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5 Great Bourbons You Can Buy for the Kentucky Derby at $20 or Less

Planning to make mint juleps for the Derby? There's no reason to spend a lot when you can find these great options on the bottom shelf.
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best bourbon under $20

What's the best bourbon for crafting affordable mint juleps?

To help you get prepped for the 2017 Kentucky Derby on May 6, the DealNews team undertook a blind tasting of five bourbon whiskeys. Each is usually priced at around $20 or less for a 750ml bottle — plus, we threw in one $40 bottle for comparison.

While most of our tasters were able to identify the pricier bourbon (Russell's Reserve 10-Year Bourbon), many liked several of the cheaper brands just as much or better. And though some of these bourbons aren't as suitable for sipping as others, they'll all work great in the official Kentucky Derby mint julep recipe.

A Classic Derby Delight

When the Run for the Roses takes place this Saturday, many onlookers will have mint juleps in hand. A time-honored tradition, juleps have been served at the Kentucky Derby since 1939. This makes sense; the principal spirit in a mint julep is bourbon, which has been primarily produced in Kentucky since the 19th century.

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Bourbon sales have experienced massive growth in recent years, especially high-end whiskeys. As such, many quality spirits have been left to languish on the bottom shelf while people covet the pricier bottles. But if you're merely making cocktails — like, say, mint juleps — you don't want to spend a lot of money on the "good stuff."

Here are five cheap bourbons that are perfect for mixing, and the DealNews team's honest opinions on each.

Ancient Age Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Made by Buffalo Trace since 1946, Ancient Age has earned a reputation for punching above its weight class. This 80-proof bourbon is aged for three years. We paid $22 at our local liquor store in Brooklyn, but it supposedly sells elsewhere for as little as $10 a bottle.

One taster mistook it for the $40 bottle, while another described it as 'a punch in the face.'

This one was hit or miss with our team, with both strong positive and negative reactions. One taster mistook it for the $40 bottle, while another described it as "a punch in the face." Expect a medium finish with tastes of corn, orange zest, vanilla, and a dry woodiness.

Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon

Produced by America's largest independently owned distillery, this 80-proof bourbon is aged for four years. We found a bottle for $16 in Brooklyn, but we've seen it priced as low as $12 elsewhere. Of the cheap bottles, this was by far the crowd favorite, with adjectives like "smooth" and "buttery" being used to describe it. One taster commented that she "could drink it all night." Anticipate notes of banana, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

For what it's worth, this is the bourbon our team ended up using in our office juleps!

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Benchmark Old No. 8 Bourbon

Created in the 1960s by Seagram's and produced by Four Roses, the Benchmark brand was sold to Buffalo Trace in 1992. Another 80-proof Kentucky straight bourbon, it's aged for three years. We picked up a bottle for $16. Our tasters generally had mixed feelings about this one, with several people noting a short, bitter finish. You should taste vanilla, honey, orange, leather, tobacco, and dried cherries.

Evan Williams Bottled in Bond

Before the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897, it was hard to know what you were getting when purchasing a bottle of whiskey. To be labeled bottled in bond, a whiskey must originate from one distillation season and one distillery, be aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years, and be bottled at 100 proof. Though considered a somewhat archaic practice, when it comes to cheaper whiskies, it's a sure sign that you'll get more bang for your buck.

While this whiskey typically earns high marks from critics, our team disliked the 5-year-old spirit — one taster likened it to what one drinks in college.

While this whiskey typically earns high marks from critics, our team decidedly disliked the 5-year-old spirit — one taster likened it to what one drinks in college. Expect a long finish and notes of caramel, toasted corn, vanilla, and dark fruit.

Four Roses Bourbon (Yellow Label)

At six years old, Four Roses is one of the most aged whiskies at this price point. My personal favorite, this 80-proof bourbon is made using only non-GMO corn. The DealNews tasters thought it had a fruity flavor. You can also expect to taste caramel, vanilla, and clove, as well as a short finish.

Readers, did you agree with our team's bourbon assessments? What's your favorite bourbon for mixing? Share your picks in the comments below!


