Many bourbon drinkers have that one label they always seek out. It might be because it’s their favorite, but it might also be because it’s comfortable; easy to always default to the same bottle over and over. But sometimes the default bottle is just the one that has been most heavily marketed, not the most delicious or even the best value.
With that in mind, we asked bartenders and beverage professionals which bourbons they think are the most overrated. Here’s what they said.
The most overrated bourbons, according to beverage professionals:
- Maker’s Mark
- Jim Beam
- Jack Daniel’s
- Basil Hayden
- W.L. Weller
- Pappy Van Winkle
“There are several recognized labels and brands that we get calls for all the time, and nothing makes me cringe more than when someone asks for Bulleit. Not only is it not a great representation of bourbon, being harsh and rather unbalanced, I also think using it in a cocktail unlocks its sweetness and mutes the rich, spicy quality of bourbon. I have also never been a fan of their beliefs as a company and have since refused to carry the product regardless of the amount of times its called for.” —Alex Cuper, beverage director, El Che Steakhouse & Bar, Chicago
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“Maker’s Mark or Jim Beam. It is often said we are currently in the golden age of craft cocktails, and it is no surprise that bartenders and mixologists have grown accustomed to certain bourbons. With such an abundance of craft spirits being produced in what seems like every county in the country, it still surprises me to see bars making Old Fashioneds and Manhattans using such mass-produced spirits. Despite being considered ‘small batch,’ Maker’s Mark is a stalwart on bar shelves throughout the world, but with the growing artisanal attention given to local farm distilleries, it would be a shame to sip on Maker’s when you could ask your bartender for the local expression of bourbon.” —Ricky Dolinsky, co-owner and mixologist, Paper Planes, NYC
“While Jack Daniel’s has been a pillar in the bourbon community, it historically classifies itself as a Tennessee whiskey. It meets all bourbon requirements; the 3–5-day process that makes them feel like it’s been altered to something else comes off as a ‘look-at-me-I’m-different’ cry for help, with the flavors being nothing more than what it is a standard American bourbon.” —Jevon Smith, operations manager, Offshore Rooftop, Chicago
“Let’s be honest: There are more overrated bourbons than I have the time to list. We all like beautiful things, but I find a pretty bottle to be a red flag with bourbon. Are you buying for the taste and quality of the bourbon or for the horse on top of the bottle? Are you purchasing to experience truly special bourbon or for showmanship? Blanton’s receives my skepticism for these reasons, as well as orders for allocated options. Just because a bourbon is allocated doesn’t mean it’s exceptional.” —Randi Savage, bar manager, RT Lodge, Maryville, Tenn.
“The most overrated bourbon in my opinion is Basil Hayden. It is delicious, don’t get me wrong, and everyone loves the smooth rich taste, the touch of brown sugar, and fruit flavors — including me! But bourbon makers have been busy, and the different aging processes have gotten crazy. Aged in wine barrels, aged underground, aged on a boat. I can’t wait for the first bourbon aged in space (I predict I will still be around for it). I feel Basil Hayden has a run for its money out there and at my bar. I have several other bourbons that once I allow the guest to taste, they agree. I do still carry Basil Hayden and will always love it.” —Della Norton, food & beverage manager, The Bellmoor Inn and Spa, Rehoboth Beach, Del.
“As far as overrated, I’m going to have to go Weller. Now, I love Weller. I think it’s a fine whiskey, as are all the ones that come out of Buffalo Trace. However, it’s at best a $40 bottle. I’ve seen it, in some places, cost around $200. I know it’s often hard to find due to allocation, but the ‘collectors’ have really made it unappealing to chase.” —Dan Kulisek, beverage director, The Prime Rib, Philadelphia
“Bulleit Bourbon. This bourbon, although not unpleasant in taste, is also rather unremarkable in scope. It has a smooth sweetness without much complexity. I believe it benefits from great packaging and overhyped marketing.” —Ray Fritz, head bartender, Blue Smoke, NYC
“Bulleit Bourbon. It is widely popular, and many people default to this bourbon, but I wish people would venture out to try other bourbons!” —Elyse Evans, bartender, Van Ryder, Salt Lake City
“Saying that a bourbon is overrated is a tricky thing, but in my opinion the price of Pappy Van Winkle makes it win that title. This iconic bourbon, despite its great qualities, has too high of a price tag and loses my attention.” —Nial Harris Garcia, beverage director, Estuary, Washington, D.C.
“Blanton’s! In the age of bourbon innovation, there are multiple bourbons that are cheaper and you don’t have to jump around several liquor stores to find [bottles] that have more complexity and a depth of flavor. Name, story, and allocation perpetuate this subpar premium bourbon.” —Adam Rettek, bar manager, Rossoblu, Los Angeles
“The most overrated bourbon, in my opinion, has to be Pappy Van Winkle. However, I think most of the most popular bourbons in the country are overrated (Bulleit, Maker’s Mark, Blanton’s, etc.). American whiskey as a category has not been very transparent with where they source raw materials. Many producers don’t even distill their own whiskey, but they’ll purchase unaged whiskey, put it in barrels, and release it under their own label. Bourbon (and all spirits for that matter) is an agricultural product. I think it’s especially important to know where your raw materials (corn, rye, barley, and other grains) are coming from. How can you have control over a product when you don’t see it from start to finish?” —Colin Gallagher, beverage director and bartender, Delfina, San Francisco