It’s finally time to celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month again! I love September. Except for the fact that being a college student doesn’t exactly come with a bourbon fund (if only). So I decided to go in search of the best budget bourbon. Let’s break it down into two levels, here. The first level? You’re in college and eating packets of ramen because you’re that broke. You drink budget beer so you can have more of it. Group together, pitch in, splurge, and live a little with one of these cheap bottles of this fine spirit.

The second level?

Your college partying days are over. You’re working your butt off at a job (or three) in the real world, and you can barely cover your student loan payments. Everyone is telling you it’s important to pay more than the minimum, but do they get that you have bills, rent, and a life, too? You’re going to be paying the student loans back for years, so let yourself relax with a classy bottle of bourbon. Invite your college roommate over to toast to the broken system! Here are my top three picks for 750 mL bottles of bourbon at each level:

Level 1 - Bourbon college style (Wait, we can afford more than water?):

Jim Beam Black Label - ($15.99) Meet the King of budget bourbon. Beam’s Black is 86 proof, full-bodied, and delectable.

It’s aged years longer than its white counterpart in white oak barrels to create a smooth and creamy bourbon with dreamy caramel notes. Don’t waste a drop of this in a cocktail. Bourbon this good should be savored neat. I know it's only $16, but I struggle to call it budget bourbon.

Maker’s Mark - ($18.99) This 90 Proof Kentucky straight bourbon is made slowly in small batches.

The flavor profile includes hints of caramel, oak, and vanilla. It finishes as smoothly as it starts. This budget bourbon is just as good in cocktails as it is on the rocks.

Fighting Cock - ($15.99) You’ll be greeted with the smells of leather, vanilla, corn oak, and rye when you lift the glass. However, at 103 proof, it’s no surprise that this bourbon holds true to its name with a kick in the teeth as soon as the glass hits your lips.

It’s a rich, spicy sweet entry; the finish is just as spicy, but it’s lingering and dry. If you're looking for a budget bourbon that can throw a punch per penny, this is it.

Level 2 - Bourbon student loan style (I don’t want to think about them, so I need something strong, and I’m going to be in debt the rest of my life anyways):

Four Roses Single Barrel - ($39.99) Fruity and spicy aromas such as cocoa will fill your nose before you sip on this beautiful 100 proof budget bourbon. Traces of cherry and ripe plum round out the complex, rich, mellow body. Great in a cocktail, excellent neat.

Elmer T. Lee - ($32.99) This bottle is named after one of the most respected men in the bourbon making community.

He has been distilling bourbon at the Buffalo Trace distillery for over fifty years. Butterscotch, baking spices, and nuts combine with wine and fruit notes. The bourbon finishes off with a sweet, honey leather linger.

Old Forester Statesman- ($59.99) This bourbon is by far the most expensive one in the article; I know. If someone told me to go spend sixty bucks on a single itty-bitty bottle of liquor right now, I would probably laugh hysterically. However, I was lucky enough to try this bourbon at a friend’s house the other night. I felt like I was drinking alcoholic kettle corn that somehow managed to avoid being too sweet. Everything about this bourbon is smooth. I hope you’ll treat yourself to this limited-edition release.

Its namesake is the latest Statesman movie: Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It’s a spy’s delight at 95 proof. Even if you aren’t a spy, you’ll feel as slick as one when you indulge in this Double Gold Medal 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition winning liquid heaven. Even if it's barely a budget bourbon, or maybe not a budget bourbon at all, I had to include it. I'm sorry!

Whichever of these lovely libations you choose, remember that we'll eventually get out of debt and drop the word budget when we buy bourbon! Cheers!