By Richard Thomas
One of the telling virtues of bourbon is how you can get really good quality for a reasonable price. This sometimes holds true outside the United States, even after import duties have taken their bite. Bourbon is definitely a spirit where “cheap” doesn’t necessarily mean “inferior.” Even among bourbon enthusiasts, the go-to choices for everyday drinking often cost $25 or less, and the top five under-$25 bourbons demonstrate why.
1. Elijah Craig 12 Year Old ($25): We polled our own staff, readers and outside experts in determining this list, and one choice stood head and shoulders above all others: Elijah Craig 12 Year Old. An expression dating to the days when I was still in high school, and one that is therefore billed by its makers as “the original small batch,” Elijah Craig is well-aged, of middling proof (94), and very, very reasonably priced. It is arguably the ultimate bang for your buck bourbon.
2. Wild Turkey 101 ($23) : The largest part of the reason Wild Turkey 101 is the most underrated bourbon around is because it is such a budget winner, so naturally it appears near the top of the “bourbons for under $25” list. If middle aged, high proof Kentucky bourbon is what you want, Turkey 101 is a contender. If you want all of that at a low price, it’s the only contender.
3. Old Forester ($16): Although this is the sleeper among the best economical bourbons, it isn’t hard to see why Old Forester has its followers. With 18% rye in the mash bill, this whiskey has just above the norm rye content. This makes it spicier than the average bourbon, but not so much as a true “high rye.” This makes it both a bargain and an entry to high rye bourbons.
4. Four Roses Yellow Label ($18): The only 80 proof bourbon on the list, Four Roses Yellow Label was the bedrock of the distillery’s comeback from being a rotgut whiskey into a symbol of quality. Bourbon snobs might have swooned over the Limited Edition Single Barrels, but the distillery’s real success lies in its humble, mass market entry. This is also one of the few truee “high ryes” in the bargain basement, under $20 category, based as it is on a blend of two bourbon stocks with mash bills of 20% and 35% rye respectively.
5. Old Grandad 114 ($23): Let’s say you want a cheap, quality bourbon with a proof above even the whopping 101, 50.5% abv level of Wild Turkey 101. Go straight to Old Grandad 114. Like Four Roses Yellow Label, it’s a true high rye too. Don’t take that to mean Old Grandad 114 is hot and too boozy, but instead just realize this is a big and bold bourbon rather than a mellow sipper.