If I had one hundred dollars to spend on whiskey….

A few weeks ago I was asked a question by a twitter follower (@GQuiz) and Sour Mash Manifesto visitor. He wanted to know “if I had $100 to spend, what whiskey(s) would I buy?” Bill over at Modern Thirst thought it would be a good idea to pose the same question to a number of other whiskey enthusiasts, bloggers, and writers in order to get their take as well. The responses are on his website, but below you can find mine.

Over the years I’ve been asked a thousand times to provide a “best” list of whiskey. I’d love to, but that’s just hard. If a whiskey lover can tell you exactly what her favorite whiskey is then I’d say she hasn’t sipped enough whiskey. I sure as hell couldn’t give you a top 10 or 20, much less a top 5. Every whiskey has a personality to fit a certain mood. It’s not much different than having a diverse mix of friends – you enjoy spending time with all of them for different reasons. Even a seemingly innocent question such as the one above becomes very hard when you consider all of the options.

First let me provide some context. There were few rules applied to this question – it could be approached from any possible angle (and I did!). The first constraint I placed on my response was to make certain I only considered American Whiskey. If you’ve visited this website enough I’m sure you know that Made in the U.S.A products are my area of focus. After that, anything goes!

I’ve attacked this question in too may ways. For example, right now I’m sipping a delicious barrel strength Booker’s Bourbon. It’s a delicious whiskey – never fails! If I allow recency bias to go crazy this Booker’s ($55) and Elijah Craig Single Barrel ($35) (for good measure) would wrap this thing up quick (I just cheated but you might want to write those down). Find me on a Tuesday with a hankering for a fabulous American Craft Single Malt, and the St. George Spirits Single Malt 14th release ($80 and a truly incredible pour) along with a handle of Evan Williams Black Label might get the nod (cheated again, but check these out). Get the point? This is a complex scenario. I needed order. I needed a compass to guide me.

The classics are classics for a reason. Can you find better? Perhaps, but you’ll be splitting hairs. The versatility that the classics bring to the table are simply too good to ignore. So, with that, the way I answered this question is I marched into my dining room, which holds hundreds and hundreds of bottles of whiskey, and I looked for the ones I purchased most. What do I buy? Regardless of what I think on a random day, I buy certain whiskeys consistently. And that I suppose is the best endorsement I can give.

If I had $100.00 to spend on whiskey, this is what I’d purchase?

Four Roses Single BarrelFour Roses Single Barrel ($35): If you love whiskey, please do yourself a favor and type “Jim Rutledge” in the search box on the top right of this website. Feel free to read the background on Four Roses and watch the videos I did with Jim, the Master Distiller, a number of years ago. Four Roses is easily a top 3 distillery in the U.S, maybe the best, but that’s subjective. The way the distillery works with recipes, yeast strains, and aging philosophy is completely different from everyone else. The distillery’s single barrel is the flagship of the lineup – fruity, well structured, bold and vibrant, but extremely well balanced. I have a bottle or two of the Single Barrel on hand at all times. It’s a requirement. Typically I’ll drink it neat or with a cube of ice, but don’t hesitate to make a bourbon-forward cocktail. It’s not against the law with such a good whiskey, and rest assured it will certainly stand up and be accounted for.

Rittenhouse Rye Bottled In BondRittenhouse Rye Whiskey ($25): Personally, no home bar is complete without a quality bottle of rye whiskey. Rittenhouse happens to be a bit more versatile than most others. It’s not quite as green and herbal as other popular rye whiskeys, and the value proposition is on point. If you are new to rye whiskey – start here. If you are well acquainted with rye whiskey – stay here. Rittenhouse Rye always delivers.

