If you’re a drinker, there’s a pretty good chance you have a go-to bottle of gin, vodka, tequila, rum, Scotch, rye... you get the idea. You know, the bottle that you always have on hand for slow sipping and mixing into your favorite cocktails. This is especially true for bourbon aficionados, a loyal bunch if ever there was one.
Since the marketplace is flooded with bourbon options, help identifying quality expressions is always welcome. Today, we’re putting bartenders in the hot seat — asking them for the bottles they reach for time and again. You know, the bottles they stock their home bar carts with.
Check their picks below!
Evan Williams Single Barrel
Dean Hurst, beverage director for Datz Restaurant Group in the Tampa Bay
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon is always a great drinking whiskey and one of the best values still left on the shelf. Being a single barrel selection, you get a wide range of textbook flavors in every bottle, from creme brûlée to saddle leather.
Average Price: $28
Chris Hennessy, bartender at Dylan Whisky Bar in Kilkenny, Ireland
My home has never been without a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon, one of the few drops that can hit every aspect of the flavor wheel you can experience from an individual whiskey. Its combination of corn, rye, and malted barley — 72:18:10 respectively — will bring you to flavor-town in high definition.
Fruity and floral waves of honeysuckle, ripe berries, dried apricot, and rose petals balanced against wooden notes of cedar shavings and fresh pecans/walnut bitter nuttiness. Seville orange sharpness against crisp menthol warmth, and dusted with nutmeg — this dram hints all corners of the palate to satisfy any drinker.
Eoghain Clavin, brewery ambassador for Guinness
Bulleit Bourbon has an especially high-rye content, giving it a bold, spicy character with a finish that’s really clean and smooth. A really affordable bottle and a great sipper or base for classic cocktails.
Average Price: $29
Dennis Shea, beverage director at Fish & Fire Food Group in Washington, DC
My go-to is always Buffalo Trace Bourbon. The taste is rich with vanilla, toffee, and candied fruits and is sure to please. This along with the price make it a very attractive option.
Average Price: $24
High West American Prairie
Tom Garvin, beverage manager at Tribeca’s Kitchen in New York City
American Prairie by High West Distillery is a beverage that I’m always happy to see on a back bar. It’s really affordable and can be great even if it is simply poured over ice or in a whiskey sour.
Average Price: $36
Elijah Craig Small Batch
Chandra Richter, vice president of beverage development and chief mixologist at Drinkworks
I love Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon. It’s a big, bold bourbon that won’t break the bank. I think it is a really great buy and one I always have on the shelf. Plus, it makes a fantastic old-fashioned.
Its big, rich, smoky notes pair so well with aromatic and citrus bitters, resulting in a really complex and satisfying cocktail.
Average Price: $32
Wild Turkey 101
Matthew Lawson, bar manager at Culaccino Italian Restaurant + Bar in Franklin, Tennessee
Anyone who knows me is well aware that Wild Turkey 101 is a constant on my shelf. The low-proof distillation and longer-than-average aging allow the whiskey to pick up an incredible amount of barrel character, affording us a high-octane product that finds a great balance between sweetness and spice from start to finish at an incredible price point.
Average Price: $25
Austin Zimmer, bartender at Le Privé in New York City
The Maker’s Mark is the best value bourbon, below $40, very smooth, and easy to mix. These are the main reasons why it’s one of the best-selling bourbons in the world.
Average Price: $27
Evan Charest, bartender in Los Angeles
Redemption Bourbon is my go-to. Personally, I believe it is the best bang for your buck and versatile enough to be a great go-to cocktail-wise. Light notes of vanilla and caramel plus the rye content add a nice hint of spice.
If I can’t serve it neat, it has no business being in a cocktail, and Redemption covers all the qualities I want for my go-to bourbon for cocktails.
Average Price: $29
Bib & Tucker Small Batch
Maren Nazera Erickson, bartender in San Antonio, Texas
Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon is an approachable and affordable option for bourbon enthusiasts of any drinking level. With tasting notes of vanilla, toasted honey, and chestnut, a pour of any of Bib & Tucker’s age statements will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside like a giant hug.
Average Price: $53
Old Forester 100
Johnny Swet, bartender at owner of Jimmy at the James Hotel in New York City
I think a lot of bartenders — myself included — like Old Forester 100 proof. It comes in around $25 which is a bargain. The spice really cuts through the sweetness of the bourbon. It’s great for cocktails as well as on the rocks.
Average Price: $33
Evan Williams Black Label
Joseph Fredrickson, bartender at Society Lounge in Cleveland
My go-to bang for the buck bourbon for a long time has been Evan Williams Black. For the price, it’s a steal with notes of vanilla, cinnamon, pecan, and a slight peppery note. Mind you this is no bottle to impress your friends, but if you want to keep yourself and friends happy while keeping them away from your high-cost, hard-to-find bottles this is my favorite option.
Average Price: $16