12 Bottom Shelf Bourbons Worth Drinking

Published By

Bourbon is known lovingly as America’s “native spirit”. While it might not be the only form of liquor invented on these shores, it’s undoubtedly the most popular. This corn-centric (at least 51 percent according to rules and regulations), rich, sippable sweet corn, vanilla, caramel, and oak-flavored spirit also has many sides.

The first is the over-the-top, hard-to-find unicorn bottle that fetches a minimum of the equivalent of a mortgage payment to acquire that sweet nectar of the proverbial gods. The second is the middle-of-the-road everyday drinker that’s not cheap but definitely won’t leave a huge hit on your wallet. The last is the bottle shelf. This is where things get a bit dicey.

While it might seem like navigating the unicorn bottles is the trickiest, in fact, it’s actually the bottom shelf. This is because, while there’s a lot of swill not fit for human consumption that seems to belong next to the gasoline in your garage instead of on your bar cart, there are also many surprisingly great, high-quality gems hidden among all the sludge.

And when we say “bottom shelf”, to some degree we really mean bottom shelf. But the bottom isn’t simply $10 plastic handles of questionable whiskey. It’s a range between from around $10 to around $20. It’s the kind of money you can spend on a 750ml bottle and, if you don’t like it, it’s not going to ruin your weekend.

But, we selected twelve bottom-shelf bourbons that we actually do think you’re going to like. Some are well-known bargain brands and others might be a mystery to you. Either way, they’re all cheap and they’re all flavorful, mixable, sometimes even sippable bottles that have a great price to value ratio. Keep reading to see them all.

Benchmark Bourbon Old No.8 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Benchmark Bourbon Old No.8 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

When it comes to bargain, entry-level bottles of bourbon, it’s pretty difficult to top Benchmark Old No. 8. Made by Buffalo Trace, the expression’s information is a little limited. But it’s aged a minimum of three years, is 80 proof and sells for less than $10. Oh yeah, and it’s a decent whiskey as well with flavors like pipe tobacco, caramel, vanilla, and oak taking center stage. Benchmark is a great expression to have on hand at all times, specifically for mixing.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 80
  • Price Range: $8-10 for a 750ml bottle
Rebel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Rebel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Recently re-branded from “Rebel Yell”, Rebel is one of the most popular bargain bourbons. This award-winning wheated bourbon made from a recipe dating back to 1849 is known for its mellow, rich flavor profile consisting of notes of caramel, toasted vanilla beans, sweet honey, dried fruits, and a warming, slightly spicy finish. It’s a total value of less than $15 (on average) and could easily be sold for much more than that (just don’t tell the folks at the distillery).

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 80
  • Price Range: $13.99-19.99 for a 750ml bottle
Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon

There are few names more well-known in the bourbon world than Jim Beam. While the brand makes a wide array of whiskeys, its classic Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon with its iconic white label is its flagship expression. According to Jim Beam, its bourbon has been made the same way since 1795. Distilled with a mash bill of 77 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and 10 percent malted barley, it’s aged for at least four years in new, charred American oak barrels to impart flavors like vanilla, oak, toffee, and gentle spices.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 80
  • Price Range: $14.99-19.99 for a 750ml bottle
Wild Turkey 81 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Wild Turkey 81 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Another name, bourbon drinkers are really familiar with is Wild Turkey.  While its 101 might be the best bargain in the bourbon world, its Wild Turkey 81 is a bottom-shelf gem. Matured in American White Oak casks with the brand’s deepest No. 4 “alligator” char, it’s known for its bold, robust flavor profile highlighted by notes of dried fruit, toasted vanilla beans, wood char, and bold, wintry spices. It’s just as good of a value sipper as a versatile mixer.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 81
  • Price Range: $15-22 for a 750ml bottle
Ten High Sour Mash Bourbon

Ten High Sour Mash Bourbon

If you’re not an avid bourbon drinker, or you have a lot of extra income to spend on juice, you’ve probably never heard of Ten High Sour Mash Bourbon. This expression is about as low as the bottom shelf can go without bordering on lighter fluid. This sour mash whiskey was aged in charred, American oak barrels and carries notes of caramel, vanilla, and slight oak. This is definitely a whiskey only for mixing. Spend a little more if you’re looking for a sipper.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 80
  • Price Range: $6.99-9.99 for a 750ml bottle
J.W. Dant Kentucky Straight Bourbon