W.L. Weller 12 YearW.L. Weller 12 year ($30): Forget all of the “it’s the same stuff as Pappy” bull crap. That’s no reason to by it. Buy Weller 12 because it’s an excellent pour of whiskey on its own merit. It’s rich, sweet, but with a healthy oak backbone. Wheated bourbon north of the 10 year mark just becomes special, and Weller 12 exemplifies that. I drink it neat, in an old fashioned, a mint julep, and on ice in the heat of the summer – versatile and delicious. Availability is tighter than the others, but unlike a lot of the limited releases, Weller 12 shows up couple times a year. Talk to your local shop, request a bottle and let me know what you think. I typically by 3-4 bottles a year at my local retailer to make sure I have enough on hand.

Edited Note: While I’ve got a little money left over with the above list, I also took into account price variances depending on area. The above prices are an average for what I see, but Four Roses Single Barrel can push that $40 range at times, and Rittenhouse can move $2-3 north. So the above are ballparks.

There you have it. It may not be sexy, it may not be unique, but it’s what I buy. That is as good a recommendation as I can give. Share with us what you would buy if you had $100 to spend. Just as importantly – tell us why.

Cheers and drink your whiskey!

-Jason

55 Comments

  1. I’m with you on the Four Roses SB but would trade W12 for Elijah Craig 12 and replace Rittenhouse with Evan Williams BiB or Old Forester Signature or OGDBiB. As you say, personal preferences…

  2. I was surprised Elmer T. Lee was not on your list, Jason.

  3. Andrew says:

    Jason, are we limiting ourselves to non-Scotch, U.S. only, whiskeys?

    At first glance of your list I do not see any reason to argue with your selection(s). As you discussed, much of this is personal taste. I will also add it is dependent on local availability of product and local pricing. Checked online with the local big boxes here in So FL and Weller was nowhere to be found. Also, Four Roses Single Barrel was $40 and the Rittenhouse 100 BiB was $30.

    However, if I were to use your pricing and had to find a replacement for Weller 12 I might go with a 375ml bottle of Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. Will take the rest on account. ;)

  4. Andrew says:

    OK, looking again I see your rule for US only.

  5. Fantastic write-up. Couldn’t agree more on your point that it is impossible to list your top 5, 10 or 20 whiskeys. I will share a few staples that I typically always have. Four Roses Small Batch. Reason: it’s a great sample of their diversity, rounding out 4 of their 10 recipes. Love this fruity/vanilla pour. And for under $30. Are you kidding me?! Next for my rye whiskey, it’s a toss up of two perfectly ‘sourced whiskies from Indiana and that is Bulleit Rye and Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7yr Rye. Bulleit for me has slight edge because it’s sometimes found for
    $25 or less. Both are comparable. SAOS has more of a bite, but that’s the 99proof coming at you. It’s just more full bodied. The Bulliet is just superb. A minty, light spice with (hate to use it again) vanilla. Almost reminds me of a Shamrock Shake. (Laughing at me now is expected). The last bottle I will list is a go-to must own bottle of Islay Scotch. Laphroaig 10yr (or the Quarter Cask). Both regularly available. Both outstanding. For me, having an Islay Scotch around is perfect. I compare it to wanting either a sweet snack (American Whiskey) or a salt snack (Islay). So there you have it. 4R- $28, Bulleit – $25 and Laphroaig 10 – $48. Rounds out at about $100 well spent!!

  6. John says:

    You still got 10 bucks left!
    If I had $10 to spend on whiskey…

  7. Andrew says:

    Sorry Drew, the Laphroaig 10 is not allowed by the rules.

  8. @bdroberts816 says:

    This is an interesting question. Clearly, bang for your buck is the name of the game and seeing how many options you can give youself is the challenge. I’ll cheat a little and go with $100 pre tax

    1) Handle of George Dickel No 12 ($35.99 in Columbia, SC). I’m a recent convert to Dickel thanks in part to some of the reviews here on SMM. The 90 proof no 12 does well and holds up pretty well in cocktails. A Handle for less than $40? BIg Bang, moderate amount of bucks.

