The 11 Best Bourbons
Under $100

“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”
-Raymon Chandler

 

What Makes Bourbon Different From Whiskey?

As the old adage goes, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.”  Whiskey can be made from corn, barley, rye, or wheat, but the percentage of corn is one of the main things that differentiates bourbon from other whiskey.  If you have never tried bought bourbon before, and would like know which are the best bourbons under $100, keep reading – we’re going to list them for you.

There are some strict rules governing Bourbon, including that by law it must be made in the United States.  Additionally, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s Beverage Alcohol Manual, it must be made with a minimum of 51% corn, stored at no more than 125 proof, and bottled at no less than 80 proof.  It’s generally accepted that bourbon must be made in charred new oak barrels, but it doesn’t technically have to be, and there’s no rule on how long the bourbon should age for.

Within those somewhat loose guidelines there are a wide variety of bourbons waiting to be discovered, and all have subtle taste differences with variances in price.  Some can get quite expensive, and others are the best bourbons under $100.

Related: Neat: The Story of Bourbon Review



Is Kentucky Bourbon the Best?

While it’s true that 95% of the world’s bourbon comes from Kentucky, it can be produced anywhere in America.  There are successful bourbon distilleries in Texas, Washington, and Illinois, all with affordable lineups of true American bourbon.

The Kentucky Distiller’s Association lists the proximity to pure limestone water and a mild climate as the main reasons Kentucky bourbon is world-renowned.


Which Bourbon Tastes Best?

The ratio of other grains to corn is going to make each bourbon taste distinct.  The aging process, which mellows the harsh alcohol flavour and infuses it with the woody, smoky taste of the barrel, will also make a difference to the taste.  Because there is no minimum aging process for bourbon, each distillery’s techniques will make a different tasting bourbon.  The best bourbons under $100 are mostly aged less than 5 years however we do have some 10 year bourbons in our list.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and every bourbon aficionado has their favourites.

Some bourbons use primarily corn, and they taste much milder and sweeter compared to bourbons using a high rye percentage.  Remember, a distillery can use up to 49% rye and still bottle it as bourbon, which drastically changes the flavour to include spicy notes.  Side by side, it’s like comparing eating white bread to rye bread – it’s a totally different experience.

The best way to determine which bourbon will agree with your pallet is to taste them side by side.  Distilleries in Louisville Kentucky offer a variety of tours and tastings, and many Kentucky distilleries manufacture the best bourbons under $100.  The best place to compare apples to apples is the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, located in Shelbyville, just outside of town.

Here with the help of an expert you can compare a variety of Bulleit Frontier Whiskey products, including Bulleit Bourbon, Bulleit Rye, Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old, and Bulleit Barrel Strength.  Plus, how can you go to Louisville and not see Pappy Van Winkle’s original office, from when he was president of the brand?



The Best Bourbons Under $100

Bourbon is a very accessible spirit, and you can get the best bourbons under $100.  The below list is a starting point for anyone interested in bourbon, who doesn’t want to break the bank.  They all can be enjoyed straight, with a little water, on ice, or in a cocktail.

Van Winkle Special Reserve

The Bourbon: Special Reserve 12 year
Distillery: Old Rip Vank Winkle 
ABV: 45.2%
Average Price: $79.99

The Whiskey:

No bourbon list is complete without the “granddaddy” of all distillers, Old Rip Van Winkle.  Van Winkle bourbons are wheated, meaning they have swapped out rye for wheat.  This makes for a mild, earthy flavour, which some describe as soft.  While Van Winkle bourbons are known for being hard to find and expensive, this special reserve is one of the best bourbons under $100.

Tasting Notes:
See a brilliant, amber-orange color. Smell luscious, complex toffee. Taste a round, supple entry, leading to a dry, expansive, medium body. Enjoy notes of caramel, nuts, and brown spices with a lengthy, enveloping finish. It’s an outrageously smooth and decadent bourbon.

W.L. Weller

The Bourbon: Weller Full Proof
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
ABV:
57%
Average Price: $55

The Whiskey:

Weller Full Proof is another wheated bourbon with high ratings.  While many types of bourbon are chilled down to around 0°C for filtering, Weller Full Proof does not use this technique.  The result is that the oils and flavors that developed naturally during the aging process are maintained.

Tasting Notes:

Weller Full Proof is sweet, with lots of vanilla aroma and oak.  Even though it’s 114 proof, it is surprisingly smooth.

Basil Hayden

The Bourbon: 10 Year Bourbon
Distillery: Basil Hayden, Clemont, KY
ABV:
40%
Average Price: $79.99

The Whiskey:

Not too many of the best bourbons under $100 are aged 10 years, but Basil Hayden’s 10 is, as the name suggests, aged at least 10 years.

As bourbon is aged it is in contact with the cask, and over time it begins to break down the wood fibres into the flavour notes we can detect while sniffing and sipping our drink.  Age bourbon too long and it can become over-oaked.

Tasting Notes:

Basil Hayden’s 10 is a nice balance and has lots of those deep oak flavours.  It’s also rye bourbon, which adds some floral notes and spice.

