Maybe it was a subconscious effect of the recession, or maybe the thought that I was going to be laid off. But in the past couple of months, i've been into cheap whisky. Everyone likes a bargain, so I thought I'd share some results from my product testing. Believe it or not you can find some flavor and character for not a lot of coin. As usual, in the sub $20 price point you can get more in an American whisky than you can in scotch, for the most part. That said, I've taken my fair share of journeys on the Cutty Sark, and gone on quite a few hunts for the Famous Grouse--which has a nice depth of flavor for a blend. Tamdhu is a decent single malt right around 20 bucks. But on the whole, at that price you are mostly dealing with blends that are drinkable at best.
On to American whiskies. I'll start with my all time favorite best value in the business. I've read that is used to be priced even lower, but at $20, Rittenhouse Rye 100 proof is fantastic. It's one of the few whiskies that I stock consistently. It is just so versatile. It offers the complexity of ryes that are almost twice the price (read-Michters, High West, Russell's Reserve, etc.). It has a finish that taste like a chocolate bar. And unlike other bargain ryes, it makes a mean Manhattan. That's the best part--it's a decent sip but you have no guilt in mixing it with other ingredients, and it more than holds its own. I knew it was a bargain but didn't truly appreciate it until I saw that Jim Murray rated it very highly in his acclaimed Whisky Bible. Also Jason Pyle over at Sour Mash Manifesto gives a nice video review here
Okay, now a few bourbons. Early Times 354, at 14 bucks, gives a lot of flavor, lots of fruit and caramel, no harshness. Don't be fooled and pick up the regular Early Times, which I don't care for. The 354 is an actual bourbon, whereas the regular Early Times is not. Unfortunately I've only seen the 354 in Maryland it hasn't made it's way up to PA/NJ just yet. Old Grand Dad from Jim Beam is some nice stuff, with three bottlings (80, 100 proof bottled in bond, and 114 proof), coming in between 15-22 bucks. The bottled in bond 100 is probably the best known, and I do think it was the best of the 3. (Aside: Old Grand Dad is Basil Hayden himself, of the small batch bourbon also from Jim Beam). Evan Williams black label is another classic value pour. It doesn't have tons of flavor, in my view, but it is very pleasant and inoffensive. That may sound like damning with faint praise until you see the sticker: $12 a bottle.
If you want to push the envelope a bit, Buffalo Trace is another stellar entry, the cheapest I can get it for is 21 bucks a bottle. It makes for an outstanding "house" bourbon, something you can be proud to serve a friend but know in your heart you are still being thrifty.
One value brand I do not care for is Old Crow. It was General Grant's favorite but it's not good, at least not anymore. I've had both the white label and the reserve, and they both have a taste that is, well, off putting. Unlike $8 a bottle Heaven Hill, which I could get a taste for if I ever landed on skid row, Old Crow does not fly with me.