12 Best Whiskeys Under $35

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BEST WHISKEY BUYS

Step up your St. Patrick's Day celebration with a spot of whiskey. There's no need for the super premium variety when there are plenty of affordable options tagged at $35 or less. Cheapism.com pored over the results of the 2014 Ultimate Spirits Challenge to find the best cheap whiskeys. We then cross-checked the judges' picks against specialty blogs and online consumer reviews to determine the best buys in Scotch whisky (the proper spelling dispenses with the "e"), Irish whiskey, bourbon, and rye. 

BEST CHEAP SCOTCH WHISKY: JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK LABEL

This blended highland Scotch is rich with slight notes of toasted grain and spice. It garners four out of five stars in consumer reviewers at Master Of Malt, where the site's own experts comment on the full nose, fruity finish, and complex palate (e.g., creamy toffee, citrus, dry spice, and smoke). The professional tasting panel at the spirits competition named Johnny Walker Black Label a finalist, and noted aromas of breakfast cereal, cedar, and toasted earth along with flavors of rolled oats, nutmeg, and hints of smoke. A 750 ml bottle goes for an average of $20.

RUNNER-UP CHEAP SCOTCH WHISKY: BALLANTINE'S FINEST

One of the better bargains on the blended Scotch market, this light-amber spirit scores 4.5 stars at The Whisky Exchange. Consumer reviewers wax enthusiastic about hints of passion fruit and caramel, a smooth and long finish, and a touch of sweetness. Industry experts awarded Ballantine's Finest a solid score of 92 (out of 100), deeming it clean and refreshing, with apricot and dessert-like spices on the palate and cereal grains and sugar cookies on the nose. Pick up a 750 ml bottle for about $22, and drink neat, fans urge.

GOOD CHEAP SCOTCH WHISKY: DEWAR'S WHITE LABEL

This go-to blend combines up to 40 malt and grain whiskies, yielding a smooth and sippable spirit. Dewar's White Label earns five stars in consumer review, which describe it as balanced with a slight smokiness and hints of vanilla and honey. The Ultimate Spirits Challenge judges gave it a strong recommendation, and were taken by its caramel and apricot scents and tropical, bakery-like flavors enhanced by a touch of smoky malt. Dewar's White Label costs about $20 for a 750 ml bottle.

BEST CHEAP IRISH WHISKEY: TULLAMORE D.E.W. SPECIAL RESERVE

While Tullamore D.E.W. may not be the first Irish whiskey that comes to mind, this 12-year-old blend deserves your full attention. Judges at the 2014 spirits face-off awarded it the Chairman's Trophy and highlighted the complex nose of almond butter and coffee grounds, slight smoky finish, and flavors of ripe tree fruits with candied orange peel. Tullamore D.E.W. also won the double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition three years in a row. Given all the accolades, the $35 price for a 750 ml bottle is a true bargain.

RUNNER-UP CHEAP IRISH WHISKEY: TYRCONNELL SINGLE MALT

The flavors of this single malt whiskey are distinct and powerful, offering hits of honey, sweet spices, apricots, and malt. Expert reviews extol the smooth palate and straightforward presentation, and note tastes such as apricot, oats, and malt, as well as honey, a bit of vanilla, and a hint of smoke. Consumers likewise shower Tyrconnell with praise, calling it refined and creamy. A going price of $34 for 750 ml bottle is a very good deal for a single malt Irish whiskey.

GOOD CHEAP IRISH WHISKEY: JAMESON

With its easy-going body and mellow flavor, Jameson is a hit with consumers, who enjoy the smooth, thick body, the touch of honey sweetness, and the notes of fruit, spice, and grass. Experts like it as well, owing to its complex aromatics comprised of apricot, cereal, and minerality, and a palate imbued with almond, toffee, and baking spices. A good choice for Irish coffee and whiskey sours, the $30 tab for a 750 ml bottle won't drain your reserves.

BEST CHEAP BOURBON: WOODFORD RESERVE

Hailing from the oldest distillery still going strong in Kentucky, Woodford Reserve tastes of honey and spice, coffee and ginger, and gives off scents of cocoa, smoke, and even leather. This is a smooth, thick sipper and consumers consider it an excellent base for an Old Fashioned. Experts are fans, as well, finding the creamy nose with splashes of honey, mango, and smoke and the full palate with tastes of espresso, orange peel, and rye to be particularly appealing. An added inducement to enjoy Woodford Reserve is the going price of about $35 for a 750 ml bottle.

RUNNER-UP CHEAP BOURBON: OLD FORESTER SIGNATURE

This Kentucky bourbon stands tall as a daily nip, according to The Whiskey Jug blog. It kicks with a 50 percent ABV (alcohol by volume), which is softened by a full-bodied flavor of baking spices, dark fruits, caramel, and hints of coconut and wood. Experts from the tasting competition smelled sage, honey, toasted coconut, and caramel in the nose and tasted some vanilla, baking spices, and coconut in the mouth. They liked the toasty finish and deemed Old Forester Signature a very strong value. Indeed it is, at $30 for a 750 ml bottle.

GOOD CHEAP BOURBON: JIM BEAM DEVIL'S CUT

Jim Beam Devil's Cut offers an extraordinary lesson in value with a $27 tag on a 750 ml bottle. Made from a blend of six-year-old whiskey and spirit extracted from the wooden casks in which it aged, this bourbon presents a relatively dry, oaky, and robust taste with undertones of stone fruits and brown sugar. Professional tasters detect aromas of banana, orange zest, and cinnamon and like its smoky character and smooth finish.

BEST CHEAP RYE: SAZERAC STRAIGHT

A six-year-old rye, Sazerac is a lively, full-bodied whiskey that warms the mouth. Judges at the spirits challenge named it a finalist in the rye whiskey category. They gave a shout out to the campfire smoke, coconut, and ripe pear aromas wafting off the brew and tastes of vanilla, honey, and candied orange peel that deepen the elegant finish. For frugal lovers of rye, the $35 a bottle price tag makes Sazerac Straight a top choice.

RUNNER-UP CHEAP RYE: BULLEIT 95 SMALL BATCH

Awarded a Chairman's Trophy in the 2014 Ultimate Spirits Challenge, Bulleit 95 is a blend of flavor and value that's hard to beat. Full of typically fruity and spicy rye character with strong vanilla and cherry in the nose and hints of mango and banana, Bulleit 95 delivers a slight spicy hotness in the mouth mellowed out with peach, cherry, and orange. The finish lingers without burning. A 750 ml bottle usually sells for about $35.

GOOD CHEAP RYE: RITTENHOUSE BOTTLED IN BOND

Rittenhouse Rye earns the "bottled in bond" label as the product of one distillery from one season of one year, although it is aged another four years. The result, according to industry experts, is a bouquet of toasted oats, apricot, marmalade, and woody notes and a honeyed palate complemented by caramel, butter cream, and a grainy sweetness. Rittenhouse was named North American Whiskey of the Year at the 2006 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Set aside about $34 for a 750 ml bottle.

Jeremy Bender also worked on this story.