We Asked Bartenders The Best Bottles Of Alcohol For Tailgating

When you go to an NFL or NCAA football game, the play on the field is theoretically the most important aspect of your day. But we know the truth. It’s the pre-party where the fun is had — hanging with friends, gorging yourself on brats and burgers, and tipping back a few drinks. Even football mega-fans will tell you it’s the tailgating that makes going to a game better than watching it on TV.

But if you’re going big on game day, you have to make a few solid calls. What to eat, who to party with, and what to drink.

“Nobody wants to hang out with the belligerent guy who decided it was a good idea to slug Jack Daniel’s,” says David Bliszcz, bartender at The Franklin in New Orleans. In fact, his tailgate doesn’t include any brown alcohol at all. “Vodka is the best bet. Wasted on vodka is a less frequent, friendlier condition than wasted on gin, tequila, or whiskey.”

Of course, there are plenty who would disagree with that thesis. Which is why we asked 19 of our favorite bartenders to tell us their go-to tailgating bottles of booze. A few picked brown liquor, against Bliszcz advice — just assume they’re caveating it with “but you have to keep your sh*t together.”



Christopher Stephenson, bartender at The Vault in Salt Lake City

Call me the typical bartender, but Fernet-Branca is my choice. It’s lower in ABV so I’m able to have a few without wanting to pass out under an RV. Also, with the array of tailgate food, your stomach will thank you for a little bitter digestif.

Redemption Rye

Allie Torres, Bartender at Refinery Rooftop in New York City

I’m a rye or die girl, so nothing warms me up quite like Redemption 10 Year Barrel Proof Rye. The flavor profile has autumn written all over it — with deep molasses, cardamom, and pepper. A little goes a long way so it’s perfect to sip and enjoy before heading into the game. If you’re a Giants fan like me, it serves a dual purpose by helping numb your heartbreak.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon

Emmanuel “Manny” Pressley, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia

My favorite spirit for tailgate parties is always going to be Bourbon. Bourbon has a wide complexity of flavors. It has enough sweetness to go into a punch or a prebatched cocktail, while also being savory enough for a great shot. Bourbon plays well with simple mixers and elaborate cocktails alike. My recommended brand for a tailgate party is Maker’s Mark.

It’s a sweeter bourbon that pairs well with traditional tailgate food. This brand is recognizable, affordable, and high quality.

Sipsmith Dry Gin


Brittany Villafane, head sommelier and mixologist at db bistro moderne in New York City

My go-to is always Sipsmith dry gin. Its affordable and with industry legend Jared Brown behind the creation you know you’re in for a quality tipple. It’s great to make a quick gin and tonic and with a couple of easy garnishes like grapefruit or mint you could almost have a cocktail on the fly.

Espolon Blanco Tequila


Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC

One of my favorite tequilas to bring to a tailgate is Espolon Blanco. It’s a crowd-pleaser for all tequila-loving palates and it’s great as a shot or to mix.

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked


Daniel Carrillo, bartender at STK Steakhouse in Nashville

Being a Southern boy, you can’t go wrong with a good, inexpensive bourbon. Currently, I’ve been drinking Woodford Reserve’s Double Oaked and Buffalo Trace. For an inexpensive option, I also reach for Old Grandad Rye Whiskey.

Ketel One Vodka

Nikki McCutcheon, beverage director at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge in New York City

Ketel One’s new line of Ketel Botanicals would be the ideal tailgate spirit due to its lower alcohol content and ease, with which it can be mixed into a base.

Clement Coconut Liqueur


Cole Battaglia, bartender at Orange Hill in Orange, California

Clement Coconut Rum. Who said coconut was only for summer? Refreshing, tropical. Great in cocktails (perhaps our French Polynesian?) or chilled neat.

Averna Amaro

Hemant Pathak, Head Mixologist at Junoon in New York City

Different types of Amaro. I love most of them, including Nonino, Ramazzoti, Averna, Cynar.. etc. and it’s because of one and only one reason “flavor.” Bitter-sweet herbal flavors which vary — 16% to 40% ABV — and provide enough choice to balance with any creation.

Fortaleza Reposado Tequila

Kelly McAuliffe, manager at Salazar in Los Angeles

Tequila, but make sure it is the good stuff otherwise you are done by halftime. Invest in a reposado – Fortaleza or Siete Leguas are great options. Tequila doesn’t require a lot of mixers to make a great cocktail – some soda and lime will do the trick. And shots are always an option.

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon

Brian Krux, mixologist and bartender at Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vermont

Basil Hayden’s bourbon would be my selection for any tailgate party. Again, considering ABV, at 80 proof this Kentucky bourbon is about as smooth as they get while still having a solid backbone.

George Dickel No. 12

Cameron Shaw, head bartender at The Lookup in New York City

George Dickel No. 12 is my favorite whiskey for tailgating. It has that smooth Tennessee whiskey character that makes it totally approachable for most folks. Also, Nicole Austin is a totally awesome woman distiller, and it won’t break the bank if your friends drink all of it before half time.

Crown Royal Canadian Whisky


Mary F Wiley, bartender at Sabroso+Sorbo at The Notary Hotel in Philadelphia

A good Canadian whisky like Crown Royal is perfect for a tailgate. You can make an easy, yet delicious, cocktail with just lemon, cranberry, and soda.

Green Chartreuse

Dakota Marchio, lead bartender at Caroline in Austin

I like to bring a spirit that is a conversation starter to my tailgates. I will usually opt for a liqueur like Green Chartreuse which is made with 130 unknown plants and will have your group debating what’s in it as you mix up drinks.

Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey


Mariel Burns, Head Bartender at Trademark Taste + Grind in New York City

I always drink Tullamore D.E.W. on game days (a long-standing superstition for me). I like the comradery of passing around a bottle with friends and family. Irish whiskey is mellow and sweet which makes it perfect for sipping at a tailgate.

Azunia Blanco Tequila


Stephen George, beverage director at 20|Twenty in Carlsbad, California

It has to be good, but not too good — because the bottle might not make it back to you. This is tough, it would depend on the type of “spread” we’re talking about. Just coming out of week 1 of the NFL season, a 75-80 degree weekend in San Diego, a “Baja style” taco bar (shrimp, pollo & carne Asada, guac…), Azunia Blanco Tequila. This bright Blanco and a good taco spread go hand in hand.

Jocassee Gin

Drew Breen, bar manager at Jianna in Greenville, South Carolina

All preference, again. I personally am a gin guy and normally like to support some fun local distilleries if I can — either Hat Trick when I want more botanicals or Jocassee Gin when I want something cleaner and more citrus-forward. Ophir is probably my favorite gin — I love the pepper and curry hints.

Pierrre Ferrand 1840 Cognac

Alex Gregg, bar manager at Curadero in San Diego

Pierrre Ferrand 1840. Modeled after a mid-19th-century recipe for cognac, it is aged for a shorter amount of time than most conventional brands and bottled at a higher proof. It is perfect for making drinks as the higher proof and younger expression stand up in a cocktail and allow more of the essence of the spirit to shine through.

George Dickel Rye

Brandon Lockman, lead bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Oregon

I don’t recommend drinking spirits at a tailgate. I’ve seen too many people not make it into the game! But whiskey seems like the better idea, like George Dickel Rye. Slow sip or mix.