Bartenders Tell Us The Best-Tasting Whiskies They’ve Ever Tried

In the simplest terms, taste is subjective. Whereas I might love blue cheese or hen of the woods mushrooms, you might absolutely hate both. There’s nothing wrong with you (there probably is, but not this) and there’s nothing wrong with me (there definitely is, but not this) — we just like what we like. Our palates evolved in different ways, shaped by our childhood influences, our biology, and our present-day experiences.

This is absolutely true when it comes to whisk(e)y. So naming the “best tasting” whiskey of all time is certain to yield a whole bunch of different answers. That’s not to say that having an opinion and arguing your case is futile. It’s fun to chop it up about what’s “the best,” then expand your palate and reassess.

We decided to ask a handful of bartenders to tell us the best-tasting whiskeys to ever pass through their lips. While many included U.S. brands, others branched out into Japan, Scotland, and even the middle of the ocean (sort of). Check their answers below.

Old Forester Statesman

David Tlaiye, bartender at Sage SRQ in Sarasota, Florida

I’m a big fan of Old Forester Statesman. It’s a classy bottle, with a complex-yet-light flavor that I love on its own or on any cocktail I make myself at home.

Yamazaki 18

Robert Björn Taylor, bartender and assistant general manager at ARRIVE Hotels and Restaurants in Austin, Texas

You do know this question is impossible to answer right?

But… if I have to pick the best whisky… I have ever had it would be The Yamazaki 18 Year or The Yamazaki Sherry Cask. Love those whiskies. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful they are. Smell, taste, the experience is one hundred percent orgasmic.

Blanton’s Bourbon

Drew Reid, bartender at W Aspen in Aspen, Colorado

Tough question. Blanton’s will have to be my answer here. Without question Blanton’s stacks up against all the best. The smoothness of this bourbon is unmatched. This whiskey is truly an American treasure.

Compass Box Hedonism

Meredith Barry, executive beverage chef of Angad Arts Hotel in St. Louis

A consistent go-to for me would be Compass Box Hedonism. Pineapple, banana, vanilla, brown sugar. Delicate and flavorful. Also, I’m a sucker for a PX sherry cask finish. Rabbit Hole Distillery Dareringer is another pick. It’s sweet but goes down oh so smooth.

Lagavulin 12

Benjamin Burch, bartender at The Nolen in San Diego

Lagavulin 12-Year-Old. I love Lagavulin. I think they make the best whisky in the world and every expression is top-notch. I’ve got at least one bottle of every expression on my shelf at home, but the 12 year is my favorite. It’s barrel-proof so it just has so much flavor. It tastes like a bonfire on the beach. Big smoke, big stone fruit flavors, and a really nice mineral quality and saltiness.

I have every release since 2013 and they are all just insanely good. If you like peated whiskey, find a bottle of this.

W.L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon

Rebecah Hunter, bartender at The Monarch Club in Detroit

W.L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon. This bourbon is very well known for its smooth taste which derives from substituting wheat for rye in the mash bill. The Weller brand falls under the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve umbrella.

Angel’s Envy Bourbon

Eva Al-Gharaballi, bartender at Datz in St. Petersburg, Florida

My favorite tasting whiskey has always been Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This whiskey is finished in port wine barrels and has robust flavors of vanilla throughout. It is a small-batch whiskey aged up to six years with just a touch of sweetness that goes great with a big rock of ice.

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

Tommy Ergle, bar manager at Dr. BBQ in St. Petersburg, Florida

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon must always be in a whiskey drinkers’ collection. Its hints of cherry, licorice, and honey that hit your nose are incredibly vibrant and inviting. The cherry, licorice, and mahogany tasting notes give it such a warm finish that really leaves it second-to-none in my book.

Booker’s Bourbon

Jerry Shaffer, food and beverage manager at Embassy Suites Napa in Napa, California

My pick for best tasting whiskey is Booker’s — because of its flavors of oak tannin, smoky vanilla, mocha and coffee, and intense finish.

Whistle Pig Old World Rye

Anthony Aviles, General Manager at Jack Dusty in Sarasota, Florida

If you’re willing to spend the coin on it, Whistle Pig Old World is tops of my list and worth every penny. The sweet and salty notes, richness, complexity, and smooth finish are able to stand up to just about any other $90 plus bottle of whiskey I’ve come across.

High West Son of Bourye

Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami

Son of Bourye from High West is a fantastic blend of bourbon and rye that you were not expecting. The spice of the rye and the smoothness of the bourbon absolutely crush in this bottling.

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

Damian Langarica, head bartender at in Philadelphia

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is the perfect whiskey for those who love scotch (or bourbon). It’s aged in two different barrels. The second one being an extra charred barrel, for some extra smokiness.

Hakushu 18

Emmanuelle Massicot, beverage director of Kata Robata in Houston

As a scotch drinker, I also enjoy Japanese whiskies and I like Hakushu. Everyone goes for Hibiki or Yamazaki from Suntory but Hakushu 18 has a bit of a peatiness that is reminiscent of scotch.

Glenlivet 21

Marta De La Cruz Marrero, food and beverage supervisor of Burlock Coast in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Glenlivet 21 year is quite full and rich. There are notes of sandalwood and pine with a resinous note. Potpourri creeps in with barley sugar and cereal notes with acacia honey. The palate is rich and full. There are notes of oily walnuts and winter fruitcake with spice and sugar. The finish is long and sweet with a soft, chewy oakiness.

Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon

Stephen Potter, lead bartender at The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Jefferson’s Ocean has to be one of my favorites. They float the casks in seawater for three years. The nose is just that — the ocean. I haven’t found the salted caramel flavor in many other bottles.