A wise professor once revealed a consistent fact throughout World History: whatever a region’s natural resources, people will find a way to make alcohol out of it. Growing up in the south, I have certainly not been immune to the recent bourbon renaissance. However, navigating the incredibly numerous choices of small batch whiskey out there can be daunting. A lot of people are afraid to venture beyond Woodford, Maker’s and Knob Creek because, for $40 per bottle, it’s hard to take a risk. While these are reliable standbys (Knob Creek is my favorite of the three), for the same price there are some great “craft” alternatives that can diversify your liquor cabinet. Here are my top 5 favorite alternatives to the Woodford-tier whiskeys, all coming in at under $50 per bottle. With these bottles you can appease the whiskey connoisseur while staying off the top shelf.
For under $35 per bottle you could try…
Henry McKenna is one of the most inexpensive single barrel bourbons on the market. Aged for 10 years, it tastes extremely well developed for under $30. It earned over 90 points from Wine Spectator. At under $30, it’s actually cheaper than Woodford-tier whiskey and more than holds its own.
Larceny is a blend of 6 to 12 year old whiskeys. Legend has it that the original distiller of Larceny’s whiskey sold his distillery to the original Pappy Van Winkle. A connection to the Van Winkle distillery is never a bad thing. Larceny is an extremely versatile whiskey that suits most palates. It’s best enjoyed on the rocks, but works in most cocktails as well.
For just a couple bucks more you could try…
There are a myriad of Jefferson’s Whiskeys out there. In my opinion, I’ve found most of them not to be worth the price tag. (Side note: Jefferson’s Ocean is fantastic, but, at $100 per bottle, most people have to try that one when someone else is picking up the tab). Jefferson’s Collaboration is an interesting blend of bourbon and rye. When you take a sip, you’ll be able to detect something different. The extra dose of rye takes out the overly sweet quality of a lot of bourbons and adds a bit of spice. Collaboration is definitely one to drink neat.
Calumet Farm Bourbon – $50
Named for the farm that boasted eight Kentucky Derby winners and two triple crowns, Calumet has a lot to live up to its namesake. I have a couple of friends and family members who share my enthusiasm for whiskey and our “top-5” list of whiskeys often come up. Every time that discussion comes around, Calumet is on the short list. Calumet is one of the smoothest whiskeys out there. It reminds me a little bit of its more expensive counterpart, Blanton’s (and not just because of the horse on the label). Calumet is always a crowd pleaser and is worth the few extra bucks.
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Barware: Nordstrom, American Atelier ‘Daphne’ Decanter & Whiskey Glasses