Food & Drink

Why Cheap Whiskey Is the Best Whiskey

cheers whiskey shoots
Anthony Humphries/Thrillist

When my old granddad was a just a wee teething baby, to his delight, his old granddad would swish some Old Grand-Dad around his ailing gums, just like my old granddad's old granddad's old granddad did before him. And just like my old granddad, I love a cheap whiskey like Old Grand-Dad. 

Cheap whiskey -- basically any whiskey that can be bought in a fifth under $25 -- is more than just a budget alternative to the bougie, expensive, single-batch, artisanal, esteemed brands of that sweet brown firewater. Cheap whiskey is a drink of the people, a sentimental link to a rich history of booze-swillers, and a requisite rite of passage. Cheap whiskey is the best whiskey. To paraphrase Irish singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the late 1980s Sinead O'Connor, "Nothing compares 2 U, cheap whiskey."

Anthony Humphries/Thrillist

A quick and efficient drink meant to be enjoyed by the people should be accessible to the people. Cheapness is a virtue. At least in this case. Its low price allows it to be drank in high volumes, with minimal care; there's no need to sip it over ice, or ration it. And it's also perfect for mixing. It just is. Fact: nobody has ever asked a bartender for a Pappy Van Winkle and Coke and lived to tell about it.

For just a few dollars, shots of cheap can fly, and the tumblers can flow like salmon in a cool Alaskan stream! Or something. The intrinsic value of well whiskey, the generic fallback for barkeeps the world over, is knowing exactly what you'll get when you order it, at any bar across the nation. It's the same reason people go to Starbucks on vacation: it's low risk, medium reward.
But I'm also on a first-name basis with the cheap stuff. It's Jim. It's Evan. It's Old Gran-Dad! They are my friends and family. They were there in college. They will be there at my wedding. There's statistically a 50% chance they'll be there at my divorce. And whether I like it or not, they'll likely be at my funeral, in the clammy hands of my cousin Jerry. They were there when my parents were young, too -- one of them may be the reason I exist in the first place (ew).

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Cheap whiskey is nostalgia in a (sometimes plastic) bottle. When I turned 21 (and logically, took my first sip of alcohol), I didn't casually sip a single malt and reflect on its oaky flavor profile. I took shots of the cheapest whiskey my part-time job at Blockbuster could afford me. And then promptly lost my job at Blockbuster the next morning.

But it's not just a part of my history. It's part of the collective history of badasses. Frank Sinatra would basically only drink Jack Daniel's -- and he's been generally credited with putting JD on the map. Keith Richards pretty much spent the entire '70s with a bottle of Jack in his hands. And while Jack's kind of a bridge between the cheap and sorta cheap, for rich dudes who could probably afford swimming pools of Pappy, the fact that they basically lived on sub-$20 bottles of whiskey speaks volumes. 

Otherworldly author Haruki Murakami once said, "Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it's time to drink." And I'm like, pretty sure he was talking about Old Crow.

I have scars from cheap whiskey, both emotional and physical.

Even our founding fathers knew what was up when it came to the brown stuff. George Washington was the single biggest producer of whiskey in Revolutionary America! You know what else he was the single biggest producer of? "Freedom." If I am to believe that truck-stop place mat in Trenton, at least.

My experiences with cheap whiskey have been the most important, and (ironically) the most memorable. It's been responsible for some of the best nights of my life, and also some of the most regrettable mornings after -- but those mornings after were key to my growth from a rascally 21-year-old into a semi-mature, mid-to-late-20s-year-old. I have scars from cheap whiskey, both emotional and physical. That time I broke into a petting zoo and rode a llama would have never been possible without $2 shot night at the Loretto Pub and Grill. And, in turn, I would never have learned that llamas can spit over 20ft, without issue.

Yup, cheap whiskey is the best whiskey. Just like llamas are the best camelids. But, that's a different story. 

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He likes expensive whiskey, too. Send him some and he'll prove it to you! Follow him: @wilfulton.