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These Bourbons Are Just Too Freaking Good To Mix Into Cocktails


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Don’t get us wrong, we love a good bourbon-based cocktail. We can enjoy random variations on the Old Fashioned (bacon washed, anyone?) any day of the week. But we also understand the difference between mixing bourbons and sipping bourbons.

Obviously, sometimes these two levels overlap. But sometimes they really don’t. There are high-quality, long-matured bourbons that deserve to be sipped slowly with (at most) a single ice cube. A cocktail would only mask their flavors.

Like us, bartenders have strong opinions about sipping and mixing bourbons. Sure, they make their living mixing up whiskey sours, Manhattans, and mint juleps, but they also understand that some whiskeys should be enjoyed on their own without any other flavors interfering with the distiller’s hard work and technique. That’s why we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their choices for bourbons that are just too good to pour into a cocktail.

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep

Josh Cameron, head bartender at Boulton & Watt in New York City

It is downright wrong to make a cocktail with anything in the Wild Turkey Master’s Keep collection. If you’re lucky enough to try any of this juice, you better savor it. Eddie Russell didn’t put his name on it for craps and giggles. It is exceptionally handcrafted, hand-selected, thoughtfully aged, and genuinely cared for.

This is some of the finest and most thought out whiskey in the world.

Blanton’s

Holly Fields, bartender at Station Hollywood in Los Angeles, California

Blanton’s is hands down one of the bourbons that is just too good to mix with anything. It’s a handcrafted single barrel Kentucky spirit and the charred oak barrels leave you wanting nothing more than another glass.

Angel’s Envy

Alli Torres, bartender at Refinery Rooftop in New York City

Angel’s Envy; hands down. The port finish really rounds it and leaves the smoothest sip unlike a handful of other brash barrels you see out there. With OGs like the Henderson family at the helm, it’s hard not to have their legacy shine through for a delicious sipping bourbon.

Henry McKenna Single Barrel

Chris Patino, co-owner of Raised By Wolves in San Diego

That’s a tough one! After all, we serve up an Old Fashioned made with Very Old Fitzgerald from the 1960’s on the vintage menu at Raised by Wolves. But at home, I keep a bottle of Henry McKenna Single Barrel on the shelf that’s for sipping only.

Pappy Van Winkle

Shawn Chen, beverage director and head bartender at RedFarm in New York City

In my opinion, the most sought-after bourbon at the moment is Pappy Van Winkle. The limited production and high price point are just some of the reasons why it’s too good to mix with. It should be served neat or with a few ice cubes and savored over good conversation after dinner with people you really like.

Elijah Craig 18 Year

Stephen George, beverage manager at 20|Twenty Grill in Carlsbad, California

In my opinion, there are too many to count, but we are in the bar business. One offhand is the Elijah Craig 18 Year bourbon. So many layers and depth of flavors; it would be a shame to miss out on any of them because of something like ginger beer or even ice.

Booker’s

Darren Fabian, national beverage manager at Moxie’s Grill & Bar

I would have to say Booker’s. The higher proof really expresses the classic qualities that made bourbon famous.

Elmer T. Lee

Chris Burmeister, bartender at Citizen Rail in Denver

Elmer T. Lee. Awesome single barrel whiskey from Buffalo Trace Distillery. The best part is that the price reflects something that you could easily mix into a cocktail. No doubt, it makes a great drink, but personally, I’d avoid adding anything but ice.

Basil Hayden’s

Brandon Lockman, lead bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland

Stop mixing at the Blanton’s/Basil Hayden level. Whiskeys that age in a secondary barrel are worth tasting unadulterated. The extra flavors that are picked up when aged in port, rum, or cognac casks are lost when you throw other flavors in.

Writer’s Pick: Four Roses Single Barrel

Four Roses Single Barrels is the perfect whiskey for fans of bourbon with an extra kick of spicy rye as well as alcohol. That’s because this high-rye bourbon sits at a potent 100 proof. Somehow it remains delicate and full of vanilla and caramel sweetness to go along with the peppery rye.

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