After a busy day of (still mostly virtual) work, few things help us unwind better than a glass of bourbon neat or on the rocks. We’ll sit somewhere comfortable and slowly sip the stresses of the day away. But while we enjoy sipping bourbon, a well-crafted cocktail also hits the spot. Sometimes, you just want something a little less direct.
When it comes to mixing with bourbon, we definitely don’t want to use a ridiculously expensive bottle, but we also don’t want to ingest bottom-shelf swill. Andres Rairan, lead bartender at High Tide Beach Bar & Grill in Miami understands that picking the right bourbon for mixing can be a tricky endeavor.
“You don’t want to shoot for something too high-end, because then you ruin all the flavors the distillery was going for,” he says, adding, “however, using a less than desirable whiskey in a cocktail can also ruin it. Meeting halfway is your best bet.”
Finding mid-range, highly mixable bourbon whiskeys isn’t easy. That’s why you have us. Me, of course. And the rest of our team. As if that isn’t enough options, we also asked 18 well-known bartenders to tell us their favorite bourbons to mix with. If you can’t find a bottle that fits your palate with all these excellent options… maybe try tequila.
Elijah Craig Small Batch
Chris Stevens, general manager of Five Sisters Blues Cafe in Pensacola, Florida
Elijah Craig is my pick. The vanilla, caramel, nut, and oak highlight the smooth flavors in this bourbon. The nose is slightly above average and enjoyable, but also quite simple, which makes this brand the perfect bang for your buck when it comes to making mixed cocktails.
Average Price: $32
Siobhán Cusumano, bartender at Buya Ramen in St. Petersburg, Florida
I love Angel’s Envy for sipping, and even more for cocktails. The port finish leaves you with some amazing chocolate and dark fruit notes to play within a cocktail. The complexity of this finished bourbon leaves so much to the imagination as far as flavor pairing.
Average Price: $54
Eagle Rare 10
Bianca Swilley, bartender at JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa in Orlando
Eagle Rare is my go-to bourbon for a boulevardier, Manhattan, or old fashioned. With the higher proof balanced with some orange and vanilla bean underlying flavors, it pairs well with any balance of bitter or sweet.
Average Price: $41
Dennis Shea, beverage director at Fish & Fire Food Group in Washington, DC
Rowan’s Creek is a solid choice. Its caramel, vanilla, and floral notes highlight this small-batch bourbon. This along with its reasonable cost make it one to look for.
Average Price: $45
Four Roses Bourbon
Ryan Cunningham, bartender at Anchor and Brine in Tampa, Florida
Four Roses Yellow Label. This is one of the oldest distilleries in the nation so it’s safe to say that they know what they’re doing. Readily available throughout most of the states this whiskey is light and not overpowering while still bringing out that natural heat of whiskey and sweetness of bourbon.
This is ideal for cocktail making especially when getting into some of the fancier ingredients and techniques.
Average Price: $23
Knob Creek 100
Eugene Lee, founding bartender at Mix Lab in Los Angeles
I love the Knob Creek 100 Bourbon. It’s great for mixing in the classics. The high proof stands up to the stirred/aromatic style cocktails.
Average Price: $35
Jim Beam White Label
Romeo Amodeo, general manager of Jackson’s Steakhouse in Pensacola, Florida
Jim Beam. No need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to classics that still compete with big boys today. Jim Beam is found everywhere, including the dorm rooms, which means the price is still right.
Average Price: $23 for a liter
Old Forester 86
Becky Rose, lead bartender at Queen’s Eleven in Denver
My go-to bourbon for cocktails is Old Forester 86. It is a beautifully balanced bourbon with spice, vanilla, and orange. It has the perfect proof to not only blend delightfully into shaken cocktails like a gold rush, but it’s strong enough to hold its own neat, in a Manhattan, or old fashioned.
At around $20 a bottle, it offers a huge benefit at an extremely affordable price point.
Average Price: $23
Dean Clark, bar and beverage manager of The Fish House in Pensacola, Florida
Woodford Reserve because of its simplicity, mixing ability, and affordability. The flavors that make it great for mixing into a cocktail are complex citrus, cinnamon, dried fruits, and cocoa. The price tag on a Woodford Reserve cocktail would roughly cost $10.
Average Price: $38
Old Grand-Dad 114
Jeff Rogers, bar director for Jester Concepts in Minneapolis
I love Old Grand-Dad 100 proof Bottled-in-Bond and Old Grand-Dad 114 PF. They are spicier bourbons with great depth of flavors. Warming spices start followed by a vanilla and caramel-smooth finish. The higher proof allows us to control the dilution in our cocktails better.
Average Price: $30
Jared Staples, general manager of Angelena’s Ristorante Italiano in Pensacola, Florida
Buffalo Trace is absolutely fantastic to drink neat or mix in cocktails, and it makes fantastic old fashioneds. With hints of orange, cherry, and vanilla on the nose, the palate is between caramel, vanilla, and cherry. Very easy to drink. The price point being $20-25 dollars, it’s a safe bet for any situation.
Average Price: $32
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
For cocktails involving mixers other than other spirits, I like Ezra Brooks bourbon. It’s has a lower price point ($20 or less) which is great for your margins. The profile has some heat that you would expect for a young whiskey, but the spice and barrel are balanced and strong enough to shine through your kitchen-crafted syrups.
Average Price: $25 for 1.75 ml
Old Grand-Dad Bonded
Jessica Balts, bartender at FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar in Minneapolis
Old Grand-Dad Bonded. It’s great for cocktails because it isn’t so high-end that you feel guilty for mixing it. It has nice caramel and oaky flavors that pull through.
Average Price: $20
Jake Strawser, bar owner of Billy Club in Buffalo, New York
Tommyrotter’s NVHC Bourbon is my go-to for cocktails. At 95 proof it shines through modifiers, citrus, and simple syrups. Through the mix, its profile of dark fruit, vanilla, and oak is still present which really adds depth to the cocktail you’re working on. It’s not rail-price bourbon but positioned accessibly to permit bar owners to present their clientele with a great cocktail, built on a high-quality bourbon.
Average Price: $55
Nikole Calvo, bar manager at SIX in Tampa, Florida
The best bourbon to mix cocktails with is Marker’s Mark. It’s affordable, tasteful, and pleasant on the palate for those who are new to drinking bourbon. This bourbon is versatile because you can use it in classic cocktail drinks, or you can mess around with it to make new bourbon cocktail drinks.
Makers Mark also is a great bourbon to use and pair with any food items on your menu. It has a sweet caramel finish that clinches your palate.
Average Price: $30
Four Roses Small Batch
Jeremy Williams, mixologist at MDRD at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, Michigan
I like Four Roses Small Batch for the price tag, but also for a great example of what a classic, “no-nonsense” bourbon is. While not terribly complex, it still carries all of the familiar vanilla, caramel, oak, and toffee flavors of some more expensive bourbons and is a good option to keep on hand for a lot of different occasions.
Average Price: $40
Pascal Pinault, food and beverage general manager at Ambersweet at The Confidante in Miami
Bulleit Bourbon is my go-to that will elevate cocktails. The oak, toffee, and nutmeg flavors nicely accent a classic old fashioned or aged Manhattan and at only $30, it’s a great product.
Average Price: $32
Jim Beam Black
Bobby Gleason, USBG bartender in Las Vegas
Jim Beam Black is my go-to mixing bourbon. It’s perfect for a Bourbon and Ginger. But, there are other options as well. Maker’s Mark for a mint julep, Maker’s 46 for a Manhattan, Knob Creek for an old fashioned. The Market is filled with value bottles of bourbon.
Average Price: $22
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