It’s (un)officially one of the biggest holiday weekends in America — Super Bowl weekend! If you drink alcohol, you’re going to be drinking (a lot of) something this Sunday. It may as well be the best whiskey that you can actually get that also won’t break the bank.
That’s where I come in. I’m naming 20 affordable (cheap!) whiskeys that actually taste pretty damn good.
75% of Americans are watching the game this weekend, which puts Super Bowl Sunday just under Thanksgiving (America’s most celebrated holiday) right along with Veteran’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day when it comes to what Americans celebrate most. It tracks, Christmas and New Year’s are long past and we need something to celebrate in the doldrums of late winter. And what better than a good pour of whiskey to help you do just that?
The range today is the $20 to $40 window, with most bottles hitting around 30 bucks. Look, I could name some $10 and $15 bottles, but they rarely taste as good as the ones that cost just $5 to $10 more. So we’re starting at $20 and going from there, and let’s not pretend that anything under $50 isn’t cheap/affordable in the whiskey world in 2023.
Lastly, you should be able to find most of these bottles. A couple of the picks are a tad regional, but not overly so. This is about whiskey that you can get so click on those prices to do just that. Let’s dive in!
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Bradshaw Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $44
Terry Bradshaw’s rye whiskey is a compliment to his new bourbon. The whiskey is made at the Green River Distilling Company (now part of Bardstown Bourbon Company) from an undisclosed mash bill. That whiskey ages for a mere two years before proofing and bottling.
Nose: The nose opens with soft leather and Dr. Pepper spices next to plenty of vanilla and a deep sense of burnt popcorn (that’s slightly rough).
Palate: The palate is oaky put white peach and brown sugar cut through it with a sense of subtle winter spices and mild peppercorns.
Finish: The end mixes soft vanilla with old oak as a butter toffee and spiced cherry tobacco finishes things off on the senses.
It’s Super Bowl Sunday and this is the best NFL legend bottle you can get. The best part is that this whiskey actually tastes pretty damn good thanks to Terry Bradshaw actually taking the time to care about what’s in the bottle (and not just slap his name on something).
Jameson Irish Whiskey Caskmates Stout Edition
Average Price: $39
Aging stout in whiskey barrels has a long tradition in brewing. Plus, a pint of stout goes hand-in-hand with drams of Irish whiskey. So aging Jameson in whiskey barrels that held stout beer makes a lot of sense. In this case, the aged juice spends an extra six months in the stout barrels, giving the whiskey that little somethin’, before proofing and bottling.
Nose: Apple orchards and bails of hay mingle with almonds, spice, chocolate, and a hint of lemon oil on the nose.
Palate: Dark chocolate and a note of woody spices mingle on the palate with creamed honey and a whisper of espresso cream.
Finish: The end brings about a note of butterscotch next to a milkier chocolate smoothness that leads to a finish that’s part of spiced wood and part bitter espresso bean, creating a spiced-mocha-latte-spiked-with-whiskey vibe.
Jameson feels essential this time of year. The light Irish whiskey is perfect for on the rocks sipping for passive whiskey drinkers at your Super Bowl party. It’s inoffensive yet tasty and very easygoing.
Benchmark Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $25
This expression is from the single barrels that actually hit that prime spot/flavor profile to be bottled one at a time. This is the best of the best of the barrels earmarked for Benchmark in the Buffalo Trace warehouses. Those barrels are watered down slightly before bottling at a healthy 95-proof.
Nose: That orange and caramel really come through on the nose with a thin line of creamy dark chocolate and some nutmeg and cinnamon.
Palate: The palate largely adheres to that flavor profile while adding in layers of dark fruit, old leather, mild oak, and orange cookies.
Finish: The finish arrives with a sense of winter spices and dark chocolate oranges next to a twinge of cherry-kissed spicy tobacco chew and a final note of old porch wicker.
Benchmark is the ultimate “in the know” cheap bourbon. The whiskey is from the Buffalo Trace facility and is the same juice as Eagle Rare, Stagg, E.H. Taylor, and Buffalo Trace Bourbon. Pouring this on Sunday will give you a great bourbon experience without the staggering Buffalo Trace (secondary) price points.
Buchanan’s DeLuxe Blended Scotch Whisky Aged 12 Years
Average Price: $33
Buchanan’s is making a big comeback. Part of that is due to this expression snagging a Double Gold from San Francisco World Spirit Competiton in 2020; another part is the quality Diageo whiskies in the blend.
Nose: The whiskey opens with a real sense of dark chocolate married to bright orange zest.
Palate: The palate builds on that adding hints of vanilla pudding and dark spices next to a cedar woodiness and a little bit of spicy/ chewy tobacco.
Finish: A whisper of peat arrives late and far in the background as the chocolate orange throughline lasts the longest on the fade.
