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The 10 Best Bourbons Under $50 to Try in 2022
The mid-tier category of bourbon ($25-$50) is arguably the best intersection between price and quality of any spirit classification. In this area, you will find a mix of recognizable flagship bourbon brands alongside smaller labels, small batch, and single barrel crafted expressions.
You won’t find a Pappy van Winkle rare bourbon, but you will find tremendous spirits you’ll happily experience and share with others, whether you drink your American whiskey neat, with mixers, or in a cocktail.
Whatever style of bourbon you enjoy or the purpose for its purchase, these 10 best bourbons under $50 offer value for money and quality. One (or more) of these bottles will no doubt make it into your liquor purchasing rotation.
1. Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Vintage is carefully handcrafted for 7-8 years in the barrel and is bottled at 43% ABV. It topped our list of the best single barrel bourbons to try in 2021.
This expression is vintage-dated, meaning each bottle is marked with the vintage date it was put into oak, along with the year it was bottled and the exact serial number of the single barrel the bourbon was drawn from.
It has notes of dried fruit, vanilla, caramel, and the barrel of sweet oak and charred wood. The palate is lush & spicy with notes of oak, honey, apple, and orange. The finish is long and laid back with a tremendously easy mouthfeel ideal for veteran bourbon geeks and newcomers to the spirit.
The much loved Evan Williams brand is distilled and produced by Heaven Hill Distillery, the only remaining family-owned distillery in the Bluegrass State. Heaven Hill Distillery has the second-largest inventory of Bourbon whiskey in the world and is home to the bourbon production of Old Fitzgerald, Larceny, and Elijah Craig, amongst others.
2. Redemption Wheated Bourbon
Redemption is a favored bourbon brand for any bourbon drinker. Their wheated bourbon is a quality sipping taste that sits a little out of the ordinary from a regular Kentucky bourbon.
The high wheat content in the mash bill (45% wheat, 51% corn, and 4% malted barley) is rare and helps make Redemption Wheated Bourbon super smooth even at 96 proof. The nose offers ginger candy, sage, pear, and lavender over layers of vanilla and cedar, transitioning to a palate of roasted coffee beans, smoked meat, and hazelnut.
This bourbon sits right at the top end of our $50 limit (depending on the retailer), but it’s a great bourbon expression that matches the power and smooth taste.
3. Old Forester Classic 86 Proof
My go-to whiskey for pure drinking enjoyment (straight up with two ice cubes unlocks the flavor), Old Forester bourbon provides value and quality at an extremely inexpensive price. Classic 86 Proof Kentucky is marketed as America’s First Bottled Bourbon, having celebrated its 150th birthday in 2020.
A touch of oak and pine provides a strong underpinning of flavor alongside sweet corn and a gentle touch of rye spice. The flavor profile is sharp and sweet with a strong floral character that swirls around hints of mint, rich tobacco leaf, and vanilla. The finish is spicy from the rye influence with more soft vanilla, light citrus dried fruit, and caramel notes.
4. Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey
Bulleit is great for the bourbon drinker looking for a whiskey with a little heat in the ABV (45%) and on the tongue. Bulleit’s unique 175-year-old recipe makes for a distinctive taste: full-bodied and spicy with a long, smooth finish. Bulleit is aged six years minimum and provides a mature, complex flavor of an almost straight rye whiskey.
The nose is bright with orange zest, toasted oak, and vanilla that adds further notes of orange winter baking spice and a hint of tobacco leaf on the palate. A 750 ml bottle of Bulleit Bourbon is a great sipping bourbon. I recommend it over ice as it helps unleash the peppery spice and lengthens out some of the notes.
5. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Buffalo Trace is an amazing Kentucky straight bourbon from the distiller responsible for the classic Sazerac bourbon. It was our favorite bourbon on the list of best whiskies for Old Fashioned cocktails.
The tasting notes for Buffalo Trace are described as “a complex aroma of vanilla, mint, and molasses. Pleasantly sweet to the taste with notes of brown sugar and spice that give way to oak, toffee, dark fruit, and anise. This whiskey finishes long and smooth with serious depth.” Yummy.