Related: 11 best bourbons for an Old Fashioned

Four Roses

The Bourbon: Small Batch Select
Distillery: Four Roses Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY
ABV:
54%
Average Price: $65

The Whiskey:
This Four Roses bourbon is a mix of six different recipes, and is also non-chill filtered.  It’s aged 6-7 years, which is respectable for one of the best bourbons under $100.  It has a high corn percentage at 75%, and 20% rye, so it is still on the sweet side, with a little bit of spice.  That comes across as a vanilla and cinnamon combo, and makes for an excellent spirit.

Tasting Notes:

Nose of raspberries, clove, and nutmeg. Apricot, berries, vanilla and light oak. With a finish of Lingering spearmint, light touch of cinnamon.

Old Forester

The Bourbon: 1920 Prohibition Style
Distillery:  Old Forester Distilling Co. Louisville, KY
ABV:
57.5%
Average Price: $63

The Whiskey:

Even though Prohibition effectively outlawed alcohol in the United States, six distillers in Kentucky were able to continue to bottle bourbon for “medicinal purposes.”  This Old Forester has the distinction of being the only bourbon produced before, during, and after prohibition by the same company.

Tasting Notes:

Prohibition style whiskey is 115 proof, and it has a bit of a bite.  The predominate flavour is cherries, with lots of dark sugary tones like maple syrup.

Elijah Craig 

The Bourbon Small Batch
Distillery: Elijah Craig  Bardstown, KY
ABV:
47%
Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

Elijah Craig is often cited as the father of bourbon, and as one of the best bourbons under $100, this is definitely one that you need on your shelf.  It doesn’t list an age, but estimates put it at around 8 years.

Tasting Notes:

The mashbill for this spirit is 78% corn, 12% malted barley, and 10% rye, and is on the sweet side for bourbon.  It is smooth, inexpensive, and a great tasting bourbon.

Woodford Reserve

The Bourbon: Double Oaked Kentucky Straight
Distillery: Woodford Reserve Distillery
ABV:
45.2%
Average Price: $55

The Whiskey:

This bourbon is matured in handcrafted new white oak barrels. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is decidedly darker than its straight bourbon counterpart.  That’s because it is matured a second time in charred barrels.  This deepens the oak flavor, and adds to fruity and sweet aromatics.

Tasting Notes:

The second barrel is deeply toasted before a light charring, creating the unique flavors of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, a smooth, full-bodied bourbon with a long, rich finish.

Eagle Rare

The Bourbon: 10-Year Bourbon
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
ABV: 45%
Average Price: $53

The Whiskey:

This award winning bourbon comes from Buffalo Trace Distilleries, the oldest continuously operating distillery in the United States.  Eagle Rare 10 is aged at least 10 years, making it one of the best bourbons under $100 at a great entry price point.  The tasting notes on this bourbon are toffee and citrus.

If you’re a cocktail aficionado, Eagle Rare is tasty in everything from an Old Fashioned to a Manhattan. In the true spirit of its Kentucky origins, you may also want to try it in a mint julep. Once you take a drink, you’re sure to yell out, “Giddyup!”

Stagg Jr

The Bourbon Stagg Jr. Bourbon
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
ABV: 63.2%
Average Price: $80

The Whiskey:

Stagg Jr also hails from Buffalo Trace Distilleries, and is aged 8-9 years.  It is the more affordable “little brother” to the 15 year bourbon in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  It is released twice a year, and is a low-rye bourbon

Tasting Notes:

The tasting notes are chocolate and brown sugar.

Texas Blue Corn

The Bourbon: Blue Corn Bourbon
Distillery: Balcones Distilling Waco, Texas
ABV: 45%
Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

Not all award winning bourbons are from Kentucky!  Balcones is distilled in Waco, Texas.  This sweet bourbon, which won World’s Best Corn Whiskey in 2013, is full of vanilla and chocolate notes.  Balcones was the first whiskey to use blue corn in the mashbill, and it works beautifully in bourbon.

Tasting Notes:

It has a nose of glazed cornbread, buttered waffles, spearmint, Turkish tobacco, savory herbs and white pepper with a taste full mouthfeel with sweet tea, burnt marshmallow, cinnamon candies and marmalade.

E.H. Taylor, Jr

The Bourbon: Small Batch Bourbon
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
ABV: 50%
Average Price: $99

The Whiskey:

The final on our list of the best bourbons under $100 is E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch. As founding father of the bourbon industry, Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. left an indelible legacy. His dedication to distilling began at the close of the Civil War when he purchased O.F C. Distillery. There, he developed innovative techniques that are still in use today. Made by hand, this Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey has been aged inside century old warehouses constructed by E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrels are evaluated and selected to create a perfect blend of distinctive character that is like no other. This bourbon is a true sipping bourbon that honors the uncompromising legacy of E.H. Taylor, Jr.

Tasting Notes:

Tastes of caramel corn sweetness, mingled with butterscotch and licorice. The aftertaste is a soft mouth-feel that turns into subtle spices of pepper and tobacco.

There you have the list of, in my opinion, the best bourbons under $100.  

How many have you had? Which ones are on your bucket list? If you haven’t tried all of them yet, well, what are you waiting for?

And if you do pick up one of the bottles on this best bourbon under $100 list, shoot me a DM on Instagram over at @ofwhiskeyandwords for a chance to get featured!

Stay Gold

Todd

About Todd Smidt

Todd is a man of simple tastes: traveling, words, whiskey, & dad jokes. He enjoys first-rate banter, long walks along the coast, High West, and Vonnegut. He spends his free time traveling the world, drinking whiskey, and writing about it.

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