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Bartenders Name Their Favorite Bourbons For Whiskey Highballs This May

The whiskey highball is the ultimate thirst-quenching, easy-to-make drink that begins with an ice-filled highball glass. The best part is that you can add your favorite whiskey — any whisk(e)y will do but they all bring a little something different to the mix. And that’s why we’re focusing on bourbon highballs today.

“The whiskey highball is a very simple cocktail,” says Robert Kidd, head bartender at Le Cavalier in Wilmington, Delaware. “But that doesn’t mean finding the right ingredients is easy. This time of year, I prefer a nice wheated bourbon for my highballs. The sweet, soft flavors you get from a wheated bourbon are great for a refreshing highball in the spring and summer.”

While wheated bourbons are well-suited for highballs, there are other bourbons with differing mash bills, aging processes, and overall vibes that work well, too. To find a few seasonal gems, we asked our favorite bartenders to tell us the best bourbons to mix into a May highball. Check their answers below!

Angel’s Envy

Angel

Juyoung Kang, lead bartender at The Dorsey inside The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas

ABV: 43.3%

Average Price: $50

Why This Bottle?

I would have to go with Angel’s Envy because it has a balanced hint of sweetness and banana finish that will not get lost in the soda water nor dull the taste. It shines through in the highball even when you add other flavors to heighten the highball experience.

Four Roses Single Barrel

Four Roses

Piero Procida, food and beverage director at The London West Hollywood in Los Angeles

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $45

Why This Bottle?

I prefer to stay with something that’s flavors are not going to be drowned out by the soda water. I typically look for a full-bodied — aged (seven to nine years) — and higher proofed bourbon. Something like Four Roses Single Barrel Select hits that mark. It’s decently priced and is a high-quality 100 proof Bourbon. It has hints of spice, chocolate, vanilla, and a unique maple character on the nose with an amazing plum and cherries on the palate.

The soda opens up these flavor profiles even more. It’s incredibly smooth yet remains a beautiful full-bodied bourbon that qualities remain ever-present despite dilution.

Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey

Young Kim, director of spirits education and bar manager at Fine & Rare in New York City

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $25

Why This Bottle?

I would use a higher-proof bourbon with a lower rye content in a mash bill like Wild Turkey 101. When mixing with soda, pronounced vanilla, caramel, and wood tones don’t disappear with 50.5 percent alcohol. If you want to level up, add a premium brand of mineral water and an orange peel.

Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve

Andy Shannon, bartender and co-founder of Candra Drinks in London

ABV: 45.2%

Average Price: $35

Why This Bottle?

Woodford Reserve has strong dry fruits on the nose with spice, toffee, and cinnamon on the palate. My garnish preference for a Woodford highball is a couple of sprigs of mint, but it also works well garnished with a lemon wheel for extra citrus and freshness.

Old Grand-Dad Bonded

Old Grand-Dad

Jeff Rogers, bar director of Jester Concepts in Minneapolis

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $25

Why This Bottle?

Old Grand-Dad Bonded is great for highballs. Spicy and full-flavored, it holds up to that amount of dilution. The flavors are enhanced, and the underlying flavors of baking spices and vanilla come out.

Russell’s Reserve 10

Russell

Mark Phelan, beverage director of 16” on Center in Chicago

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $30

Why This Bottle?

Russell’s Reserve 10-Year-Old Bourbon is one of my favorites from the Wild Turkey line for its versatility, depth of flavor, and availability in stores. The barrel notes really shine through here with rich vanilla, caramel, oak, whispers of stone fruit. Sipping it neat or in a stirred cocktail is great, but it really shines in a highball with an orange peel expression.

The carbonation lengthens and balances those deeper flavors for a perfectly balanced drink that pairs well with any meal.

Maker’s Mark 101

Maker

Aaron Lambert, bartender at Whiskey Kitchen in Durham, North Carolina

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $40

Why This Bottle?

Depending on the drinker, I have a lot of go-to’s. The wheat heavy bourbons tend to dilute easily and — whether disappearing into a cocktail or relaxing into some rocks and water — sort of just becomes delightful, refreshing, and mellow. In the summer heat, that might be what someone is looking for. Not everyone wants their drink to be an argument with all of their senses.

The Maker’s line is perfect for this type of drinker. They have over-proofed labels now, like the Makers 101 and the Makers Cask strength that still reminds you you’re drinking bourbon but have all the wheated softness.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Wild Turkey

Ethan Skaggs, bar manager at Gris-Gris in New Orleans

ABV: 58.4%

Average Price: $50

Why This Bottle?

My favorite bourbon to mix into a highball is Wild Turkey Rare Breed. At 112.8 proof, adding soda water and lemon extends the bolder spice and oak notes that you get when tasting the product neat. Adding Japanese shiso (or a small amount of mint) adds to the subtle complexity of the bourbon, pairing nicely with the sweeter caramel and vanilla wood notes that you receive on the finish.

Koval Single Barrel

Koval

Brenna Gay, bartender at Bradford House in Oklahoma City

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $40

Why This Bottle?

The best bourbon to mix for a highball cocktail is Koval Single Barrel out of Chicago. If you’re only using two ingredients in a drink or a dish, they have to be quality items. Koval has a moderate price point, but is high-quality, which makes it perfect for a home or professional bartender. It is smooth, lightly sweet, with notes of caramel, honey, vanilla, and summer grass.

Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace

Myles Holdsworth, director of food and beverage at The Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $40

Why This Bottle?

There are so many great bourbons to mix into highballs, but Buffalo Trace always stands out as a fantastic addition to cocktails. It is a deep rich whiskey with molasses and vanilla notes but is not harsh and is very approachable.

Wilderness Trail Single Barrel

Wilderness Trail

Robert Kidd, head bartender at Le Cavalier in Wilmington, Delaware

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $50

Why This Bottle?

I prefer to use Wilderness Trail Bourbon. The mash bill is 64 percent corn, 24 percent wheat, and 12 percent malted barley. The sweet flavors of caramel come through in the highball, and the carbonation really lifts the subtle allspice to the nose while you sip. Generally, if you are drinking a highball, you want something refreshing. So, I tend to shy away from anything that’s going to be too spiced.

Henry McKenna 10

Henry McKenna

Hadi Ktiri, beverage manager at Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences in New Orleans

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $100

Why This Bottle?

Bonded bourbons tend to work best in a highball because the added proof lessens the effect of the extra water. I like Henry McKenna 10 Year, a good quality sparkling mineral water, and a twist of lemon for my highballs.


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