In October 2019, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) announced that the number of barrels of bourbon and aging spirits in the state had officially overtaken the number of inhabitants. It’s an incredible statistic, and one that we can all agree deserves a fitting toast.
But rather than reach for your go-to bourbon, or even pour a dram of that special bottle you have stashed away, why not seek out a lesser-poured brand that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves?
To help you discover something new (perhaps even the next Pappy?), VinePair asked bartenders around the nation: What’s the most underrated bourbon on the market? Here’s what they recommend grabbing next time you’re on the hunt.
“I love me some Old Grand-Dad Bonded. It’s incredible in cocktails — both stirred and shaken — and [retails] at an incredible price point. I’m even reluctant to share my opinion here, as I don’t want the price to go up.” — Erick Castro, Co-founder, Raised By Wolves and Polite Provisions, San Diego, CA
“I am a longtime fan of Buffalo Trace. It’s such [a] solid bet to drink on the rocks or in an Old Fashioned. It has the comforting vanilla and baking spice notes expected from bourbon, and a great structure.” — Meaghan Dorman, Bar Director/Partner, Dear Irving on Hudson, New York, NY
“Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond — $15 a liter, 100 proof, and four years old. [It’s] good enough to mix, drink straight, or bring to a party and not get mad if you forget to grab what’s left on the way out.” — Justin Simko, Bar Manager, The Bar at Husk, Charleston, SC
“The most underrated bourbon at the moment is J.T.S. Brown Bottled-in-Bond. It’s a killer table bourbon, meaning it’s less than 20 bucks a bottle. It has no age statement, but [that means] it’s at least four years by law. … This is a damn fine bargain bourbon. If you’re ever in Kentucky put this one on your shopping list.” — Jamien Tomlinson, Beverage Director, High Horse, Raleigh, NC
“After working [at the] most recent WhiskeyFest, I’m surprised at the number of people that haven’t tried, or, even worse, associate a stigma with Wild Turkey 101. I think that for being one of the best bourbons on the market, it really doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.” — Thomas Spaeth, Head Bartender, Raines Law Room, New York, NY
“Evan Williams bonded is totally underrated. This is a bottle that [retails] at well pricing [and] has amazing balance, with baking spice and vanilla notes and a smooth finish.” — Lucas Huff, Mixology Director, Bently Heritage Estate Distillery, Minden, NV
“Ancient Age 10 Star is one that gets ignored quite often. The plastic half-gallon is probably a turn-off for some, but it’s actually a pretty good whiskey. I keep some at my house.” — Matt Catchpole, General Manager, Terra, Columbia, SC
“One of my favorite and underrated bourbons is Noah’s Mill, a product of the Willett Distillery in Bardstown, KY. It’s overproof bourbon that is extremely complex and rich. [It makes] a perfect option for your Manhattan, which ideally should be served up. If this bourbon [is] served neat, my suggestion would be to use several drops of water to cut the ABV level and open up all the aromatics.” — Slava Borisov, Mixologist, Travelle at The Langham, Chicago, IL
“I’d honestly have to go with Wild Turkey on this one. … While the product has earned itself a bit of a rough and tumble reputation over the years (it was Hunter S. Thompson’s whiskey of choice, usually consumed in large tumblers so it looked like iced tea), Wild Turkey is one of, if not the best, value-for-money [bourbons] on the market today. Personally, I prefer the 101 because I can add water, and I am generally of the opinion that higher-proof American whiskeys tend to bring more to the party when used in cocktails.” — Jim Kearns, Beverage Director, Golden Age Hospitality, New York, NY
“Eagle Rare 10-year Kentucky Straight Bourbon is definitely my first choice as an underrated bourbon. While most bourbon drinkers focus their attention on the Eagle Rare 17-year — an excellent bourbon that is extremely difficult to get — the 10-year variation delivers great complexity of aromas, deep flavors, and maturity. … Eagle Rare 10-year’s price is approachable and can be found at most bars, making it the perfect dram for all occasions.” — David Orellana, Beverage Director, Seaport District’s Pier 17, New York, NY
“Old Grand-Dad Bonded. It’s four years old, 100 proof, and the granddad himself (Basil Hayden) looks on lovingly as you pour the contents into a glass, before retreating to the living room to hit play on your favorite streaming service. It has enough backbone to stand up in shaken or stirred cocktails, and the price point gives it legs on any menu. Why try to find your Pappy, when your granddad has been here the whole time?” — Josh Gandee, Beverage Director at Watershed Kitchen + Bar, Columbus, OH
“This one is hard because there are tons of amazing bourbons out there that outshine some of the more well-known brands. Four Roses Single Barrel [is] amazing on the rocks [and has] a higher-rye mash bill, so you get that spiciness. [It’s also] incredible stirred in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned because the higher rye bill doesn’t get lost [with] vermouth or dilution. I call it my ‘blanket’ bourbon because it covers it all.” — Robert Barceló III, Head Bartender, Simon & The Whale, New York, NY