5 $40 Or Less Bourbon Bargains To Take Note Of

Eagle Rare BourbonDespite the overheated passion for bourbon in the U.S., some visible maturity has set in as buyers back off the notions that older is better and a high price implies better whiskey. Such thoughts are for the most part nonsensical and amount to little more than a great way to spend a lot of dough on dubiously good liquor.

So when the Whiskey Wash asked me to pen a piece on my five top bourbon picks under $40, I was all over it and excited to share my go-to list for great values. And then some of the fun leaked out when I realized that limiting it to five was difficult. Fact is there are probably 40 good choices for under $40, including many close to $20.

I won’t claim any of these “the best” since my palate is different from everyone else’s. The “best,” in my mind, is purely personal. But they are doubtless reliable choices for the majority of bourbon fans.

Note: I mention several Bottled-In-Bond bourbons, since they’re some of the best deals on the market. Without restating their identical details in each summary, just know that “BIBs” are always aged at least four years and bottled at 100 proof (though not every 100 proof, four-year-old whiskey is Bottled-In-Bond. Click here to see the definition.)

  1. Old Forester Signature (100 proof, 4 years), $20-$25 (SHOP FOR A BOTTLE) There are plenty of Woodford Reserve lovers in Louisville, but for whatever reason, we claim its base whiskey, Old Fo’, as an unspoken town favorite. Many, including me, like it better than Woody. Robust sipped neat and long-lasting on the rocks, Old Fo’ is dynamite in cocktails, a bargain not to be ignored because of its affordability.
  2. Four Roses Single Barrel (100 proof, 9 years +/-) $29-$36 (SHOP FOR A BOTTLEAt our local Costco, this superb, high-rye bourbon sells for $29. Had I the means to stock up by the case, I’d buy in bulk. Big barrel and floral notes, caramel, baking spices and cocktail slashing high proof. Flawless.
  3. Eagle Rare (90 proof, 10 years), $30-$37 (SHOP FOR A BOTTLEAnother “can’t go wrong with this, no way, no how” bourbon. At 90 proof, it’s approachable to nearly any palate poured neat. Good oak, citrus, honey and a little leather. Better in an Old Fashioned than a Manhattan, but I prefer it neat.
  4. W.L. Weller (90 proof, 12 years), $28-$35 (SHOP FOR A BOTTLEBelieve it or not, this bourbon sometimes is easier to find outside Kentucky than within; in Texas in particular. One of the finest sipping bourbons at any price, its wheated recipe yields a whiskey so delicate it never needs proofing down. Rocks? Sure, but I’d chill it in the fridge first. Note: Its younger sibling, Old Weller Antique (107 Proof, 7 years +/-), $24-$28, is also a great deal.
  5. Henry McKenna Single Barrel (Bottled-In-Bond, 10 years), $27-$37 (SHOP FOR A BOTTLEAn elegant sipper that also makes a muscly Manhattan or Boulevardier. Though it starts off sweet, grain and cereal notes rush in for an old-time presentation. The comforts of cocoa and dried fruit eventually materialize to make this an exceptionally complex bourbon—especially for the price.

Bonus Bottles!

* Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon (6 years, Bottled-In-Bond), $10-$15 Yeah, you read that right, a BIB for as little as $10, the price I pay in Louisville. I’m telling you, it’s arguably the best dollar-for-dollar bourbon bargain ever. Solid sipper, but best in cocktails where that 100-proof sting cuts right through any sugary additions.

* Knob Creek Small Batch (9 years, 100 proof), $30-$40 This is a powerful bourbon for just 100 proof. Lots of oak, caramel, dried fruit and vanilla—bourbon the way it’s supposed to be, right? It’s a touch hot neat, but rocks make for some great sipping. Ideal for cocktails.

* Wild Turkey 101 (no age statement, 101 proof), $25-$35 This is a great old-time liquor with earthy notes on the nose and a leathery backbone on the palate. Drinks surprisingly easy for its proof and adds great complexity to cocktails. The price correctly implies that the “Kickin’ Chicken” doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

About the author

Steve Coomes

Steve Coomes is an award-winning restaurant industry veteran turned food writer. In his 26-year career, he has edited and written for national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. In 2013, he published his first book, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke." A past restaurant critic for Louisville magazine, he pens features for Edible Louisville, Food & Dining Magazine and ghostwrites for multiple clients.

  • James Farrell

    It may be pushing the price limit, but I prefer Four Roses Small batch. Even Williams black label is great for the price. Usually around $10-$20.

    • Stephen Coomes

      In Kentucky, you’ll find a 50-50 split on Four Roses Small Batch v. Single Barrel, and there are many bourbon wonks whose palates I respect, yet they prefer small batch. It’s definitely rounder than single barrel, and that works on my palate any day. But some days I prefer a little sting, so I reach for single barrel. Evan black is fine, but I wish the proof were higher. Gets shoved into the background in cocktails, for me at least. I much prefer its cheaper sibling, the Heaven Hill mentioned above.

  • Wild Turkey 101 is a really great, inexpensive whiskey. I love it.

    • That is definitely a good staple whiskey!

    • Stephen Coomes

      You’re exactly right.

    • Hilario Benitez

      Bought my first bottle today !!!! Looks like its going to be a long night !!!!

  • Sylvaneous

    I had the local PA liquor store order me a Four Roses Small batch recently. I liked the around$20 “yellow’ and loved the single barrel. But I found the Small Batch utterly unpalatable. I don’t know if something went ” a-rye” with this bottle. I’d even send it to the reviewer to let him analyze it.