There’s plenty of American whiskeys out there to try, from bourbon to rye to single malt, with interesting variations on all of these categories. Still, it can be difficult to find the best ones, so we asked experts in the bar industry for their favorite bottles of American whiskey under $50—and the results yielded a diverse array of picks.
Best Overall: Maker’s Mark 46
"Maker’s Mark 46 has been aged longer than its younger brother [it spends nine extra weeks with virgin French oak staves inserted in the barrel], leaving the flavors to intensify without becoming overpowering," says Reniel Garcia, bar director of Havana 1957 in Miami Beach. "The more complex flavor gives off a palate of cherries, toasted wood, vanilla, citrus and corn. It has a long finish with a sweeter, caramel flavor with hints of toasted wood."
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Best Cask Finished: Angel’s Envy Bourbon
"Angel’s Envy is richly textured, silky, and well-rounded and overpowering with ripe fruits, candied tangerine, light toffee, maple syrup," says Pablo Guerrero, F&B manager of Plan Do See America in Miami Beach. "This bourbon has all the notes we want to experience at the beginning or end of a meal."
Best Bourbon: Woodford Reserve Bourbon
"Throughout the years, Woodford Reserve has been delivering the same greatness in their products," says David Libespere, general manager of 67 Orange Street in Harlem, N.Y. "Knowing that it is handcrafted in small batches, and still being able to keep the price that low, is amazing. Woodford is great neat, on the rocks or in cocktails." He adds, "At 67 Orange, we have it in our signature cocktail named the Manhattan After Dark (Woodford, Benedictine, Domaine de Canton, Fonseca Port and Angostura bitters)."
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Best Single Barrel: Four Roses Single Barrel
"Four Roses’ high rye mash bill gives the whiskey a spicy note, and it has a rare combination of big, rich mouthfeel and an incredibly smooth finish," says Mike Vacheresse, owner of Travel Bar in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Be careful, once you fall in love with this whiskey you will seek out Four Roses' Private picks of single barrels that are bottled at cask strength. I carry seven different Private Selection picks at my bar."
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Best High Proof: Old Grand-Dad 114
Alex Jump, bar manager of Death & Co in Denver, is a fan of this affordable bourbon. "Old Grand-Dad is already right up my alley, thanks to the high rye content in their mash bill," she says. "Secondly, I really love an over-proof whiskey of any sort: American, scotch, you name it. It mixes really beautifully into cocktails thanks to its proof, but it’s still delicious enjoyed on its own or on ice."'
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Best Rye: Pikesville Straight Rye
According to Vacheresse, the best rye whiskey under $50 is hands down Pikesville Rye, a product of Kentucky’s Heaven Hill. "Pikesville is the same mash bill as [the cheaper and younger] Rittenhouse Rye," he says, "but it’s six years old and comes in at 110 proof. It’s great for drinking neat, with one cube or in a classic cocktail like an Old Fashioned."
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Best Experimental: Glyph 85H
Brendan Bartley, head bartender and manager of New York's Bathtub Gin and The 18th Room, has an unconventional pick. "One of my new favorite whiskeys under $50 is Glyph Whiskey from San Francisco," he says. "It's the first molecular whiskey in the world...a digital invention in an analogue industry. It's not trying to infringe on any particular category; it's in a category on its own. The whiskey has really great structure and body, elegant notes that are not invasive on the palate."
Best New Rye: Sagamore Spirit Rye
"Sagamore Spirit Rye is a delicious rye whiskey coming out of Maryland," says Darnell Holguin, co-founder of The Silver Sun Group and beverage partner of Las' Lap in New York. "They use limestone-filtered water from natural springs near the distillery." Note that Sagamore distills and ages its own whiskey, but the current product is sourced. Holguin adds, "There are notes of candied orange and baking spices on the palate, with a nutty, brown sugar finish."
Best Value: Old Forester 86 Proof
Old Forester is known for its affordable, high-quality bourbon, as well as some special bottles that are a bit more expensive. Holguin is particularly a fan of the former. "Old Forester is a fantastic bourbon for its price point," he says. "It was the first bourbon to be bottled in the U.S., and the juice is spicy with notes of cherry, pralines and chocolate."
Best Tennessee Whiskey: Nelson's Green Brier Whiskey
For Adam Morgan, bar manager of Husk in Nashville, the best Tennessee whiskey may not be something that immediately comes to mind. "I love Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey because of its versatility," he says. "It has a strong backbone with complex yet subtle layers. This whiskey is perfect for citrus-based cocktails or shooting straight after a long day."
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for many years. His work has appeared in various national outlets reporting on trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.