Wild Turkey 8 Year 101 Bourbon review

Who Makes The Best Range of "Affordable" Whiskeys?

Overview

Many (including myself) love the razzle dazzle of expensive, hard to find, and / or limited releases. It’s exciting to pursue and drink the best of what distilleries have to offer, or even just find that sought-after treasure / “unicorn” that may never be found again. That said, less expensive whiskey is what really drives sales, fills retail and home whiskey shelves, and often determines allocations of those hard to find / limited whiskeys.

When it comes to those everyday / more frequent bottles, I believe that Heaven Hill offers the best range of “affordable” and accessible American whiskeys. Heaven Hill has a lot of great options at affordable prices so you can get a very good bottle (or 2) and still have money left over. Let me make the case as to why I believe this. 

This is admittedly not a completely bulletproof take since I haven’t reviewed every single affordable whiskey out there and others will have different opinions, but this is my opinion given my experiences so far.

First off, here’s the criteria I’m using.

 

   – Less than ~$30 for a 750mL. Everyone has a different idea of what is “affordable”, but I’m drawing the line at around $30. Pricing is definitely not uniform across the US, so I define this as you may be able to find it for under $30 depending on where you live and shop. If you’re questioning this threshold, my answer would still be the same at $35. At $40+…well that’s for another time.

   –  American whiskey (bourbon, rye, wheat whiskey, single malt, etc)

 

   – Offers options across various types of whiskey. One sub-$30 option isn’t enough

   – Readily available at most liquor stores that have at least a decent selection of American whiskey. This criteria is a bit subjective because selection varies by region, state, county, city, store, etc.

So overall, I believe that Heaven Hill has the most comprehensive, available, and tasty offerings under ~$30. Not every whiskey in the range is great, but as a whole it’s compelling and not so wallet-emptying.

I’m not affiliated with Heaven Hill, just a blogger with personal opinions.

Highlights

*Images also link to the reviews

Type: Rye’d bourbon

Price: $14-20

Rating: Mid Shelf+

Overview: One of my favorites under $20. Nicely sweet, oaky, a little nutty, and far from bland. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect or amazing, but definitely worth every bit of it’s modest price.

**Link to review here**

Type: Rye’d bourbon

Price: $22-35

Rating: Mid Shelf+

Overview: Sweet, herbal, oaky, dry, gentle, easy drinking, and fairly interesting. I’ve called this a decent but far from perfect Blanton’s substitute. While it isn’t necessarily my go-to, I recognize the quality and what it has to offer. Unfortunately, the price has been creeping-up, and I’ll always reach for the next bourbon on this list given comparable prices.

**Link to review here**

Type: Rye’d bourbon

Price: $22-35

Rating: Mid Shelf+

Overview: One of my favorites under $30. It has nicely developed dark caramel sweetness, oakiness, spice, and fruit, with enough richness, variety, and viscosity to be a compelling everyday purchase. It holds up well in comparison to Buffalo Trace, but admittedly has a very different personality. When in doubt, this is a great buy. If you haven’t had it before, I recommend trying it.

**Link to review here**

Price: $28-50

Rating: Mid Shelf+ (some of them)

Overview: Elijah Craig Small Batch is great, but well selected single barrel picks are possibly the best value in bourbon today (e.g., 11 year Virginia ABC pick, 12 year Broudy’s Honey Barrel pick). I’ve been able to find some great ones for $30 or less, but availability and pricing are all over the place because some stores may choose to charge a premium for their picks. The older picks have a great old and fragrant oakiness and further developed fruitiness and herbalness that are even hard to find in $50+ bourbons. 11 and 12 year old picks are my favorite and more or less an automatic buy for $30.

Type: Wheated bourbon

Price: $22-35

Rating: Mid Shelf+

Overview: while I recognize that it’s divisive within the community, I think it’s a fragrant and flavorful bourbon that brings a lot of caramel, dry grass, nuttiness, cinnamon, fruit, and milk chocolate that outperform Weller Special Reserve and Maker’s Mark. The next wheater is even better.

**Link to review here**

Type: Wheat whiskey

Price: $26-35

Rating: Mid Shelf+ 

Overview: An underappreciated sleeper that also outperforms Weller Special Reserve and Makers Mark (yes I know this is not bourbon). It has a lot of brown sugar, caramel, coconut, chocolate, and spice that makes it drink more like a 10-12 year old whiskey. This is my go-to “affordable” wheater and one I highly recommend that you try. I’d love to get a single barrel version of this too.

**Link to review here**

Excluded Heaven Hill Whiskey

There are some whiskeys I did not mention in the highlights, so I want to briefly mention them and why

 

Evan Williams Black / Green Bourbon: I haven’t had them before so I can’t say if they’re good or bad, but I doubt reviewing them would change my overall view.

Fighting Cock 101 Bourbon: I didn’t like it because it was too underdeveloped and bland. It costs about the same as Evan Williams Bottled in Bond so you are better off with that.

