Would you like this? or that?

I have found that writing about bourbons most of us will never be able to taste is daunting. So many times, I would like to sample some of the so-called “world’s best bourbon,” but sadly, it will never happen. So, I have put together a list of alternatives to hard-to-find or expensive bourbons.

No matter what alternative I choose, someone will say I am wrong. There is no substitution for sipping on an authentic 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, but I will try to get as close as possible. I have included bourbons that are easier to track down and softer on the wallet because everyone likes to save money.

Weller 12-Year-Old/Larceny

W.L. Weller 12-Year-Old is a bourbon that has benefited from the hype. Not to say the bourbon could be better, but it is not worth the hundreds of dollars some stores are charging. When it was released that Weller’s mash bill was the same as the Pappy Van Winkle series, the price soared.

Larceny is a bourbon that has come on strong as of late. Made by Heaven Hill, the bourbon has a similar wheated, non-age-statement. This bourbon can be found just about anywhere liquor is sold. It has notes of vanilla, caramel and classic wheated bourbon flavors, but at only $25.

Blanton’s/Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star

Just because a product is bottled at Buffalo Trace does not always mean it is a Buffalo Trace product. For instance, Age International—a company owned by Takara Shuzo Ltd. of Japan—owns the rights to Blanton’s Single Barrel. Blanton’s is only aged and bottled at Buffalo Trace.

Buffalo Trace Mash bill #2 is actually owned by Age international brand and has a high rye content. The brand owns Rock Hill Farms and Elmer T. Lee. There are three different types of Ancient Age: 80- and 90-proof bottles and Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star. It may be a little harder to find, but much more accessible than Blanton’s and at only $30, what do you have to lose?

Old Forester Birthday/Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style

The birthday bourbon is a yearly release and as of last year, your only shot is through a sweepstake. Each year has a slightly different flavor profile, but what is constant is the price and its collectability. Old Forester has tapped into the need to have every year in the collection. Collectors will spend way over retail to complete the set.

Being from the same brand, there are likely similarities. With no age statement, 1920 is a full-flavored bourbon with sweet, fruity spice characteristics. The price is different, as some Birthdays can go for as much as $1,000 to the right collector, whereas the 1920 Prohibition Style is more around $60.

George T. Stagg/Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, George T. Stagg is elevated above all others. Stagg is a cask-strength bourbon that will blow you away—if you can find it. Highly collectible and full of flavor, a bottle can fetch as much as $500 on the secondary market. Being part of the BTAC reduces the chance of finding a single bottle on the open market.

There are many cask-strength bourbons in the market, but Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is as close to Stagg as you will get. At $60, this alternative is a 12-year-old bourbon with the same smack-you-in-the-mouth flavor of George T. Stagg. Furthermore, being released three times a year helps bourbon lovers find a fix for the yearning of not being able to locate a bottle of Stagg.

Sazarec Rye 18-Year-Old/Bulleitt Rye

Sazarec 18 is one of the original three releases in the first edition of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection in 2000. This rye is the oldest and lowest proof in the collection. A ton of oak fills this bottle with a nice mix of spices. It’s a very balanced whiskey and highly collectible. If you are missing one, you cannot have a complete collection, so it gets lumped into overpriced/overhyped.

All rye whiskies are not the same but Bulleit Rye comes as close to Sazarec 18 as you can get. At $50, Bulleit’s complex profile deserves so much more praise. With this whiskey, you will receive the same punch of oak flavor as Sazarec but without the punch to your wallet.

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