    2) Bulleit Rye. ($24.99 in Columbia, SC). A nice rye to add some diversity to the lineup.

    3) 1L woodford reserve ($37 in Columbia, SC). A personal favorite that sometimes gets overshadowed but one I always enjoy pouring.

    Look forward to seing what folks come up with.

  9. Mark says:

    Great choices…I’m a wheater guy, so I always have Weller 12 in supply.. always have Ritt too.. and store selection 4R single barrel.. 3 very different pours for different occasions..

  10. RTR says:

    I have not tried Weller, I can’t find the 12 year old. Right now, though EWBIB is my favorite.

  11. Storcke says:

    Great question for me, because this is how I have to buy whiskey all year ’round; I usually have about $20/month in the liquor budget. And like everyone else, I usually have at least a dozen different brands open, to fit the mood at the moment. But here goes. 1) A handle of Larceny, $37. Yes, I love Weller 12 and know that it is a superior wheater, but Larceny has woven its magic spell around my tastebuds. 2) EWBiB, $11 3) Rittenhouse 100, $22 (actually, I usually buy it for $20) 4) Very Old Barton BiB,$12 5) Dickel 12, $18 (a little cheat here–I did find it on sale for this last Fall).
    Also, we need to know how long this hundred dollars worth is supposed to last–a month? a year? a lifetime?

  12. Rock Able says:

    Shhhhh! don’t be afraid Ellington everyone about 4R SB and Wellers! I can’t find any Wellers in NC to save my life right now but I do have a bottle of 4R in my stash. It’s interesting to see the EW BIB mentioned so much. That is one of the best values around, for sure. I’d substitute a bottle of Baker’s for the rye, however.

    Glad to see you’re still at it. As you said, I can’t limit myself to just a few picks. I don’t see how anyone just drinks one whiskey all of the time when there are all these great ones just waiting to be tasted!

  13. Rock Able says:

    That should have said, “don’t be telling everyone” . Sorry but I couldn’t edit my post and didn’t proof it.

  14. Greg Woods says:

    Great list! W.L. Weller 12 year is harder to find where I live but the Special Reserve variety is readily available and quite good.

  15. Sorry @Rock Able – I cannot tell a lie! :)

  16. @Storcke – you dictate those variables. Whatever you think. I like the values you mentioned and agree on Larceny. I like it better than all of the Weller products save Weller 12.

  17. @bdroberts816 – How the hell did I not include Dickel No. 12? You just obsoleted this post! Kidding, but in all seriousness – No. 12 is ALWAYS on hand in my home.

  18. @Grant Johnson – Elmer is an all time fave of mine. Brilliant whiskey. Sourcing it now is like finding a unicorn. I just lopped it off, but rest assured it was one of the 10 that went across my mind.

  19. Joe says:

    I just came across the greatest deal I’ve ever seen- Four Roses Single Barrel for $21 per bottle. I love variety in my bourbon drinking as much as anybody, but with that good of a bourbon on that good of a sale, it’s hard to say I’d do anything but buy 5 bottles of Four Roses SB.

    If you go by the regular Four Roses SB price, I’d buy a bottle of that, Larceny, and Rittenhouse Rye.

  20. Alan says:

    Great topic Jason! Hard choices, but here goes based on what I buy most…
    1. Woodford Reserve ($30)
    2. Rittenhouse Rye BIB ($25)
    3. Knob Creek ($30)

  21. dan says:

    Excellent post. I read all the other sites, too. The idea of this cross-post is a great one. Nice to see some core bourbon writers posting up on the same thing at the same time. Well done!

    If I had a Benjamin I think I’d go this route:

    1. WT101 (handle) … the key go-to: 40ish
    2. Eagle Rare …. 32
    3. EWSB…. 30

    Keep up the great work, Jason.

    -Dan

  22. Greg says:

    That’s a fair list staying within the $100 limit. I think Weller 12 is too variable. I’ve seen prices as low as $23 and as high as $199 plus it’s very difficult to find in many market. Two other good selections would be Old Grand Dad 114 and Evan Williams BIB white label.

