Now that Bourbon Heritage Month is in the rearview mirror, the fall release season will be picking up steam and we are sure to see email announcements, raffles, charity auctions, and lawn chair tater lines wrapped around liquor stores across this great land. There is nothing worse than showing up late for a bourbon drop or catching a late number lottery ticket and being offered an overrated (and usually overpriced) alternative to that bottle you woke up early to snag. This year we are not just calling out the Emperors with no clothes, we are naming names of excellent alternatives that will satiate your palate for fine bourbon and preserve a pretty penny. These alts should be readily available in most markets.
Have a different take? Let us know in the comments.
#5 – Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon – MSRP: $219 at 131.3 proof
Nothing says “OMFG” like 5-year old Texas bourbon north of two Benjamins. I don’t have anything against Texas, per se, but these releases come in hot and loud with a one-note punch that screams “Don’t Mess with Texas Whiskey.” This release shows that if you put wax on it, you can charge whatever you want.
Alternative: Makers Cask Strength (MSRP: $46 at 108 to 114 proof) For 1/5th the price and with an extra year of aging, you can get a wax-dipped cask strength bottle that is readily available and much more enjoyable.
#4 – Copper Tongue Orphan Barrel – MSRP: $100 at 89.8 proof
You must appreciate the chutzpah of the Diageo marketing team to continue to roll out increasingly lower quality products with a pretty label and watch them disappear from store shelves. My favorite marketing twist on this “gem” of a 16-year Dickel is the brand recommendation to drink it “neat or thoughtfully garnished with a slice of pear.” Yes, a slice of pear. Well, if you haven’t been disappointed by Dickel yet, this is your chance. I’m somewhat shocked the MSRP is so low, but I plead with you to just step away and let that snake bite someone else.
Alternative: Chattanooga Whiskey 111 (MSRP: $26 at 111 proof) If you’re looking for a Tennessee bourbon product that will tantalize your palate, leave a little extra in the bank account, and reserve all of your disappointment for Fantasy Football team, this is the one to try. Read our very own review of Chattanooga Whiskey 111 here.
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#3 – Old Forester Birthday Bourbon – MSRP: $130 at 104 proof
This is sure to ruffle some feathers. But even though EVERYBODY loves Jackie, this annual release always overhypes and underdelivers. The funny-looking commemorative bottle cannot save the average juice inside. In a normalized supply and demand world, I would walk by this 10 times out of 10 sitting on the shelf and reach for a two-pack of the alternative below instead.
Alternative: Old Forester 1920 (MSRP: $60 at 115 proof) At less than half the cost, the 1920 is widely available on retail shelves and is a consistent performer that is priced well. But taters gonna tater. So, spend your hard-earned cash on Birthday Bourbon if you must; you’ve been duly warned there are better OF options out there.
#2 – Old Fitz Decanter – MSRP: $110 at 100 proof
Man, those pretty decanter bottles are so attractive. With the Old Fitzgerald name, it feels like you’re buying a piece of bourbon royalty. I really love almost everything Heaven Hill puts out. Still, every Old Fitz decanter series release has been a dud, and this fall’s special edition will be no different. It’s not a bad decanter buy at $110, but I bet you won’t see it for less than $250 in most stores.
Alternative: Buy half a case of Evan Williams BIB (MSRP: $19 at 100 proof). Just look for the white labels in boxes stacked floor to ceiling, and you can be in and out before the next tater asks for Blanton’s.
#1 – Blanton’s – MSRP: $60 at 93 proof
Speaking of Blanton’s, this could arguably be the most overrated bourbon of the new millennium. The sheer magnitude of verbal requests that I have heard in stores makes my skin crawl. Nowadays, I find as many stores with posted notices about Blanton’s as Pappy. Y’all know you can purchase the set of horse toppers for less than the MSRP of a single bottle, right? Or maybe you’re collecting just for the hell of it, like this guy, who doesn’t even drink or like the flavor of Blanton’s bourbon.
For those of you new to the world of bourbon, Blanton’s was the first commercially available single barrel product on the market. It’s certainly not the best single-barrel bourbon on the market anymore. But the Sazerac marketing wizards put that unique shaped bottle and set of horse stoppers spelling out B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S to work frothing a tater frenzy that has no end in sight.
