best bourbons under $100

2022 was a life-changing year for me​

It’s that time of year and again I’m not doing any sort of Best Whiskey / Bourbon of 2022. I don’t review enough whiskey to comfortably do that. Plus, what I write probably isn’t going to get masses of people out to buy anything anyway, but I always enjoy reflecting on another year of my whiskey journey and what stood out to me.
2022 has been a unique and life changing year for me. In 2021, I spent the first 6 months in the US as vaccines started to come out, and then the other 6 in Japan, free of tourists but with a good amount of old bourbon to find and enjoy. In 2022, I spent 6.5 months living out my best life in Japan as I acclimated to life there and how to buy bourbon (in Japanese), and then the last half of the year back in the US, in what I might call a very special time in American whiskey.
Doing my bourbon thing in Japan was a wild 180 degree flip from what I experienced in the US. I was finding “dusties” that would never be in the US, and they completely changed my view of bourbon and what it means to be an amazing bourbon. There were no lines, not much hype (although the occasional markup on the old stuff), and no drama. It was utter bourbon bliss.
In the US, I’m back to the grind of trying to find great whiskeys, underrated sleepers, and maybe the occasional unicorn while avoiding lines like the plague because I don’t have time for that. I try to avoid markups…but I did pay a bit extra for Russell’s 13 Year ($214 after tax isn’t terrible). Other than that, I’ve been shit out of luck trying to get any of the sought-after limited releases from the big Kentucky distilleries.

I guess my stores aren’t taking that good care of me. In that way, it’s been a really disappointing year because I’m not going to be able outspend the high rollers. Then again, I did find mid 2000’s Wild Turkey 17 Year 101 and Wild Turkey 14 Year Distiller’s for MSRP in Japan. I won big in Japan and the US bourbon market is awful.

In the midst of my life in Japan and the US, I drank a lot of whiskey, most I bought and some I received. My enjoyment and rating spanned the spectrum both amazing and not so good, but I appreciate trying and reviewing them all the same.
Here’s an amalgamation of some of the whiskeys I really enjoyed this year for various reasons.
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As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for everything (they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass Set of 6, Set of 4Set of 2, or just one. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

Here's the list​

Hardin's Creek Jacob's Well 15 Year

Distillery: Jim Beam

Rating: Top Shelf

Price: $150

ABV: 54%
I’m not crowning a bourbon of the year, but if I was it’d be up there. While it’s somewhat of a cop-out to pick an expensive Jim Beam limited release to praise, it’s seriously worth it to me. The tube and overall packaging are ridiculous, but the bourbon inside is so damn good, spanning sweet caramel, dried fruit, and tons of oak (duh). The 15 years of oak aging come in so many awesome forms: roasted oak, chocolate, and tobacco that feel mature and refined. This is a premium and extra-aged bourbon that earns its price.
And here’s my hot take – I think it’s comparable, if not richer and more expressive, than the also excellent Russell’s Reserve 13 Year batch 2. I can’t speak to other batches since I haven’t had them yet, but Jacob’s Well felt more developed and put together.
There’s also something about Jacob’s Well that is so much more enjoyable than other premium Wild Turkey bourbons like Wild Turkey 17 Year Bottled in Bond (overly astringent) and Wild Turkey Revival (amazing but way too spicy and unbalanced for me).
I know this isn’t normal, but I had no problem finding this…to the point that I bought one more a few weeks after the first, and then another a few weeks after that. That accessibility (for me at least) made it way more attractive than the super marked-up Russell’s Reserve 13, which I generally see for $400+. That’s just my personal experience (and an outlier at that), because I know a few people who can’t get it at all. Alcohol distribution is such a confusing thing.
At least from my experience, it’s rare to find a bourbon of this quality that just sits on the shelf (but not every shelf in America) in 2022. This isn’t quite Bardstown Bourbon Chateau de Laubade batch 1-level of amazing, but it’s not so far off in terms of overall quality. I just wish that it had a little more sweetness to masterfully balance the oakiness, but it’s still incredible as-is.

Bardstown Bourbon Co. West Virginia Great Barrel Company Blended Rye

Distillery: Bardstown Bourbon Company

Rating: Top Shelf+

Price: $170

ABV: 55%

Speaking of Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau de Laubade, Bardstown Bourbon Company’s first-ever rye (albeit sourced) was an absolute shocker. The team crushed it out of the park for one of the best rye’s I’ve ever had. This is the type of rye that I expect to win a ton of awards (because my praise isn’t going to meaningfully move the needle). I’m not quite that level of influencer even though I’m going to surpass 1.5M views this year.

7 year old MGP rye finished for 10 months in cherry oak barrels toasted using infrared heat PLUS 12 year old 100% corn Canadian whiskey is mad-scientist-level experimentation. Through some miracle (and great skill), it all came together into a rye full of dense herbal honey, candied fruit, refined oak, and manageable earthiness that tastes incredible. It is super vibrant, fruity, and captivating. If you love rye, you owe it to yourself to at least try it. It’s not affordable, but it’s worth it if you have the money.