This is the perfect highball whisky to have on hand. Pour this with some good fizzy water and a twist of citrus and you’ll be all set.
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $35
This whiskey was a long time coming. Master Distiller Chris Morris tinkered with this recipe for nine years before it was just right. The juice has a fairly low-rye mash bill — for rye, that is — with only 53% of the grain in the recipe. The rest is made up of local corn and malted barley. The whiskey then spends up to seven years maturing at their Versailles, Kentucky facility before its blended, proofed with soft limestone water, and bottled.
Nose: This opens nicely with soft green grass next to a dusting of freshly cracked black pepper and dry cedar that’s countered by pear and marzipan.
Palate: That pear infuses into the marzipan on the palate as floral honey balances a rye pepperiness and hint of clove.
Finish: A whisper of fresh mint drives the mid-palate toward more of that sharp clove with a final note of honey-soaked pear on the thin finish.
This is a great mixing rye. Manhattans, old fashioneds, Sazeracs, and sours are all great options for this one.
Bushmills Prohibition Recipe Irish Whiskey Shelby Edition
Average Price: $32
This new release from Bushmills celebrates the sixth and final season of Peaky Blinders. The juice in the bottle is a classic Irish whiskey blend of ex-bourbon casks (aged three to five years) bottled without chill-filtration, hence its higher proof.
Nose: Applewood leads to apple candies made with plenty of honey next to a hint of dried flowers, dry firewood, and a whisper of dry straw.
Palate: The palate amps up the apple to a spiced apple fritter with plenty of cinnamon, clove, and ginger next to a layer of creamy vanilla and more of that dry straw.
Finish: The end is full of honey and spice and fades out pretty fast.
This is another great Irish whiskey to have on hand. Yes, it’s branded with the badassery of Peaky Blinders. It’s also a very easy-drinking Bushmills that makes a killer cocktail.
1792 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $29
This whiskey from Barton 1792 Distillery is a no-age-statement release made in “small batches.” The mash is unknown, but Sazerac mentions that it’s a “high rye” mash bill, which could mean anything. The whiskey is batched from select barrels and then proofed down and bottled as-is.
Nose: The nose opens with a woody cherry bark next to sour apple pies, distiller’s beer, and caramel candies next to vanilla cream with a counterpoint of cumin and dry chili lurking in the deeper reaches of the nose.
Palate: The palate opens with a Cherry Coke feel next to rich and buttery toffee, vanilla malts, and sharp Hot Tamales cinnamon candy with a nod toward allspice and root beer.
Finish: The end is soft and lush with vanilla smoothness leading to black cherry tobacco braided with cedar bark and wicker.
This is a great mixer for mules, highballs, or just easy on the rocks pours. Hell, it even works as a good shooter with beers.
Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Average Price: $32
This Speyside blend is crafted as a workhorse whisky. The juice is drawn from the William Grant & Sons stable of distilleries. The juice is then rested for up to six months after blending to let it mellow even more before proofing and bottling.
Nose: There’s a nice welcoming note of creamy vanilla that almost becomes cream soda, next to hints of zesty orange marmalade, malts, and dark spices.
Palate: The taste delivers on those notes by amping the spices up to Christmas cake territory with a slight tart berry edge next to that cream soda sweetness.
Finish: The end is short and sweet with a nice lightness that really makes this very drinkable.
This is built as a mixing whisky, so use it that way.
Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $32
This is a subtle rye whiskey. The mash bill only has 51% rye grains next to 35% corn and 14% barley. The hot juice is then aged for several years before being blended, proofed, and bottled with no age statement.
Nose: There’s a real sense of a dark chocolate bar that’s cut with dried chili and a touch of cinnamon that draws you in.
Palate: The palate mellows that spice into a Christmas spice mix while a honey sweetness and texture lead towards sweet oak and the slightest wisp of pipe tobacco smoke.
Finish: The finish takes its time as those spices keep your senses warm and buzzing on the slow fade.
This is another great option for mixing up whiskey-forward cocktails. Don’t let that stop you from pouring this over some ice and sipping it slow though.
Jim Beam Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $24
Each of these Jim Beam bottlings is pulled from single barrels that hit just the right spot of taste, texture, and drinkability, according to the master distillers at Beam. That means this whiskey is pulled from less than 1% of all barrels in Beam’s warehouses, making this a very special bottle at a bafflingly affordable price.
Nose: Vanilla pound cake and salted caramel are countered by spicy cherry tobacco, mulled wine vibes, and dark chocolate cut with orange zest and a hint of corn husk.
Palate: The palate brings in some floral honey sweetness and more orange oils with a sticky toffee pudding feel next to more spicy cherry tobacco and a hint of coconut cream pie.
Finish: The end amps up the cherry with a little more sweetness than spice before salted dark chocolate tobacco folds into dry sweetgrass and cedar bark before a hint of fountain Cherry Coke pops on the very back end with a sense of sitting in an old wicker rocking chair.