J.W. Dant Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Not only is J.W. Dant remarkably cheap, but it comes in a slick, classic-looking bottle that looks like it belongs on your grandfather’s home bar, and it’s barreled-in-bond, sitting at a potent 100 proof. For the price, there are few bonded bourbons better than J.W. Dant with its flavors of honey, toffee, vanilla beans, dried fruits, and woody oak. It’s a great, bold mixer for your home bar cart or liquor cabinet that will stand up even in the most flavorful cocktails.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 100
  • Price Range: $12.99-14.99 for a 750ml bottle
Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon

While you can easily opt for the bonded version if you’re looking for 100-proof, Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a banger of a bottle for a surprisingly low price. The “Old Grand-Dad” on the bottle is none other than Basil Hayden, a man whiskey fans know from another well-known Jim Beam brand. This high-rye bourbon is known for its bold flavors of raisins, caramel, vanilla, oak, and spicy, cracked black pepper. While it’s a great, rich, spicy base for your favorite cocktail, it’s also a tremendous bargain sipping whiskey.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 80
  • Price Range: $16-20 for a 750ml bottle
Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon

This award-winning Kentucky sour mash bourbon is charcoal filtered similar to the likes of Jack Daniel’s. At 90 proof, it’s slightly higher in alcohol content than many of the other bargain bourbons on the market. This corn, rye, and barley-based bourbon is matured in charred, American oak casks. The result is a bold, rich, smooth whiskey with hints of chocolate fudge, sticky toffee, caramel corn, toasted vanilla beans, and a gentle, spicy, peppery finish. It’s a versatile, everyday bottle that deserves a permanent spot on your home bar.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 90
  • Price Range: $12.99-18.99 for a 750ml bottle
Ancient Age Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Ancient Age Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Made by Buffalo Trace, Ancient Age might be the most aptly named bourbon ever. That’s because, featuring a classic, old-timey label, it seems to be stuck in a long-forgotten time and place (specifically 1946). Thankfully that time featured a well-made, 80-proof, flavorful, corn, rye, and barley-based whiskey featuring notes of caramel corn, butterscotch, vanilla, and oak, and it still tastes like that today. In our opinion, Ancient Age is one of the best bargains in the bourbon world due to its versatile, complex flavor profile.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 80
  • Price Range: $14.99-19.99
Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon

The most interesting thing about Very Old Barton is the fact that not only isn’t it very old, it’s not old at all. In fact, it was matured in new, charred American oak barrels for between four and six years. This results in a rich, flavorful, surprisingly cheap bourbon highlighted by notes of sticky toffee, candied pecans, dried fruits, vanilla beans, and slight, peppery rye. It’s rich, bold, and classic. A truly underrated bourbon that comes in multiple proofs including 80, 86, 90, and 100 versions.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 80
  • Price Range: $8.99-10.99
Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon

If you did a blind taste test featuring all of these expressions, we’re fairly certain Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon would have a decent chance of winning the whole thing. This award-winning, value-priced bourbon is named for Evan Williams, the man who opened the first distillery in Kentucky back in 1783. It’s known for its mellow, easy-drinking nature and notes of vanilla beans, nutty sweetness, butterscotch, rich, woody oak, and a final flourish of peppery spice that ties everything together nicely.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 86
  • Price Range: $12.99-16.99 for a 750ml bottle
Old Crow Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Old Crow Kentucky Straight Bourbon

If you were to take a poll on the best bottom-shelf bourbons and you only asked bartenders for input, you’d likely have a few mentioning Old Crow. Named after Dr. James C. Crow, who was at the forefront of the use of science in whiskey making. One of the most historic brands ever made, it’s known for its bold flavor profile consisting of notes of rich oak, sweet, buttery caramel, dried fruits, sweet corn, and gentle fruity flavor. It’s sweet, mellow, and one of the best value sippers ever made.

  • Origin: Kentucky
  • Proof: 80
  • Price Range: $5.99-10.99

Disclosure: Clicking on these links and making a purchase may earn us a small referral fee, at no extra cost to you. Learn more here.

Join The List.

Subscribe and get the latest goods straight to your inbox.