15 Underrated Bourbons You Need To Buy

Bourbon bottle and tumbler on barrel

It’s just a fact of life: street eats will always satisfy so well they seem underpriced, while fancy-tasting menus had better bring their A-game every night to earn their reputation. So it is with bourbon: the four-figure purchases face almost-impossible odds to live up to the reports, even while so many well-deserving whiskeys go unrecognized for their quality.

Well, not today, drinking buddies. There are some bourbons out there that we think deserve more love than they get, whether that be better appreciation in the scene or just wider recognition of what real whiskey fans already know by the dilettantes. Some are easy to obtain, others are rare, and all are easy choices to make when you get to the whiskey shelf. We promise you they’ll be worth at least what you paid, and often cause you to think you would have shelled out double the cost or more. Here, in alphabetical order, are the sleeper bourbons to put on your shelf … if you can.

Benchmark

Yep, the whole line. As Bourbon Culture points out, the label got a bit of a redo in 2020 that went under the radar due to *emphatic hand waving* everything. So while Benchmark No. 8 was your don’t-think-just-do handle for sipping or mixing, you might want to compare each of these very affordable $25 or fewer bottles to see how you like to employ them.

But if that’s two reviews too biased for you, consider the recommendations of YouTube’s whiskey aficionado Jeremy Siers, whose good taste in whisky extends to Bruichladdich in a shared preference with our list of the best single malt Scotches to try. Siers recently reviewed the entire Benchmark line-up and declared the Small Batch the winner but also recommends Full Proof. Siers also made the excellent point that Benchmark shares its mash bill with Stagg and the flagship Buffalo Trace label. As the whiskeysphere runs out of candidates for the next “Poor man’s Pappy” and Stitzel-Weller surplus blends, perhaps the better question is, “Where can we get some poor man’s Stagg and Taylor?” Benchmark is that. Not bad for $12 to $25.

Brother’s Bond Cask Strength

The fact that this delightful bourbon wouldn’t exist without The Vampire Diaries is trivial in the shadow of how much it pleases. Actors Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley are two bourbon lovers who decided anything worth doing well was worth doing obsessively.

The standard version of this MGP-distilled blend of three mash bills is ardently 65% corn-based, solidly high rye at 22%, and followed by a murky split between wheat and barley. The 57.8% ABV is lighter than you’re probably used to, but it’s also punchier and easier to drink. This, according to Brother’s Bond, is by design. Robb Report calls it a whiskey even snobs can’t scorn and says the Cask Strength exists to circumvent doubters’ objections. (A rye is on its way.)

A Cask Strength bottle presents a mild and sweet nose with a trace of whipped cream, belying the 115.8 proof. Its legs are thick and overlapping. The viscosity takes its sweet time to congeal, even forming drops retelling its voluminous body. It’s like a bite of bread in all the pleasant ways before the pepper turns to a rising burn in a rye crescendo.

All that, and Esquire says its production is fanatically devoted to carbon sequestration, which makes it easier to buy a bottle in good conscience.

Evan Williams Bottled in Bond

Again, the whole Evan Williams lineup is a deal for the price, tasting better than its competitors while charging half as much — something we went on record as saying back in our ranking of the best American whiskey brands — but if you really want to upgrade your go-to, small batch and single barrel are minor price bumps for big boosts in satisfaction.

Time was, we would have recommended you get your hands on the green label, which delivered a lovely experience despite a slightly lower ABV than black. Sadly, it’s all but vanished (according to the Heaven Hill warehouse fire, if you believe Reddit accuracy amid a black vs. green debate). And Single Barrel is relegated to Bardstown and a few Kentucky liquor shops these days.

Where’s that leave you? With your choice of 1783 Small Batch or Bottled in Bond white label. Bourbon Guy gives a great comparison breakdown to help you make your choice between floral and grain-forward, but if you want our pick, we’ll pour a BiB and dream of getting our hands back on green one day in the future.

Four Roses Small Batch Select

Perennial pick for underrated bourbon by the truly experienced aficionados, no matter which neck fills your fingers, Four Roses still leaps forward once you cross into Small Batch Select and Single Barrel. While Single Barrel is inarguably refined — even reactively impressive at first sip — Small Batch Select is in a Jan Brady position between people talking up regular Small Batch and the primo offering. For our money (which is almost the same expenditure as the broader Small Batch), our pick of Small Batch Select is a big leap forward at not much deeper of a cost. Or, if you look at it from the Single Barrel perspective, a discount on nearly the same experience.

We recently ranked all the recent Four Roses offerings, including the really challenging and pricy to acquire annual bottles, but if you’re not looking to splurge a lot of money and even more time on obtaining the 2019 Limited Edition Small Batch, these two will serve you well. Although only one made it onto our list of best bourbons for an old fashioned.

Garrison Brothers Guadalupe

Finally, a bit of a shift in our recommendations. Garrison Brothers are widely admired by those who try its wilding-out expressions, but the problem is that not too many folks have. It’s pricier than a lot of other bourbons, and Texas whiskey just hasn’t made quite the dent in Kentucky’s market share yet. So while this distillery commands the esteem it deserves, not enough whiskey drinkers extend their radar far enough to ping it. Let that change with this week’s release of the 2023 Guadalupe, which you’ll either have to hastily book a flight to grab or pay airline-equivalent prices to acquire on Caskers.

