The Best Readily-Available Bourbons That You Can Find For Under $50

It’s not exactly breaking news, but the modern market for bourbon is volatile and strange. Over the last couple years, we’ve seen affordable liquor-store staples turn into hot ticket items that disappear from the shelves and get sold on the secondary market for quadruple what they’re worth. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, bourbon isn't a necessity like some of the other goods that have felt the weight of inflation, but as consumers keep making dramatic runs on everyday bourbons, we wanted to put out a guide to the affordable, available bottles that you can find and enjoy with minimal effort. So, for the 2022 Bourbon Issue, here are our staff’s picks for the best bourbons under $50 that you don’t need a treasure map to find.

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Bourbons That You Can Find For Under $50
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Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve
Pick by Sara Havens
A couple years after Brown-Forman introduced Coopers’ Craft to the market, they decided to elevate the affordable brand with some interesting barrel tweaks. And since they own their own barrel cooperage (near the Louisville airport), they can do this with little effort. And, wow, it has made a big difference. The Barrel Reserve is about 10 bucks more than the regular Coopers’ Craft, but it’s definitely worth the extra dough for its higher proof point (100 compared to 82.2) and way more flavor. Instead of aging the bourbon in a standard charred oak barrel, they used a chiseled charred oak barrel that has grooves all up and down the inside. This essentially provides more surface area for the bourbon to interact with the wood sugars and such as it ages. (They also use this style of barrel for the Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select Whiskey, which retails for nearly $200.) The best news: A bottle of the Barrel Reserve hovers right around $30-$35, and it’s delicious.

Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve

Pick by Sara Havens

A couple years after Brown-Forman introduced Coopers’ Craft to the market, they decided to elevate the affordable brand with some interesting barrel tweaks. And since they own their own barrel cooperage (near the Louisville airport), they can do this with little effort. And, wow, it has made a big difference. The Barrel Reserve is about 10 bucks more than the regular Coopers’ Craft, but it’s definitely worth the extra dough for its higher proof point (100 compared to 82.2) and way more flavor. Instead of aging the bourbon in a standard charred oak barrel, they used a chiseled charred oak barrel that has grooves all up and down the inside. This essentially provides more surface area for the bourbon to interact with the wood sugars and such as it ages. (They also use this style of barrel for the Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select Whiskey, which retails for nearly $200.) The best news: A bottle of the Barrel Reserve hovers right around $30-$35, and it’s delicious.

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Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Pick by Kevin Gibson
It would be difficult to recount how many times people have asserted to me that bourbon can only be made in Kentucky. The truth is, bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, and there are some darn good ones being made from South to North. While bourbon is definitely Kentucky’s thing, it isn’t only a Kentucky thing. One such whiskey is the reasonably-priced Woodinville, a solid, 90-proof bourbon that hails from Washington state. It’s readily available here in Louisville, and you can typically find it for south of $40. It’s aged five-plus years, it’s won its share of spirits competition awards, and it offers a sweet-forward flavor profile of caramel, vanilla, oak, brown sugar and a hint of peppery spice in the finish. No, it isn’t terribly complex, but it’s a fine daily drinker and a worthy cocktail base as well. Oh, and if you find you like this one, try the cask-strength version. You’ll have to pay closer to $70 for that one, but it’s worth the bucks.

Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Pick by Kevin Gibson

It would be difficult to recount how many times people have asserted to me that bourbon can only be made in Kentucky. The truth is, bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, and there are some darn good ones being made from South to North. While bourbon is definitely Kentucky’s thing, it isn’t only a Kentucky thing. One such whiskey is the reasonably-priced Woodinville, a solid, 90-proof bourbon that hails from Washington state. It’s readily available here in Louisville, and you can typically find it for south of $40. It’s aged five-plus years, it’s won its share of spirits competition awards, and it offers a sweet-forward flavor profile of caramel, vanilla, oak, brown sugar and a hint of peppery spice in the finish. No, it isn’t terribly complex, but it’s a fine daily drinker and a worthy cocktail base as well. Oh, and if you find you like this one, try the cask-strength version. You’ll have to pay closer to $70 for that one, but it’s worth the bucks.

