Whisk(e)y How To, Whisk(e)y Wisdom

How to Find Affordable Whiskey


By far our most popular article has been 20 Best Whiskeys Under $20. We created the list in response to the number one question we get asked. “What’s a good cheap whiskey?”

Would you like to know the second most common question we’re asked?

“I found this whiskey called (Insert name here). Do you know if it’s good?”

Both of these questions are understandable. Whiskey can be expensive and most of us don’t have a ton of extra money to spend on it. We want to get the most bang for our buck. But there’s a nagging uncertainty when it’s a bottle we’ve never tried before. So in the spirit of teaching you how to fish, as opposed to handing you one, I’m going to share my method for picking great whiskeys. This method has a very high success rate, even if you’ve never tried the whiskey brand before.

The secret is, look at the whiskey’s family.

What do I mean? When considering a whiskey you’ve never had before, ask questions like: Who makes this whiskey? Do they make other whiskeys? If so, what reputation do the other whiskeys have? Are they known to be good quality?

Asking these question will weed out the gut rot. To make this process clear, let’s use an example.

You’re at the store and your eye drifts to the bottom shelf. There you notice a budget bourbon called Benchmark for $10.99. That price is hard to beat but you wonder if it tastes like rubbing alcohol, or if it’ll leave you with a blinding headache. So you pull out your phone to Google this whiskey’s family.

You start with, “Who makes Benchmark?”

Google tells you, “McAfee's Benchmark is a brand of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey produced by the Sazerac Company at its Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.”

With this information in hand you next ask, “What whiskeys does Buffalo Trace make?”

Google brings up Buffalo Trace’s website. You click on it and see that they make: Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor, Jr. Collection, the unscrupulously collected Van Winkle, Stagg Jr., Blanton's Single Barrel, Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Sazerac Rye, W.L. Weller, Old Charter, Benchmark, and Ancient Age.

Wow that’s quite a line up. So you next Google, “What reputation does Buffalo Trace have?”

In the snippets of the top 3 search results you see things like, “impressive reputation” and, “established reputation” and, “unparalleled reputation.”

Well that’s a good sign. Finally, you ask yourself, “Are Buffalo Trace’s whiskeys known to be good quality?”

While on their website you may have noticed that all of their whiskeys have either received awards or very high marks.

So now that you have all this information, will you buy Benchmark for $10.99?

I would, and if you do too you’ll be going home with a real gem at a price that’s easy on the wallet. Why can I say that with confidence? Because we learned that the Buffalo Trace Distillery has proven time and again that they make a quality product. Whatever their processes are they work, and they apply it to each whiskey they make. So when they make a cheap whiskey, it’s because it’s young and not because it’s low on quality.

Now, that might seem like a lot of work just to find out about an $11 whiskey. You might ask, “Why not just Google the whiskey I’m looking at and see the reviews? Why do I need to look at the whole family?”

Because even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and again. By that I mean, some distilleries have been able to make a one-off great whiskey. But if their other whiskeys aren’t known for quality or good flavor, the odds of you walking away with a winner go down dramatically.

So to pick a great whiskey every time, look at the whiskey’s family. The time and effort you put into it will pay off.

— Zac Smith