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Bartenders Share Their Can’t Miss Spicy Bourbons For Fall

Bourbon tends to be made with around 70 percent corn, 20 percent rye, and 10 percent barley. Naturally, these values go up and down a lot depending on which bourbon you’re talking about but that’s the average overall. And while the corn tends to impart sweetness, the rye in that equation often imparts spice, florals, or even herbs with a focus usually on that spice.

That means that even though bourbon is corn-centric, it can be downright spicy. That’s mostly thanks to rye (and sometimes wheat) grains adding some extra flavor profiles that range from soft white pepper to bold chili pepper bombs and everything spicy in between. And those notes are exactly what some bourbon drinkers are looking for.

To find these spicier bourbons, we turned to the professionals behind the bar. We asked a handful of well-known bartenders and bar professionals to tell us about their picks for the can’t miss spicy bourbons for fall and winter 2021. Some are high-rye and others are simply high proof. They’re all spicy so keep scrolling to see all of their selections.

FEW Straight Bourbon

FEW Bourbon
FEW

Seamus Banning, bartender The W-Hotel in Philadelphia

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $50

Why This Bourbon?

Few Bourbon is a fantastic spicy dram. It isn’t over-aged, and the heat from the spirit will hit immediately. As it burns, notes of burnt brown sugar, clove, and orange peel reveal themselves throughout. It’s definitely one to enjoy on a chilly autumn evening.

Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond

Wilderness Trail BIB
Wilderness Trail

Emily Franchy, Bartender at Uffda Hospitality in Louisville

ABV: 56%

Average Price: $80

Why This Bourbon?

Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond bourbon gives me that rich baking spice profile of rye with bourbon sweetness that reminds me of coffee cake on the finish. Everything they release is a winner, but the high rye mash makes a perfect sweet and spicy fall sip.

Booker’s

Booker's Bourbon
Jim Beam

Katherine Ball, consumer engagement and mixology director at Black Button Distilling in Rochester, New York

ABV: 60-65%

Average Price: $129

Why This Bourbon?

Booker’s Bourbon is interesting because they don’t filter or proof down their bourbon. It’s definitely a full-punch bourbon. The warmth and spice come to life on the finish, but there’s a hint of sweetness in there too. Warm and spicy with notes of vanilla and caramel? You can’t get much more delightfully fall than that.

Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey 101
Wild Turkey

Austin Jacobs, bartender at The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills, California

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $28

Why This Bourbon?

My favorite spicy bourbon (and just go-to bourbon overall) is good ol’ Wild Turkey 101. They use a higher rye content than a lot of other bourbons and that gives it the nice little spicy-rye-bite on the finish after the original flavors like caramel, tobacco, and oak wash away. It’s just an approachable but complex bourbon and the higher proof lets it hold up in cocktails as well. In fact, I’m craving a Wild Turkey boulevardier and a campfire right now.

Basil Hayden’s

Basil Hayden's Bourbon
Jim Beam

Austin Sheffield, bartender at 8100 Mountainside Bar & Grille in Beaver Creek, Colorado

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $45

Why This Bourbon?

The spicy high rye bourbon is not too complex and excellent to mix in a cocktail, but also has enough complexities to sip neat or on the rocks. It is a great reward after a long day of hiking or whatever outdoor adventure is up your alley.

Smoke Wagon Small Batch

Smoke Wagon Small Batch
Smoke Wagon

Brendan Pineda, manager and buyer at Plumpjack Wine & Spirits in San Francisco

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $50

Why This Bourbon?

I’d have to go with Smoke Wagon Small Batch Straight Bourbon. It’s approachable enough to drink neat or to make cocktails with. It has a persistent spiciness without the heat.

Kings County Barrel Strength

Kings County Bourbon
Kings County

Nicholas Karel, director of bars, lounges, and beverages at Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans

ABV: 64%

Average Price: $95

Why This Bourbon?

Coming in at 128 proof, this bourbon is definitely “spicy.” It’s full-flavored and hits strong but is deceivingly smooth due to the expert distilling methods at Kings County.

Blanton’s Single Barrel

Blanton's SB
Blanton

Mohamed Khald, food and beverage manager at The Vinoy Renaissance in St. Petersburg, Florida

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $225

Why This Bourbon?

Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon is my favorite sweet and spicy bourbon. With creamy vanilla, caramel, maple syrup, and hints of rye spices like cinnamon, it has a full and tasty profile that is spot on for fall.

