Four Roses/Old Forester/Weller/iStock/Uproxx
We write about bourbon a lot. We have our favorite bottles by price, value, and mash bill. That’s not to say we don’t absolutely love scotch, rye, Japanese whisky, and pretty much every other spirit from vodka to rum. We do. But we always seem to return to the honeyed notes of a well-made bourbon. It’s the whiskey style we talk about the most with our friends, especially as fall settles in.
The same goes for bartenders. But which bourbons do barkeeps recommend to their pals? Antonio Lumbrazo, bartender at Richard’s in Chicago opts for a hard-to-find classic.
“Van Winkle Special Reserve 10-Year,” he says. “It’s hard to find these days. I remember when it wasn’t and what times I had. The best whisky ever.”
While Lumbrazo has pretty expensive tastes, other bartenders are prone to recommending more affordable expressions. Check out their picks below.
Pinhook Country Cask Strength
Alec Kass, bartender at The Aviary in New York City
I’ve had some pretty amazing bourbon whiskey, including the extensive catalog of rare and vintage spirits I got to work with at The Aviary and The Office. I believe there is a time and a place for that, but in truth, give me a glass of Pinhook Cask Strength and I won’t fight you for any other.
It holds up to everything out there.
Seth Falvo, bartender at The Hotel Zamora in St. Pete Beach, Florida
Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon is an excellent, underrated bourbon that I’d be more than happy to drink exclusively. Fruity, nutty, spicy, and smooth, this bourbon has had a spot in my home bar for years. Plus, it’s a very affordable straight bourbon, making it an ideal daily drinker.
Wild Turkey Decades
Chris Zulueta, bartender at Sylvain in New Orleans
If I could have one bourbon with no price issue, I’d go straight to the top with the Wild Turkey Decades. I always grew up drinking Wild Turkey… big fan of their flagship 101, always enjoyed its sweet entry and long, spicy finish. This whiskey is a masterpiece — so much depth of flavor, and pretty close to barrel strength with 10-20-year whiskeys in the blend.
Josh Curtis, bar director at Carbon Beach Club in Malibu
Maker’s Mark bourbon is my go-to when drinking whiskey because it’s a smooth experience in the flavor and feeling it gives you. It’s filled with rich caramel and vanilla hints. Also, there’s never much of a hangover.
Blanton’s Single Barrel
Patricia Verdesoto, head bartender at Jams in New York City
If I was stuck on a desert island somewhere and could only bring one bourbon along, it would be Blanton’s Single Barrel. It’s always been one of my favorites, and throughout the years, it has received much well-deserved praise. The familiarity of baking spices and butterscotch makes Blanton’s so drinkable and comforting that I find myself craving it a little too often.
Old Forester 100
Ben Potts, owner, and bartender at The Sylvester in Miami
I would stick to my Old Forester 100 Proof Bourbon. It’s fantastic. While high in alcohol content, it remains surprisingly smooth. Perfectly suited for a classic old fashioned or Manhattan, it’s also a great sipper.
Heaven Hill Old Style
Lee Noble, head bartender for Art in the Age in Philadelphia
As a Philly guy, I have to say Heaven Hill Old Style, which is the near-ubiquitous counterpart to our famous ‘City Wide’ beer and shot combo. If I didn’t serve it, I might get killed and eaten by a ravenous mob.
Four Roses Single Barrel
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
If I have to pick one, it’s Four Roses Single Barrel. Maybe it’s all that dark fruit and the literal smell of the rickhouse on the nose that reminds me of long chats with brand ambassador and keeper of Kentucky bourbon lore, Dan Gardener. The palate is chocolate, graham cracker, and just a touch of leather. The proof is in the mid-high range, so cocktail it up or raise a glass of this juice neat to celebrate this whiskey legend.
Wild Turkey 101
Blake Jakes, director of beverage at The Kennedy Bar in Pensacola, Florida
Wild Turkey 101, it’s just so good. Everything about it — it’s bold, it’s in your face, but it’s also just so damn smooth. Honestly, it’s great by itself but it shines in a cocktail. Any whiskey cocktail. It’s made with care and passion by an amazing family, and I just can’t say enough great things about what they do.
W.L. Weller 12
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Weller 12 is my pick. It’s almost dangerously drinkable and versatile for each season. It also can shake well with citrus, sip straight or stir into a nightcap.
Roberto Berdecia, bartender at La Factoria in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Angel’s Envy. I visited the distillery once and tasted the unaged juice. It’s out of this world. The bottled version is aged in port casks giving it a great combination of sweet, mellow, and rich with hints of dried fruits, caramel, and cinnamon.
W.L. Weller Antique 107
Juan Fernandez, bartender at The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel in Charlotte
For me, I enjoy a variety of whiskeys driven by the time of year. For spring and summer months I love sweeter bourbons, then in the fall and winter, I enjoy a more rich and spicy whiskey. Though if I was stuck with one all-purpose whiskey, I would choose W.L. Weller Antique 107. It has the whole package, 107 proof, a unique floral flavor but with sweet vanilla on the nose, strong vanilla, and sweet stone fruits on the palate mixed with a distinctive cinnamon tone.
Hirsch The Horizon
Kelly Smith, bartender at Pins Mechanical in Nashville
If I could only drink one bourbon, I would choose Hirsch The Horizon. It is just so perfectly versatile. It’s great for cocktails, on the rocks, or just neat. It delivers everything I want in a bourbon.