Larceny Barrel Proof A122

Distillery: Heaven Hill

Rating: Top Shelf

Price: $50-80

ABV: 62.2%
I’ve personally had a tough time finding an amazing wheated bourbon that can rival Weller Full Proof, but I think Larceny Barrel Proof A122 actually gives it a run for its money. The kicker, this is the first one I’ve ever had. It’s rich, fruity, and spicy in such a complex and interesting way yet still approachable. It’s not a big and heavy proof bomb, more reserved and calm even for its 62.2% ABV. It’s not going to be easy for those who drink whiskey, but the more experienced drinker will appreciate the calmness in the proof.
Apart from the dense fruitiness, the lack of the “wackier” parts of wheated bourbon help a lot. Wheated bourbon can develop a lot of grass, dried hay, and gummy dough traits, yet this particular batch avoids all of it. It also avoids the notorious dry nuttiness (I don’t mind it), gentle enough that it’s a non-factor. I got lucky to find it for $50 after tax, and it’s a pleasant surprise at how incredible it is. As of when I wrote and published this, I haven’t had C922.

George Dickel 15 Year Single Barrel (actually 17 years)

Distillery: George Dickel

Rating: Top Shelf

Price: $60-70

ABV: 48.1%
This was the year that Jacob’s Well brought the kickass sweet oak and my first experience and bottle of Russell’s 13 Year that offered similar things. I thought those two would be it for 2022, but no… George Dickel also brought the beautiful sweet oak and dark fruit with a 15 year single barrel that’s actually 17 years old. I only know this because the person who picked it told me and the store stuck an extra label on it with 17 years on it.
Like Jacob’s Well and Russell’s 13, Dickel 15 Year has much of the same sweet oak, chocolate, tobacco, and dark berries that make it feel so mature, rich, and refined. There’s a little minerality and nuttiness, but it’s really toned-down. Unfortunately, the ABV is noticeably lower, although I have no idea what it actually is because it’s not printed on the label (I found out when I finally peeled back the added label). I can just tell from drinking it that it’s probably around 45%, but have no other evidence.
The best part of this George Dickel 15 (17) year is that I get 85-90% of the experience of Jacob’s Well and Russell’s 13, but with none of the hype or triple digit price tags. At $60-70, it’s a steal and a damn good bourbon that has changed my perception of Dickel.

Still Austin Cask Strength

Distillery: Still Austin

Rating: Top Shelf

Price: $50-55

ABV: 59%
I wanted to try this bottle because bourbon lovers from Texas couldn’t seem to stop talking about it. Even after I got this bottle from Still Austin (thanks again), I was still skeptical that a 2 year old cask strength bourbon could be good. At best, I thought that it’d be inoffensive with a few good things but still blast a lot of youth. I’ve had young bourbon that was just grainy awfulness, and the last thing I want to do is ask for media samples and then shit on it. It’s not a good look for me.
Turns out that I was terribly wrong, and I admit it. The non-cask strength Still Austin The Musician is tasty, but Still Austin Cask Strength has an added level of maturity (even at 2 years old) and richness that is so good. There’s a lot of caramel, mocha, earthiness, fruit, and even more, packing a lot of depth and complexity into its young package. Somehow, the added ABV got rid of the bite I found in The Musician.
I’m not obligated to give a great rating for company-provided whiskey, Still Austin just earned it through the quality of the bourbon. “Top Shelf” 2-3 year old bourbon shouldn’t exist, yet it somehow does. The profile isn’t for everyone, but it’s still going to impress a lot of people, including me.

Redwood Empire Bottled in Bond Rye

Distillery: Redwood Empire

Rating: Top Shelf 

Price: $90

ABV: 50%
Redwood Empire distills and ages two of their own whiskeys – a bottled in bond bourbon and bottled in bond rye. The bourbon is quite good, but the rye is the star. Even at 5 years old (and picking some of the best barrels they have), the rye has a lot of lively candied tropical fruit, herbal sweetness, and more that impressed me.
It feels more mature than its 5 years of age and is a great showcase of what Redwood Empire is doing now and can do in the future. I just wish they’d up the ABV because it would be so good at cask strength.
This one is pretty limited, but if you’re interested in trying something different and supporting a craft distillery, and also have $90+tax, this is one to get.

