Bourbon: Scotch Whisky’s Cheaper But Still Awesome Cousin

There’s a reason why a lot of folks think scotch drinkers are snobs – it’s a (relatively) pricey dram.

But so is anything that’s been stored in a warehouse for 12+ years and then exported over the Atlantic ocean. The reality is that scotch whisky is expensive because it’s often aged for a very long time and in another country. If we were to shorten the aging period and do it domestically, it’d be cheaper.

But wait! We do – it’s called bourbon.

By Scottish law (Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009), scotch whisky must be produced in Scotland from water and malted barley. It must also be matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland (aged for at least 3 years). So until it goes into a bottle, it has to remain on Scottish soil. There are, of course, other rules and regs but these are the ones that matter for the comparison between Scotch and Bourbon.

For a bourbon to be labeled as such in the United States (The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits), it must be produced in the United States from a grain mixture of at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred-oak barrels. Straight bourbon must be aged at least two years (if less than 4, the age must be listed on the bottle) but there is no minimum required aging period for other labels.

I know some of you will say that bourbon is different because it uses 51% corn with rye and barley instead of just barley. And you’re right, it is different. But is the difference that much greater than an Islay and a Speyside? Comparable.

I’d had a few bourbons before, Four Roses sent me some of their fine spirits in the past, but I really didn’t get a full appreciation of it until my friend Dave brought over a bottle of Basil Hayden Bourbon. We poured a few glasses of it neat and thoroughly enjoyed it. The price, around $40-45 per 750ml, puts it on par with some of my favorite scotches (Balvenie DoubleWood comes to mind).

Of the 23 Double Gold bourbons from the most recent SF Spirits Competition, ten could be had for $35 or less. In my research about affordable bourbons, I discovered this fantastic post by one of the judges of the SF Spirits Competition in bourbon, Fred Minnick. The next time I visit the local store I’m going to try to find a few of these gems, especially the $20 1835 Texas Bourbon (a search online showed it wasn’t going to be there :().

Do you enjoy bourbon? Do you have a favorite I should try?

15 thoughts on “Bourbon: Scotch Whisky’s Cheaper But Still Awesome Cousin

  1. I’m a whisky fan in general, but I seem to prefer scotch over bourbon. That said, my favorite budget bourbons are: Elijah Craig 12 ($24 in Ohio), Elmer T. Lee (a bit harder to find – about $35), and Four Roses Single Barrel ($45ish).


  2. Try the Buffalo Trace. It’s an affordable bottle in the $25 range, but surprisingly it is among the best of tried. My other favorites include Basil Hayden (like you, this is what won my bourbon appreciation), and Eagle Rare (Good, but personally, not as good as Buffalo Trace, and costs more).

    • Thanks for the suggestion Brian, I’ll keep an eye out for it the next time I’m at the store. A quick check online shows they carry it so I’m excited. 🙂

  3. Im a whisk/e/y fan regardless of country of origin, heck Im just a fan of anything thats been distilled and placed in oak!
    I would suggest trying Elijah Craig 12, I often find predominate scotch drinkers enjoy it more than most other bourbons.
    One thing to consider is that Basil Hayden is considered a high rye bourbon, and it shares the exact mashbill with a few other Jim Beam whiskeys, including Old Grand Dad, if you can get your hands on a bottle of Old Grand Dad bottled in bond (50% ABV) you may be suprised at what you find a $20 note can buy you!

      • I’m actually shocked you liked the Basil Hayden Jim. Basily Hayden is (as Alex said) just slightly more aged Old Grand dads and watered down to 80 proof…. They both share the same mashbill, but Basils is just aged a year or two longer and watered down… the 100 proof Bottled in Bond old Grand dads is WAY more flavorful and has a whicked rye bite to it. the 114 OGD is also a great drinker, but not for the faint of heart. My only problem is that the 6 year old whiskey creates a harsher burn than it should. It’s the only thing that keeps it from beating the snot out of the 100 proof. Basil Haydens is so bland and flavorless in a comparison (not to mention watered down to 80 proof and sold for $20 more)

  4. Hard to remember now, its just a common fact within the bourbon community!
    Interesting to note that “Basil Hayden” is infact the “Old Grand Dad” depicted on the bottle named after him (Old Grand Dad that is, which was around for quite some time before the brand was aquired by Beam)
    Mr Hayden was known for favouring a high rye bourbon when others at the same time were using proportionately much more corn, so these days Beam have both bourbons with the same high rye mash in keeping with tradition (and because its cheaper and easier!)
    Major difference between Basils and Old Grand Dad is that Basil is a minimum of 8years old so there is tad more barrel character and depth, but for my money a higher proof bargain is hard to go past.

    • One of those insider secrets eh? Thanks for sharing it with me (and the rest of the Scotch Addict community!).

      I’ll have to go check it out, to be honest (and I’ve done no research into it) I thought Basil Hayden was just a clever name someone came up with, not that it was actually someone’s name. That’s pretty cool.

  5. If you have not tried it, take a taste of Gentleman Jack from the Jack Daniels distillery in Tennessee. It is a charcoal blend but smooth. There are also some very good Kentucky bourbons but some are rather expensive so I migrate back to good scotch.

  6. I’ll gladly second the recommendations of Buffalo Trace and Elijah Craig 12, both inexpensive quality bourbons with more of a rye as opposed to a wheat presence in the mash. For a real powerful jolt from a quality bourbon, I also like the Wild Turkey Rare Breed (108 proof), pricier than those mentioned above, but still less expensive than any decent Scotch 12 year old single malt.

  7. You can’t go wrong with Bulleit for the price, $25 around here. I really enjoy the Bulleit Rye and I always keep a bottle around the house because it’s cheap and delicious. I do prefer scotch myself, in fact you have another Doublewood fan here! Doublewood was actually my gateway into scotch as the sweetness from the sherry barrels really eases you into the scotch in a similar way that bourbon is sweet from the Kentucky limestone. I always thought that bourbon had to be made in Kentucky or at least with water from Kentucky giving it that sweetness. Another informative post and I learned something. Great read as always. Thank you!

    • I challenge you to find a non-Doublewood fan! 🙂

      And your analysis of why it’s a great gateway matches my own experience, spot on.

      Thanks Jeff!

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