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Elijah Craig Small Batch
Pick by Erica Rucker
I used to drink more than I do now. I was also more experimental than I am now. At this point in my life, I know exactly what I want and while that isn’t limited to brand, it is limited to one of two kinds of alcoholic drinks. I want a nice full red wine or a nice drinkable bourbon with three cubes and a splash of water. When I’m at home, that bourbon is often Elijah Craig Small Batch. I think it is one of the best sips in its price class and to me, can punch well, even above its weight class. Smooth, warming spices like nutmeg and vanilla, plus a hint of mint make this a perfect fall bourbon. Heaven Hill has let Elijah fly comfortably without too much fanfare. It doesn’t need it. One just needs to drink it and it will quickly become an easy go-to when out drinking with friends or for a nice evening cocktail. To be honest, I feel like some of the other bourbons in the Elijah Craig price group have upped their game to compete with this solid bourbon. As a bourbon-sipping Kentucky girl, I’m proud of the bourbons Kentucky produces, and if anyone asks me for a recommendation, Elijah Craig is one of the first off my lips.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

Pick by Erica Rucker

I used to drink more than I do now. I was also more experimental than I am now. At this point in my life, I know exactly what I want and while that isn’t limited to brand, it is limited to one of two kinds of alcoholic drinks. I want a nice full red wine or a nice drinkable bourbon with three cubes and a splash of water. When I’m at home, that bourbon is often Elijah Craig Small Batch. I think it is one of the best sips in its price class and to me, can punch well, even above its weight class. Smooth, warming spices like nutmeg and vanilla, plus a hint of mint make this a perfect fall bourbon. Heaven Hill has let Elijah fly comfortably without too much fanfare. It doesn’t need it. One just needs to drink it and it will quickly become an easy go-to when out drinking with friends or for a nice evening cocktail. To be honest, I feel like some of the other bourbons in the Elijah Craig price group have upped their game to compete with this solid bourbon. As a bourbon-sipping Kentucky girl, I’m proud of the bourbons Kentucky produces, and if anyone asks me for a recommendation, Elijah Craig is one of the first off my lips.

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Green River Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Pick by Kevin Gibson
This one is still fairly new to market, but Owensboro-based Green River Distilling Co., formerly known as O.Z. Tyler, has been around for a few years producing other brands. This one, the first modern release branded to the distillery, is a surprise hit of sorts. The distillery itself dates to 1885; it was felled by a massive fire just before Prohibition began and was rebuilt after that failed experiment. In recent years, it was acquired and rebuilt by descendants of the original founder before recently being purchased by Bardstown Bourbon Co. This bourbon comes from a high-rye mash bill, and it’s surprisingly robust for a 90-proof offering. For my palate, it brings all the basic bourbon notes like vanilla and caramel, with a hint of rye spice and a touch of chocolate. At five-to-seven years old, honestly, I’m not sure how they can sell it so cheaply. And it even comes in a cool horseshoe-shaped bottle. Heck, is there anything more Kentucky than bourbon in a bottle shaped like a horseshoe?

Green River Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Pick by Kevin Gibson

This one is still fairly new to market, but Owensboro-based Green River Distilling Co., formerly known as O.Z. Tyler, has been around for a few years producing other brands. This one, the first modern release branded to the distillery, is a surprise hit of sorts. The distillery itself dates to 1885; it was felled by a massive fire just before Prohibition began and was rebuilt after that failed experiment. In recent years, it was acquired and rebuilt by descendants of the original founder before recently being purchased by Bardstown Bourbon Co. This bourbon comes from a high-rye mash bill, and it’s surprisingly robust for a 90-proof offering. For my palate, it brings all the basic bourbon notes like vanilla and caramel, with a hint of rye spice and a touch of chocolate. At five-to-seven years old, honestly, I’m not sure how they can sell it so cheaply. And it even comes in a cool horseshoe-shaped bottle. Heck, is there anything more Kentucky than bourbon in a bottle shaped like a horseshoe?

