9 Bottom-Shelf Bourbons That Are Actually Worth The Buy

Not all whiskies are bourbon, and there are a certain set of rules that make a whiskey a bourbon including the fact that it must be made with at least 51% corn and that it must be aged in charred new oak barrels. Most bourbons are made in Kentucky, but it can be made anywhere in the United States.


Bourbon has grown in popularity in the last couple of decades, and with it comes the increase in price. Of course, certain aspects of the whiskey-making process naturally leads to higher prices. For example, longer barrel aging time means higher prices, not just due to the increased time it takes to make them, but also because longer aging means more angel's share — the amount of whiskey that evaporates during the aging process.

Distilleries have also introduced premium expressions of the bourbon, from single barrel to small-batch expressions that command higher prices due to their more limited nature. The term "bottom shelf" is used to refer to alcohol products that are less-expensive, which could lead some to think they are an inferior product. Thankfully for those of us who are cost-conscious, there are still many affordable bourbons that are worth a spot in your liquor cabinet. These bourbons have complex notes that work well in cocktails or even to sip neat, despite the prices. Here are nine of the best bottom-shelf bourbons you can buy. For this list, we defined bottom-shelf bourbons to be those you can typically purchase for under $25. 


1. Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey is one of the best-known bourbon brands out there. It started in 1940 by relabeling a bourbon made by the Ripy family, but the distillery truly started in 1954 with the arrival of master distiller Jimmy Russell, who is still with the company today. At 101 proof (55% ABV), Wild Turkey 101 has a higher alcohol content than most of the bourbons on this list. This bourbon brand has been around since 1940 and at a price point of around $20, Wild Turkey's popularity is well deserved. The bourbon's mash bill is made up of 75% corn, 12% malted barley and 13% rye and it's then aged in the deepest char American white oak barrels. 


Wild Turkey 101 has notes of peppery spice and cinnamon combined with the sweetness typical of bourbon. The higher alcohol content gives more heat than other standard ABV bourbons. This bourbon is complex enough for both the casual drinker and the bourbon enthusiast to appreciate. 

2. Four Roses Kentucky straight bourbon

The Four Roses distillery certainly knows how to craft a good bourbon as their 130th Anniversary 2018 Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon was named World's Best Bourbon in the 2019 World Whiskies Award. The 80-proof Four Roses Kentucky straight bourbon is their entry bourbon, retailing at around $24. 


The Four Roses bourbon is a unique bourbon as it is made by blending up to ten different recipes that combine two different mash bills, and the blend is then aged for at least five years. The blend creates a lighter and smoother bourbon that's great for those new to the category to start exploring. The nose leans on the floral side, which is rather unusual for bourbons. The $20-24 pricing for a Kentucky bourbon that's been aged for 5 years is a good deal, making this a great bottom-shelf buy. 

However, this bourbon may never have even made it to U.S. shelves after the brand was purchased by Seagram in 1943. The bourbon was practically pulled from the U.S. market and instead became top selling bourbon in Japan. Kirin Brewery Company purchased the Four Roses distillery in 2001 and introduced the current Four Roses Kentucky straight bourbon.


3. Bulleit bourbon

Bulleit was founded in 1987 by Tom Bulleit using his great-great-grandfather's recipe. Ever since then the bourbon has become one of the best in the market, proven by the fact that it has won multiple awards including the gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Bulleit's flagship bourbon is a Kentucky straight bourbon which means it has to be made in Kentucky and aged for a minimum of two years, in addition to meeting all the other requirements to be called a bourbon. 


The mash bill is made out of 68% corn, 28% rye and 4% malted barley, making it one of the bourbons with the highest rye content. Bulleit is a great option for those who want a bourbon that more of a bold flavor with spicey notes and is less sweet due to the high rye content. It's a solid bourbon to sip neat or to be used in cocktails without breaking the bank. 

4. Evan Williams black label

The Evan Williams brand was first launched in 1957 but the name harkens back to the man who opened Kentucky's first distillery. Evan Williams is a bourbon brand that comes from the Heaven Hill company, also known for brands like Elijah Craig, Old Fitzgerald and others. Evan Williams Kentucky straight bourbon, also known as their black label, is the second best-selling bourbon in the country and it's well know for being a great value. Made by the same master distiller as the other Heaven Hill brands, Evan Williams bourbon usually retails for under $15 and it delivers a lot for such a low price. 


