5 Budget Whiskeys to Buy Dad (And Recipes to Make Them Taste Great)
If you’re anything like me, you may be struggling to find a last-minute present for your dad. Father's Day is coming up on Sunday, and if your dad’s a bourbon lover, we can help. We’ve put together a list of five whiskeys he'll love that won’t break your budget. One caveat to keep in mind: taste in whiskey can be a highly contentious and very personal issue, so make sure to stay within his tastes.
Each bottle we’ve selected is $30 or cheaper, but is also a solid value for the price. They also were chosen for their versatility, as they stand up to being poured straight or used in cocktails. As an added bonus, we’ve included a couple recipes that will fancy up almost any bourbon. Cocktails are also a great way to introduce people to new types of booze, so apply as desired.
1. Jim Beam Bonded ($24)*
Earlier this year, Jim Beam released their bonded whiskey—a new, higher-proof product for bartenders and drinkers alike. As a pre-Prohibition-style whiskey, it’s got a bit of bite. Taste-wise, it falls solidly between the Jim Beam white and black labels.
The Bottled-in-Bond label leads to the slightly higher price. To be labeled as such, whiskey must be aged in a federally monitored warehouse under lock and key for at least four years.
Thanks to its 100 proof standing, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but smooths out with some time and a bit of water.
2. Benchmark ($10)*
Benchmark was created as a luxury bourbon brand in the 1960s by Seagram’s and was produced at the Four Roses distillery. Sazerac—the brand, not the cocktail—then purchased the bourbon in 1992. When you get down to it, Benchmark is mentioned repeatedly in whiskey circles as people’s go-to budget bourbon. It is one of the many Buffalo Trace products with only a small amount of rye in its mashbill.
Like other whiskeys in this price range, it can get a bad rap for being too simple. It’s light, bright, and easy to drink, but Dad will make his own conclusions.
3. Old Weller Antique 107 ($24)*
Also produced by Buffalo Trace, Old Weller Antique is distilled from the same blend of grains as Pappy Van Winkle. It’s got a nice spicy backbone, which means you can easily add an ice cube or a bit of water without losing much. It also tastes like a much older bourbon, meaning it’s more complex than its time in the barrel would suggest.
4. Elijah Craig 12 year ($26)*
Flavor-wise, this is my personal favorite on the list, but if you’re drinking it straight, know that it can take a few minutes to open up. Produced by Heaven Hill, this bourbon is named for the 18th century minister who is supposedly responsible for the practice of aging whiskey in charred barrels.
Whatever its name, try to find bottles with “12 year” printed on the front. Word on the whiskey sites is that the age statement is gradually being phased out from the front label. Although it’s still present on the back, it may signal that the company is trying to remove the age statement entirely.
5. Henry McKenna 10 Year ($25, depending on market)
Also from the Heaven Hill portfolio, Henry McKenna shares the same mashbill as Elijah Craig and it's probably the most impressive whiskey on this list. Like most distilleries, Heaven Hill does something a little different with every whiskey, and they have a winner with Henry McKenna. This single barrel, 10-year-old whiskey goes quickly, and when it goes, you’ll be left wanting more.
As a 100 proof whiskey, it’s going to be as hot as the Jim Beam, but its longer time in the barrel mellows out some of the roughness that comes along with the proof. Its mashbill also has a high rye content, which brings a bit more spice and depth to the table.
*Unless noted, all prices are for the 750 mL size sourced from the Alabama ABC price list. Henry McKenna is not available in Alabama.
Hit The Lab
Two of the most ubiquitous whiskey cocktails are the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan. We’ve already written a full history of the Old Fashioned, so check that out if you’re curious or prefer your Old Fashioned with more fruit.
[Modified from Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide, How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant’s Companion.]
2 dashes of bitters
3-4 dashes of gum arabic syrup
2 oz bourbon
Twist of lemon peel for garnish
Combine over ice in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 20-25 seconds or until diluted to taste. Strain into a rocks glass and garnish with the lemon peel.
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 oz bourbon (or rye)
Orange peel or maraschino cherry for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir vigorously for 20-25 seconds or until thoroughly mixed. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of (or a flamed) orange peel or maraschino cherry. Enjoy.