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As cooler weather beckons, so too does the sultry thrill of dark spirits. Whether enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or in a classic cocktail like the Old Fashioned, bourbon’s notes of vanilla, caramel, and spice are the perfect complement for crisp fall evenings.
Thankfully, there is an abundance of bourbon available on the market hailing from across the country — not just Kentucky. For insider tips to help sort through the myriad options, VinePair reached out to drink professionals to find out which bottles of bourbon bartenders are currently crushing on.
“I have a few go-to bourbons. There’s always great value in Evan Williams Black Label — there’s usually a bottle of that at my house. Fighting Cock is a 103 proof bourbon from Heaven Hill that is great for mixing in stirred cocktails, and Weller Special Reserve if you can find it at a reasonable price. It was a well pour for us at Covina.” — David A. Roth, Former Head Bartender, Covina, NYC
“My go-to bourbon is Elijah Craig Small Batch. It’s a beautiful spirit with notes of caramel, oak, and spice. The bourbon is aged in charred oak barrels, which gives it a bit more depth and a slight smokiness. I enjoy making an Old Fashioned or sipping it over some ice.” — Michell Boyd, Beverage Manager, Hampton + Hudson, Atlanta
“Been [really] into this sourced bottle lately — the Pinhook Vertical Series #4, ‘Bourbon War.’ Even if they just bought it and bottled it, it’s delish.” — Jeremy Allen, Beverage Director, MiniBar Hollywood, Los Angeles
“In terms of bourbon, I’ve always been a fan of Evan Williams and Four Roses for different reasons. Evan Williams is a workhorse because it plays well with others in terms of cocktails, while maintaining that quintessential oakiness. Four Roses, particularly their single barrel, is a favorite because I think the higher content of rye in it allows more fruit and spice notes to shine.” — Shannon Grant, Bartender, Lost Lake, Chicago
Donate: Lost Lake Relief Fund
“The bourbon world is historically competitive, but I love that the (relatively new) Breckenridge Distillery is pushing the boundaries on innovation in bourbon and beyond. They’ve won plenty of awards, but the Port cask-finished variety adds a lovely layer of mapley richness; or, the PX Sherry cask’s complex — but not overpowering — fruit makes it super approachable.” — Chris Keller, Bartender, Osaka Ramen, Denver
“Willett Distillery makes a $40 bottle of bourbon that tastes like a $60 bottle of bourbon. And if you don’t know that, well, that’s just fine. I’d prefer to continue paying $40 for it.” — Lee Mayfield, Bartender, Brick Store Pub, Decatur, Ga.
“Buffalo Trace: It’s such a great everyday bourbon for the price. It’s a great candidate for an Old Fashioned or Manhattan or as a co-pilot to a cold beer. It has a complex structure of fruit and [its] sturdy finish blows away its competition in the flagship bourbon range.” — Pete Stanton, Head Bartender, Ai Fiori, The Langham, NYC
“My go-to bourbon would be most anything from Laws [Whiskey House]. The four grain straight bonded is a favorite flavor to drink straight since I prefer my bourbon usually on the rocks. Laws is a local Denver brand that made the first bonded bourbon in Colorado history, which is pretty cool.” — Hanna Stickler, Bartender/Events Manager, ll Posto, Denver
Donate: Il Posto Relief Fund
“I don’t drink bourbon often, but if I were to have a bottle in the house, it would be Weller Special Reserve. It’s part of the Buffalo Trace family, which includes Pappy Van Winkle and Blanton’s, but at a fraction of the cost. Weller uses wheat in their mash instead of rye, giving it a smoother and softer finish.” — Emmanuelle Massicot, Assistant General Manager, Kata Robata, Houston
“Old Grand-Dad bottled-in-bond bourbon is for sure my favorite. It’s another underrated option in this category. For those who don’t know, it uses the same recipe as Basil Hayden, so it’s basically a cheaper version of a great bourbon. A great versatile bourbon to have at home.” — Damian Langarica, Head Bartender, a.bar, Philadelphia
“Go-to bourbon? Whichever one you’re pouring! Jokes aside, there are so many amazing bourbons, it’s hard to pick just one. BUT since I have to, it’ll be Weller 12 Year. It’s extremely hard to find for good reason. Its mash bill is close to Pappy’s, so whenever it’s available, folks buy it up quickly.” — Allen Parker, Bartender, Good Word Brewing, Duluth, Ga.
“Blanton’s would have to be my first love. It is round, warm, and delicate. Although great in mixed drinks, I recommend enjoying this one neat.” — Nick Merrifield, Head Bartender, Portale, NYC
“Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon. Complex flavors that don’t overwhelm. Robust proof that holds up in mixed drinks and tastes just right solo. It was good enough [for] Hunter S. Thompson. I imagine it’s good enough for me, too.” — Justin Koch, Bartender/Manager, Curio/Denver Central Market, Denver
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