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Maker’s Mark Cask Strength
Pick by Sara Havens
For wheated bourbon fans, this is one of Kentucky’s best-kept secrets. It’s simply Maker’s Mark at its most raw state: barrel proof and non-chill-filtered. It’s as close to sipping straight from the barrel as you can get, minus the char floating around in your glass. This started as a distillery-only release in 2014, and finally, with enough fanfare and demand, Maker’s released it to the world in 2016. At a price point around $40-$45, this is a steal for those who love high-proof whiskey. All the flavors of traditional Maker’s Mark are found here — rich, buttery caramel, baked fruit and vanilla bean — but their level of intensity is cranked up because no water is added to the bourbon to proof it down to the standard 90. These can range anywhere from 108-114 proof in stores. My advice: Don’t be afraid of the higher proof. Sip slowly and really dig into those flavors. Even the finish is a bright bouquet of oatmeal raisin and citrus. And if you find that you can’t stand the heat, add ice or a few splashes of water.

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength

Pick by Sara Havens

For wheated bourbon fans, this is one of Kentucky’s best-kept secrets. It’s simply Maker’s Mark at its most raw state: barrel proof and non-chill-filtered. It’s as close to sipping straight from the barrel as you can get, minus the char floating around in your glass. This started as a distillery-only release in 2014, and finally, with enough fanfare and demand, Maker’s released it to the world in 2016. At a price point around $40-$45, this is a steal for those who love high-proof whiskey. All the flavors of traditional Maker’s Mark are found here — rich, buttery caramel, baked fruit and vanilla bean — but their level of intensity is cranked up because no water is added to the bourbon to proof it down to the standard 90. These can range anywhere from 108-114 proof in stores. My advice: Don’t be afraid of the higher proof. Sip slowly and really dig into those flavors. Even the finish is a bright bouquet of oatmeal raisin and citrus. And if you find that you can’t stand the heat, add ice or a few splashes of water.

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Knob Creek 9 Year
Pick by Kevin Gibson
Yeah, yeah, I know — this is the most unsexy pick ever. But this Beam Suntory staple is criminally overlooked, and I think part of that is that it’s always there. Kind of like the person you dated who liked you way more than you liked them — until they weren’t there anymore. At 100 proof, Knob Creek is ripe for an Old Fashioned, it’s fine for enjoying neat and it becomes a sweet summer sipper when you add a few ice cubes. And the best part is you can find it anywhere, from your neighborhood liquor store to your freaking pharmacy. It’s probably never going to become your favorite bourbon, but sit back, enjoy those notes of toffee and cinnamon at a boffo price, and you (and your wallet) can thank me later.

Knob Creek 9 Year

Pick by Kevin Gibson

Yeah, yeah, I know — this is the most unsexy pick ever. But this Beam Suntory staple is criminally overlooked, and I think part of that is that it’s always there. Kind of like the person you dated who liked you way more than you liked them — until they weren’t there anymore. At 100 proof, Knob Creek is ripe for an Old Fashioned, it’s fine for enjoying neat and it becomes a sweet summer sipper when you add a few ice cubes. And the best part is you can find it anywhere, from your neighborhood liquor store to your freaking pharmacy. It’s probably never going to become your favorite bourbon, but sit back, enjoy those notes of toffee and cinnamon at a boffo price, and you (and your wallet) can thank me later.

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Four Roses Single Barrel
Pick by Sara Havens
It shocks me that this bottle is priced so well it makes it on this list, because, in my eyes, this single barrel of seven-to-nine-year-old Four Roses bourbon could get away with a higher price tag than $40. But I’m certainly not complaining here! At 100 proof, this bourbon is damn near perfect. The high-rye recipe boasts those wonderful peppery spice notes, and then you get those glorious ripe fruit notes Four Roses is known for, including plum, cherries and orange zest. This bourbon also makes great cocktails, especially an Old Fashioned, because of its high proof point and high-rye recipe. You need a bourbon with heft to stand up to the sugars and bitters, and this more than fits the bill. It’s definitely one of my everyday drinkers and makes a great gift for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, President’s Day, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day… you get the point.

