Bourbon’s smooth, oaky taste makes it a versatile spirit for sipping neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails. Beloved high-rye and wheated options abound, single-barrel and bottled-in-bond favorites continue to make their mark, and age has proven to be more than just a number for bourbon enthusiasts.
Whether you’re reaching for an Old Fashioned or simply a rocks glass with ice, choosing the right bourbon is key. But with all of the options on the market and the buzz surrounding the newest big- name releases, it can be difficult to decipher which liquids actually live up to the hype.
That’s why we asked bartenders across the country to tell us which bourbons they think stand apart from the crowd and deserve to be poured more often. Read on for their takes on which bourbons are the most underrated, and what makes these bottles so special.
The Most Underrated Bourbons According to Bartenders:
- 1792 Small Batch
- Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond
- Eagle Rare 10 Year Single Barrel
- Duke Bourbon
- Old Forester 100 Proof
“1792 Small Batch is an incredibly underrated bourbon. For $35 to $40, you can’t beat the price. I think it drinks like a bourbon at twice its price. Small Batch 1792 is a beautiful bourbon that you can sip, put on the rocks, or use to make a cocktail, and the taste is more than exceptional. A bourbon that you can do all three with is uncommon.” —Bob Peters, beverage director, CocktailClass.com, Charlotte, N.C.
“The most underrated bourbon is Old Grand-Dad Bottled-in-Bond, which is a tribute to distiller Basil Hayden that was crafted by his grandson 140 years ago. I really enjoy its high-rye spice content. The mash bill is within a percent of Bulleit’s product for that grain, but at a much more approachable price point. Though it is made by Jim Beam (who absolutely makes great products), it veers from their house style, for it is a label that they purchased and did not want to change the recipe. While I do not frequently find myself sipping it neat — save next to a moderately hopped amber beer in a Boilermaker — I find myself reaching for it constantly in Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and other cocktails, even when price is not an issue.” —Frederic Yarm, bartender, Drink; author, “Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book” and “Boston Cocktails: Drunk & Told,” Boston
“Eagle Rare 10 Year Single Barrel Bourbon from Buffalo Trace distillery. It’s under $40 retail, and I don’t think it will have the age statement forever, so now is the time to buy it. It’s becoming harder and harder to find good, well-aged bourbon with an age statement at 10-year or older without having to spend over $100. The reason I think that it won’t be long until it’s not officially a 10-year is reminiscent of what happened with Elijah Craig 12-year. At first, the bottle said ‘Elijah Craig 12-Year’ in big print. Then, it was moved to the back in small print, and Elijah Craig eventually got rid of the age statement altogether. Eagle Rare has followed a similar path, and the age was moved to small print on the back of the bottle a couple of years ago. As far as the liquid, at 90 proof, it works neat but can also withstand the slight dilution of chilled water or a couple of cubes. It has notes of dried sour cherry and baking spice and is an incredible value in 2022.” —Miles Macquarrie, beverage director, Kimball House and Watchman’s Seafood & Spirits, Atlanta
“Eagle Rare 10 Year is one of my favorite bourbons on the market. It’s great quality for the price, even though it’s a bit harder to get these days. Its versatility makes for great citrusy and spirit-forward cocktails.” —Jillian Vose, beverage director & managing partner, The Dead Rabbit, NYC
“Being asked what is the most underrated bourbon is a loaded question that has rattled my brain for years. One of the most underrated yet still easily accessible and delicious bourbons out there is Duke Bourbon from John Wayne. The 9-year bourbon, aged in French oak grand cru casks, packs a punch. It has a soft and subtle oaky taste, followed by rich vanilla and caramel, and finished by a robust and yet well-rounded sweetness. It is one of my top bourbons to choose from because it is so versatile — whether you are drinking it neat, in an Old Fashioned, or even in a Paper Plane.” —David Weisberg, spirits educator, TYD Consulting, Nashville
“For me, the most underrated bourbon is Old Forester Signature 100 Proof. Old Forester was the first bottled bourbon sold in the United States. It is relatively inexpensive, very versatile in cocktails, and has enough flavor and body to be served neat or on the rocks. This whiskey has been sold continuously, through Prohibition, since 1870. At 100 proof, Old Forester Signature packs the sweet heat of a bottled-in-bond whiskey. With its history, consistency, and quality, Old Forester Signature 100 Proof is always one of my go-to, high-value bourbons.” —Akinde Olagundoye, lead bartender, The Continental, Nashville
“Larceny. It’s a lightly wheated bourbon but not too sweet, as some of the other wheated bourbons can be. At 92 proof, it’s got enough oomph to stand up in any kind of cocktail while still being complex enough to drink neat if you’d prefer. If you’re looking for something with even more strength, there is a barrel proof Larceny as well. The price point is perfect to not break the bank, and it’s a great everyday bourbon.” —Laura Reidy, former bar manager, APL Restaurant, Hollywood, Calif.