While it’s easy to splurge on spirits, it is also nice to know that you can easily pick up a decent bottle of booze for not much money. If you’re a whiskey fan that needs a good bottle of the golden dram without spending more than $15, these five bottlings are your best bet. Now you can pay your phone bill and have a bottle for the week.
Named for whiskey legend Evan Williams—Kentucky’s very first distiller according to local lore—this straight bourbon is one of the best bottom-shelf bargains. Big on flavor and low on cost, it’s ripe with big hits of vanilla and dark fruit. Pleasantly sweet, it has notes of steamed corn, frosting, caramel and black pepper. This is a bourbon that tastes just as good neat as it does in a variety of cocktails.
One of the first sour mash bourbons on the market, this brand was named after the inventor of the sour mash process, Dr. James C. Crow. While Old Crow has been relegated to the bottom shelf with whiskeys far less notable, it was once the prefered whiskey of American presidents (President Ulysses S. Grant among them). It has a briny sourness with hints of corn, fresh cut grass, green tea and oranges.
Produced at Heaven Hill’s Bernheim distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, this straight bourbon is a great spirit for whiskey drinkers that prefer to mix or shoot the spirit. Raw and almost moonshine-esque, it has the brazen alcoholic heat of a younger whiskey. With aromas of brown butter and maple, the whiskey reveals flavors of bread pudding (with raisins), creamed corn and white pepper.
One of the most underrated whiskeys on the bottom shelf, this oddball spirit from Heaven Hill is not a bourbon or a rye. Made from 100 percent corn, this spirit is currently one of the only aged corn whiskeys on the market (most corn whiskeys are labeled as moonshine or white dog and are unaged). It’s also bottled-in-bond at 100 proof, which is rare for a whiskey that costs less than $20, let alone $15. Vibrant and extremely corny—in both package design and flavor—this bottling has a subtle vanilla frosting flavor and lots of banana. One of our prefered bottom-shelf shots, this whiskey is extremely versatile in cocktails (it actually works wonders in a whiskey-based Piña Colada) and is a staple on our bar.
Not to be confused with Kentucky Gentleman, this bottom shelf bourbon is actually worth your time. Owned by the Sazerac company and produced at the Barton Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, this bourbon has been made since 1903 (it was originally produced and owned by Glenmore). Bursting with flavor, this whiskey is a must-buy, especially for the price. On the palate, it has notes of apple pie (crust included), rum-raisin ice cream, vanilla pudding and white pepper. While we like to drink this bourbon straight (or over a fat ice cube) it also tastes incredible as the base of an Old Fashioned—especially with apple bitters.