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5 Budget Whiskeys to Buy Dad (And Recipes to Make Them Taste Great)

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If you’re anything like me, you may be struggling to find a last-minute present for your dad. Father's Day is coming up on Sunday, and if your dad’s a bourbon lover, we can help. We’ve put together a list of five whiskeys he'll love that won’t break your budget. One caveat to keep in mind: taste in whiskey can be a highly contentious and very personal issue, so make sure to stay within his tastes. 

Each bottle we’ve selected is $30 or cheaper, but is also a solid value for the price. They also were chosen for their versatility, as they stand up to being poured straight or used in cocktails. As an added bonus, we’ve included a couple recipes that will fancy up almost any bourbon. Cocktails are also a great way to introduce people to new types of booze, so apply as desired. 

1. Jim Beam Bonded ($24)*

Earlier this year, Jim Beam released their bonded whiskey—a new, higher-proof product for bartenders and drinkers alike. As a pre-Prohibition-style whiskey, it’s got a bit of bite. Taste-wise, it falls solidly between the Jim Beam white and black labels. 

The Bottled-in-Bond label leads to the slightly higher price. To be labeled as such, whiskey must be aged in a federally monitored warehouse under lock and key for at least four years.

Thanks to its 100 proof standing, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but smooths out with some time and a bit of water. 

2. Benchmark ($10)*

Benchmark was created as a luxury bourbon brand in the 1960s by Seagram’s and was produced at the Four Roses distillery. Sazerac—the brand, not the cocktail—then purchased the bourbon in 1992. When you get down to it, Benchmark is mentioned repeatedly in whiskey circles as people’s go-to budget bourbon. It is one of the many Buffalo Trace products with only a small amount of rye in its mashbill.

Like other whiskeys in this price range, it can get a bad rap for being too simple. It’s light, bright, and easy to drink, but Dad will make his own conclusions.

3. Old Weller Antique 107 ($24)*

Also produced by Buffalo Trace, Old Weller Antique is distilled from the same blend of grains as Pappy Van Winkle. It’s got a nice spicy backbone, which means you can easily add an ice cube or a bit of water without losing much. It also tastes like a much older bourbon, meaning it’s more complex than its time in the barrel would suggest. 

4. Elijah Craig 12 year ($26)*

Flavor-wise, this is my personal favorite on the list, but if you’re drinking it straight, know that it can take a few minutes to open up. Produced by Heaven Hill, this bourbon is named for the 18th century minister who is supposedly responsible for the practice of aging whiskey in charred barrels.

Whatever its name, try to find bottles with “12 year” printed on the front. Word on the whiskey sites is that the age statement is gradually being phased out from the front label. Although it’s still present on the back, it may signal that the company is trying to remove the age statement entirely.

5. Henry McKenna 10 Year ($25, depending on market)

Also from the Heaven Hill portfolio, Henry McKenna shares the same mashbill as Elijah Craig and it's probably the most impressive whiskey on this list. Like most distilleries, Heaven Hill does something a little different with every whiskey, and they have a winner with Henry McKenna. This single barrel, 10-year-old whiskey goes quickly, and when it goes, you’ll be left wanting more.

As a 100 proof whiskey, it’s going to be as hot as the Jim Beam, but its longer time in the barrel mellows out some of the roughness that comes along with the proof. Its mashbill also has a high rye content, which brings a bit more spice and depth to the table.

*Unless noted, all prices are for the 750 mL size sourced from the Alabama ABC price list. Henry McKenna is not available in Alabama.

Hit The Lab

Two of the most ubiquitous whiskey cocktails are the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan. We’ve already written a full history of the Old Fashioned, so check that out if you’re curious or prefer your Old Fashioned with more fruit.

Old Fashioned

[Modified from Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide, How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant’s Companion.]

2 dashes of bitters
3-4 dashes of gum arabic syrup
2 oz bourbon
Twist of lemon peel for garnish

Combine over ice in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 20-25 seconds or until diluted to taste. Strain into a rocks glass and garnish with the lemon peel.

Manhattan

3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 oz bourbon (or rye)
Orange peel or maraschino cherry for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir vigorously for 20-25 seconds or until thoroughly mixed. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of (or a flamed) orange peel or maraschino cherry. Enjoy.

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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