In 2016, I assisted a retail store in selecting a barrel of Blanton’s. After the boxes sat much longer than anticipated, I went back and bought another case from him just to help him get it moved. That was only five years ago, and I gave away most of those bottles in the past couple of years. My preference? Buffalo Trace flagship has the same age as Blanton’s, and the single barrel store picks are less than half the cost. I’m also a huge Buffalo Trace mash bill #1 fan. I am sure mash bill #2 was handed to the marketing team as an experiment that worked as well as Frankenstein’s monster. Now, where are all the villagers with the pitchforks and torches? Oh yeah, they’re camping out waiting for the Blanton’s raffle to start.
Alternative: Four Roses Single Barrel (MSRP: $40 at 100 proof) – Honestly there are a half dozen single barrel products I prefer over Blanton’s, but this guy is always around, aged a couple years longer than Blanton’s, and almost always overlooked. There are only two types of people: those that agree with me and those that are still trying to get their hands on a bottle of Blanton’s. Drink curious, y’all, but don’t buy the hype or the pretty bottle this year.
Raised in the great state of Tennessee, Matt has a hard time admitting the native spirit of the Bluegrass neighbor to the north captured his obsession (& most of his wallet). Having progressed through the red solo cup days to a passion for a barrel-proof wheated bourbon, neat, Matt is always on the hunt for the next bottle. When he is not scouting or sipping bourbon, Matt spends time with his wife and four children. When he needs money for the next trip to Bardstown, Matt manages a wealth management firm. He always buys bourbon to drink and believes nothing should come between friends except two rocks glasses and a three-finger pour.
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You Sir are spot on!
Thank you 🙏🏻
Right on the money. I was surprised you stopped at 5.
Good point. The nominees were many this year. Which bottles would you add to the list?
10 year BIB
You know, I actually agree with you. I have found McKenna to be hit or miss. Much like Elijah Craig 23 – it can be a bitter oak bomb or a glorious pour but for the high price tag it’s not worth the risk for me. For McKenna, the MSRP is usually around $39 in my market so for the money at MSRP I think it’s worth the gamble.
While I learned to love bourbon thanks to Blanton’s when it first came out, I agree with you on all of your “alternatives.” If you’re buying bourbon to enjoy (and not to be able to say you “own” a bottle of…), go with the named alternatives and save your money.
Matt, I thought for sure you would bring in PVW 15/20/23 for the price point to the list. Another “alternative” would be Elijah Craig, or EC Barrel Proof.
Yes, Pappy is overrated. The 15-year is great at MSRP but who can find it at MSRP anymore? Pops love the Wyoming Whiskey wheated bourbon (I haven’t tried it) so that could be a good alternative.
I have only bought into the hype once and never again it was a huge disappointment , another great alternative IMHO in the 100+ proof is Wild Turkey 101 especially for the price it never disappoints.
Can’t go wrong with the turkey!
Great article and while sure to ruffle some feathers, can’t beat the honesty! I’ve been tempted to plop down the coin for Garrison Bros, but something inside of me balks every time I try…glad my intuition seems to be correct! And you are spot on…can’t go wrong with a Buffalo Trace SiB! Cheers and keep up the great reviews. PS. Adding Chatanooga to my list of “must try’s.”
Brother Matt! As a wheated bourbon fan w/a great sense of humor, I appreciate your assessment of the Top 5 Most Overrated Bourbons. There are so many good bourbons that don’t have hype associated w/them, and those are the ones I enjoy. Hey, if you want to collect bourbon, go for it. Could it be those people are trying to overcompensate for something? For me, I’ll continue to enjoy wonderful bourbon at a reasonable price w/great friends. Cheers!
Obviously you haven’t had Garrisons Brothers Cowboy bourbon. It’s definitely worth the money
Thanks for the notes, just Curious, is The Willet on your list.? One of my favorites.
I hope for the OldFo 1920 you meant the original label. The juice in the new labeled bottles is no where near as good. I’ve blinded over 12 friends with them and they 100% taste differently.
I’d recommend a Russell’s Reserve single Barrel store pick as an alternative to the Birthday Bourbon.
Good list! I agree that Blanton’s is over rated. Eagle Rare, still hard to find, is just as good. Don’t tell anyone, but a whole lot of good stuff gets over looked because of the hype and marketing. Anything BiB is worth checking out.