Liquor Laboratory

What is the Worst Cheap Bourbon? 13 Listed (2024 Updated)

what is the worst cheap bourbon

As a solid bourbon enthusiast, your palate should know how every bourbon tastes. We’d be lying if we said we loved every bourbon we tasted. So what is the worst cheap bourbon? Thankfully, you don’t need to go through the horror of tasting every bottle. Our team did a tasting test to determine which bottle was abysmally bad.

Top 13 Worst Cheap Bourbons 

13. Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand

Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand

Average Price: roughly $12

ABV: 40%

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

What Most People Say:

Benchmark Old No. 8 is considered the most basic of this brand. There is nothing special in it that can wow you.

The palate is also a bit sourly, but it also has candy corn and vanilla flavors, similar to the favorite bottle of Mark Twain, Old Crow.

It isn’t such a bad drink, but it certainly has room for improvement. 

12. David Nicholson 1843

David Nicholson 1843

Average Price: $30

ABV: 50%

Distillery: Heaven Hill

What Most People Say:

The usual Heaven Hill ABV is not present with this bourbon since this is 100 proof. This explains the strong ethanol smell.

What made David Nicholson 1843 appear on this list is its lack of consistency. It is not completely palatable, even with the salted caramel and vanilla flavors that are almost muted. 

11. Town Branch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Town Branch

Average Price: roughly $38

ABV: 40%

Distillery: Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co

What Most People Say:

We didn’t totally find Town Branch bad, except for several obvious flaws that they should address.

The scent of vanilla and honey reaches the nose well, including hints of caramel, cinnamon, and oak. However, the smell of rye spice is a bit too strong.

Then there is that strange taste that greets the tongue, which stays longer than the sweet vanilla notes and honey caramel. It is also a bit dry and not so pleasant to sip straight.

Read: Our Favorite Bottom Shelf Bourbons

10. Cleveland Whiskey The 87 Bourbon Whiskey

Cleveland Whiskey The 87 Bourbon Whiskey

Average Price: roughly $29

ABV: 43.5 %

Distillery: Cleveland Whiskey Distillery

What Most People Say: 

Cleveland whiskey is no Elijah Craig or Maker’s Mark with complex flavors and character. But this whiskey offers a palate with a blend of green oak, vanilla, spice, and sweet butterscotch. It still made its way on the list because of its inconsistencies. 

It is almost flat, and the alcohol burn is also evident. We have a soft spot for bottles with vanilla and caramel, but this bottle needs a bit more push. 

You can use this for a mixed drink during the Kentucky Derby, but you won’t like it if you drink it straight. 

9. Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon 

Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon

Average Price: roughly $14.99

ABV: 40%

Distillery: Barton 1792

What Most People Say:

Kentucky Gentleman shouldn’t be a total letdown since it’s from such a popular distillery. But with high expectations from its makers, you’d be disappointed that it comes in short of everything. 

They did not bother hiding the smell of ethanol, and to think this was just 80-proof. It is charcoal-filtered (1), which we see as the only important factor which improved its smoothness. 

You won’t enjoy how this tastes when drunk, but it is the perfect whiskey for a mixed drink.

8. Kentucky Tavern Bourbon

Kentucky Tavern Bourbon on desk with glass and cigar

Average Price: roughly $12

ABV: 40%

Distillery: Barton Distillery

What Most People Say: 

This whiskey tastes inferior to its most sought-after 7-year-old bottled-in-bond straight bourbon brother.

The liquid is too watery and thin. Vanilla and honey caramel flavors are too muted, as well. 

It’s lackluster and can only have its moment when mixed in cocktails, perhaps in a whiskey sour. But don’t expect too much because the plastic smell lingers longer than its flavors.  

7. Trey Herring’s Carolina Bourbon Whiskey

Trey Herring’s Carolina

Average Price: roughly $29

ABV: 43.5 %

Distillery: Trey Herring’s Carolina Bourbon

What Most People Say: 

This bourbon is locally made in the Carolinas and has a good smoothness if you base it on its light amber hue. The underperformance begins with the nose, which barely escapes the bottle. 

The consistency of the liquid is also very thin, almost as thin as water. The flavor profile is not so bad, but it can use more body. It lacks the sweetness of corn or the consistency that wheat can give.

6. Jesse James Bourbon

Jesse James Bourbon

Average Price: roughly $20

ABV: 40%

Distillery: Jesse James Spirits

What Most People Say:

Jesse James is a flavored bourbon whiskey. But compared to Ezra Brooks, Jim Beam, and Evan Williams flavored variants, it lacks depth and consistency. 

This 80-proof whiskey has the scent of spice crawling out of the bottle into your nose. It tastes sweet and creamy, but the spicy savor makes the tasting notes unbalanced.

5. Old Fitzgerald Prime Bourbon

Old Fitzgerald Prime

Average Price: roughly $15

ABV: 40%

Distillery: Heaven Hill

What Most People Say:

Old Fitzgerald is a good whiskey that uses the same mash bill as Evan Williams and Old Forester but with a lesser percentage of corn. The sweet flavors of malted barley, baked orchard fruit, and vanilla make it savory.

