Okay, so as a whiskey drinker, all you want is to be able to drink good bourbon. But you can’t afford to spend up to $100 on a bottle. Or maybe you can afford it, but you just don’t want to.
The only reason any bourbon enthusiast would opt for Bottom shelf bourbons is nothing more than “price.” And you know what? Contrary to the erroneous belief that “cheap” means “trash,” or low-quality, you will be amazed at the quality bourbons in this category. Therefore, welcome to this article, where the best bottom shelf whiskey bourbons will be discussed in detail.
Why Bottom Shelf Bourbons?
There was a time when bottom shelf bourbons were classified under the rotgut category. “Rotgut” simply means alcoholic liquor that is potentially toxic and of inferior quality. And of course, that is more than enough to make people cringe when they hear the word “bottom-shelf.”
But then, some bourbon enthusiasts would instead refer to bottom shelf bourbons as either “value” or “budget” bourbon. But soon enough, the government came down hard on producers of cheap liquors. These days, you would hardly hear any spirit referred to as “rotgut”, even when is a very cheap whiskey or bourbon.
Bottom Shelf Bourbon: Price
Although “price” is the #1 reason why most people search for the best bottom shelf bourbon online, it is not always the case. The truth is that many bourbon and whisky lovers have been taken in with the age and price of a particular liquor. As far as such individuals are concerned, age combined with high price signifies high-quality bourbon.
But this is far from the truth. In reality, there are more than a few bourbons with prices that are well above average. These bourbons have been proven to maintain their quality for eons.
But then, there was a time when bottom shelf bourbons held the forte while seemingly premium bottles sat on shelves for months.
In other words, some of these bottom-shelf bourbons were esteemed favorites at one time. And that was because of the value and satisfaction that people derived from them. Not all high-priced bourbon is great. Many enthusiasts can attest to the fact that they consumed expensive but average bourbons at one time or the other.
And not all great-tasting bourbon is pricey, just like with whisky. But then, premium bottles appear to be the norm these days. Only a few bourbon lovers are willing to get their hands dirty in search of bourbons relegated to the bottom shelf in the liquor store.
Bottom Shelf Bourbons: Beginners
One of the most offensive words in our world today is “beginner” or “newbie.” And no one wants to be called a beginner, at least not when it has to do with drinking bourbon.
To appreciate most sought-after and rare bottles as a bourbon newbie, you need to lay the groundwork. This will help you to fully understand why some bourbons are highly regarded while some are not. And since it is practically impossible for a neophyte to drive a car correctly the first time, you shouldn’t go for premium bottles at first.
You need to learn everything about bourbon and drink some of the classics viz. the best bottom shelf bourbons. It is a highly essential step for beginners. You will discover their iconic and pleasing flavors. And you will also learn both the cultural and historical significance of each display.
Knowing about – as well as appreciating – these characteristics are essential as you begin Bourbon 101 education.
The Best Bottom Shelf Bourbons
And so, without wasting too much of your time, here are some of the best bottom shelf bourbons out there. Most of them are less than $30 per bottle. But they can hold their own even among premium brands today:
Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon is a good bourbon that offers a lot of value. It may be categorized as a bottom shelf spirit, but the same cannot be said about its taste. The liquor is made from the same mash bill used in producing the more high-priced Basil Hayden’s bourbon.
However, Old Grand-Dad Bonded bourbon has a much higher proof. This translates to a bolder – and much bigger – flavor. This liquor has the “Bonded” designation which is an indication that the alcoholic beverage is at least 4 years old and 50 percent ABV.
It also indicates that one distiller makes the bourbon at a particular distillery throughout a single distillation season. The “Bottled in Bond” Act was passed in 1897, and its designation was to differentiate it from fakes. And today, that designation is still understood as a mark of high quality.
This spirit is a more assertive version of White Label even though it has a high-rye content. It is also made from a mash bill that is different from White Label. Old Grand-Dad is rich with a corny sweetness and comes with overstated notes of rye spice. This makes the bourbon much wilder than its Jim Beam cousin. Overall, Old Grand-Dad does not disappoint when it comes quality and taste.
First off, Wild Turkey is nothing but a steal at this price. It is one of the classic whiskeys that many bourbon lovers took for granted several years ago. Only the thrifty and the young can authoritatively tell you that Wild Turkey’s price tag has nothing to do with its quality. That is to say that only a few of the lower-shelf bottles out there can stand side by side with this bourbon.
Wild Turkey is a bourbon produced by Jimmy Russell, master distiller for more than six decades. His son, Eddie, is a co-master distiller himself. Between them, they churn out high-quality bourbon that even loan-strapped students can get at, any time.
Wild Turkey is much more aggressive and spicier than the majority of the entry-level bourbons out there. But it is still versatile enough for beginners to sip on ice neat or in cocktails.
Typical bourbon should be left to mature in newly burnt or charred oak barrels. But that is not the case with most of the distillate in Early Times bourbon. This is because some of the distillate is aged in used bourbon oak barrels. These used barrels do not impart as much flavor or color as new, charred barrels.