This is one of those bottles that have no business being as good as it is for this price. This works on the rocks or in your favorite cocktail.
Glenmorangie The Original Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 10 Years
Average Price: $36
The Glenmorangie is a classic Highlands single malt. The juice is created on the tallest stills in Scotland, which allows more spirit creation along the way as it’s boiled. The whisky then spends ten years mellowing in ex-bourbon barrels. Finally, the whiskey is vatted, proofed, and bottled.
Nose: The nose opens with soft grains next to a rush of dried fruits and supple leather with a floral hint that leans toward dry hibiscus and fresh woodruff.
Palate: The palate is gentle with hints of wet malts next to powdered dark spices, fresh honeycombs, and a thin line of vanilla oils just touched with orange zest and maybe a twinge of grapefruit.
Finish: The end arrives with a soft honeyed sweetness that feels like it’s drizzled over an orange cake with a hint of malted cracker graininess next to an echo of old apple chips.
This is a great, simple single malt. It’s easygoing as a slow sipper over some ice, in a highball, or as a cocktail base. Dealer’s choice.
Sazerac Rye Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $34
Sazerac Rye is a great entry point for a refined touch and a throwback to the 1800s. The brand was named after the famed Sazerac Coffee House on Royal Street in New Orleans where the Sazerac cocktail was born. Today, this expression is a true classic made at Buffalo Trace from their iconic rye mash bill.
Nose: There’s a vanilla underbelly that’s pretty luscious which supports star anise, sasparilla, clove, cardamom, and a hint of red peppercorn.
Palate: The palate has big Christmas-time vibes with fruit cakes full of candied fruits and nuts with plenty of dark spice, mulled wine, more of that red peppercorn, and a hint of black licorice with old pine wood paneling lurking in the background.
Finish: The finish is bold yet soft and lush with anise and candied fruits creating a spicy cream soda with an old sweetgrass rope drying things out.
This is a pretty easy-to-drink rye whiskey that shines in cocktails, especially Manhattans, old fashioneds, boulevardiers, and, of course, Sazeracs.
Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Single Barrel Vintage
Average Price: $38
This is Heaven Hill’s hand-selected single barrel Evan Williams expression. The whiskey is from a single barrel, labeled with its distillation year, proofed just above 86, and bottled as is.
Nose: This has a really nice nose full of woody cherry, salted caramel with a tart apple edge, and a soft leatheriness.
Palate: The palate feels and tastes “classic” with notes of wintry spices (eggnog especially) with a lush creaminess supported by soft vanilla, a hint of orange zest, and plenty of spicy cherry tobacco.
Finish: The end is supple with a hint of tart apple tobacco with a light caramel candy finish.
This is a quintessential bourbon. It’s deep enough to work as a sipper, accessible enough to mix with, and laid-back enough to shoot.
Johnnie Walker Double Black Blended Scotch Whisky
Average Price: $41
This is basically Johnnie Walker Black — a slightly peaty blend of over 40 whiskies from around Scotland — that’s been casked again in deeply charred oak barrels for a final maturation. The idea is to maximize that peat and amp up the Islay and Island whiskies’ smokiness.
Nose: Clove-forward spice and billows of softwood smoke — think cherry and apple — greet you on the nose.
Palate: The palate has a vanilla creaminess that’s punctuated by bright apples, dried fruit, and more peat that leans more towards an old beach campfire than a chimney stack.
Finish: The spice kicks back in late, warming things up as the smoke carries through the end with a nice dose of oakiness, fruitiness, and sweet vanilla creaminess.
If you’re looking for a thin line of smoke in your whisky, this is the play. You can drink this on the rocks or in a cocktail (think citrus-forward).
Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $19
A lot of Wild Turkey’s character comes from the hard and deep char they use on their oak barrels. 101 starts with a high-rye mash bill that leans into the wood and aging, having spent six years in the cask. A little of that soft Kentucky limestone water is added to cool it down a bit before bottling.
Nose: Sweet and buttery toffee is countered by burnt orange, old oak, and a hint of cumin and red chili pepper flakes.
Palate: The palate leans into soft vanilla pudding cups with a touch of butterscotch swirled in next to orange oils, nougat, and a hint of menthol tobacco.
Finish: The midpalate tobacco warmth gives way to a finish that’s full of woody winter spices and a whisper of Cherry Coke next to orange/clove by way of a dark chocolate bar flaked with salt.
Sometimes there’s nothing better than a straightforward pour of Wild Turkey 101. You can shoot it, mix it, or pour it over a lot of ice and take it slow.