This bourbon frequently makes the list of the best cheap bourbons, and for good reason. Men's Journal writer Christopher Friedmann calls Evan Williams black label the "bottom shelf bourbon that remains [his] go-to order [because it's] cheap, reliable, [and] oh-so-available." Evan Williams black label is the go-to well bourbon for many bartenders, and it should be yours too.

5. Buffalo Trace Kentucky straight bourbon

Buffalo Trace distillery is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America – though it had other names in the past — and their 200 years of experience certainly can be tasted in the products. Buffalo Trace Kentucky straight bourbon retails at around $25, though it can be higher in some markets, a price point that barely gets this whiskey on this list. The mash bill for this bourbon is a closely guarded secret, but the bourbon sees a minimum of eight years in the barrel, which is a long aging time for a bourbon at this price point. 


The bourbon won the silver medal at the New York World Wine and Spirits Competition in 2023 and Wine Enthusiast's reviewer Kara Newman gave this whiskey a score of 92, calling it "a good workhorse for all manner of cocktails." Liquor writer Amy Zavatto calls Buffalo Trace "an incredible bang-for-the-buck value from one of the country's most historical distilleries" and says that the bourbon has flavors of butterscotch, nutmeg and cracked pepper. 

6. Jim Beam Single Barrel

Jim Beam's history of whiskey making started in 1795 and it is now one of the biggest names in the bourbon world. Jim Beam's most well-known bottom-shelf bourbon is the white label Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, but the brand also makes other whiskies that still retail at an affordable price. The Jim Beam Single Barrel bourbon is available for around $25, though it may retail for higher in certain markets. While the price is double that of the white label, the bourbon is a worthy upgrade.


As the name suggests, unlike their white label bourbon which comes from a blend of different barrels, the Jim Beam Single Barrel comes from, you guessed it, a single barrel which has been hand selected and deemed good enough for its own release. Uproxx writer Zach Johnston blind tested quite a few affordable bourbons and Jim Beam Single Barrel bourbon came out on top because it "had the best and deepest flavor profile by far." Of course, since no two barrels of whiskey are alike, different single barrel releases may taste different, but that's also part of the fun in grabbing one of these bottles. 

7. Elijah Craig Small Batch

The Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon is a Kentucky straight bourbon bottled at 94 proof (47% ABV) and it's aged in a level 3 char oak barrels (on a scale of 1-4) and is charred for 35 seconds, which gives this bourbon its light smokiness. The brand is also owned by Heaven Hill and is named after the first distiller (who happened to be a Baptist preacher) to age his whiskey in new charred oak barrels. Other than the light smokiness, this bourbon has the classic notes of vanilla and oak.


Elijah Craig Small Batch certainly has had its fair share of accolades. It took home the award for the Best Small Batch Bourbon at the San Francisco Wine and Spirits Competition in 2018. Liquor named the Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon the best overall cheap bourbon in 2022. It retails for around $16 a bottle, and it's an excellent value that's hard to beat at that price point.  

8. Old Grand-Dad

Old Grand-Dad bourbon is actually distilled at the Jim Beam distillery in Kentucky and was first bottled in 1882. While the recipe has changed a little since then, this bourbon still has a high rye content that contributes to its spiciness, which was the preference of Basil Hayden Sr., a.k.a. old grand-dad himself. You can find this bourbon from anywhere between $15-25. 


Breaking Bourbon writer Nick Beiter says that "the historic Old Grand-Dad brand is a value-seeker's dream offering quality bourbon at a very low price point" and with notes of baking spices and cinnamon on the palate. Old Grand-Dad is a favorite among bartenders because of the price and because the spice from the rye makes it an unusually good bourbon for a Manhattan. It's not just bartenders, though, even presidents drink it — former President Harry Truman is said to have a shot of Old Grand-Dad every morning.

9. Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond

Yes, we know Evan Williams' black label bourbon already made it on this list, but their Bottled-In-Bond bourbon — their white label bourbon — also deserves a shoutout. Bottled in bond means that the bourbon has to be aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years and it must be bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV). The Bottled-in-Bond, which retails for under $20, has to come from a single season from one distillery to meet the requirements for the labeling. 


This bourbon has won the Consumer's Choice award at the SIP Awards at least twice. According to Liquor writer Robert Haynes-Peterson, the Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond is "a solid bar standard at a great price [and is] a reliable and affordable choice that's especially great in cocktails." Even compared to the other bottom-shelf bourbons on this list, Evan Williams' bourbons stand out with their low prices, so there's no reason to not grab a bottle on your next liquor store run.