It’s a smooth and refined tasting bourbon that can go into literally any bourbon cocktail recipe and work brilliantly, or as a straight-up sipping whiskey. Personally, I enjoy unlocking the flavor in Buffalo Trace by adding a couple of cubes of ice.
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6. Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky
Created by Bill Samuels Snr., Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky is the original handmade premium bourbon. It’s an easy bottle to spot and admire with its distinctive red wax neck, simple labeling, and clean honey color.
Made with the customary corn, malted barley, and a large dose of red winter wheat (which smooths out the mash bill), Maker’s Mark is less spicy but smells of honey, cut fruit, and citrus peel. You can taste barley malt, butterscotch, and vanilla bean, while the medium-length finish tastes of caramel and dry oak spice.
Offering a smoother, less spicy finish than its competitors (that have a rye whiskey component), Maker’s Mark is the type of bourbon to drink neat, over ice, or as the anchor to quality cocktails with friends.
7. Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
Elijah Craig Small Batch is distilled from a traditional bourbon mash bill of 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley, and then aged for 8 to 12 years in #3 char new American oak barrels. Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon is named after a Baptist reverend and master distiller known as the Father of Bourbon. Elijah Craig is credited with being the first to age whiskey inside a charred oak barrel, with old wives’ tales suggesting he found the secret by accidently burning his oak casks.
Each batch of Elijah Craig is selected from fewer than 100 of the finest barrels at the Heaven Hill Distillery in Louisville. If a small batch yet cheap bourbon is what you’re looking for, then the good reverend is a great place to start for the smoothest bourbon experience.
8. Wild Turkey Longbranch
This great sipping bourbon is the first to feature Wild Turkey’s creative director Matthew McConaughey, who took on the job because he wanted to make bourbon as well as be an ambassador for the brand. McConaughey got involved in the company’s production by collaborating with Master Distiller Eddie Russell on Longbranch – which pairs white oak from Kentucky with Texas mesquite wood during the maturation process.
Longbranch is bottled at 43.5% ABV and offers the signature Wild Turkey balance of smooth vanilla notes and smoke, but without much of the fire that 101 and especially Rare Breed possesses on the finish. This is a beautifully complex single barrel bourbon whiskey made for sipping.
9. Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon
This Knob Creek expression is strictly for the bourbon lover who enjoys whiskey syrupy sweet. If you’re after a more classic Kentucky straight bourbon, the Knob Creek 9-year-old also tastes great and comes in under $50.
The smoked maple used to naturally flavor this bourbon bleeds through every drop and works together to underpin a sweet yet still robust bourbon. Its sweetened, almost liqueur-like flavor and thickness limit it to drinking neat or in a well-crafted cocktail, but it’s unique and interesting, and well worth a try at the price point.
10. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey comprises 200+ flavor notes, from bold grain and wood to the sweetness of vanilla and caramel, spice, and fruit and floral notes. Woodford Reserve bourbon has a rich texture, with flavors well matched for use in classical cocktail recipes, mixed drinks, and food pairings.
Woodford Reserve is a deep and smoothly balanced bourbon that has no weaknesses and is worth keeping in your regular spirit rotation.
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Bourbon Whiskey FAQs
Yes, bourbon is a type of whiskey, but there are some rules to its production. At least a 51% corn mash bill stored in charred oaks for four years and distillation in the US is what makes bourbon, as opposed to other grain whiskeys such as rye.
In a word, NO. There are many different mash recipes used to create quality American whiskey. In addition to Kentucky Straight Bourbon, there’s the sweeter, smoother Tennessee Whiskey.
Many expressions utilize rye or wheat as the primary second grain after corn or tinker with their mash bills, the aging process, or types of barrel and char to create distinctive flavor variations.
Single barrel bourbon and whiskies are exclusive expressions produced by bottling one selected barrel, leading to a more individually distinctive flavor. It differs from small batch bourbon and whiskey, which are also premium expressions but made by mixing small numbers of exclusive barrels.
While Kentucky is responsible for 95% of the world’s straight bourbon, this figure is beginning to change rapidly, as other states in the USA pick up the distillation of American whiskey. These days you’re much more likely to find quality bourbon (and even single malt Scotch) in Texas, Colorado, Oregon, or even New York than in the past, and they taste great too.