  23. Alan says:

    Another $100 favorite would be:
    1. Blantons ($50)
    2. Bookers ($50)

  24. Freddy Ray says:

    Can’t go wrong with your 3 choices, Jason. I’d take em any day, any season. Just to spice things up I’ll kick in these 3 other old friends of mine:
    -Elijah Craig 12yr
    -Evan Williams SB
    -Sazerac Rye
    Might run over the cap in some areas of the country, but there are places in San Antonio where they can be had for a C-note (if you know where to look). Glad to see you posting again!

  25. Matt says:

    I’m an expat living in Germany, so I’ll give you what I would take for 100 euros…
    Blantons straight from the barrel: 50…absolutely amazing stuff, hopefully BT gets it together and releases this stuff in the states too!
    FRSB: 25
    WT 101: 25

  26. John says:

    Here is my Maximum Bang for the Buck $100 whiskey purchase:

    1750 ml Evan Williams BIB – $25
    750 ml Rittenhouse Rye BIB – $25
    750 ml Elmer T Lee – $30
    1750 ml Mellow Corn BIB – $20

  27. Marc says:

    Four bottles of Evan Williams single barrel, or one bottle of Parker’s Heritage Wheat.

  28. Daniel says:

    I love your criteria…what do I most often buy…my $100 would go to…
    1) – E.H. Taylor Small Batch ($40)
    2) – Old Weller Antique ($25)
    3) – Eagle Rare ($30)

  29. Texas says:

    If I had to spend a $100 and get my best bang for buck:

    Weller 12 (if you can find it since it is even scarce in Texas now): ~$25
    Jim Beam BIB: ~$24
    OGD 114 (or BIB): ~$25
    Four Roses Small Batch: ~$25

  30. DJ Mal says:

    Four Roses Yellow label
    Elijah Craig
    Rittenhouse Rye
    Old Forrester Signature

    Now can somebody loan me 100 bucks?

  31. Scott says:

    Jason, I’m with you whole-heartedly on two of your choices…but only because I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing the Rittenhouse. Elmer T would have slid into it’s place @ #2 if it wasn’t such a bear to find, but since it is, I have to go with my all time favorite value pour…and that is Buffalo Trace. For me, given its’ price, availability and presentation, BT is my #1. Followed oh so closely by the 4R Single Barrel @ 1A. Weller 12 is firmly entrenched at #3, but only because it is a tough find. Special mention to EC 12 and 4R Small Batch.

    Who needs Pappy when you have so many quality sub $40 bottles!?

    Drink your bourbon….

  32. Leif says:

    Love the
    1) Bookers Cask Strength
    2) woodfurd double oaked
    3) not sure on #3 yet

  33. Db6strings says:

    Jason, I agree with your assumptions and like your picks. 4R SB is my everyday favorite. I would also endorse the Elmer and Elijah Craig SBs. Based on your site, I have tried and absolutely love WhistlePig straight rye and the George Dickel select 14 year old (woefully under-rated). Tastes will vary and barrels and bottlings do too. I find you and I usually like a lot of the same things. Pappy is awesome, but for under a $100 with some change left over you can easily find some great top shelf whiskeys. I love the site.

  34. Sipper says:

    4R Single Barrel used to be my go to, but local prices went up from $32 to $46. Not a fan of most under $30+ bourbons, 4R Single Barrel was right in the sweet spot, haven’t found a replacement. 4R Small batch doesn’t quite do it for me. Elmer is great, but hard to find. I hate ABC stores. If someone gave me $100 and I had to get multiple bottles, I’d do 4R Single, Elmer and spend the rest on good steaks or bushel of oysters.