Coopers’ Craft Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 100 Proof Barrel Reserve
Average Price: $31
This whiskey is from Brown-Forman (which also makes Jack Daniels, Old Forester, King of Kentucky, and Woodford Reserve in the U.S.). The Kentucky-distilled juice is aged in special oak barrels that are chiseled before charring to create more surface space for carbon filtering and aging in the barrel. The best barrels and then batched, slightly proofed with that Kentucky limestone water, and bottled.
Nose: There’s a sense of old oak and almost smoldering cinnamon bark on the nose with a hint of apple/pear cider cut with orange oils and a whisper of vanilla-nougat wafers.
Palate: That apple/pear cider vibe dominated the start of the palate with a Martinelli’s cider sweetness next to clove buds and more cinnamon bark, a light sense of vanilla cake, and burnt orange.
Finish: The cinnamon really attaches to the apple/pear cider on the finish with a fleeting sense of sweet oak and old evergreen pitch and an echo of orange tobacco.
This is a really solid slow-sipping bourbon that feels fundamental in its profile. I dig this over a large ice cube or in an old fashioned.
Jack Daniel’s Bonded Tennessee Whiskey
Average Price: $31
This whiskey is made from Jack’s classic mash of 80% corn, 12% barley, and 8% rye before it’s twice distilled and run through Jack’s long Lincoln County sugar maple charcoal filtration process. The spirit then goes into the barrel for at least four years — per bonded law — before it’s batched, cut down with a little water, and bottled.
Nose: The nose draws you in with Cherry Jolly Ranchers next to sweet cedar bark braided with old strands of leather and orange-laced tobacco leaves while a hint of vanilla wafer and general “health food store” vibes underneath it all.
Palate: The palate feels like warm apple pie on a sunny day with the best vanilla ice cream on top as layers of eggnog nutmeg and creaminess move toward a Cream of Wheat vibe.
Finish: Some apple wood chips for a smoker and a hint of almond shells pop on the finish.
This is refined Jack Daniel’s and it’s pretty goddamn tasty. I tend to mix with this (basic, whiskey-forward cocktails) but you can easily pour this over ice and enjoy it. It makes a solid shooter too.
Legent Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Partially Finished in Wine & Sherry Casks
Average Price: $39
This bottle from Beam Suntory marries Kentucky bourbon, California wine, and Japanese whisky blending in one bottle. Legent is classic Kentucky bourbon made by bourbon legend Fred Noe at Beam that’s finished in both French oak that held red wine and Spanish sherry casks. The whiskey is then blended by whisky-blending legend Shinji Fukuyo at Suntory.
Nose: Plummy puddings with hints of nuts mingle with vinous berries, oaky spice, and a good dose of vanilla and toffee on the nose.
Palate: The palate expands on the spice with more barky cinnamon and dusting of nutmeg while the oak becomes sweeter and the fruit becomes dried and sweet.
Finish: The finish is jammy yet light with plenty of fruit, spice, and oak lingering on the senses.
This is getting into the good stuff. This whiskey is built to be stirred into good cocktails or enjoyed slowly either neat or over some good ice.
Micher’s US*1 Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $43
Michter’s well-crafted juice is warehoused until the deeply charred new white oak barrels hit just the right moment in both texture and taste. Those barrels are then hand-selected and bottled one at a time with a touch of Kentucky water.
Nose: Peppery rye and a hint of citrus open this one up before deep fatty nuttiness, dry espresso beans, soft dark chocolate sauce, and a twist of sharp spearmint dance through the nose.
Palate: There’s a distant line of toffee candies dipped in roasted almonds next to a brioche smeared with Nutella and dipped into a fresh cup of espresso with mild notes of white pepper, ground chili powder, and maybe a whisper of honey.
Finish: The finish leans into woody winter spice barks and buds — think cinnamon, clove, and allspice — with a sense of whole red peppercorns soaked in molasses, a whisper of walnut cake, and a thin line of toasted marshmallows dipped in dark chocolate.
This is one of the best whiskeys that you can actually find and drink right now at this price point. It also makes one hell of a Manhattan.
Russell’s Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 10 Years Old
Average Price: $29
Jimmy and Eddie Russell go barrel hunting in their Wild Turkey rickhouses to find this expression. The whiskey is a marrying of bourbons Jimmy and Eddie Russell handpicked with a minimum age of ten years old. They then cut it down to a very accessible 90-proof for bottling.
Nose: This is just a straight-up classic with depth on the nose leading to rich vanilla, salted caramel, sour cherry, wintry spices, and a touch of old oak.
Palate: The palate opens with orange-oil-infused marzipan covered in dark chocolate next to bolder holiday spices, moist spiced cake, and a very distant whisper of barrel smoke.
Finish: The end is a lush mix of orange, vanilla, chocolate, and spice leading to an old leather pouch full of sticky maple syrup tobacco.
This is a great bourbon at a great price point. It’s so breezy yet deeply built. You can use this for any application from mixing to shooting to batching to slow sipping.