Senior Staff Writer

Stephen has been writing for such national and regional publications as The Village Voice, Paste, The Agit Reader, and The Big Takeover for 20 years, and has been covering consumer electronics and technology for DealNews since 2013.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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20 comments
HiTrevor
Evan Williams Black Label is the go-to for us and our friends.
And I agree that Evan Williams 1783 is amazing for the price... it has received very high scores, and you can get a 1.75L on sale for about $26!
Otherwise Early Times, Very Old Barton,

(Sorry folks, but Larceny, Knob Creek, Jack, and even Old Forester are not really in this price category.)
DeletedUser169775
I want to say first that I have been following Dealnews for about 10 years now and this is by far the most comments I have ever seen on a post.

That being said, I recommend Knob Creek, a strong 101 bourbon that retails for about $25 at Costco. Its a smooth flavor that can be drank both neat and mixed. My upper level bourbon is Basil Haydens, which can commonly be found for about $40. Both Knobb and Basil are a part of Beam bourbon company, a strong company in the realm of bourbons.
ABgBdWlf
Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch has got to be the best deal for the money. In New Orleans it retails for $14.59 and used to have a 10 year age statement, it routinely gets 90+ scores on most bourbon websites and won second place, only to Woodford Reserve, over Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Wild Turkey, and 5 other non special editions.
Lewis502
A Great value bourbon is Very Old Barton - give it a go, you won't be disappointed!
carmicheals
McAfee's Benchmark (mentioned in the article) and Colonel Lee are my inexpensive go-to brands.
river45
I think larsone above is dead solid perfect. I have over 20 bottles of bourbon in my home bar, and both OGD BiB and Evan are there...both bargains. OGD 114 could also go on the list.
OCGuy
W.L. Weller used to be available on the cheap (it's also a Buffalo Trace brand) but it caught on a few years ago in Kentucky, at least. Now it's not such a steal. I'm a sacrilegious Kentuckian as I prefer the double-filtered smoothness of George Dickel, which is made up the road from Jack Daniels (a Brown-Forman product) in Tennessee.
boilers
Is this like an energy drink or sumpin'?
dealnews-mbonebright (DealNews)
@Redbeard -- Happy Oaks Day! It's good to see a Louisville face here -- I sincerely hope you've got your pink on.
Redbeard
Here in Louisville the go to 'cheap' bourbon, which is still high quality, is Old Forester. A 1.75 L can be had for about $30 here.
larsonel
My two favorite inexpensive bourbons are:

1) Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond

2) Evan Williams Single barrel (might be closer to $24 then $20)
dcrehr
Rebel Yell.
thedano
In my taste tests, the white label 80 proof Heaven Hill failed to please the crowd. However the green label 90 proof Heaven Hill, aged 6 years won hands down. It's now the default inexpensive bourbon in my house.
java10
Good article and comments. Looking for bourbons besides my usual Woodford Reserve at Costco's everyday price of just under $30. H/T to those posters for their recommendations.
JonDas
I'm an Evan Williams fan, my goto bourbon. It's surprisingly complex for an inexpensive bourbon. For me, it's not worth the money to pay more than $20 for a bottle. That's why I appreciated this info. I will try them all. Thanks!
chrispitoyo
I have tried the Evan Williams Bottled in Bond. Pretty smooth. Their black label is also cheap & good - very spicy.
jedwyer
Ezra Brooks is a really good inexpensive bourbon. I like it much better than many higher priced bourbons.
dealnews-mbonebright (DealNews)
For mixing, I almost always reach for Wild Turkey 101. It's cheap, it's drinkable, and it lends a serious bourbon "punch" to basically everything you add it to.
Barlanders
My go to is Larceny. This Heaven Hill product punches above its price point. I have friends taste it favorably alongside Bourbons at double the price.
Larceny is perfectly fine neat, or with a piece of ice or drop of water. It also mixes into a Fruit Old Fashioned or Manhattan very nicely.
Jeffrey Contray (DealNews)
If you're lucky enough to live in places that aren't NYC, then you have a somewhat reasonable chance of picking up W. L. Weller Special Reserve for around $20. (For instance, Pennsylvania state stores sell it for $19.99, while I've seen a 750mL bottle for $49.99 in Brooklyn.)

It's a wheated bourbon rumored to be in the 6- to 7-year old range and to me is the best bang for the buck in the bourbon world.