  35. Sid Gutierrez says:

    I am sure you get asked this question allot, however I figure I would ask anyways. I have been trying to get a a hold of Buffalo Traces antique collection for over four years now. I try every liquor store in Dallas but it always gets sold to high purchasing customers. I see people online selling these bottles at almost 400% markup. Do you have any recommendations on how to get some of these exclusive bourbons? Thank you.

  36. DJ Mal says:

    Sid,

    The answer to your questions can be found in Jason’s post from Jan 6th, 2015. We’re happily keep’in it real here in 2015. The Antique Collection is not real.

  37. GQuiz says:

    Jason, writing a blog entry in the same space as you was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. You write with such an informed elegance (best way I could describe it). But it was an experience I treasured. There are thousands of combinations anyone could conceive, and they would be based on their palates. I know a lot of people got hung up on rules around the $100. The question I posed to Bill at Modern Thirst and ultimately you came from the fact I was turning 50 and knew I was getting liquor store gift cards for my birthday. I wanted advice from the Mount Rushmore of American Whiskey. How would you spend it? Well I also got some bottles for my birthday… many of which have figured prominently here at the Manifesto. Since I already have Weller 12, Rittenhouse, and a host of others… I used the $100 in gift cards to buy Elijah Craig 12, Four Roses Single Barrel, and Bernheim Wheat Whiskey. I had 40 cents to spare. Jason, thanks for the continued expert advice and for keeping it real in 2015. I can’t wait to see what catches your attention next. I’m off to drink my bourbon.

  38. Luciano says:

    Great post and great whiskey choices! I recently spent my $100 this way:
    Knob Creek Single barrel: $36
    Rittenhouse Rye BIB: $20
    Four Roses Private Selection, barrel strength: $44

    Gotta love Louisiana prices! :D

  39. westy says:

    Walked around my local store today and came up with this:

    1. Rye. Rittenhouse ($26) or Bulleit ($22).

    2. Wheated bourbon. Larceny $22. Or Makers 46 ($33).

    3. Punchy bourbon. WT 101 ($22 for 750 or $32 for a handle), Bulleit ($22), Old Forester Signature 100 ($21). BT ($22) for a little less punch.

    4. If I have any money left over, a handle of EW 1783 ($25).

  40. james stermer says:

    Is Rebel Yell in this category?

  41. Karsten Radant says:

    Greetings from Europe.

    I just spent $75 on Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition (2014) and $90 on FR Single Barrel Limited Edition (2013). Available here in Copenhagen in my local specialist store. 10-15 bottles just standing on the shelves. More than $100 in total, but less than $100 pr. bottle. So I guess it qualifies for the subject. But to comfort you all I can inform you that it is the 0,7 l European standard bottle. So I’m a healthy pour short of the US size. But hey! Everything is bigger in America as we say(-;

  42. Charlie says:

    Using the June 2015 price list from Montgomery County, Maryland ABC, my choices would be Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond, Four Roses Small Batch, Elijah Craig 12, and Buffalo Trace. These four total $98 before sales tax. Honorable mention to Wild Turkey 101, Four Roses Yellow Label, Evan Williams Bottled in Bond, and Bulleit Rye.

  43. These all are great brands of whiskey. It’s all are available at very cheap price in USA. I like all bourbon brands. Thanks for sharing this great whiskey blog.

  44. Dawn says:

    Jason, What a clever idea. $100 to stock the home cabinet. OK. I’m putting Russell’s Reserve 10y (35), and Talisker 10y (60) in there and closing the door happily. Something rich and easy, and something entirely more challenging.

  45. Ray says:

    Jason – what bottle are you referring to in the beginning when you mention a single barrel Elijah Craig @$35? I can’t figure out which one it could be, or find a review of hours of it. The EC single barrels I see have quite a bit of age on them and go for big dollars. I’d love to find and try the one you were referencing. Thanks.

