). That makes “value-per-dollar” a big question without a clear answer. Or maybe more succinctly, a lot of questions with a lot of answers.
As Obi-Wan Kenobi says, “From a certain point of view…a lot of things can be true…”
To try and answer what is the best value-per-dollar bourbon whiskey on the shelf today, I’m blind tasting a group from my personal stores. I’m not looking for a “this or that” comparison. My palate is way too advanced to not know the difference between cheap and expensive bottles. These are bottles I can tell you without hesitation are great values right now. No question. Each one falls in the prime $20 to $60 range.
But which one actually tastes the best when tasted blind? That is what I want to find out.
Our lineup today is:
- Knob Creek 12
- George Dickel Bottled-In-Bond
- Nelson Brothers Reserve Bourbon
- Jack Daniel’s Bonded
- Eagle Rare 10
- Jim Beam Black
- Evan Williams Single Barrel
- Wild Turkey Rare Breed
- Michter’s US*1 Small Batch Bourbon
- Four Roses Small Batch Select
Let’s dive in!
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- The Best Ten-Year-Old Bourbon Whiskeys, Tasted Blind And Ranked
Part 1: The Taste
The nose has notes of dark cherries in creamy dark chocolate with a hint of sourdough cinnamon rolls and soft menthol. The palate is all about the dark berry crumble with plenty of dark spice, brown sugar, and butter next to a fleeting hint of dry chili flake, salted caramel, and more of that dark chocolate. The mid-palate stays creamy and sweet until green wicker comes into play with more of those dark cherries in chocolate and a final hint of maple-soaked pecans on the very end.
This is a pretty good place to start, and clearly Knob Creek. While I didn’t pour these, this is an excellent control whiskey for this experiment as this is one of the best value-per-dollar 12-year bourbons on the market. Let’s see if it can be beaten!
This is fairly mild with dashes of woody maple syrup next to pecans, Hostess Apple Pies, old boot leather, and a hint of cherry protein powder. The palate has a rich and lush vanilla pudding vibe that leads to a marrying of that pecan and apple pie before dry cherry arrives with hints of dark cacao powder and black licorice Necco Wafers create a counterbalance. The finish gets creamy with a line of browned butter and baked vanilla pudding drizzled with brandied cherry sauce and dusted with that dark cacao powder before a final hint of dry yet soft and sweet cedar comes in on the very end.
Well, that certainly works. This has to be the Dickel BiB, it’s too good to not be.
This is a departure with soft notes of vanilla wafers with nougat next to hints of Christmas cake with candied fruits and citrus next to a spicy yet tart apple pie filling. The palate has a hint of almost smoky grilled pineapple next to a dark chocolate sauce with a flake of salt that leads to a mix of zucchini bread with pecans and an echo of Key lime pie. The finish has a hint of white pepper that leads to a soft green tea and menthol tobacco end.
Interesting, not sure what this is but it’s pretty okay.
Yellow sheet cake with vanilla frosting leads the way on the nose with dry cherry candy, new leather jackets, sweet fir bark, and a hint of orange tobacco. The palate is full of still-warm apple fritters with plenty of winter spice and a sugar glaze that hits a moment of nutmeg-rich creamy eggnog. The mid-palate veers away from all of that with a sweet white grits vibe with brown sugar and butter that’s topped with stewed cinnamon apples and a raisin or two. The finish mellows toward a Cherry Hostess Pie stored in a cedar box with a leaf or two of sticky pipe tobacco.
This is pretty damn good. I’m guessing this is Jack. I’m also guessing this going to be hard AF to place in a ranking.
Old leather boots, burnt orange rinds, oily sage, old oak staves, and buttery toffee round out the nose. Marzipan covered in dark chocolate opens the palate as floral honey and ripe cherry lead to a winter cake vibe full of raisins, dark spices, and toffee sauce. The end has a balance of all things winter treats as the marzipan returns and the winter spice amp up alongside a hint of spicy cherry tobacco and old cedar.
The is simple but f*cking delicious.