New Liberty Kinsey

New Liberty Kinsey
New Liberty

Ed Watt, bartender at Sabroso + Sorbo at The Notary Hotel in Philadelphia

ABV: 47.5%

Average Price: $30

Why This Bourbon?

New Liberty Kinsey is my favorite for the fall. The smoky flavor of the drink is the real sticking point for me. I tend to like a nice mild smoky flavor to a few of my fall drinks and the Kinsey is one of those that I find myself enjoying quite a bit.

Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon

Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon
Garrison Brothers

Lauren Parton, general manager of Devereaux in Chicago

ABV: 68.5%

Average Price: $219

Why This Bourbon?

If you’re looking for a bourbon with some “spicy kick” to it and complex flavors of tobacco, honey, and subtle fruit jam, the Cowboy Bourbon from Garrison Brothers is it.

Old Forester 100

Old Forester 100
Old Forester

Elvyra Cucovic, beverage manager at Kimpton Surfcomber Hotel’s The Social Club in Miami

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $39

Why This Bourbon?

My favorite spicy bourbon for the fall is Old Forester 100. Its high ABV lends to its peppery smell and finish that is reminiscent of a rye whiskey but sweet enough to remind you that it is, in fact, a bourbon. Old Forester also pairs well with classic fall flavors like apples and cinnamon, which you get hints of when you drink it on its own. It’s also a great base for a fall cocktail.

Willett Pot Still Reserve

Willett Pot Still Bourbon
Willett

Christian Taibi, head mixologist at The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Honolulu, Hawaii

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $90 for 1.75ml bottle

Why This Bourbon?

Willett Pot Still Reserve is an incredibly spicy, traditional-style whiskey. With every sip, your pallet is whisked back to the days of old when American whiskey was cultivated. It’s a real treat for any fan of spicy bourbon.

Old Grand-Dad Bonded

Old Grand-Dad Bonded
Jim Beam

Alex Barbatsis, head bartender at The Whistler in Chicago

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $29

Why This Bourbon?

Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon has great spice notes from its high rye mash bill. It’s budget-friendly, plus its cinnamon notes pair well with a big orange zest flavor, making it perfect for an old fashioned.

Russell’s Reserve 10-Year

Russell Reserve 10
Wild Turkey

Christy Bradley, spirit guide at Virgin Hotels in New Orleans

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $40

Why This Bourbon?

Russell’s Reserve 10-Year is my pick. It’s pretty hot in general. It hits you with a lot of black pepper but rounds out with hints of rich vanilla.

Four Roses Small Batch Select

Four Roses Small Batch Select
Four Roses

Darron Foy, bar manager at The Flatiron Room in New York City

ABV: 52%

Average Price: $65

Why This Bourbon?

Four Roses Small Batch Select tingles the tongue. It’s affordable and of high quality, yielding dried fruit, anise, sourdough, and oak. The 52 percent ABV also helps to create that oomph of spice and heat on the palate.

Old Dominick Huling Station

Old Dominick Huling Station
Old Dominick

Mallory O’Meara, author of GIRLY DRINKS: A World History of Women and Alcohol

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $35

Why This Bourbon?

We call this the “Christmas bourbon” in our house because it’s so spicy. Huling Station has a high rye bill and it tastes like eating a ginger snap. Vanilla, cherry, and cinnamon notes are all so well balanced. Also, Old Dominick’s Head Distiller is Alex Castle, the first female head distiller in the state of Tennessee since before Prohibition.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

Elijah Craig SB
Heaven Hill

Jeffrey Morgenthaler, author and bartender at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $30

Why This Bourbon?

Fall is really the time when I start thinking about old fashioneds. And for me, there has never been a better bourbon for this cocktail than Elijah Craig Small Batch. It’s got this sort of richness with leather, spice, and wood flavors that make it so so good in that cocktail. It’s right around this time that I can’t stop making old fashioneds with it. And here in Oregon, the season has started early.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Wild Turkey Rare Breed
Wild Turkey

Nicholas Bennett, beverage director at Porchlight in New York City

ABV: 58.4%

Average Price: $50

Why This Bourbon?

If I want something spicy I am usually reaching for Wild Turkey, and I really like the Wild Turkey Rare Breed. It is a sweet and spicy mix of rye spice, maple sugar, caramel, and leather that isn’t so high-proof that I would worry about having a second glass.


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