  46. Jim Davis (Storcke) says:

    Jason,
    Two reports: First, my brother in Lexington brought me two bottles of Heaven Hill Old Style 6 year old BiB to a family reunion (at my request), and it is great. First of all, it costs $9.29 at Kroger, and based on everything I had read about it, I expected something special, and it definitely is. I compare the flavor profile to something between Weller 12-year (it is not wheated) and Old Forester Signature, which I love. It has a refined flavor and smooth mouth feel which I compare favorably to
    Weller12, and I rank it equal to or just above EWBiB. It just might beat out Larceny as my favorite everyday bourbon.
    Speaking of Larceny, I recently received a gift of the newest version. Because I had stocked up on the original release (remember the rebate?), this is the first time I have tasted a later release. I remember that in your original review you said that the harsh oak down the center of the tongue was something that HH would possibly eliminate in future bottlings. Well, they did, but in the process, they have eliminated the rich, fruity flavors that made it my absolute favorite bourbon. I am not crazy about the latest release, and I have informed HH (Parker Beam?) of this. I did note that a 50-50 “mingling” of old and new Larceny was great, and urged them (him?) to strive for that in future bottlings.

  47. Lonnie says:

    Motherfucker, make some more vid, I drink bourbon everyday (i know it may be a problem, I have an ultrasound coming up) but I really relate to you.

  48. Bob H says:

    Jason-I enjoy your articulate and passionate reviews. I started with bourbon some years ago because I felt bourbon was truly the best bang for the buck. I liked the corny sweetness of bourbon and the balanced complexity of some of the better bourbons. I felt it was only a matter of time before the single malt craze ended and bourbon started getting it’s due. Now, I feel line the bourbon craze will end and the “next big thing” will take it’s place. I, however will be stuck on bourbon for a long time to come. The deeper I delve, the more I discover, and now, I’m afraid, I’m in love. Not with you, Jason, but with a number of bottles that are simply exceptional and, well, love is love.
    Let me share some of these with you.
    Most recently, Elijah Craig barrel proof bourbon. This bourbon has incredible viscosity and deep, sweet flavor. It has the same quality as certain foods that I could eat until I explode. French toast. Cinnamon Blintzes. Incredible palate of all of my favorite things. Browned butter. Robitussin? Yes, it’s in there. Cherry Heering. There is umami here, a savoriness that is not usually found in the bourbon bottle. This bottle excites me and I will hunt down every available bottle and purchase with no equivocation. Well, I do have some financial constraints, but I am almost willing to mortgage the farm for this one.
    Angels Envy Rye: well, some say it tastes like rye with rum extract.
    No-this rye has sucked all of the incredible coco/pina goodness out of grade A rum barrels and here is a rye that is absolutely luscious. Luscious is a word not often applied to the dry, peppery rye profile. Be prepared for luscious rye. I cannot remember when a Rye excited me. This is Margaritaville in a Tommy Bahama bottle. You will drink it, and laugh.
    Finally, from my top 3, is Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Yes, I know. Your Grandpappy used to drink Wild Turkey on the back porch. It was probably a buck a bottle and it was probably the best buck Grandpappy could spend, because those guys have been making bourbon since forever and a day. Yes, you can spend a fortune on a bunch of expensive, high-proof bourbons that haven’t passed the test of time. Yeah, the distillers are “geniuses” and “bourbon gurus” with degrees from Cornell in Bourbon engineering, or what ever. Or you can go with a bourbon that has passed the test of time. These guys have a product that is legitimate and unabashedly excellent.
    A finely balanced expression that fuses the very best bourbon qualities into a balanced, barrel-strength concoction that will simply blow you away. So drink hearty, mates. I will be right there with you.

  49. Wouter Stoffels says:

    Wild Turkey 101 – 30 €
    Elijah Craig 12 jr -38 €
    Pure Kentucky xo -32 €
    ——
    100 €

  50. beurbs says:

    After reading your review of the epic George T. Stagg bourbon, I’d love to know your opinion on Stagg Jr, should you get a chance to review it.

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