Chances are, there’s one particular spirit that you reach for over and over. Making a cocktail at home, pouring a neat drink — you’ve probably found what works for you and haven’t deviated in some time. This is especially true when it comes to loyal bourbon enthusiasts.
A go-to bourbon is a beautiful thing, but if it’s been a while since you evaluated yours, it might be time to consider a new standby. That’s why we asked 16 bartenders and bar managers about the bottles they find themselves reaching for, time and time again. Here’s what they said.
The Best Go-To Bourbons, According to Bartenders
- Coit’s Indiana Straight Bourbon
- Maker’s Mark 46
- Rabbit Hole
- Old Forester 100 Proof
- Michter’s Bourbon
- Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond
- Evan Williams
- Blackened x Wes Henderson
- Bootleggers Bourbon
- Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon
- Michter’s US 1
- Bertie’s Bear Gulch by Saint Liberty Whiskey
- Black Maple Hill
- Basil Hayden
- Woodford Reserve
- Buffalo Trace
“Different bourbons help accomplish different goals for different jobs, but all things being equal, I often find myself reaching for Coit’s Indiana Straight Bourbon. Coit is 100 proof and has a high rye content for a bourbon, giving it a nice heat and touch of spice that works beautifully in cocktails. I’ve been seeing more Whiskey Sours as of late, and it’s an especially good bourbon there as the heat and flavors are robust enough to stand up against the egg, citrus, and syrup.” —Brian Walker, bar manager, Maybeck’s, San Francisco
“I would say the Maker’s Mark 46 with the toasted French oak is probably one of my favorites, especially for an Old Fashioned. Smooth yet complex, this spirit offers a harmonious blend of sweet caramels, hints of vanilla, and notes of savory spice. It has a big mouthfeel — buttery, like creamed honey. At Harris’ we serve ‘Wisconsin-style’ Old Fashioneds, minus the brandy, which means we make ours with fruit, oranges and cherries, sugar, and a touch of soda water. The Maker’s Mark 46 makes for a really well-balanced cocktail.” —Scott Taylor, beverage director, Harris’ Restaurant, San Francisco
“Currently, I always seem to have a craving for Rabbit Hole bourbon. They have one called Heigold that has a higher rye content than most mash bills, which takes away from the sweetness that corn brings to bourbon. It is great in cocktails from a Smash to a Manhattan or neat with an ice cube or two.” —Edgar Lincoln, general manager, Summer House, Santa Monica, Calif.
“Old Forester 100 Proof bourbon is such a classic and versatile workhorse. I love that at an accessible price point, this whiskey can be sipped on its own or hold up to a cocktail. It uses the same mash bill as the more highly regarded Woodford Reserve, but emotes way more flavor.” —Tia Barrett, beverage director, Esmé, Chicago
“I always enjoy Michter’s Bourbon. It checks every box for what I’m looking for in a bourbon: complex, subtly sweet, and approachable. Its price point makes it a fantastic choice to experiment and introduce guests to something new. Michter’s shines on its own or in your favorite cocktail.” —James Pugliese, bartender, Prunella, Philadelphia
“My go-to bourbon is Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond. Its extra strength always tends to complement stronger cocktail ingredients, and it’s a great end-of-night sidecar for a beer. Also, mix it with some Cynar and you have a perfect 50/50 drink.” —Sterling Melcher, general manager and beverage director, Southwark & Ambra, Philadelphia
“My go-to bourbon would have to be Evan Williams for its delicious taste and ability to work well in cocktails. The nose is not too strong and so it doesn’t overpower the drink, instead complementing the cocktail’s other ingredients. There is a lasting flavor, a hint of spice, and the brown sugar-like sweetness, and it is priced extremely well for the quality of what you are drinking.” —Sami Katrib, food and beverage director, Mercy Me at Yours Truly DC, Washington, D.C.
“Right now, I find myself not being able to get enough of the Blackened x Wes Henderson collaboration. It’s cask strength, which is always appealing after a long shift or when you’re truly trying to appreciate and enjoy what the distillers and blenders had in mind when creating such an amazing product. You get notes of brown sugar and black cherry along with so many warming notes that invite you in like a bowl of oatmeal on a cold winter day. It’s crushable while still letting you know you’re drinking whiskey. It’s a whiskey I can imagine my father drinking and enjoying.” —Travis Johnson, bar manager, Louie’s By the Bay, Newport Beach, Calif.
“My go-to bourbon is Bootleggers Bourbon from Do Good Spirits at Prohibition Distillery in Roscoe, N.Y. This bourbon is made with 100 percent New York corn, and rested in smaller newly charred white oak barrels. Due to the small-batch nature and non-chill-filtered distillation, they bottle at 46 percent, which means that it holds its own in a cocktail. Bootleggers stands out if you’re using .75 ounces in a Paper Plane or 2 ounces in an Old Fashioned.” —Marshall Minaya, beverage director, Valerie, New York
“I love Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon — as a consumer and drink maker. I think the Yellow Label is an ideal bourbon from a mixing perspective. It is a beautiful bourbon expression in itself, but it does not have an overpowering presence, so it is ideal for cocktails and mixing. Yellow Label also comes in at one of the lowest price points to value as $24 is the average price per bottle, markedly lower than many other bourbons of the same quality.” —Sarah Clark, beverage director, The Dearborn, Chicago
“Michter’s US 1 is our go-to house bourbon. The nice astringent spice note that lingers on the finish is fantastic in cocktails because it adds a nice transition from a rich mid-palate to a pleasant lengthener. There are some nice vanilla and fruit notes as well — plus at 45.7 percent, you can afford to layer a lot of flavor on top of it.” —Will Patton, bar director, Hive Hospitality, Washington, D.C.
“My go-to bourbon is Bertie’s Bear Gulch by Saint Liberty Whiskey. This Austin-based distillery created this bourbon as an homage to Bertie Brown, a legendary African American bootlegger from Ferguson Country, Mont. She was known for having the best moonshine in the country during Prohibition. Saint Liberty sources the water from the same river Bertie used to proof down her spirits. The mash bill is 70 percent corn, 27.5 percent rye, and 2.5 percent malted barley. The bourbon itself has notes of dried apricot, brown sugar, caramelized bananas, and finishes with a hit of spice from the rye. Its heavy corn mash bill makes this a spirit everyone can drink.” —Judy Elahi, director, 101 Hospitality, Washington, D.C.
“Black Maple Hill — one of my favorites! I love the richness, the way the oak is incorporated, and the smooth finish.” —William Davis, bartender, Estuary, Washington, D.C.
“My go-to bourbon is always Woodford Reserve. I enjoy a Manhattan, and the Woodford Reserve gives me the perfect amount of kick. The woody flavor adds great complexity to the cocktail.” —McColbert Evrard, director of food and beverage, The Banneker, Washington, D.C.