Bourbon drinkers might see themselves in one of three camps. There are the unicorn hunters, always on the lookout for rare and special bottles. There are those who opt for the old faithful, widely available bourbons they’ve been sipping for years. And finally, there are those who enjoy exploring lesser-known names not yet embraced by the wider whiskey community. In each of these groups, there’s a seemingly endless selection of bottles to choose from, with a range of prices, mash bills, and flavor profiles.
Of all these bottles — the cheap and the expensive; the popular and the obscure — there are some that constantly disappoint the pros with high price tags, low availability, or so-so tastes.
We asked seven bartenders to share their opinions on the most overrated bourbons on the market today. From the underwhelming bottles they personally won’t drink to the ones they caution their customers against buying, here are the bourbons top bartenders are calling overrated.
The Most Overrated Bourbons According to Bartenders:
- Pappy Van Winkle
- Jefferson’s Ocean
“Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 Year is a prime example of a product that has gained popularity due to its scarcity. Compared to other higher-aged bourbons, it’s lost its complexity to the overpowering woodiness. Plus, it usually retails for over $5,000. If you’re going to splurge on a bourbon over 20 years, I’d recommend Michter’s 25 Year Old Single Barrel. It’s still way out of my price range, but at least I can justify the price tag.” —Ben Yabrow, lead bartender, Double Chicken Please, NYC
“Pappy Van Winkle. I don’t think it’s well made, and people overhype it because of its availability.” —Thandi Walton, head of beverage, Thompson Buckhead, Atlanta
“Without a doubt, any of the Pappy Van Winkle whiskeys. I’ve tried all of them, and although they’re good, they definitely shouldn’t be fetching thousands of dollars on the secondary market. MGP has some much better-tasting bourbons out there under a variety of labels, in my opinion.” —Daniel Keaveney, bartender, @lasvegas.bartender, Las Vegas
“The most overrated bourbon has to be Blanton’s. I know it’s an easy target, but in a year of supply chain issues, no one needs another hard-to-get bottle that costs way too much. There are an abundance of high-quality single barrel bourbons on the market, such as Evan Williams Single Barrel or Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. And if you’re into collecting the horses? I recommend collecting something actually cool, like Pokémon cards.” —Brian Bolton, lead bartender, The Town Company, Kansas City, Mo.
“Personally, I find Blanton’s to be quite overrated when it comes to bourbon. I drink, select, and sell whiskey for a living, so while their bottle design is great, the actual whiskey isn’t quite worth the price point compared to other delicious high-rye bourbons on the market with higher rye content. As examples, Chattanooga Whiskey Co., Leiper’s Fork, Tumblin’ Dice, and Woodinville all produce great whiskies for bourbon lovers that enjoy more rye in their mash.” —Dee J. Reid,
founder, Deestilled; managing partner, Seelbach’s, Washington, D.C.
“The most overrated are the ones that pay for press, artificially limit their supply to drive up demand, and claim a legacy longer than most of us have been alive. Transparency is key when determining quality drams. The whiskey alone should speak for itself.” —Josh Alden, beverage director, Reserve 101, Houston
“Saying a bourbon is the ‘most overrated’ doesn’t seem fair, yet as a bartender, it is a necessary evil because so many of our guests base their opinions on our reviews. Jefferson’s Bourbon has dedicated many years to making good whiskey. The first and 13th releases are my personal favorites, full of sharp wood characteristics with subtle hints of a salty finish inside a beautiful dark amber color. Yet, almost all other releases I have tried are mute in comparison, and those subtle notes of salt have disappeared. The main reason I choose Jefferson’s Ocean as an overrated bourbon is because it has become so popular that many guests will ask for it in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. When it’s mixed into a cocktail, it loses all the characteristics that made it special in the first place. Drink this bourbon neat or on ice. Otherwise, try Jefferson’s Reserve for a great cocktail.” —Zachary Helton, bartender, Amendment 18 Cocktail Club, Franklin, Tenn.