Kirkland-1792 Bourbons

Distillery: Barton 1792

Rating: Mid Shelf+

Price: $25-30 (1L)

ABV: 50% (Bottled in Bond), 60% (single barrel)
Even though I lived in Japan for half the year, I was lucky enough to buy and review all 3 Kirkland Bourbons this calendar year (2 in Japan, 1 in US) – Kirkland Small Batch, Bottled in Bond, and Single Barrel. They’re on this list because they are insane values, especially the $25 bottled in bond and $30 Single Barrel. The Small Batch is fine, but it’s nowhere near as compelling and I can do without it.
I admit that these are not the best bourbons out there, but you’re not going to do better for the price. By the way, those are the prices for 1L bottles, not even 750mL. You just got 30% more bourbon for free…thanks Costco. Even then, you’re not sacrificing quality…you actually get a lot more of it.
What I’ve gotten is a really flavorful and fragrant earthy sweetness that’s a lot of caramel and caraway seed, part oak, and part fruit and herbalness among other traits. It’s not anything particularly complex or unique, but it still delivers a fairly dense, enjoyable, and tasty experience that no one can really complain about. These are my top value picks.

Old Willett - Pure Kentucky Bourbon 2006 Vintage

Distillery: Willett

Rating: Top Shelf+ 

Price: $35-40

ABV: 53.5%
I have to specifically call this out because Willett’s Pure Kentucky from 2006 was CRAZY GOOD! That 10.5 year old bourbon (with a barrel and dump date on the label) was stuffed to the max with molasses, dried date, and magic. It’s mind blowing that a $35 bottle from 16 years back could be that insanely fruity and mature in ways I’ve never experienced before. This was a mid-range bourbon back in the day…which is absurd.
Given the date, it could have been pre-fire Heaven Hill. In terms of quality, it drank like a $300-400 bottle sold today. Who the hell knew that affordable bourbon in 2006 was still that incredible.
Not long after drinking the crap out of one bottle, I got the chance to try a 6 year old Willett-distilled and aged Purple Top Shinanoya Store pick. I think my friend paid $160 or something for it. There’s so much hype around Purple Tops, and it was a disappointing experience to say the least.
You think the hype around Buffalo Trace is bad, Willett may actually be even more overhyped. Willett is as much a craft distillery as they are sourcer of magical old whiskey, and that’s not inherently bad.
That $35 bottle of older sourced Willett is worthy of all the hype and magic around the brand…because they were sourcing some crazy good stuff back then. I have no issue with sourcing, but I also have no love when they abuse their reputation from sourcing and upcharge like crazy on their homemade stuff.
That Willett-distilled Purple Top was…good for a craft distillery but nothing special. The $400+ markup for 6-7 year old purple tops is insane, but the $160 MSRP is nuts too. The one exception might be 4 year rye, which is fantastic and not so difficult to find or marked up.

I think Woodinville, Still Austin, and Redwood Empire are making equally as good if not better whiskey with less hype. A 6 year old homemade Willett Purple Top should be $120 max with no secondary value. An 8 year old homemade wheated bourbon shouldn’t be $250, that’s just foolish. A 20 year old sourced one…that’s a totally different story. Shoot, purely based on quality I’d pay $200 for the 2006 Pure Kentucky (see what I did there).

I’m not saying that Willett is bad, I’m just saying that their homemade whiskeys aren’t THAT good. People need to recalibrate their perception of Willett and start treating it like a craft distillery, not some otherwordly distillery that makes the best bourbon on the planet.

Old bourbon in general

I know this is a pointless shout out to vintage bourbon, but I have to do it. I spent over 365 days in a country known for having a lot of old bourbon, and it didn’t disappoint. Lucky me, I took full advantage and drank A LOT of incredible bourbon that I’ll likely never see again.
While the finish faded, a lot of knowledge and appreciation stuck with me. First off, old bourbon is so different from today’s bourbon, cheap or expensive. If you’ve had old bourbon, you already know that’s not a good thing for today’s whiskey.
Dusty bourbon always has a deeper and denser sweetness, dark fruitiness, and this dark and old oakiness (that I call black hole darkness) that isn’t necessarily that burnt or roasty. They bring a totally different vibe that’s more refined, mature, and complex instead of so outwardly roasty, spicy, grainy, and bite-y.
Most of the “dusties” I had were so fruity that they felt like they were finished in sherry or port. There’s a reason why Nancy Fraley crafted Joseph Magnus Bourbon to include 3 finishes, but that’s a story for another time. All I’ll say now is that you need port and/or sherry finishes to attempt to replicate the dark sweetness and fruitiness found in old bourbon.
It feels like today’s bourbons have so much more filler and wasted space, while “dusties” are more concentrated and viscous. Distilleries today can’t remotely come close to making bourbon that good anymore, or it’d just be outrageously expensive. I only know this because I reviewed the new and old versions, and then compared them…and it wasn’t ever close.
In these comparisons, the dusty version always obliterated the modern version. They don’t and can’t make bourbon like they used to. If someone was able to bring today’s bourbon back to 1980’s Japan, I bet the Japanese would think it was cheap crap.

In Conclusion

This list is meant to capture a sliver of all that I experienced in 2022, and it was an amazing year for me. No matter the vintage, producer, age, price, or some other factor, there’s a lot of great whiskey to find and enjoy. I’m looking forward to what 2023 has in store, and maybe I can finally get some of those damn allocated bourbons. Yeah I’m still bitter.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)

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