A soft sense of vanilla, caramel, and corn mingle with apple and cherry trees and a hint of “wood.” Hello, Jim Beam. The palate follows the nose but dials in the vanilla to a creamy pudding while the corn takes on an earthy masa vibe, the cherry gets a little tart, and the wood takes on an old stave feel. The finish is a lot more vanilla and cherry with a hint of sourdough pancake batter and tart apple pie filling with an echo of toasted oak rounding things out.
This is very Jim Beam. It’s also really basic. The nose is kind of generic but leads to a solid(ish) palate.
There’s that word again “generic” on the nose with notes of leather, apple, caramel, and vanilla. Again, this kicks up on the palate with an orange candy sweetness that leans into floral honey, vanilla cream, and a touch of old oak. The finish is soft and inviting with the orange taking a back seat to a stewed apple candy with dark spices, a hint of almond, and sweet caramel.
Evan Williams, is that you?
This opens like a dessert table during the holidays with crème brûlée next to a big sticky toffee pudding with orange zest sprinkled over the top next to a bushel of fresh mint. The palate hits an early note of pine resin as the orange kicks up towards a bold wintry spice, soft vanilla cream, and a hint of honeyed cherry tobacco. The end keeps the winter spices front and center as a lush pound cake feeling leads to soft notes of cherry-spiced tobacco leaves folded into an old cedar box with a whisper of old vanilla pods lurking in the background.
This is Rare Breed and I’m flummoxed. I’d have wagered this would have been number one instantly but I kind of don’t know where to put it. It’s classic and soft and delicious. But is it the best on this list? I don’t know.
This has a strong nose with salted caramel ice cream scoops sitting on sourdough sugar doughnuts chased with a good cherry cream soda and a hint of singed marshmallow. The palate is super creamy with a hint of ripe peach and vanilla leading to sharp winter spices and freshly cracked black pepper. The finish leans into cinnamon and clove (maybe some anise too) with a good dollop of maple syrup tobacco wrapped around old cedar planks with a bit of char on them.
That singed marshmallow gives this away as Michter’s right away. This was good but I’m not sure it stands up to that Knob Creek or Dickel right now.
Dark berries and yeasty doughnuts? Four Roses. Anyway, the nose rounds out by filling those doughnuts with a dark berry compote and hitting them with plenty of powdered sugar before layering in notes of black soil and green leaves. The taste is soft and lush with a blackberry pie vibe next to wintry spices with a touch of heat, mincemeat pies, and almond shells. The finish is very creamy with a vanilla pudding feel next to wet cedar, more blackberry pie, and a good dose of eggnog to smooth everything out.
I don’t know where this goes, but I’ll have to figure it out.
Part 2: The Ranking
9. Jim Beam Black — Taste 6
Average Price: $22
This expression replaced the old Black Label 8 Year. The juice in this bottle is aged longer than your average four-year-old Beam, but there is no age statement on exactly how long. The best way to think of it is that it’s aged for as long as it needs to be, according to the distilling team.
Look, this is fine. It was also very clearly the cheapest of the batch. That said, this rules on the rocks or in a highball, and it’s $20. That’s the ultimate in value even if it doesn’t stand up to some of the killers on this list.
8. Evan Williams Single Barrel — Taste 7
Average Price: $28
This is Heaven Hill’s hand-selected single barrel Evan Williams expression. The juice is from a single barrel, labeled with its distillation year, proofed just above 43 proof, and bottled as is.
Again, this was perfectly good. The only reason it’s lower on this list is that it felt a little generic and “cheaper,” which it is. That said, this is a single barrel for under $30. You really cannot complain about that these days (though Heaven Hill has pulled this from shelves, so it won’t be that cheap much longer).
7. Nelson Brothers Whiskey Reserve Bourbon — Taste 3
Average Price: $64
This new release from Nelson’s Green Brier is a big evolution for the brand. This high-rye bourbon is aged for four years before it’s masterfully blended into his expression. It’s then bottled without any fussing or meddling.
This was perfectly fine but didn’t wow me when tasted next to these bottles. I would go back to this but maybe more for cocktails than neat pours.
