Buying Guide
By Peter Saltsman
on 3.28.14

There’s no denying that bourbon is having a moment. It’s become the basis for an obscene number of cocktails, and any bar worth its weight in complimentary pretzels is stocking the stuff, often exclusively. Why? The pride of Kentucky wins out over other whiskies because it’s a little sweeter, a little smoother, and a whole lot easier to mix. It’s also relatively affordable — very good bottles are available at very good prices. But thanks to its newfound popularity, some of the top-tier bottles — Pappy Van Winkle’s family reserve, George T. Stagg — are now shockingly expensive and, increasingly, hard to track down. Luckily, there’s still a wide variety to bourbons at accessible prices that are readily available in nearly every state. Which one to choose? Here’s a list to help you out.

MORE GREAT WHISKIES: 5 Great Japanese Whiskies | 5 Best Small Batch Bourbons | Visiting the Home of Jameson

Under $30

You could buy ‘em daily…but that might raise eyebrows

Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond, $14

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This bourbon’s long (and alliterative) title means that it was distilled all in the same year and aged in a federally bonded warehouse — in this case, for six years in Bardstown, Kentucky. It also means that the bourbon is strong — 100 proof — with a deep amber color and heavy spices. At $14, it’s a hell of a bargain and one of the best everyday whiskeys money can buy.

Old Forester Classic 86 Proof, $20

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Old Forester was first bottled in 1873, making it one of the oldest distilleries in the country (it even survived prohibition by making alcohol for “medicinal purposes”). The bourbon is produced using the same process used back in the 1870s, meaning it’s got more rye than most bourbons, and more character, especially for the price.

Evan Williams Single Barrel, $22

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Every year for the past 19 years, Evan Williams has released a special single barrel reserve that gets bourbon enthusiasts drooling with anticipation. Signatures include hand numbering on the bottles and markings that show the exact date the bourbon was placed in the barrel and bottled. The liquid itself is special, too: it’s incredibly smooth and sweet and far more flavorful than you usually get for something under $30.

W.L. Weller 12, $22

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Old Weller makes its bourbons with wheat instead of the more traditional rye and ages them longer than other distilleries might. That’s why even their entry-level drink sits for 12 years in oak, giving it dark bronze color and a long, easy finish. Drink this one straight or keep it for sipping. Can’t find it? That’s no surprise, given its popularity. As an alternative, try the Old Weller Antique, a similarly priced (though at 107 proof, much bolder) member of Buffalo Trace’s Weller lineup.

Four Roses Small Batch, $29

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A small batch bourbon is what it sounds like: a select offering from a whiskey powerhouse made by mixing the contents of select barrels. This is one of the best. In 2012, Four Roses Small Batch won a World Whiskey Award for Best American Whiskey Under 7 Years Old. It’s also a two-time gold medalist at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. In terms of tasting notes, it’s strong and smoky with a bit of caramel sweetness at the end.

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