The Houston Press (is that the newspaper of record down there, or is it an alt. weekly?) ran an article yesterday advising its readers on how to cheaply stock an at-home bar. The author didn’t focus on any specific kind of alcohol, he just offered quick suggestions for cheap vodka, whiskey, gin and rum. I guess that’s all well and good if you want to stock a reputable bar (or liquor cabinet if you’re cheap like me), but I can’t be bothered with gin and vodka and rum. I just keep bottles of whiskey around. Each serves a distinct purpose, too. There’s the high-end/special occasion bottles, the mixers, and a rather large and varied group of bottles I like to call “everything else.” And since I’ve consumed countless styles from different distilleries around the globe, I feel like maybe I can advise you on what’s good and cheap. Like I said before, I’m kind of poor. Finding tasty bargains is part of how I maintain my life as a semi-functional alcoholic.
Now, I consider myself more-specifically to be a bourbon snob, but I’ll include a couple other whiskies too because maybe you’re not a bourbon whore like I am. Though you should be. Chicks dig bourbon whores. By the way, the prices indicated below are using the BevMo website so there could be a slight variation upward or downward a few dollars depending on your local liquor store. I tried not to pick anything that costs over $25.
The Top Ten Cheap Whiskies To Help Stock Your At-Home Bar
10. Old Overholt ($15.99 / 750ml) – One of America’s gold-standard rye whiskies, it’s about as good as you can get on a budget when you want to impress your friends with your recipe for a classic whiskey cocktail. For a while, at least in the South, this was the whiskey of choice for many a Sarezac. And by South I mean Georgia, since that’s as far south as I’ve been lately. Ironically, the Houston Press article sites another whiskey from my list (if you’re too lazy to read ahead it’s Buffalo Trace) as having taken the place of Old Overholt in New Orleans as the staple of the Sarezac. Go figure!
09. Wiser’s Canadian Whiskey ($21.99 / 1.75LTR) – This is more for the value than the flavor. I wouldn’t recommend drinking Wiser’s straight, but it’s really good with Coke. Plus you can get a 1.75 for about the cost of any of these other bottles. Before you start thinking it’s cool to drink Canadian whiskey, you should know that most of them suck. Oh man, I remember being poor as fuck after I moved to LA and Sari would keep buying us Canadian Mist to drink because it was so cheap, and I’ve never had worse hangovers in my entire life. Wiser’s is like a step above that, but be sure if you’re going to buy it you’re going to mix it with soda. That’s the only way it makes this list.
08. Old Fitzgerald 100 Proof ($15.99 / 750ml) – If it’s good enough for a slew of American presidents, I guess it’s good enough for you too. Right? It’s got a little bit of harshness at the end (some people don’t like the warm alcohol finish) but I have to give some respect to this sour mash bourbon because I have a notoriously poor palate when it comes to whiskey and even I — a novice at best — can taste the sweet vanilla flavor in it. If it’s too harsh, dilute it with a shot or two of water or some ice cubes. It helps. And for fifteen bucks it’s a decent deal.
07. Bulleit Bourbon ($22.99 / 750ml) – I don’t grab these bottles too often but when I see it at a party or bar I know I’m safe. I think Vegan Nick was the first person to share this whiskey with me, and I’ll always have him to thank for that. If you’re not a fan of ryes you might want to stay away from it, but if your palate is unrefined you probably won’t notice much of a difference between this and any of the straight bourbons on the list. I mean, when you’re drinking to get drunk how much does flavor really matter?
06. Joshua Brook 8 Year Old Bourbon ($11.00 / 750ml) – You’re probably looking at that price and thinking I’m crazy. But I work next to a liquor store, and one of the employees sold me on Joshua Brook long ago and I now always bring it to BYOB parties. It’s cheaper than Jack or Makers and it tastes better. You can sip it with an ice cube or two or you can mix it as you please. Joshua Brook deserves bonus points because most people have never heard of it, so you can act like it’s the highest-end bottle you could find and people probably won’t know the difference.
05. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey 100 Proof ($21.99 / 750ml) – The guy from the Houston Press couldn’t have said it better. This is like the gold standard for making a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. I haven’t caught onto this whole Bitters trend that is sweeping mixology and booze-snob circles lately, so I couldn’t tell you which ones make for the best Manhattan. If you want to make a variation on that drink that is concocted without bitters — it starts with the Rittenhouse Rye. Awesome stuff.
04. Elijah Craig 12 Year ($24.99 / 750ml) at $25 it’s the most expensive whiskey on this list but it’s also one of the best. It’s just really well-balanced and smooth and flavorful. If you’ve got another $5 to spend I’d say grab a bottle of Elmer T. Lee’s (or Knob Creek if you can’t get Elmer’s in your area), but if you’re seriously budgeting and you don’t want to spend more than twenty-five bucks this is about as good as you’re going to get.
03. Buffalo Trace Bourbon ($22.99 / 750ml) – I’ve been pleasantly surprised lately as I learn more bars that I go to are stocking Buffalo Trace. To them it’s a fine whiskey, which means they think they can charge $8-$10 for a shot or a glass of it, but this article isn’t about drinking cheap out on the town. This is about drinking at home, entertaining friends and enjoying high-quality booze. In that respect, Buffalo Trace is one of the best. Nicely spiced and smooth enough to drink straight up. One of the best around.
02. Evan Williams Black Label ($15.99 / 750ml) – If you’ve never had an Evan Williams with ginger ale you don’t know what it means to mix whiskey with soda. For every Jack and Coke you’ve lazily poured yourself as an adult you should be forced to endure a dozen lashes. Or maybe you could ask a friend to hurl a glass bottle at your head from a distance of ten feet. If he misses consider yourself lucky. If you get hit, well…you should have been drinking Evan Williams with ginger ale.
01. Old Grand Dad 100 Proof ($19.99 / 750ml) – You could even go for the Straight (at $9.99 it’s an insane deal) and still have a good time. This was referred to me by a friend in the Midwest, and when I saw how inexpensive it was I thought I was going to be wincing my way through a harsh, flavorless bottle of bourbon. I couldn’t have been more wrong. On a budget, I will grab one of these bottles and enjoy the hell out of it. It’s another one I like to share with friends because I don’t care about sunken costs. Everyone always seems to enjoy it as if it were a high-end bottle.