Too often, whiskey lists are compilations of fancy, limited-run bottles that are either impossible to track down or simply too expensive – usually both. After all, when there’s rent to pay and mouths to feed, people can’t always slap down hundreds of dollars on a bottle of hooch, regardless of its age or collectability. And truth be told, you don’t have to. There are still great deals to be had on unique and delicious bourbons, single malts and even Japanese bottles if you know where to look. But seeking out undervalued whiskey is not without risk – there’s a lot of nasty stuff out there. So avoid the swill and check out these fine bottles that deliver maximum bang for under 40 bucks.
Evan Williams Single Barrel 2009 Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Best Bourbon: Bourbon fans fed up with outrageous prices for white unicorn bottles are turning to single barrels for their fix of one-of-a-kind whiskey without breaking the bank. And distillers are happy to oblige, at a premium of course. But frugal drinkers in the know are hip to Heaven Hill’s Evan William’s 2009 Single Barrel, an eight-year-old bourbon that’s festooned with gold medals — without question, one of the best damn deals in Kentucky.
Tasting Notes: vanilla, oak, honey, apple, orange
West Cork Bourbon Cask Irish Whiskey
Best Irish Whiskey: You can belly up to the bar for another shot of Jame-O, or you can try a whole different Irish whiskey. Three childhood friends from Cork County, Ireland, came together as adults in 2003 to create The West Cork Distillery, which involved hand-crafting four of their six pot stills themselves, all of which are still in use today. Their pot-distilled grain-and-malt-blend whiskey is aged longer, and hence more expensive to make than their mass volume competition, though it costs about the same. So, what’ll it be?
Tasting Notes: citrus, honey, apple, nutmeg
Suntory Toki Japanese Whiskey
Best Japanese Whiskey: Japan is giving Scotland a run for its money with its elegant, Scotch-style whiskeys. But unfortunately, the stuff ain’t cheap. Then along came Suntory’s Toki. This inexpensive and plentiful Japanese bottle is a beautiful example of Master Blender Shinji Fukuyo’s nuanced style, which is perfect neat or in a high ball, and costs at least $25 less than Hibiki Harmony or Nikka Coffey Grain.
Tasting Notes: grapefruit, apple, light smoke, green tea
Speyburn 10-Years-Old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Best Single Malt: This oft-overlooked Speyside single malt isn’t oft-overlooked by experts who consistently award this undervalued, over-performing whiskey gold medals in blind tastings. But accolades aside, here is a well-balanced, fruit-forward single malt made by Distillery Manager Robert Anderson and his team on Speyburn’s pristine grounds in the beautiful Scottish Speyside.
Tasting Notes: vanilla, caramel, jammy fruit, almond
Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey
Best American Rye: Since the States fell back in love with rye, distilleries have flooded store shelves with fancy new bottles in pursuit of your hard-earned money. Meanwhile, Sazerac’s been pumping out this fine, six-year-old Kentucky Straight since 2005. It’s smooth enough to sip neat and sturdy enough for a strong cocktail.
Tasting Notes: vanilla, clove, anise, black pepper
Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch Whiskey
Best Blended Scotch: This feisty five-year-old Scotch blend is a citrusy pepper-bomb with a higher malt content than most and a hint of Islay peat that opens beautifully with a large cube and kicks ass in a Blood & Sand. But the best part is reminding single malt snobs that The Dalmore’s ubiquitous master distiller, Richard “The Nose” Patterson, originally developed the blend, then watch them beg for a sip.
Tasting Notes: orange, pepper, honey, caramel, malt
Rich & Rare Reserve Canadian Blended Whiskey
Best Canadian Whiskey: Greetings from the bottom shelf with Rich & Rare, a no-frills Canadian bottle that pretty much blows away anything else in its class. The smooth drinkability, vanilla-bomb nose and surprisingly pleasant finish put this econo-sipper shoulder to shoulder with most whiskeys twice its price. Don’t believe it? Just listen to the experts: R&R scored 92 points in the 2017 Ultimate Beverage Challenge and a Double Gold in San Francisco a few years back – both blind tastings.
Tasting Notes: orange, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, oak