Early Times bourbon has smooth drinking characteristics, though. It has a straight-forward approach and honeyed sweetness that some tasters find enjoyable. A few bourbon enthusiasts may be put off with the slightly sour and tannic quality of the oak.
This is why you shouldn’t be surprised when some tasters referred it to as a “super basic bourbon” while others say it is “plainly drinkable.” Early Times bourbon may be a mellow sipper, but it is still one of the tolerable bourbons that any beginner can consume.
Old Crow was said to be the favored spirit of legends like Hunter S. Thompson and Mark Twain among many others. This bourbon is produced from the same distillery that churns out Jim Beam products.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Old Crow is based primarily on the same bourbon mash bill and yeast profile of Jim Beam White Label. However, Old Crow is blended to give the spirit a taste profile that is lenient enough for beginners to try.
Old Crow is young on both the nose and palate, which may not be easy for a newbie to tell. Most Beam bourbons tend to take much longer to age anyway. So, Old Crow appears to be a much younger – and watered-down – version of Jim Beam White Label.
Peanuts and rye bread dominate the nose, leading into aggressive grassiness, graininess, and pepper on the palate. The alcoholic beverage is light-bodied with a conservative alcohol burn. Distinct notes of fresh grass – and somewhat musty graininess – can be perceived. Although these characteristics may have knocked off some points on many tasters’ list, Old Crow still has more character compared to the more homogenous Jim Beam White Label. So, it is a matter of preference or personal taste.
Fighting Cock is one of the numerous Heaven Hill brands that fall in the bottom shelf category. According to one of Heaven Hill’s brand ambassador, Fighting Cock was released to the bourbon world to challenge Wild Turkey 101, another bottom shelf bourbon.
Fighting Cock used to bear a 6 year age statement designation. But in 2015, it was removed. The alcoholic beverage now comes as a NAS (non-age stated) variant. Otherwise known as the “kickin’ chicken,” Fighting Cock is portrays fruit-forward banana, walnut, light vanilla on the nose and oak in the background.
The spirit does not have any complex aroma, but it is inviting nonetheless. It also comes with zero ethanol. Fighting Cock is sweet on the palate with mixed white and black pepper combination along with a little heat. The peppery heat goes on to the finish, though it is joined with leather and oak to form an overall, drier finish profile. Fighting Cock may not have too much of a bite, but it will deliver an easy drinking experience for the inexperienced noob.
Heaven Hill 6 Year Old (Green Label)
Heaven Hill Green Label is one of the cheapest Bottom shelf alcoholic beverages on this list. It is so scarce that you can only find it in Kentucky. The only reason why it is even produced is for the benefit of Kentucky residents who don’t want to spend too much money on liquor.
Many reviewers and tasters rate this rare bourbon high on their list. However, a few of them state that it leaves a bad taste on their tongues. Despite being sold in limited quantities, Heaven Hill Bourbon is well-loved for its perfect balance of cinnamon and burnt sugar finish.
So, why not gear up and take a trip to Kentucky to get a case for yourself? It will be worth it in the end, you’ll see.
Ten High is, without doubt, the cheapest spirit on this list, and is one of those alcoholic beverages that are of questionable quality. Although some tasters believe that Ten High bourbon is much better than Kentucky Gentleman, there’s really not much to prove it.
This is because both spirits share the same construction, i.e. 51 percent bourbon mixed with 49 percent neutral spirits. However, Ten High bourbon is not as watery or thin as Kentucky Gentleman. Ten High is relatively palatable, super sweet but unremarkable. It also features sufficient flavors of vanilla, black cherry, corn as well as a surprising banana note on the nose.
This is a bourbon for beginners or those who are severely cash-strapped but need to consume some booze.
The Jim Beam White Label belongs in the bottom shelf bourbons and sometimes you can make a great deal and find a bottle for less than $15 (speaking for a 750 ml version).
The best thing about bourbon is that you can drink it anytime you want. In fact, you can open a bottle and keep it opened for 10 years even, however, the alcohol will slowly start to evaporate throughout the years.
This depends on the brand you are using. Some whiskeys are better when refrigerated, others when mixed with ice, and others in their straight version. It’s always great to experiment and find what works for you.
There you have it: the best bottom shelf bourbons out there today. Remember that a high price tag is not equal to quality. Some of these bottom-shelf bourbons are relatively scarce, though. So, you may have to take a trip outside your state to secure a crate or two. A friend or two can tag along for the joyride and a fun-filled weekend with cheap booze!
- Bourbon vs Irish Whiskey – All You Need to Know!
- A Full Guide of the Best Bourbon for Cooking
- Canadian Whiskey vs Bourbon (With Top Brand Recommendations!)
- A Full Guide on the Best Bourbon for Manhattan
- A Complete Guide to the Best Bourbon Cocktails!
- The Best Bourbon Brands for Old Fashioned
- How to Find the Best Bourbon On The Market!
- Jameson vs Jack Daniels Compared – All You Need to Know
- Whiskey Pairing: Best Foods with Different Types of Whiskey