6. Jack Daniel’s Bonded — Taste 4
Average Price: $35
This whiskey is from Jack’s bonded warehouse. The mash of 80 percent corn, 12 percent barley, and eight percent rye is twice distilled before it’s run through Jack’s very long Lincoln County process of sugar maple charcoal filtration. The spirit then goes into the barrel for at least four years — per bonded law — before it’s batched, cut down with that Jack Daniel’s limestone cave water, and bottled as-is.
It’s crazy that this ended up in sixth place. I nearly made this a three-way tie with the next two but that seemed a little too much. Anyway, this is a really, really solid whiskey for this price point and could easily cost twice as much and no one would have blinked an eye.
5 (tie). Wild Turkey Rare Breed — Taste 8
Average Price: $52
This is the mountaintop of what Wild Turkey can achieve. This is a blend of the best barrels that are married and bottled untouched. That means no filtering and no cutting with water. This is a classic bourbon with nowhere to hide.
Honestly, I didn’t know where to put this, so it’s going to be tied in the middle. I know, that’s a bit cheap. But it does really hit a lot of the same notes as the Michter’s it’s tied with so it makes a certain sort of sense.
5 (tie). Michter’s US*1 Small Batch Bourbon — Taste 9
Average Price: $50
Michter’s really means the phrase “small batch” here. The tank they use to marry their hand-selected eight-year-old bourbons can only hold 20 barrels, so that’s how many go into each small-batch bottling. The blended juice is then proofed with Kentucky’s famously soft limestone water and bottled.
If I had a choice between this and Rare Breed, I’d just buy both.
4. Eagle Rare 10 — Taste 5
Average Price: $45
This might be one of the most beloved (and still accessible) bottles from Buffalo Trace. This juice is made from their very low rye mash bill. The whiskey is then matured for at least ten years in various parts of the warehouse. The final mix comes down to barrels that hit just the right notes to make them “Eagle Rare.” Finally, this one is proofed down to a fairly low 90 proof.
This is another 10-year-old bourbon that costs around $50. That’s value, especially for a Buffalo Trace release. It’s also just really good. It’s so good that if you don’t like then you just might not like bourbon.
3. Four Roses Small Batch Select — Taste 10
Average Price: $50
This expression uses six of Four Rose’s 10 whiskeys in their small-batching process. The idea is to blend both high and low-rye bourbons with yeast strains that highlight “delicate fruit,” “slight spice,” and “herbal notes.” The whiskeys tend to spend at least six years in the barrel before blending and proofing with just a touch of Kentucky’s soft limestone water.
This always surprises me. This used to be a bottle that sat on my shelf. Now, I can’t keep it on there. It’s just really tasty and unique. It’s a clear winner though a little less deeply hewn than the next two.
2. Knob Creek 12 — Taste 1
Average Price: $66
This is the classic Beam whiskey. The juice is left alone in the Beam warehouses in Clermont, Kentucky, for 12 long years. The barrels are chosen according to a specific taste and mingled to create this aged expression with a drop or two of that soft Kentucky limestone water.
This was the bottle to beat and it was, but just barely. This is classic through and through. No notes. If you don’t like the tasting notes on the Dickel, get this. It’s as simple as that.
1. George Dickel Bottled-In-Bond Spring 2007 — Taste 2
Average Price: $40
Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This year’s release is a whiskey that was warehoused in spring 2007. 13 years later, this juice was bottled at 100 proof (as per the law) and sent out to the wide world where it received much adoration.
This was that little bit more nuanced and deep. And… really freaking good. I don’t know what’s going on but Nicole Austin has pulled off a minor miracle in how balanced and enticing these releases are.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
This was a tough ranking. I wanted to be as blind as I could in this tasting. But that’s just too hard with whiskeys this distinct and iconic. That said, I fully stand by the top two choices. Knob Creek 12 is a classic bottle that could easily cost twice as much, hell maybe three times as much. And that Dickel Bottled-in-Bond is a modern classic. There’s a reason it wins award after award.
But the true beauty of that bottle is that it’s still around $40. That’s the ultimate in value-per-dollar if you ask me.