Four Roses Single Barrel

Pick by Sara Havens

It shocks me that this bottle is priced so well it makes it on this list, because, in my eyes, this single barrel of seven-to-nine-year-old Four Roses bourbon could get away with a higher price tag than $40. But I’m certainly not complaining here! At 100 proof, this bourbon is damn near perfect. The high-rye recipe boasts those wonderful peppery spice notes, and then you get those glorious ripe fruit notes Four Roses is known for, including plum, cherries and orange zest. This bourbon also makes great cocktails, especially an Old Fashioned, because of its high proof point and high-rye recipe. You need a bourbon with heft to stand up to the sugars and bitters, and this more than fits the bill. It’s definitely one of my everyday drinkers and makes a great gift for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, President’s Day, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day… you get the point.

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Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond
Pick by Kevin Gibson
OK, hear me out. Sure, it’s a bottom-shelfer in most stores, but that’s where you can find some of the best deals, and this one has largely flown under the radar for a few years now. Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond is just more proof that Willett Distillery knows its way around a still; most would use it as a mixer, but I’ll be darned if it doesn’t work quite nicely with a few rocks tossed in. It’s a fine blend of sweet meeting spicy, with the 100-proof level yet again proving to be nearly perfect for at least my palate. While it isn’t what you would call complex, you’ll get enough cherry cough syrup, vanilla and caramel, along with a lightly spicy finish, to make it worth the couple of sawbucks you’ll plunk down at the liquor store. And, of course, it’s a great starter for an Old Fashioned. There’s also a 90-proof sibling version at the same price point; you could do a lot worse for 20 bucks.

Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond

Pick by Kevin Gibson

OK, hear me out. Sure, it’s a bottom-shelfer in most stores, but that’s where you can find some of the best deals, and this one has largely flown under the radar for a few years now. Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond is just more proof that Willett Distillery knows its way around a still; most would use it as a mixer, but I’ll be darned if it doesn’t work quite nicely with a few rocks tossed in. It’s a fine blend of sweet meeting spicy, with the 100-proof level yet again proving to be nearly perfect for at least my palate. While it isn’t what you would call complex, you’ll get enough cherry cough syrup, vanilla and caramel, along with a lightly spicy finish, to make it worth the couple of sawbucks you’ll plunk down at the liquor store. And, of course, it’s a great starter for an Old Fashioned. There’s also a 90-proof sibling version at the same price point; you could do a lot worse for 20 bucks.

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Old Forester 86 Proof
Pick by Robin Garr
I’m not going to say that Old Forester’s standard 86-proof bourbon whiskey is medicine, but let’s look at the historical record: When Brown-Forman’s progenitor George Garvin Brown launched Old Forester in 1870 as the first bourbon sold in sealed glass bottles, he named it for Dr. William Forrester, a local surgeon who famously prescribed quality bourbon to his patients as an anesthetic, a tonic, a pep pill and a tranquilizer. Fifty years later, when Prohibition cast its dark shadow over the land, Brown-Forman secured a license to continue producing Old Forester. As a medicinal potion, of course! In light of these simple realities, and its 150-plus years of continuous production, Old Forester 86-proof is widely recognized as Louisville’s own sipping whisky. Often sold around $20 for a fifth, there’s nothing fancy about it. But your parents probably drank it, and so did your grandfather and probably his grandfather. Old Forester is a local tradition, not only because it’s always been around but because it has always been good, whether sipped straight, with a splash of water, a little ice, or mixed in a cocktail. I like its simple, approachable caramel and brown-sugar aroma and its spicy, oaky vanilla flavor. With an ice cube and a splash of fresh water, I’ll happily sip a glass any time.