Heaven Hill 6 year Bottled in Bond Bourbon: I never got a chance to try it, but now that it’s discontinued, I can’t even include it on the list of possible highlights.

Rittenhouse: A solid rye whiskey that’s a little too light and muddled to be a noteworthy affordable whiskey. It’s not bad, but not compelling either.

Mellow Corn: Well…I haven’t had this yet…so don’t judge me too hard on that fact.

Elijah Craig Small Batch Rye: I haven’t had it yet.

Henry McKenna 10: Even when it was under $30, barrel selection was far too variable. Some were good and likely worthy of being called amazing “affordable” bourbon, but unfortunately I happened to review an awful dud. Either way, it’s priced out of this list now

Why other distilleries weren't picked

For the sake of being more complete, I’ll also briefly mention why I didn’t pick others distilleries. This is not an exhaustive list. 

Craft distilleries (e.g., New Riff, Woodinville, Wilderness Trail, etc)

Don’t really offer much in the way of “affordable” options yet, although that may change in a few years

Jim Beam

I think this would be the runner-up. Full disclosure, I haven’t had the bonded, black, double oaked, or rye, as well as Old Grand Dad anything to have a well-rounded opinion. The limited release Distillers Cut for $20 and Jim Beam Single Barrel (sometimes under $30) were quite good, so I have some more work to do here. 

Makers Mark (owned by Suntory-Beam, who owns Jim Beam):

Regular Makers Mark is decent, but I’m picking Larceny and Bernheim over it every time. Regular Maker’s is also the only option under $30, so the options are too limited as well.

Buffalo trace

It’s too hard to find for too many people, if not often marked up to over $30. Even if it were easier to find, Larceny and Bernheim are better than Weller Special Reserve, Elijah Craig is comparable (but different) than Buffalo Trace, and Eagle Rare is a bit too expensive to qualify for the budget / affordable threshold. The new line of Benchmark bourbons (bonded, single barrel, full proof, top rack, small batch, regular) are potential candidates, but I haven’t had them and they seem to have limited distribution. 

 A. Smith Bowman

I haven’t had the small batch yet, which is only one <= $30

Brown Forman (combining Old Forester, Woodford Reserve, Coopers Craft, Jack Daniels, and Woodford Reserve)

Old Forester 86Old Forester Rye, and Cooper’s Craft 84 proof are good, but I still think Heaven Hill’s whiskeys are better overall. I admit that I have not had Old Forester 100 Proof or Cooper’s Craft 100, so I’ll have to review those at some point to finalize that thought. Jack Daniels Old No. 7 and Gentleman Jack…are just not good, and I didn’t really like Woodford Reserve when I reviewed it. I may have to revisit Woodford Reserve to finalize that opinion.

Barton 1792

Small Batch is good but not great. Since it’s also the only option under $30, I can’t really consider Barton because the options are so limited.

Four Roses

I haven’t had Four Roses Small Batch or Four Roses Yellow in a long time, so I don’t have a well-informed opinion to say how good they are. Even if they both were great, having 2 great options doesn’t compare to Heaven Hill’s 5-6 great options.

Wild Turkey

In the hottest take of them all – Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon is just ok. I’ve always tried to like it (had it multiple times) but it’s never done it for me. I haven’t had Wild Turkey Rye yet so I can’t say anything about it yet. But if it’s not as good as Rare Breed Rye, which was a letdown, then it’s not enough to take over Heaven Hill. I’m a huge fan of Rare Breed bourbon and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon though, but those are too expensive for this list.

MGP (including everyone who sources from them)

MGP is my favorite distillery of them all, but George Remus and Tumblin Dice are the only MGP bourbons I can think of that are under $30. Two options aren’t enough (there probably are more), but oh boy their older offerings are incredible. MGP really should be doing more in the sub-$30 area, because they could do very well if they tried harder. Maybe that’s one reason why they bought Luxco – to use Ezra Brooks to expand into the more “affordable” area.

George Dickel

I haven’t had enough Dickel over the past few years to form a strong enough opinion, but if the “affordable” options are not as good as George Dickel Bottled In Bond 13 year, then I’d still take Elijah Craig and Bernheim over Dickel every time. 

Bulleit

Bulleit Bourbon is solid, and while I haven’t reviewed Bulleit Rye, I doubt that those two alone come close to competing with Heaven Hill, or even Jim Beam or Brown Forman for that matter.

In Conclusion

Even though I haven’t reviewed every single “affordable” whiskey out there, I think the most likely meaningful change that could occur with additional reviews is Jim Beam getting closer to Heaven Hill. That’s assuming that Jim Beam Black, Rye, and Bonded are better than what Heaven Hill offers. I don’t think that’s likely, but I recognize that I’d have to find out to make this a more rock-solid opinion piece. 

At the end of the day, there are a lot of very good “affordable” whiskeys from distilleries across the US, but Heaven Hill seems to nail it more often than the rest. So if you haven’t already, go try some of those highlighted whiskeys and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!

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