Unlike, say, cheap vodka, which many people find perfectly useful, cheap whiskey is often shunned—thought of as good for nothing other than college parties and dive bar wells. Cheap whiskey’s reputation is not unearned. Making and storing whiskey is an expensive, time-consuming process, so it’s hard to produce something drinkable that comes in at a bargain price. But after scouring liquor stores’ bottom shelves we found three bottles, all under $12. Shoot ‘em, mix ‘em, use ‘em however you want without worrying about your monthly credit card bill.
Heaven Hill Distilleries Straight Bourbon ($11)
Heaven Hill is famous for the other brands that come out of its Bardstown, Kentucky distillery like Elijah Craig, Henry Mckenna and Old Fitzgerald. It’s also famous for its downright gargantuan barrel stock. This year, the distillery filled its eight millionth barrel, and second fill Heaven Hill barrels are used to age everything from scotch to gin to beer. The lowest priced bourbon the distillery makes under its own label, though, is quite good for something that costs less than a Chipotle burrito with a side of guac. It has a slight hint of Red Hots on the nose and notes of vanilla on the palate, as any reasonable bourbon should. But it also has a spicy, almost citrusy backbone that makes it a good candidate for a variety of cocktails from an Old Fashioned to a Mint Julep.
Royal Emblem Blended Scotch ($8)
If you didn’t pour this out of the bottle and read the label yourself there would be no way to tell it was a scotch. There is no smoke, there is little malt character to speak of, even using the word “flavor” to describe it may oversell what is actually happening when the whisky is on your tongue. But it’s slightly sweet with a very brief finish and has a real weight to it. All those taken together mean that if there was ever a scotch it was a good idea to shoot it’d be Royal Emblem.
Evan Williams Green Label ($9)
Evan Williams actually also comes out of the Heaven Hill distillery, and it offers bargain whiskey drinkers a variety of options. The lowest of the low, though, is the green label bourbon. You’d be hard-pressed to find another bottle of whiskey under $10 that tastes this good. You’d be hard-pressed to find another bottle of anything under $10 that tastes this good. Hell, you’d be hard-pressed to find a candy bar under $10 that tastes this good. It has a honey nose, a creamy mouthfeel and is just slightly sour. It’s your beer’s best friend in a Boilermaker and could even work in a Whiskey Sour if you’re in a pinch.