Bourbon is inherently cheap, generally speaking. It’s usually not aged too long, it’s made from locally grown grains, and it doesn’t have to be shipped overseas, picking up tariffs along the way. The average price range for most bourbon is between $20 and $50. Sure, bourbons will easily reach $100 per bottle thanks to craft grain-to-glass production or rare limited editions and so forth. But the vast majority of bourbon falls in that low price range (before the hype machine takes hold).
With Father’s Day approaching and bourbon always making a popular gift for dads, we decided to taste expressions on the lower end of the bourbon average price point against those the higher end. We’re blindly tasting bourbons that average $25 per bottle against the ones the average a little north of $50 per bottle. Naturally, these prices will shift a little higher and lower depending on where you’re buying the bottle.
Our lineup for the $25 bottles are:
- Bulleit Bourbon
- Buffalo Trace
- Redemption Bourbon
- Jim Beam Black
- Evan Williams Single Barrel
Our lineup for the $50 bottles are:
- Jefferson’s Very Old
- Four Roses Single Barrel
- Baker’s Single Barrel 7
- Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
- Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select
We have a few wrinkles in this tasting. First, I’m avoiding Wild Turkey. One of my all-time favorite whiskeys, in general, is Wild Turkey Rare Breed ($50) and I’d choose that as number one, even in a blind. I do this for a living and I know that expression in my sleep. So, no Turkey.
I’ve also included a cheap single barrel to see if it stands up to the ones that are twice the price. Lastly, I’m including a Tennessee Whiskey just to see how it stands up to the Kentucky bourbons, since all Tennessee whiskeys are legally bourbons.
Sound good? Okay, let’s get into it and see how this shakes out.
Part 1: The Taste
This opens very classically with clear notes of vanilla, mild spice, light wood, and a touch of leather. The taste is all cinnamon sticks and vanilla pudding next to a little apple, dried corn, and maybe white pepper.
Ah-ha! Hello, Jim Beam.
There’s a clear sense of cherry, caramel corn touched by salt, and vanilla beans. The taste has this very, very light smoke from a vanilla husk with a tart apple counterpoint and Graham cracker graininess. There’s a light touch of dry wood on the end with a creamy vanilla mouthfeel.
Raw leather? Vanilla pancakes with maple syrup? Gotta be Buffalo Trace. The body of this one is nutmeg-heavy eggnog next to tart-yet-bright red berries leading towards a mild woodiness next to even milder tobacco buzz.
There’s a mix of caramel, apples, vanilla, and soft, slightly old leather up top. The taste is bold honey tobacco with a touch of minerality softening the taste very nicely. The end has a mix of soft, worn leather next to pear candy.
This opens with a salted caramel candy wrapper — think those shiny silver foil ones — next to a very mild hint of dark cocoa powder. The taste is very nutmeg-forward, with light touches of vanilla pudding. It all leads towards mild black pepper, sweet popcorn, and a final note of spicy heat.
This is light and velvety and really leans into the cherry and softest leather with a final whiff of sticky pine sap. There’s delicate kettle corn with a holiday spiced caramel drizzle that leads towards a fruit medley of apples, peach, pears, bananas, and more cherries with a light buttery toffee. The woodiness comes back at the end and is reminiscent of an old high school woodshop.
This is Jack Daniel’s.
This is all honey, eggnog spices, soft leather, and … something green. Maybe it’s green reeds or wet wicker deck furniture. The taste is apple-cider-soaked cinnamon sticks next to almond encrusted toffees very close to the ones you get at See’s Candies. The end has this super silky vanilla tobacco vibe that’s hard not to love.
There’s a pleasant maple syrup cut with allspice and cinnamon with this idea of matchsticks (flint and wood) and a slight grassy green note. The taste dances between pear tobacco and walnut vanilla ice cream. The taste veers towards an oily orange that’s nearly bitter and a lingering touch of mild herbal funk.
Woah! This is marzipan counterpointing dark blackberry with a honey-soaked dry cedar on the nose. The taste leans into a creamy and nutty nougat while still holding onto the sweet and earthy berries and that sweet, soft wood. By the end, it’s super creamy and very distinct.
This is a mix of Christmas cakes, old musty cellar beams, and thick vanilla ice cream. The taste is all soft, worn leather, vanilla cake with a buttery frosting countered by a spicy tobacco chew. The end of the taste takes a turn towards almost oily and earthy green herbs like rosemary, tarragon, parsley, and very mild dill.
Part 2: The Ranking
10. Bulleit Bourbon — Taste 1
Average Price: $25
This whiskey from Bulleit embraces a high-rye mash bill that’s comprised of 68 percent corn, 28 percent rye, and four percent malted barley. The juice is then rested for six years before blending, cutting down to proof, and barreling.
This was exactly as advertised but not much more. There were a lot of drams and this just kind of got lost in the mix.
