Our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy have changed.

By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to the new Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

Great bourbons at a bargain

bourbon_on_the_rocks.ju.top.jpg By Jessica Dickler, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Call it the Mad Men effect: retro fashions, debonair dinner parties and especially classic drinks -- like bourbon -- are back with a vengeance.

"Despite the recession, consumers decided they wanted to drink better," says Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Last year, sales of super premium bourbon (the highest price category) were up 17.7% from 2009, according to the council, while total bourbon sales grew at a rate of just 4%.

So what makes a bourbon "super premium"? Well, better often means older. Older whiskeys spend more time aging in an oak barrel, which is how they get their caramel color and much of the flavor.

"The older they are, generally the more expensive they are because time is money," Coleman explains.

But that doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune to have a good bourbon. Liza Weisstuch, a sprits writer and contributor to Whiskey Magazine, says that there are bourbons on the market for under $30 a bottle that could please even the pickiest cocktail connoisseur.

For example, Weisstuch recommends opting for the Elijah Craig 12-year-old bourbon ($27 for a 750ml bottle) over the heavier 18-year-old version that costs nearly twice as much.

Older bourbons have a higher alcohol content and taste stronger, which is not for everyone, she notes. "You will get an easier, mellower bourbon if it's younger," Weisstuch says.

That's particularly preferable when using bourbon in a mixed drink like those trendy pre-prohibition cocktails. Want an old fashioned? Just add bitters, water and a sugar cube to your bourbon. For a Manhattan, the only extra is sweet vermouth.

Weisstuch also favors Weller's 12-year-old bourbon ($28 for a 750ml bottle), which is one of the few wheated bourbons on the market. That means it's made from mostly wheat and corn, like the more popular Maker's Mark ($23 for a 750ml bottle).

But before buying, Weisstuch suggests looking for a bottle of bourbon that was aged in a single barrel and not from multiple barrels -- "that indicates quality," she explains

"Small batch" bourbons are just one level below "single barrel" and often times can be value buys. For example, Weisstuch likes Jim Bean's Knob Creek -- a nine-year-old small batch bourbon ($27 for a 750ml bottle).

While Jim Beam may be often seen at dive bars and roadside saloons, she notes that there's a huge difference between their white label, which is aged four years, and the black label, which is aged eight years or longer. "Definitely worth a shot -- err ... a try," Weisstuch says.

Need something even a bit lighter on the wallet? Charles Cowdery, author of Bourbon, Straight, enjoys a few bargain buys starting at $10 a bottle, including Very Old Barton, Evan Williams and Ancient Age.

But when it comes to his personal preference, he says, "my favorite bourbon is one that somebody else is paying for." To top of page

Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.64%3.64%
15 yr fixed2.76%2.76%
5/1 ARM2.90%2.95%
30 yr refi3.66%3.69%
15 yr refi2.79%2.81%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 17,873.22 44.93 0.25%
Nasdaq 4,933.51 31.74 0.65%
S&P 500 2,099.06 8.96 0.43%
Treasuries 1.85 0.03 1.54%
Data as of 10:55am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 14.88 0.18 1.22%
Coca-Cola Enterprise... 51.55 0.69 1.36%
Baxalta Inc 45.53 -0.17 -0.37%
Apple Inc 100.35 -0.06 -0.06%
Micron Technology In... 12.31 0.36 3.01%
Data as of May 27

Sections

Jean-Claude Decaux, the French businessman who produced the first automatic public toilets, died at the age of 78. More

Janet Yellen hinted again Friday that a June or July interest rate hike is a very real possibility. More

The FBI has opened a national security investigation into the hacking of Bangladesh's central bank amid signs that the hack might have come from North Korea. More

The gender pay gap in the labor market is pretty well documented. But the gender gap also exists in the housing market. More