What’s that? Too rich for your blood? Okay, pick up the Small Batch for $70 or so on Drizly. You fell for the anchoring sales technique, and now you’re singing the praises of Texas whiskey. The ol’ Garrison ladder worked again. But if you’re willing to be convinced, The Whiskey Wash extolls the two-fisted balance of Guadalupe’s high viscosity and high proof negating each other’s worst tendencies while extenuating virtues.

Green River

Green River’s a new label, but it’s coming out of the gate strong. Like Brother’s Bond, it’s big on the corn while strong on the rye, though you won’t find any wheat rounding out the barley here. There’s no age statement, but the company says at least five years in the barrel.

Drinkhacker compares the current incarnation to the pre-release bottle and finds it’s still got a lot of complexity for a young bourbon. Its selling point, though your mileage may vary, is the chocolate and mint beneath the fruity notes. While detectable in this aspect, a young bourbon might be slightly less complex. Still, at $35 or so, you can afford to be wrong. Though that’s unlikely, given the respect and praise sent its way, placing Green River at the forefront of bourbon debutantes. No wonder respected reviewers are emphasizing Green River’s value as a safe bet to satisfy and possibly a contender for your favorite everyday pour. Look out, Evan Williams.

J.T.S. Brown Bottled in Bond

You’ll have to look for J.T.S. Brown bourbon since one glance at Total Wine will show you it doesn’t often stray far from Heaven Hill grounds. At the almost-always appreciable 100 proof and six years aging, it can be surprisingly delicate if not volatile, but it’s cheaper than cheap at $10, and yet drinks like something three or four times the price. But that’s assuming you can get it at the price since word has begun to leak out, and the limited availability makes it something of a commodity for people seeking good bargains on quality sipping rather than storing. To give you an idea of where it stands, Whiskey Consensus is reticent to post a review — for fear of spoiling the pooch — but is too admiring to keep mum.

Tack on that it is dang hard to even find out if this bourbon is still in production (Heaven Hill’s website doesn’t list it), and you might be looking at paying $40 and up. Whether that’s worth it, you’ll have to ask one of those grouchy old collectors coveting their precious supply, but the real question is whether you can trust their answer. At under $20, though, it’s no question to grab it, just whether you should open it or cling onto a possibly vanishing piece of the Kentucky bourbon landscape.

J.W. Dant

J.W. Dant is a bottled-in-bond bourbon for under $20 (although inflation might be playing havoc with that price this year) from your friends at Heaven Hill, whose own Bernie Lubbers (via The Bourbon Review). Surveyors can’t rave enough about this younger edition of the Heaven Hill recipe. Low cost, bonded standards, and a reliable recipe? That’s a convincing combo.

Lubbers is not alone, as the once-flourishing label has maintained a devoted fan base among those who can find it: Kentuckians, mostly, though some lucky Hoosiers might spot a bottle in Indiana. You New York tristate region types might spot it, according to Total Wine and Astor Wines. The latter calls it a prime example of an underpriced classic delivering above its price point.

Don’t confuse the Dant label with the Dant family-produced Log Still whiskey made by his descendants, but hey, if anyone wants to put a bottle of either in our hands, we’re happy to do a taste test comparison. Lane Report outlines the dirty details if you want to know about these vying brands. But someone, please explain the blended Scotch edition found on Saratoga Wine to us.

Larceny Very Special Small Batch

If we’re being honest, Larceny overall is not a personal favorite here. A lot of better wheat bourbons may be had for a few dollars more. (Maker’s!) But we don’t set the market; we just report on it, and folks love this bottle. Plus, it’s punching above its price point. But given that we just praised two other Heaven Hill bourbons, we’ve got credit at the bank. At the end of the day, differences in taste are part of what makes the whiskey world wonderful. Besides, Larceny ladders up to Old Fitzgerald BiB, so that mash bill needs no public defender.

Anyway, while much of this list is underpriced along with its under-appreciation, Secret Whiskey Society, who’s tried it, says this bottle lands right on its perfect price point at $30. And lucky you, Caskers has it for $23. And given that people are chasing the Barrel Proof batches to the point where they’re catching up with the current expressions, selling a nearly-as-precise blended bourbon under $30 feels tantamount to an oversight. What’s the worst that happens? You get a reliably versatile sipper/mixer for barely $20. Gedouttaheah.

Legent

Haters dismiss Legent as just Jim Beam plus some finishing barrels. Enthusiasts say the same, except happily because that’s what this is. When a generational master distiller like Fred Noe curates barrels for Suntory’s master blender Shinji Fukuyo, that’s a collaboration for the ages.

More to the point, this is a good whiskey at a good price, and pooh-poohing it is proof that it belongs on this list of underappreciated pours. Drinkhacker certainly thinks you’re getting away with murder if you can pick it up under $40, fighting to obtain a bottle for its list of 2019’s best whiskeys.