9. Buffalo Trace — Taste 3
Average Price: $25
This is the whiskey that heralded a new era of bourbon in 1999. Famed Master Distiller Elmer T. Lee came out of retirement to create this bourbon to celebrate the renaming of the George T. Stagg distillery to Buffalo Trace when Sazerac bought the joint. The rest, as they say, is history — especially since this has become a touchstone bourbon for the brand.
That raw leather note is just hard to get past. The rest of the sip is fine but this is a bottle that sits on my shelf, usually untouched.
8. Redemption Bourbon — Taste 5
Average Price: $25
This MGP sourced juice from Redemption is a masterclass in blending. The juice inches towards a high-rye mash bill (21 percent) and is comprised of barrels picked by Master Blender Dave Carpenter. The whiskey is then proofed down to a very drinkable 88 proof with that soft Kentucky water.
This was just a little thin today. The notes were all there and perfectly fine but nothing overly exciting. It really feels like a mixer with every additional nose and sip. But that’s perfectly fine — I keep telling folks, not every expression is for sipping slow!
7. Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged — Taste 2
Average Price: $23
This expression replaced the old Jim Beam Black Label 8 Year. The juice in this bottle is aged longer than your average four-year-old Beam, but there is no age statement on exactly how long. The best way to think of it is that it’s aged for as long as it needs to be, according to the distilling team.
I used to drink a fair share of this but it’s fallen off my radar recently. It’s certainly well-made but feels light and thin compared to others on the list today.
6. Baker’s Single Barrel 7 — Taste 10
Average Price: $52
This is a newish release from Beam’s high-end line. It’s also the first single barrel release from Baker’s, which intends to phase out its small-batch expressions in favor of this bottle. The juice comes from hand-selected barrels from specific spots in the Beam warehouses, with whiskey that’s at least seven years old. In this case, we’re talking an eight-year-and-seven-month-old barrel.
This is a funky and fun whiskey that really stands out. But, funky and fun isn’t always what you want. Today, it was fine but a little too complicated to draw me back.
5. Four Roses Single Barrel — Taste 8
Average Price: $50
Four Rose’s standard single barrel expression is an interesting one. This is their “number one” recipe, meaning it’s a high-rye (35 percent) mash bill that’s fermented with a yeast that highlights “delicate fruit.” The juice is then bottled at 100 proof, meaning you’re getting a good sense of that single barrel in every bottle.
This was solid all-around. It was also a nice outlier and felt like something I’d reach for when I’m tired of the same old stuff.
4. Evan Williams Single Barrel — Taste 4
Average Price: $26
This is Heaven Hill’s hand-selected single barrel Evan Williams expression. The juice is from a single barrel, labeled with its distillation year, proofed just above 43 proof, and bottled as is.
I’m both surprised this cracked the top five and really not surprised at all. This really is a solid whiskey, especially at this price point. It just tastes like good, solid bourbon.
3. Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select — Taste 6
Average Price: $55
This was first introduced in 1997. The juice is hand-selected from barrels on the upper floors of Jack’s vast rickhouses. The whisky is bottled at a slightly higher proof to allow the nuance of the juice to shine.
This is so different from every other bottle on the list. That Lincoln County Process of sugar maple filtration really makes a huge difference in turning bourbon into Tennessee whiskey. This is light but dialed. It’s very fruity while still feeling like a well-aged whiskey.
It’s a damn easy sipper.
2. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked — Taste 9
Average Price: $57
This expression takes the standard Woodford bourbon (triple distilled, matured for six to seven years in a climate-controlled warehouse) and gives it a finishing touch. The bourbon is blended and moved into new barrels that have been double toasted but only lightly charred. The juice spends a final nine months resting in those barrels before proofing and bottling.
This was pretty much tied for first place. It’s so close. This is a refined sipper that really nails its flavor profiles while maintaining a creamy taste.
1. Jefferson’s Very Old — Taste 7
Average Price: $58
Jefferson’s Reserve is a masterclass in the power of blending. This expression is a marriage of only eight to 12 barrels from three different bourbons which are, for the most part, very old. How old you ask? There are 20-year-old barrels in the mix — sorta crazy, considering the price.
This was so well built with a clear sense of what it was. It was also a dream to sip with a smoothness that made me move this bottle from the back of my shelf to front and center.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
Jefferson’s Very Old won this blind tasting in a walk. The top three were all great but Jefferson’s was the clear winner.
The real winner in my opinion was Evan Williams though. Their Single Barrel expression is a goddamn gem and placed above two bottles that cost double the price. That’s undeniably a great thing from a great bottle of bourbon (my editor always wants to talk “value picks” — this is it).
All of that being said, I’m not overly shocked by the top five (outside of Evan Williams). It shouldn’t be a surprise that more refined and expensive bourbon tastes better. Still, that Jefferson’s Very Old is a damn fine dram of whiskey … bourbon or not. Now I’d like to see how it holds up against $80 bottles.