We Asked Bartenders For The One Bottle Of Whiskey To Start A Collection With

For most of us, money (or rather a lack thereof) stops us from enjoying some of the finer things in life. If money was literally no object, we’d indulge in bespoke clothes, globe-trotting trips, and of course expensive, long-matured whiskeys. We’d probably spring for that bottle of 35-year-old Glenlivet or limited-edition small-batch bourbon du jour. But, sadly, most of us don’t have the cash required to purchase a very old, hard to find whiskeys.

That doesn’t mean you have no shot at starting a collection. Lack of a trust fund doesn’t stop Nick Jackson, head bartender at The Rum House in New York City, from collecting whiskies.

“I have dabbled in collecting single malt scotches and there are some amazing value buys out there,” he says. “Just look for any of the limited offerings from the big names. I’m partial to any of the Ardbeg releases. They recently had one aged in rum barrels — Ardbeg Drum — that was great.”

You have to start somewhere. What about that money you’ve been saving for a “rainy day”? Isn’t it better to save whiskey for that rainy day anyway?

Don’t know where to start? We asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the one whiskey they’d purchase to start their collections if they were beginning from scratch.

Glenfiddich 21-Year-Old Scotch Whisky

Zachary Pease, bartender at My Friend Duke in New York City

Glennfiddich 21 year has become the go to for gifts for friends. It’s just a fantastic bottle at a pretty reasonable price point for something of that quality and a great way to celebrate with friends.

Pappy Van Winkle 23-Year-Old Bourbon

Justin Campbell, beverage director for The h.wood Group in Los Angeles

Pappy Van Winkle 23-year is that one rare bottle that every person has heard of but few can afford. If you ever get the chance to have a sip you should. If not for enjoyment at least so you can put the conversation to rest. Think of it like Game of Thrones…wait you’ve never seen GOT? You see where I’m going with this one.

Laphroaig 18-Year-Old Scotch Whisky

Roman Cervantes from La Pulperia in New York City

The one whisky everyone needs to try is Laphroaig 18. It’s matured for more than a quarter of a century in casks before married in a sherry cask for 12 months.

Navazos-Palazzi Overseas Malt Whiskey

Miles Macquarrie, co-owner and beverage director of Watchman’s in Atlanta

My pick is Navazos-Palazzi Overseas Malt Whiskey. At Watchman’s, we’re lucky to have 1 out of 900 bottles produced. This Olorosso Sherry cask-aged whisky is not to be missed.

E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bourbon

Trevor Alderson, bartender at Blue Smoke in New York City

The one whiskey every drinker needs to try at least once is E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bourbon. If you’re a veteran then I’m sure you’ve had it, but if you’re still building your liquor cabinet and are stumped by the plethora of bourbons on the market, start here.

Whistle Pig 15 Year Rye Whiskey

Keith Zintakmon, bartender at JRDN in San Diego

If I was going to recommend one whiskey, it would definitely be a rye whiskey and it would be from Whistle Pig. Whistle Pig 15 Year Rye. It’s some good juice and pretty much the best rye whiskey on the market.

Lagavulin 16-Year-Old Scotch Whisky

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Jon Baer, manager of beverage and bakery operations at The Cheesecake Factory Incorporated

That’s a tough one. I’d have to go with Lagavulin 16 Year. It’s a classic expression that will never go out of style. It is intensely smoky, but also sweet, spicy, rich and complex.

Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year-Old Bourbon

Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC

Pappy Van Winkle 20-year-old. Pretty much any expression. It’s such a sought-after bottle that you have to try it at least once. They’re all very different and if you have the opportunity to treat yourself, do it.

High West Campfire Whiskey

Nick Jackson, head bartender at The Rum House in New York City

All drinkers should try High West Campfire at least once. It’s affordable and approachable for a blend of bourbon, rye and scotch in one bottle. Yes, it’s smoky like the name suggests, but it’s worth it and not over the top.

W.L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon

Amy Wong, lead bartender at King Tide Fish & Shell in Portland, Oregon

W. L. Weller Special Reserve. It’s the original wheated mashbill and produced by the same people with the same mashbill as Pappy Van Winkle.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon

Adam Cornelius, director of operations at Little Beet Table in Greenwich Connecticut

If I had to pick one, it would be Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, if you can get your hands on it. Not as difficult as Pappy, but in my opinion definitely more bang for your buck.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye Whiskey

Liam Deegan, partner at Barrel Proof in New Orleans

A Sazerac with Thomas Handy. It’s pretentious and indulgent, but it’s a real treat. Maybe just living in New Orleans makes it seem so great, but all the more reason to try one in this city.

Paddy 10-Year-Old Irish Whiskey

Kelly McAuliffe, manager at Salazar in Los Angeles

If you can find a bottle of Paddy 10 or 18 or (gasp) 25 bottled pre-Sazerac acquisition, then do. It’s truly a unique experience and one you won’t soon forget.

Rittenhouse Rye Bottled In Bond

Cheston Overman, lead bartender at Bookstore Bar & Café in Seattle

Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-In-Bond. It’s high proof, with spicier and fruitier flavor profile and an aggressive front, due to the high rye mashbill. But you get a smooth finish, with overripe banana notes at the end.

W.L. Weller 12-Year-Old Bourbon

Alec Barber-Grossi, bartender at Accomplice Bar in Los Angeles

W.L. Weller 12 year. The poor man’s Pappy. It used to be $35 until the hype of Pappy, but it’s made from the same mash at the same distillery. It is an unpretentious workhorse of a whiskey.