We did no such tussling, and we still appreciate the bottle that arrived for us to review as though it were hard-won. Legent has a beautiful nose like sweet hay and honey. It’s light enough to inhale freely at 94 proof. You’ll get the sherry best if you exhale and then inhale quickly.

Those wine/sherry casks soften and sweeten Legent’s easygoing taste. The only sharpness is near the end when the oak comes in. Depending on your palate’s pH, it might announce itself louder than you’d like.

Old Ezra Barrel Strength 7 Year

In a list ripe with bottles in bond, be a barrel strength to stand out. Old Ezra goes almost entirely in on corn at 78% of the mash bill, then lets barley and rye pick up the scraps. The result is sweet and smooth. Despite its moderately advancing age, it keeps the oak at arm’s length, making it a great buy for your friends who don’t like a nutty aspect in their evening beverage.

The last time we looked at a Luxco bourbon, we recommended the exquisitely elusive Rebel Reserve 12 among a dozen rare bourbons worth tracking down. But if you don’t want to take a trip to Lux Row Distillery, you’ll have a much easier time enjoying Old Ezra’s upscale option to the standard 99 proof.

Heed Breaking Bourbon’s advice to distinguish this from the pre-existing 7-Year 101 proof and get the preferable Barrel Strength. That review argues this bottle comes with a $10 coupon baked into it, so you’ve got nothing to lose going for the elevated experience.

Old Grand-Dad 114

Here’s some stalwart proof (pun very much intended) that we didn’t set out to compose a bottled-in-bond roundup. Even appreciators of Old Grand-Dad don’t talk up the 114 enough, favoring, as VinePair says and Saucey confirms, the bonded 100. So that expression receives its due.

But what about the higher proof? When the price span of a label that doesn’t get enough love caps out this low, go high, we say. Jim Beam recommends mixing the lower expressions into the best beverages to mix with whiskey, but the 114 is meant to be enjoyed on its own merits. If you already like Old Grand-Dad, upping the ABV is a no-brainer. Breaking Bourbon points out that most $25-and-under bourbons aren’t going to show up this strong, even if you like their flavor.

So what’s it like? Like your granddad, it’s bitter at first but quickly reveals a sweet side as you get to know it. Also, both granddads enjoy a short rest before they’re ready to party. Aptly named, we think.

Rebel 100

You didn’t think we’d let the Rebel escape, did you? Rebel 100 is further evidence that the centennial mark is happy ground for whiskey to do its thing. It’s one of the few wheaters, or at least wheated this strong at 20%, in this list. But you’ve got to like oak to get into it. Rebel’s not for everyone. Those who can handle wood, heat, and spice are rewarded with a lot more nuance than you’d think could successfully hide out under all that. Rebel tastes are hiding here, for sure, with The Whiskey Chaps reporting salted caramel, mint, and honey. Perhaps all these formidable flavors in a battle royale are what keep Rebel 100 just a bit below the notoriety it should have achieved by now.

But it’s getting there. Some have previously weighed in against standard Rebel before assessing this edition as the whiskey it could recommend. If it’s not going to become too many folks’ favorite, it’s still a cheap whiskey with a not-cheap presence, which makes it handy in many situations.

Tom Moore Bottled in Bond

Sazerac doesn’t send this everywhere, but if you find it, it’s a banger for the price. Sneaking out of Barton 1792 Distillery to crawl southwest, it seems — in an admittedly dated Reddit post — to linger mostly around Kentucky, Texas, and Louisiana. In fact, good luck finding extant info about this bottle anywhere outside of Reddit, which tends to review it favorably for a banana and maple flavor.

If you do decide to consume it, how you do so doesn’t appear to matter. Mix it, drink it, and don’t worry about it; you’ve got a cryptozoological specimen worth nabbing if you even see it. Now can someone confirm this is the same mash bill as the swanky Thomas S. Moore bottles? Are we looking at a W.L. Weller vs. William Larue Weller situation here? It is so interesting that this was in production as recently as just before the pandemic, if not right now, but so hard to find for its entire existence, even in a 2008 Straight Bourbon thread. Color us intrigued, if not fascinated, with what’s going on with this well-regarded bottle.

Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond

For people who truly enjoy the hunt, we come to Very Old Barton, another Barton 1792 escapee. The Whiskey Jug ranks this one all the way up, where a B+ turns into an A- while simultaneously praising the rock-bottom price sticker. Similar to Tom Moore in flavor, it veers between strong sundae-topping flavors and is reported as chocked with herbaceous and meaty grains. That’s a full meal!

Leaf Enthusiast agrees, depicting VOB, if you scout it in the wild, as the epitome of this article’s mandate: underappreciated, undervalued, under-mentioned, and above the par for a standard-issue bourbon. Perhaps most to its credit, the Very Old Barton compared with a Four Roses Small Batch Cask Strength selling for quadruple as much. That’s pretty much the plot of Rocky, right? Scrappy nobody pushes their way to the top on the strength of will to nobly prove that, though it might have lost, it’s nobody’s loser. It’ll make your favorite bottles work for victory.

Then again, if you get to try it, VOB might prove to be the My Cousin Vinny of bourbons: a little wacky, making its way on a shoestring budget and winning its case with a persuasive argument.

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