What is Bottom-Shelf Whiskey?

Abbey Miller
Last Updated on
by Abbey Miller

The way the bartenders arrange bottles in the bars isn’t only for aesthetic reasons but also for the sake of their convenience. Those in the lower racks are more in use, so they should be at hand. On the other hand, upper shelves host premium liquor brands that guests drink less often.

Being labeled as bottom-shelf whiskey isn’t a bad thing. Although some may think of it as a cheap spirit of questionable quality, that’s far from the truth. These liquors are of a lower price, which certainly means they don’t have a superior taste of premium drinks.

But they’re very drinkable, and people enjoy them.

What Is Bottom-Shelf Whiskey, and Why Should You Try It?

What Makes A Bottom-Shelf Whiskey?

Bottom-shelf whiskeys are lower priced whiskeys that are not aged for long as premium whiskeys. They’re made with lower-quality ingredients and are of lesser taste than expensive whiskeys.

These are commercial liquors that bring significant profit to the bars.

Not every whiskey is bottom-shelf, but it must meet these certain criteria:

  • Low price
  • Good taste
  • Shorter aging process
  • Popularity

Low Price

If you take a peek at the bar menu, you will notice that whiskey prices vary considerably. There are expensive bourbons and affordable commercial liquors. If you want to drink on a budget, you’ll opt for cheaper bottom-shelf whiskeys.

Lower price is the main characteristic of bottom-shelf whiskey, although there are cheaper and pricier options. But neither of these is of poor quality; it all comes down to popularity and production costs.

You can find bottom-shelf whiskey in liquor stores, retailers, and gas stations for tens of dollars. A shot in a bar will cost you just a few bucks. The low price may deter some from drinking, but once they try this liquor, it’ll feel good both on their palates and wallets.

Good Taste

Premium bourbons feature top-notch, natural ingredients that undergo strict distillation and refining procedures. That’s not the case with bottom-shelf whiskeys, which usually contain grains of lower quality in their mash bills and industrial products such as molasses.

Bottom-shelf whiskey might lack refinement and fullness of flavors as manufacturers put more effort into mass production. Nevertheless, these combos of cheaper ingredients don’t fail to deliver great taste.

These liquors are smooth, drinkable, and affordable. On the other hand, some premium scotches made of superior-quality ingredients might be bland or taste awful but still cost an arm and a leg.

Shorter Ageing Process

Age is another factor that affects bottle shelf placement. Premium brands leave their blends in toasted or freshly charred oak barrels for years, where they get that unique smokiness and a full range of flavors. The longer the bourbon sits, the better. Or, at least, it should be.

Whiskey age certainly contributes to its flavor profile, but it doesn’t always justify the high price. Bottom-shelf whiskeys prove that, even with shorter aging, you can get excellent liquors. The aromas might be less intense, but these are still tasty.

Some seasoned drinkers might be disappointed since bottom-shelf whiskeys don’t have a depth of flavors and leave only a mild aftertaste. Others will enjoy it, so it all comes down to personal drinking preference.


Bottom-shelf whiskey isn’t a drink for special occasions but rather for relaxing after a busy day when you go to the bar with friends. It’s popular because it’s affordable and delivers excellent value for the price you pay.

And since these liquors are popular, they’re in high demand. As bar guests ask for whiskeys a lot, bartenders keep them in lower racks to have them on hand, which is another reason behind the label ‘’bottom-shelf.’’

Top vs Bottom-Shelf Whiskey

You might think these two differ only in a rack position, but that’s not true. There are reasons why some bottles are placed high, and it’s not just because people drink them less. These bourbons are expensive and represent some kind of luxury, while bottom-shelf whiskeys bring value.

Difference Between Top and Bottom-Shelf Whiskeys

As for the taste of these spirits, many factors affect it, so there’s no golden rule about which one is better. Some people with a trained palate might enjoy costly bourbons and their complexity of flavors more, while others will despise them. The same goes for bottom-shelf whiskeys.

Is Bottom-Shelf Whiskey for Beginners?

Many bottom-shelf whiskeys are high-quality products from renowned distilleries. Although they are mass-produced, these liquors must meet quality standards to get on the market at all. So it’s perfectly safe for drinking newbies to start their ‘’career’’ with bottom-shelf whiskeys and not get drunk.

When you start drinking, you should go with the basics. Sure, you can go straight to 18-year-old Johnny Walker, but you might not know how to enjoy it. So it’s better to go with bottom-shelf whiskeys first to get familiar with this liquor. Only after you gain some drinking experience will you be able to appreciate quality bourbons.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Bottom-Shelf Whiskeys Contain More Alcohol?

Yes, cheaper drinks tend to have a higher percentage of alcohol and a noticeable taste of ethanol. Also, its lower price means you can drink more, get drunk faster, and have more hangovers than with premium liquors.

Many great whiskeys are bottom-shelf liquors, although you can’t tell from their taste. Jim Beam is a classic among affordable bourbons and so are Wild Turkey and Four Roses, which were once top-shelf products. There are also slightly more refined but still inexpensive liquors like Old Grand-Dad and Ancient Age Kentucky Straight bourbons.


The ‘’bottom-shelf’’ label usually indicates the low price point of whiskey, but it doesn’t mean this liquor isn’t worth a shot. You can enjoy it in bars or at home, as it provides great taste and feels at a rather affordable price, and it doesn’t feel like a cheap drink at all.

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Abbey Miller
Abbey Miller
Abbey grew up in a family with an appreciation for great beers, fine wines, and nuanced Scotch whiskeys. It's no surprise that she studied Hospitality Management and is now a professional working on the world-famous Las Vegas Strip.
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