The 10 Best Whiskies Under $50 That Don't Start With Jack, Jim, Johnnie, or Jameson
Many men have a tendency to stick with what’s often stocked and served most commonly at local watering holes and social events, but there’s just so much whiskey out there that’s not only affordable but delicious too.
We love great whiskey. The good news? There’s a lot of great whiskey. The bad news? We’re usually only trying one at a time. So if you’re just getting into this delicious libation how do you know which is the best whiskey?
Most guys get their start with the major whiskey (or whisky) players like Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker, and Jameson. And they’re major for a reason: they have a long, storied history with great flavors and loyal fans. (The distilleries and brands behind the J’s actually produce many of the bottles on this list as a part of their small batch or mid-tier offerings.)
But once you’re ready to try something beyond these, it can be an intimidating landscape of cool sounding names, beautiful designs, and strong opinions from those around you.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of the 10 best whiskies under $50. Any one of these 10 whiskies will be a positive stop on your whisky discovering journey. Order any of them for your boss or father-in-law, and you’ll be met with an impressed face of surprise for your knowledge of the good stuff.
Updated with new additions January 2020.
Redbreast 12-Year Old Irish Whiskey $47
96 points, Whisky Advocate
Don’t let the rather unassuming robin on the label or the single pot origin fool you. This is no whiskey for a simpleton. Midleton Distillery uses both malted and unmalted barley in a single pot and triple distills it then ages it in wonderful Oloroso Sherry casks. The result is smooth and complex at the same time. It’s grassy and smoky on the nose, while on the palate, hints of white grape juice, cinnamon, and honey combine for a long finish. It’s an Irish Whiskey at a more sophisticated level.
Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky, $28
93 points, Wine Enthusiast
This blended whisky is a tribute to the hardworking malt men who shoveled tons of barley in long, grueling shifts, painstakingly turning grain into liquid gold. Combining malts from Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie, Monkey Shoulder balances warm vanilla, orange zest, and winter spices (think cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves), with a silken, almost creamy texture. It’s designed to be mixed, so try a splash or two in your favorite whisk(e)y cocktail.
George Dickel Rye, $21
95 points, Wine Enthusiast
As one of the oldest Tennessee distilleries, George Dickel is known for marching to the beat of its own drummer — during Prohibition, its Cascade Whisky was sold as a medicinal spirit. Here, Dickel applies its signature twist to a rye sourced from the same distillery that makes Bulleit and other well-known whiskies, using a unique charcoal filtration process to mellow some of the rougher characteristics of your typical rye. The result: golden hued, herbaceous, and complex, with aromas of spearmint, dill, and oak over a foundation of vanilla and caramelized sugar. The smooth, sweet taste softens into a dry-spicy finish with just a wisp of smokiness. Enjoy neat, or use it as a base for a killer Manhattan.
Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Bourbon, $37
93 points, Wine Enthusiast
Time with Basil Hayden’s is like an adventure that gets the adrenaline going and then settles you in for the night. It’s aged 8 years but seems to have more experience under its sleeve thanks to spice and sweetness rolled into one. Pepper and honey jumped out at us, and it was never overly-spicy but just enough to keep us coming back for more. The rich brown color and its ability to coat the glass enhance the experience, and the price is seriously enticing enough to keep our small home bar stocked with it year-round.
Highland Park 12-Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky $45
Gold, International Wine & Spirits Competitions 2017
Widely considered to be one of the best single malts for the money, Highland Park 12 is a brilliant combination of mild smoke and brine with the right amount of sweetness in the form of honey and fruit. The result is a whisky whose drinkability and intrigue rest at the top of the heap. Highland Park can brag as one of only two Orkney Isle distilleries in existence, and its briny peat is used in careful amounts so as not to dominate the drinking experience. For less than $50, you can experience one of the best single malts around.
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, $26
91 points, Wine Enthusiast
Close your eyes, take a sip, and then another. This is the part where we tell you the price, and then you go out and buy ten bottles. Four Roses Small Batch is that good, and could easily be your go-to Bourbon Whiskey if we had to choose one to settle with all the time because it’s so well-balanced and delicious. Caramel, vanilla, dried fruit, and the smallest hint of citrus soothe you sip after sip. Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is so smooth, you’ll wonder why you don’t crack it open each and every night. And at this price, you can.
Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, $26
Gold Medals, San Francisco World Spirits Competition & World Whiskies Awards
The bottle is tall and bold, and what’s housed within doesn’t shy away. Drink this one on a brisk evening, and you’ll forget all about the weather as soon as the notable spiciness and orange peel of this reddish-brown, dark honey colored whiskey dance on your tongue. For us, we prefer the purity of drinking it neat because it is a rich experience that makes no sense of the wallet-friendly price.
Knob Creek Straight Rye Whiskey, $30
3rd Place Best Rye Whiskey - 2015, International Whisky Competition
Introduced in 2012 by the distillers at Beam Global, Knob Creek Rye provides a spicy, full body when enjoyed neat, while providing a present, flavorful foundation when used in a cocktail thanks to its 100 proof. Along with the spice provided by the rye, vanilla and caramel notes end in a peppery finish.
Sazerac Rye, $30
93 points, Wine Enthusiast
Most know Sazerac as a cocktail, but this whiskey distilled by Buffalo Trace is worthy as a standalone spirit, even though it’s designed to be at the heart of a Sazerac beverage. Sazerac Rye bears strong honey and rye malt flavors with an undertone of vanilla, and the finish is both spicy and sweet. It’s hard to believe it’s only been aged for six years. Sazerac Rye is one of those whiskies that’s priced like a mixer but tastes like one that never requires ice or entry into a cocktail. A full minute after we’re done, it’s still on our tongue.
Laphroaig 10 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, $39
92 points, Whisky Advocate
Some say this peaty, smoky Islay is an acquired taste, but we say it’s one of the best whiskies on earth and one that belies its price point. Sure, its flavor can be polarizing but don’t ever call it a slouch. The peat fires that are used to dry the barley for the malt impart powerful punches to the nose and palate, but the kind that will awaken you and make you wonder about breaking up with the lightweights.
Michter's US #1 Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey, $36
93 points, Wine Enthusiast
Michter’s rye doesn’t hold back despite the fact that nothing is known about the distillery or mashbill. The rich orangish-brown color coats the glass well, and the nose brings rye, spice, and caramel, followed by a sweet and spicy flavoring that finishes long and peppery but not overwhelming. Here’s another rye whiskey that stands on its own neat or with just the smallest hint of ice.
Russell’s Reserve “Small Batch” 10 Year Bourbon $28
92 points, Wine Enthusiast
From the mind behind Wild Turkey comes something more complex and totally unexpected. The Russell's Reserve Small Batch Bourbon is the brainchild of Master Distiller Jimmy Russell and his son Eddie Russell. 10-years of aging imparts a serious maturity and the right amount of woodiness to the sweet and spicy flavors. Orange peel and caramel emerge, and then the finish is spicy and sweet, along with the tiniest bit of clove. This one will make you go back to more than a few sips just to see what you’ll come across as you re-journey.
Help get the word out about great whiskey, and share this list!
And, if you have a bottle you enjoy, keep the list going in the comments with the price and what you like about it.