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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

5 Budget Bourbons to Fight Inflation

Americans are facing higher costs nearly everywhere - at the pump, at the supermarket, and even at the liquor store. Here are 5 tips + 2 bonus tips on ways to find bourbon that won’t make your pocketbook scream “Uncle” - and still let you enjoy some fine tasting bourbon.  

($22 - $24)

If you’re a fan of Basil Hayden, you might be surprised to find that this bourbon from Jim Beam shares the same high-rye mash bill of  63% corn, 27% rye and 10% malted barley. If you’re looking for a truly inexpensive pour, you can go right to the 80-proof version of Old Grand Dad. This bonded expression subscribes to the requirements as stated in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. As such, you’re getting a spirit that has been aged for at least four years in a government-supervised warehouse and is bottled at a versatile 100-proof. In the glass, you’ll find plenty of vanilla, caramel, and buttered corn fritter notes that are balanced with enough oak char and baking spices to remind you it’s a higher rye bourbon. 

($24 - $27)

If Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select strikes your palate, this is one to definitely reach for. Produced by Brown-Forman, the mash bill is 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley - identical to the flagship Woodford Reserve product. For years, the Old Forester brand languished in the shadow of its more famous sibling, Thanks to a brand refresh beginning in 2014,, the brand now stands on its own. Many thought this bourbon was a more youthful version of Woodford Reserve. In reality, the yeast strains are just a hint different between the two brands. This bourbon may have the best nose of an inexpensive bourbon, with vanilla, caramel, dark and tropical fruits, balanced with oak and spice. You’ll find similar notes on the palate, as well. This bourbon is also a great mixer, as evidenced by its use as the base for the iconic Kentucky Derby Mint Julep.

($22 - $26)

Affectionately called Four Roses Tan Label, this is the flagship product of its namesake distillery. While bottled at a low 80-proof, this bourbon is anything but low on flavor. Two mash bills are used in this blended bourbon - one with 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted, and a second with 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. Fermented using no less than 5 different yeast strains (you can catch the inside story here), you’ll be amazed by a cacophony of perfectly blended flavors in the glass. Lighter in color, you’ll find fruity and floral notes - like apple and peach blossoms - blended with vanilla and light spice. This, too, makes a fine mixer, but is also perfect neat or over a little ice.

Benchmark Lineup

($10 - $32)

You may not recognize the brand, but you’ll recognize the taste. Benchmark is part of the lineup from Sazerac and the Buffalo Trace Distillery. This bargain-shelf bourbon shares the same mash bill (#1) as Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Old Charter, and E.H. Taylor. The brand has evolved beyond its initial 80-proof version ($10) to includes a Top Floor, Bonded, and Single Barrel expression. All of the subsequent extensions are solid, everyday pours - especially when Buffalo Trace’s flagship bourbon is oftentimes marked-up, behind the counter, and allocated. These bourbons are loaded with brown sugar, caramel apple, dried fruit, and raisin. If you’re hankering other lower-shelf bourbons from Buffalo Trace, don’t overlook Ancient Age - a younger version of the same mash bill as Blanton’s, Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farm, and others. 

($14 - $16)

You didn’t think I’d get out here without mentioning one of my cornerstones, did you? Affordably priced, comparable to classic Jim Beam, but with a slightly higher proof, it’s hard to go wrong with this bourbon. Named after America’s first commercial distiller, Evan Williams is made from 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley. Aged 4 years, the finished product is bottled at 86 proof - 6 points higher than Jim Beam’s flagship product. On the nose and palate, you’ll find kettle corn along with classic bourbon notes of caramel and vanilla, balanced with gentle spice. It’s not overly complicated, but it is a very traditional bourbon.

Bonus Idea 1 If you’re buying for a crowd, everyday consumption, or you’re looking to stretch a buck, don’t overlook handles of bourbon. These aren’t just for college student parties anymore. The big 1.75 liter bottles contain 2.3 normal 750ml bottles of bourbon. In my house, come summertime (aka grillin’ time), you’ll often find a handle of Jim Beam or Evan Williams in my kitchen for marinating, making bbq sauce, or my famous Derby Pie.. If you can time your purchases with a sale, you can stretch your dollar even further. My local big-box regional liquor store routinely runs handles of Jim Beam or Evan Williams for $16-$18. Considering the quantity of liquor inside, these are hard to beat!

Bonus Idea 2 Check out the discontinued bourbon shelf along with bourbon on clearance. My local Hy-Vee had its own store pick of Maker’s Mark Private Selection  marked down significantly. At our regional liquor store, there’s always a shelf of discontinued bourbons that are heavily marked down. It also had a stellar deal on the 2023 Christmas Bottles of Woodford Reserve (was not a fan of the star label). Similar to my comment on handles, these large, 1-liter bottles were marked down to $39. At one-third larger than Woodford’s standard bottle, that’s like getting a regular bottle of Distiller’s Select for $29. I’ll grab a deal like that any day!

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