The sharp ethanol scent and the undeniable spicy presence caused us to add it to the list. This Kentucky bourbon is only good for mixed drinks. 

Products from Heaven Hill Distillery are not usually this disappointing, but this corn mash product needs more improvement. 

4. Union Horse White Bourbon Whiskey

Union Horse White on table with glass

Average Price: roughly $28

ABV: 40%

Distillery: Union Horse Distilling Company

What Most People Say

Union Horse White Bourbon Whiskey is sadly a bottle that belongs to the bottom shelf. How the flavors are blended does not create a good palate. 

Baking spices and rye can be tasted almost on all their variants, despite not being a high rye mash bill variant. 

However, that is the only actual taste you can savor apart from the oddness and bitterness that lingers.

3. Winchester Extra Smooth Bourbon

Winchester Extra Smooth Bourbon on desk with glass

Average Price: roughly $20

ABV: 45%

Distillery: TerrePURE Spirits

What Most People Say: 

The extra smoothness of this variant is due to their proprietary TerrePURE method. It was supposed to eliminate congeners and convert them to glycerides (2) for better taste. We said “supposed” because it doesn’t taste like it. 

Whiskeys aged in new charred oak barrels develop a better palate. Utilizing Terrepure is like cutting corners which speeds up the entire process. 

It limits the savoriness, and other stuff may have been added that causes muted tasting notes.

2. Cabin Still

Cabin Still

Average Price: roughly $8.99

ABV: 40%

Distillery: Heaven Hill Company

What Most People Say: 

Cabin Still had a good reputation back in the days when it was still produced by the legendary Stiezel-Weller, proven by the few samples left in circulation. 

Everything changed when Norton Simon Inc. purchased this brand. The beloved honeyed sweetness with vanilla and spices is now muted and accompanied by a sour smell. 

The additives are obvious, and the sugar content is visibly sticky on the head of the bottle. A good percentage of neutral-grain spirits is mixed in this drink, which may have worsened the already underperforming flavors.

1. Hudson Bright Lights, Big Bourbon Whiskey

Hudson Bright Lights, Big Bourbon Whiskey

Average Price: roughly $51

ABV: 46%

Distillery: Tuthilltown Spirits

What Most People Say: 

Your expectations for Hudson Bright Lights would be very high based on how they are marketed and publicized. What made us place it on the list other than the odd way they named their product is the palate. 

Creamy corn, salted caramel, and cinnamon scents are enticing, but when it touches the tongue, you’ll get an array of plastic, astringent, nail polish, and ethanol (3) flavors. 

You’ll taste buttered corn on the cob, but the odd alcohol savor will tug at your buds throughout. 

For its price, you can get Four Roses, Wild Turkey, or the best bottle of Old Crow without the fear of gagging.  

Read: Four Roses Bourbon vs Bulleit

FAQs Related to What is the Worst Cheap Bourbon

Are cheap bourbons usually the worst to sip?

Yes, cheap bourbons are usually the worst to sip because of their tasting notes. High-quality bottles such as Wild Turkey, Evan Williams, or Old Forester ensure that their ingredients are top of the line. But what’s the worst cheap whiskey brand

Do you need to try the worst cheap bourbon to improve your palate?

Yes, you need to try the worst cheap bourbon to improve your palate. It will elevate your palate since you will be familiarized with varied flavors based on mash bill, age, and many more affecting factors. 

Are There Any Common Characteristics of Bourbons Considered to Be of Lower Quality?

Bourbons perceived as lower quality may exhibit harshness, excessive sweetness, artificial flavors, or a lack of complexity. These characteristics can detract from the overall enjoyment of the spirit.

What Are Some Examples of Budget Bourbons That Are Generally Well-Regarded?

While personal preferences vary, some budget-friendly bourbons receive positive reviews and are enjoyed by many enthusiasts. Examples include Evan Williams Black Label, Old Forester 86 Proof, and Buffalo Trace.

Are There Any Warning Signs That Indicate a Bourbon Might Not Be of Good Quality?

Look out for bourbons with overly generic or gimmicky branding, unclear labeling regarding age or sourcing, or excessively low prices that seem too good to be true. These could be indicators of lower quality.

What Should I Do If I’m Dissatisfied with a Cheap Bourbon I’ve Purchased?

If you’re unsatisfied with a cheap bourbon you’ve purchased, consider experimenting with it in cocktails or mixed drinks to see if it improves. Alternatively, you can use it for cooking or sharing with friends who might enjoy it differently.

Is Taste Subjective When It Comes to Evaluating Cheap Bourbons?

Yes, taste is subjective, and what one person considers the “worst” cheap bourbon, another might find perfectly enjoyable. It’s essential to trust your palate and preferences when exploring different bourbon options.

Final Thoughts 

After blind-tasting and cross-referencing reviews, the worst cheap bourbon is Hudson Bright Lights Big Bourbon Whiskey. 

We understand that it has a higher ABV than usual, but its manufacturers can work on lessening its ethanol taste instead of showcasing it. 

Our choices may not be the same as most bourbon drinkers, but these are better off the market. You can find other variants with impeccable tastes but are priced way less.


  1. Carbon filtration and activated charcoal
  2. Glyceride
  3. Ethanol
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