Old Forester 86 Proof

Pick by Robin Garr

I’m not going to say that Old Forester’s standard 86-proof bourbon whiskey is medicine, but let’s look at the historical record: When Brown-Forman’s progenitor George Garvin Brown launched Old Forester in 1870 as the first bourbon sold in sealed glass bottles, he named it for Dr. William Forrester, a local surgeon who famously prescribed quality bourbon to his patients as an anesthetic, a tonic, a pep pill and a tranquilizer. Fifty years later, when Prohibition cast its dark shadow over the land, Brown-Forman secured a license to continue producing Old Forester. As a medicinal potion, of course! In light of these simple realities, and its 150-plus years of continuous production, Old Forester 86-proof is widely recognized as Louisville’s own sipping whisky. Often sold around $20 for a fifth, there’s nothing fancy about it. But your parents probably drank it, and so did your grandfather and probably his grandfather. Old Forester is a local tradition, not only because it’s always been around but because it has always been good, whether sipped straight, with a splash of water, a little ice, or mixed in a cocktail. I like its simple, approachable caramel and brown-sugar aroma and its spicy, oaky vanilla flavor. With an ice cube and a splash of fresh water, I’ll happily sip a glass any time.

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Banker’s Club Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Pick by Kevin Gibson
I know, I know. 80 proof? We’re dipping into Basil Hayden’s territory here. But this five-year bourbon holds its own pretty well in a pinch – and it’s only priced around 25 bucks. The distillery that produces it, Laird & Company, is probably best known for its apple brandy products, but it also has its basic Banker’s Club whiskey, as well as this “reserve” version. Unique to Kentucky, it’s pretty straightforward bourbon with the usual notes: a touch of cornbread, caramel, vanilla and a sprinkle of brown sugar. This isn’t one you’re going to savor neat as you contemplate life, but for such a low-proof bourbon it presents pretty nicely with ice if you’re chilling in the backyard. And sporting a light finish, it stacks up as a nice entry-level option.

Banker’s Club Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Pick by Kevin Gibson

I know, I know. 80 proof? We’re dipping into Basil Hayden’s territory here. But this five-year bourbon holds its own pretty well in a pinch – and it’s only priced around 25 bucks. The distillery that produces it, Laird & Company, is probably best known for its apple brandy products, but it also has its basic Banker’s Club whiskey, as well as this “reserve” version. Unique to Kentucky, it’s pretty straightforward bourbon with the usual notes: a touch of cornbread, caramel, vanilla and a sprinkle of brown sugar. This isn’t one you’re going to savor neat as you contemplate life, but for such a low-proof bourbon it presents pretty nicely with ice if you’re chilling in the backyard. And sporting a light finish, it stacks up as a nice entry-level option.

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Old Tub
Pick by Kevin Gibson
As a general rule, I believe that it’s tough to go wrong with almost any bottled-in-bond whiskey. Old Tub, a Jim Beam product that has a long history, is an example of one such budget bourbon. Aged a minimum of four years, per the guidelines of a bottled-in-bond, this non-chill-filtered whiskey offers up more than one might expect at such a reasonable price point. Behind some up-front grain notes is a light fruitiness mixed with vanilla and oak. There might be a touch of nuttiness lurking in the finish, which sticks around long enough to be noticed with a hint of spice. You’ll be able to find this one at most liquor stores — and it’s worth keeping a bottle in your bar alongside other budget bottled-in-bond bourbons like Evan Williams and Early Times.

Old Tub

Pick by Kevin Gibson

As a general rule, I believe that it’s tough to go wrong with almost any bottled-in-bond whiskey. Old Tub, a Jim Beam product that has a long history, is an example of one such budget bourbon. Aged a minimum of four years, per the guidelines of a bottled-in-bond, this non-chill-filtered whiskey offers up more than one might expect at such a reasonable price point. Behind some up-front grain notes is a light fruitiness mixed with vanilla and oak. There might be a touch of nuttiness lurking in the finish, which sticks around long enough to be noticed with a hint of spice. You’ll be able to find this one at most liquor stores — and it’s worth keeping a bottle in your bar alongside other budget bottled-in-bond bourbons like Evan Williams and Early Times.

