I jest. The republic of the United States ended some time ago, replaced instead with the bureaucratic monster of suffrage and suffering amiably monikered democracy, a phrase as bloated in use as it is bereft of value. In any case, the times are darker now than they have been in recent memory—which is saying a lot, considering the dark road the country has trod for the past eight years, and then the slightly less-dark road it was on for the eight before that. Terrorism threatens us abroad, as do the greater giants of the wakening powers outside of the isolated, comfortable EU sphere. And economic ruin threatens us at home, and crime, and the burning cities and broken communities left in the wake of the most recent storms of activism and, well, democracy. Election day looms as we enter the final act of this farce.
So what else is a man to do but drink?
It is with this in mind that I have, for your convenience, assembled a list of some of the best bourbons available under the $40 ceiling. Prices will vary from state to state (and for my international readers, country to country) due to the obvious differences in distribution and local taxes, but I’d expect these prices to adjust proportionally to what you can find at your nearest liquor store.
I should forewarn you: when alcohol reviewers write of floral tones or full-bodied tastes, I honestly have no idea what they’re talking about. I’m of the opinion that alcohol is meant to be drunk instead of described in the abstract, and words tend to do even greater injustices to describing the pallet than they do describing the tonality of a symphony or the nuance of a poem. As such, I’ll do my best to explain these bourbons in as precise a manner I can, and if you think I’m completely off base, then you can just take a hike. Or better yet, a drink.
Four Roses Yellow – 80 Proof
At the $20 range, it really does not get better than Four Roses. The standard Four Roses Yellow is the cheapest and made of a blend of a couple different recipes, while the other two mainline variations they offer—Small Batch and Single Barrel—reduce the number of recipes. They’re all fantastic. Single Barrel typically runs about $40-$50 around here, and it’s really good sipping bourbon with a taste that far exceeds its price bracket. Yellow, however, is the smooth little brother alternative; it packs enough of a punch to remind you that it’s bourbon, but it’s got some overtones of fruit sweetness to make it among the most accessible bourbons of the lower-end price range. This is and Buck are generally my go-to bourbons unless I feel like mixing it up some week with something else.
Buck Bourbon – 90 Proof
Buck is a bit of a mystery bourbon; the internet doesn’t have a lot of information on it outside of some reviews, and the distillery isn’t all that forthcoming with data as to where it came from or who makes the stuff. Whoever it is, they’re doing a damn fine job. This easily ranks among the best affordable bourbons I’ve ever had, if you can get your hands on it. It’s basically like gnawing on a piece of mahogany that’s been doused in polyurethane and about to be set on fire. Drinking this stuff makes you want to grab your biggest flag and stand on the roof of your house waving it around screaming the national anthem at the top of your lungs.
Medley Brothers – 102 Proof
This is really great stuff. I’ve only seen it in the mid-$30 range myself, but I would definitely believe that it can be sold for more, so don’t be too surprised if it’s in the $40s. This has everything you’d want out of a bourbon; the smooth flavor of oaky smoke-like textures, a bare hint of fruit, and the 102 kick in the throat. It’s dangerous stuff, though; you won’t feel the alcohol hit as quickly as the proof mark would suggest.
Wild Turkey – 101 Proof
You can often find this for cheaper than $28, and the lower-proof Wild Turkey 81 is usually skirts the $20 anyway. Both are good, but the 101 is better and worth the couple extra dollars, especially if you’re using it as a coping mechanism to deal with witnessing the end of Western Civilization or whatever other memes you buy into. Rich, flavorful, and hard-hitting, Wild Turkey is definitely another go-to bourbon for anyone unfamiliar with bourbon. While Maker’s is probably the better party choice, Wild Turkey isn’t far behind, and it’s cheaper.
Bulleit Bourbon – 80 Proof
I don’t understand how Bulleit is priced. I’ve seen it frequently going for the $35-$40 dollar range, but then just recently I got a bottle for about $28. In any case, it’s good stuff and it carries a mild sweetness to it, like paint thinner, but it’s got enough of a richness of flavor to make up for it. I wouldn’t spend more than $35 on it, personally, especially if you’re going to be bringing this to a gathering of friends and don’t expect to leave the place with the bottle.
Buffalo Trace – 90 Proof
Worth getting. I honestly haven’t had this in years, but I remember it being pretty good. That was before I’d had a lot of other crap, though, so for all I know it could be awful. The label has a cute bison on it.
Old Forester – 86 Proof
It’s cheap, but it’s good. It lacks the complexity and sweetness of Four Roses, but it makes up for that in the sawdust of the hill country rustic Appalachian ruined shacks and the feeling of your grandfather’s furniture that he put together himself from logs felled in the 1870s. It’s plain, and it’s simple, and while its proof is on the lower side of most bourbons out there, it’s still got enough of a kick to remind you of that roughshod family table with solid legs that don’t move any when you hit your little toe on one of them.
Maker’s Mark – 90 Proof
Accessible. Sweet. This stuff is candy. Where the likes of Four Roses carries smooth apple overtones and Buck carries a reminiscence of how a freshly opened can of wood lacquer smells, Maker’s Mark goes overboard with its nearly addictive sweetness. It’s more of a caramel thing than a fresh fruit thing. As such, it’s party bourbon you should get if you plan on having friends over for a post-Election Day drowning, but not the most hardy of bourbons on the market.
What to Avoid
Anything that comes from Tennessee. Especially Jack Daniels. Also, avoid anything that has the word “honey” on its label. That stuff is pretty much unilaterally saccharine and gross.
I should end this with a disclaimer letting you know that you shouldn’t polish off a bottle of whiskey and then get behind the wheel of a car and speed on down to your friend’s place to watch the debates, but we all know the debates are over now. I shouldn’t recommend drinking before walking into a voting station. I shouldn’t recommend carrying on with political discourse while completely intoxicated, but I’d be a hypocrite for condemning that sort of unsightly behavior.
Instead, I’ll end this by encouraging everyone to stay safe during the coming weeks and to stock up on drinking water, ammunition, and foodstuffs. Put it all away in your fallout shelter, if you were smart enough to build one (I wasn’t). It seems like the end is coming, folks! Sit back with that glass of Medley Bros. and enjoy the fireworks!