Unless you’re a real whiskey nerd, you might not be thinking all that much about the brown liquor being shaken into your Whiskey Sour or stirred into your Old Fashioned. But bartenders know a great whiskey can take a classic cocktail to a new level. Next time you’re at the liquor store or at a bar, consider trying a new whiskey to change up your favorite drink.
To get you started, we asked 12 beverage experts to tell us their favorite underrated whiskeys. Here’s what they said.
The most underrated whiskeys, according to bartenders:
- St. George Spirits
- Old Grand-Dad 114
- Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon
- J. Rieger Kansas City Whiskey
- Stoll & Wolfe
- Macallan 12 Year Sherry Oak
- Old Forester Bourbon
- Evan Williams Black Label
- Old Grand-Dad Bonded
- Rittenhouse Rye
- Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey
- Westward Whiskey
“I’d call out producers like Westward and St. George Spirits for pushing boundaries and trying to innovate a new style of American Whiskey. I’m a big fan of what they’re doing!” —Thomas M. Mizuno-Moore, senior beverage manager, Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants, Chicago
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
“One of the most underrated whiskeys is Old Grand-Dad 114. A high-rye-content bourbon that is aged for 4–5 years. It packs a punch of flavor and is one of my favorite cocktail-making bourbons. This bourbon really shines through in an Old Fashioned and Whiskey Sour. I see people going for Bulleit, Maker’s, and Buffalo Trace for Old Fashioneds pretty often while this underrated classic sits on the shelf waiting for those who know its value to order.” —Christopher Devern, lead bartender, Red Owl Tavern, Philadelphia
“Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon. This is made off the Kentucky and Tennessee trail that most highly regarded whiskeys come from. Matured for five years in a non-traditional manner with notes of vanilla and baking spices. It shows that there are serious makers on the opposite side of the country.” —Tia Barrett, beverage director, Esmé, Chicago
“J. Rieger Kansas City Whiskey because it doesn’t fit nicely into a menu spot and often gets the ‘other whiskey’ treatment. It’s hard to rate something when at first taste it doesn’t fall into a category on your palate, but the benefit is you’re forced to be objective about things like complexity, finish, and versatility. It presents a new challenge to your bartender and mixologist types who now have to build a cocktail around a product versus trying to plug a known product into a tried-and-true classic.” —Michael Trow, Director of Bar Operations, RPM Restaurants, Chicago, D.C., Las Vegas
“Stoll & Wolfe — a Pennsylvania distillery started by the last master distiller of Michter’s while they were still a Pennsylvania brand, Dick Stoll. They produce really excellent ryes and an American whiskey definitely worth a sip.” —George Reilly, proprietor, The Twisted Tail, Philadelphia
“Ultimately, I think brand-wise, we could go through myriad whiskeys that aren’t getting their viral share — however, the most underrated whiskey in my view has to be Macallan 12 Year. Guests and bartenders alike seem to view it as another high/low Scotch, which occupies the same consumer space as Dewar’s White Labels or Johnnie Walker Blacks, and to me, this is a complete travesty. It’s simply not your average Scotch, certainly not your layman’s single malt. It’s versatile, it’s honest, it’s simply harmonious. Anytime I have my staff mix Mac 12 into a riff, serve it neat, or even rinse for a new cocktail, eyes light up. The sherry cask-aging imparts such a gorgeous, balmy, butterscotch, raisin, and toffee-sweet top note, adding complexity to whatever is going on behind the bar.” —Nick Perdue, beverage director, Tzeva, Sarasota, Fla.
“Old Forester is the most underrated whiskey. Its affordable price point and wide distribution make the status-obsessed drinker look past Old Forester while they chase whatever brown spirit they hear they can’t get. But the truth is, basic 86 proof Old Forester is delicious, well balanced, and great for sipping or blending into a cocktail.” —John Cassanos, director of food and beverage, Tre Rivali, Milwaukee
“Evan Williams Black Label may be found on one of the lower shelves at your liquor store, but it offers a lot more than its price lets on. At 86 proof, it’s easy to drink with still enough kick. With rich caramel and brown sugar notes paired with a little baking spice, it’s everything we think bourbon should be. It has enough character when used in a cocktail to let you know you’re drinking a bourbon drink, but it also lets the other ingredients shine through.” —Shawn Miller, beverage director, Forsythia, Philadelphia
“Old Grand-Dad Bonded is less expensive than other brands, which I believe causes it to be overlooked. It has great balance and drinkability for a whiskey of that price range. A higher price doesn’t always mean higher quality.” —Jacob Bryant, head bartender, Merchant & Trade, Charlotte, N.C.
“My favorite and most underrated whiskey is Rittenhouse. It never fails to make a perfect cocktail, and it’s tried and true. Rittenhouse comes at a nice price point that is high proof, which is perfect for mixing.” —Ivy Mix, co-owner, Leyenda and FIASCO! Wine and Spirits, Brooklyn
“Tennessee whiskey never gets enough love! No list of standout Tennessee whiskeys would be complete without mentioning Uncle Nearest. Black- and female-owned and master distilled, Uncle Nearest Tennessee Whiskey is not only a great example of this historical category but named after the man who is credited with popularizing the Lincoln County Process (the traditional method of maple charcoal finishing that makes Tennessee whiskey unique).” —Laura Unterberg, head bartender, The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club, Nashville
“I’d have to say an underrated whiskey is Westward, an American single malt produced in Oregon. Though a very classic mash bill of malt and barley, it has a complex nose and drinks smoother than many of its Scottish counterparts. It’s first brewed like a pale ale, then distilled twice into a whiskey before maturing in American oak. The resulting flavor notes, like creamy vanilla, baking spices, maple, and dark chocolate, make it perfect for drinking neat or enjoying in a classic Old Fashioned.” —Keith Larry, beverage director, Little Rascal, NYC