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Wilderness Trail Small Batch High Rye Bourbon Bottled-in-Bond
Pick by Sara Havens
Yes, that’s a mouthful of a name, but just look for the Wilderness Trail bottle with the black label that is priced around $50. It's still possible. 
The guys behind Wilderness Trail come at the bourbon industry from the science side of the fence, so they bring more than 20 years of grain, yeast and fermentation analysis with them. What I’m saying is, they know bourbon from the inside out, and as their whiskeys get older, the proof is in the pudding. The high-rye mash bill on this bourbon is 64% corn, 24% rye and 12% malted barley, so even before cracking the bottle, you know it’s going to be a pleasant spice bomb. While the definition of “small batch” changes at each distillery, Wilderness Trail uses about 18 barrels to create its batches. In comparison, larger distilleries like Beam or Old Forester might use hundreds. The 100-proof bourbon has that black-pepper-and-cinnamon bite from the rye on the first sip, but once your taste buds get jolted out of bed, you enjoy a nice warm rinse of butterscotch, toasted marshmallow, slight oak and subtle baking spices. If you want to kick up your Old Fashioneds, put this in them.

Wilderness Trail Small Batch High Rye Bourbon Bottled-in-Bond

Pick by Sara Havens

Yes, that’s a mouthful of a name, but just look for the Wilderness Trail bottle with the black label that is priced around $50. It's still possible. The guys behind Wilderness Trail come at the bourbon industry from the science side of the fence, so they bring more than 20 years of grain, yeast and fermentation analysis with them. What I’m saying is, they know bourbon from the inside out, and as their whiskeys get older, the proof is in the pudding. The high-rye mash bill on this bourbon is 64% corn, 24% rye and 12% malted barley, so even before cracking the bottle, you know it’s going to be a pleasant spice bomb. While the definition of “small batch” changes at each distillery, Wilderness Trail uses about 18 barrels to create its batches. In comparison, larger distilleries like Beam or Old Forester might use hundreds. The 100-proof bourbon has that black-pepper-and-cinnamon bite from the rye on the first sip, but once your taste buds get jolted out of bed, you enjoy a nice warm rinse of butterscotch, toasted marshmallow, slight oak and subtle baking spices. If you want to kick up your Old Fashioneds, put this in them.

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Russell’s Reserve 10 Year
Pick by Kevin Gibson
This one was my personal gateway bourbon when I first started enjoying whiskey somewhat regularly. A Wild Turkey product that is named for legendary distiller Jimmy Russell, it’s a ubiquitous bourbon that’s easily identifiable with its red and white packaging. It’s complex enough to tantalize your palate, but approachable enough at its lower proof point to be an everyday sipper even for those who are just beginning their bourbon journey. Not surprisingly, the flavor profile is straightforward, with many of the quintessential bourbon notes like caramel, vanilla, graham crackers and a bit of tobacco. With 12% rye in the mash bill, the spiciness on the finish is minimal. This is one to start building your collection around and worth keeping in the cabinet at all times – especially for under $40.

Russell’s Reserve 10 Year

Pick by Kevin Gibson

This one was my personal gateway bourbon when I first started enjoying whiskey somewhat regularly. A Wild Turkey product that is named for legendary distiller Jimmy Russell, it’s a ubiquitous bourbon that’s easily identifiable with its red and white packaging. It’s complex enough to tantalize your palate, but approachable enough at its lower proof point to be an everyday sipper even for those who are just beginning their bourbon journey. Not surprisingly, the flavor profile is straightforward, with many of the quintessential bourbon notes like caramel, vanilla, graham crackers and a bit of tobacco. With 12% rye in the mash bill, the spiciness on the finish is minimal. This is one to start building your collection around and worth keeping in the cabinet at all times – especially for under $40.

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