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Bartenders Tell Us The One Whiskey They Pour For Their Fellow Bartenders

There’s a term in the bartending community call the “bartender’s handshake.” This is a term used to describe a shot of booze given to fellow bartenders — free of charge — as a friendly “welcome to my joint” when they walk through the door. It’s a nod to the hard work that barkeeps do on a daily basis. More often than not, that shot is a whiskey they have on the rail or are enjoying at the moment. It can be something old and nostalgic or something bold and new. Seeing as February 24th is World Bartending Day, we thought it would be fun to learn about which whiskey bartenders enjoy giving their fellow cohorts as a “bartender’s handshake.”

Will Witherow, bar manager at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia, prefers his handshake to come from north of the border. “If I had to give a fellow bartender a whiskey for World Bartender Day, it would be Crown Royal. That’s what we used to do shots of when I first started bartending.”

Witherow isn’t the only bartender with strong opinions on the right whiskey to gift fellow mixologists. That’s why we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the one whiskey they like to pour for their bartending companions.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon

Style: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
ABV: 54.1%
Average Price: $39.99

Jesse Cyr, bartender at Foreign National in Seattle

So many great whiskeys come to mind that I’d like to give to my bartender friends, but I’d choose Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Wild Turkey is already a favorite among the bar community. It shows up in our wells and on our cocktail menus often and for good reason. Jimmy and Eddie Russell have over 100 years of bourbon making experience between them and are some of the best in the business, hands down.

Rare Breed is my personal favorite to pour for my friends because it’s barrel proof and has all the classic bourbon flavors we all love so much. A little orange, some tobacco, and a hint of spice. There’s no way you can go wrong with Wild Turkey Rare Breed.

Old Overholt Rye

Style: Straight Rye Whiskey
ABV: 40%
Average Price: $17.99

Alex Carlin, beverage director of Infuse Hospitality in Chicago

My handshake of late has been Old Overholt Rye. I have looked far and wide for something that tastes better at a relevant value and despite my efforts, there’s nothing better. It’s certainly less cliché than a shot of Jameson, but all shots need love too.

WhistlePig 12-Year Old World Rye

Style: Straight Rye Whiskey
ABV: 63%
Average Price: $139.99

Anthony Merlino, beverage director at Bergamo’s in New York City

For an old soul like me, WhistlePig 12-Year Old World Rye is the perfect marriage between New American Oak and Old World Wine Cask. Just like bartenders, WhistlePig is bold, full of character, and fused with the elegance and grace of an 18-year-old Scotch.

Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon

Style: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
ABV: 50%
Average Price: $41.99

Tony Abou Ganim, master mixologist and bar consultant at Highlands in Detroit

I have been very blessed to sit as the Director of Judges for the San Francisco World Spirits Competition for the past 10 years and last year we awarded this whiskey the best whisky in the world. The Henry McKenna Single Barrel, from the Heaven Hill Distillery, is a 10-year-old, bottled-in-bond bourbon whiskey which was a well-kept secret until winning “Best Bourbon” from the SFWSC in 2018 and Best Whisky in 2019. In turn, it has become very difficult to find.

That said if I can find a bottle, and I know a bartender who would really enjoy and appreciate it, it makes it the perfect gift for World Bartender Day. If you can’t find a bottle, try Elijah Craig and Evan Williams which contain the same mash bill as Henry McKenna.

Weller Special Reserve Bourbon

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And so it begins. One bottle. One night.

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Style: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
ABV: 45%
Average Price: $44.99

Miki Nikolic, beverage director at Double Dealer in New Orleans

If I was buying a bottle for a fellow bartender, I would gift them Weller Special Reserve, the child of Buffalo Trace. It’s a favorite of mine for the quality of juice.

Angel’s Envy Rye

Style: Rye Whiskey
ABV: 50%
Average Price: $84.99

Kala Ellis, bar manager at O-Ku in Nashville

For my bartender brethren, I have to go with Angel’s Envy Rye. It’s like a cocktail in a bottle. That’s how we show love in this industry, Angel’s Envy Rye. It’s not always easy to come by, but it is always worth it.

Woodford Reserve Wheat Rye

Style: Straight Rye Whiskey
ABV: 45.2%
Average Price: $35.99

Emmanuel “Manny” Pressley, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia

I think every bartender should play around with the new Woodford Wheat Rye. It is a great new product that incorporates an apple pie-like flavor. I’m looking forward to the amazing cocktails that fellow bartenders will create with this.

Willett Family Estate Bourbon

Style: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
ABV: Varies
Average Price: $1,200

Drew Hairston, beverage director at Dirty Habit in Washington, DC

I would gift a fellow bartender a bottle of Willett Family Estate Bourbon. These whiskeys are generally hand-picked from the barrel by a specific vendor or store, and each extremely small batch is given a funky name like “Boots With The Fur” or “If You Build It, They Will Drink It.” Each batch can be as small as 150 bottles, and every batch has a unique mash, ABV, and age statement, adding to its rarity.

St. George Single Malt Whiskey

Style: American Single Malt
ABV: 47%
Average Price: $65.99

James MacInnes, bar manager at KYU in Miami

I love gifting for fellow bartenders. It allows you to be adventurous and guilt-free when choosing a spirit because of the fact that bartenders, by nature, have a knack for trying new things all the time. St. George has a malt whiskey that’s recently caught my eye and I wouldn’t hesitate in the slightest to share it with any of my colleagues. By veering off the beaten path, St. George has produced a San Franciscan malt whiskey with a uniquely pungent finish while still retaining all of the qualities we know and love in whiskey.

Kavalan Classic Whisky

Style: Taiwanese Single Malt
ABV: 43%
Average Price: $99.99

Darron Foy, head bartender at The Flatiron Room in New York City

Kavalan classic is the flagship expression from this young emerging distillery (operating since 2005). Kavalan has wooed the world with its vibrant and tropical whiskies. This expression is light and elegant, chock full of honey, vanilla, and mango while intermarrying with clean floral notes. It’s easy to sip over ice, neat, or in a cocktail. It’ll impress your bartender buddies with its floral bouquet and gentle warmth on the palate.

Rittenhouse Rye

Style: Straight Rye Whiskey
ABV: 50%
Average Price: $25.99

Melissa Carroll, bar manager at Fisk & Co. in Chicago

Rittenhouse Rye is such an incredibly dynamic whiskey. I love it in cocktails, on its own, over rocks, as a highball … you name it. This whiskey works for it. With a high heat spice to it, you can still catch notes no matter what you put it against. I really appreciate that quality. To all my lovely dynamic bartenders out there, I’d want to give you something that best represents your abilities, and this is that whiskey. Ain’t no beating it.

Kings County Moonshine

Style: Unaged Whiskey
ABV: 45%
Average Price: Unavailable

Bryant Orozco, bar manager at Madre Restaurants + Mezcaleria in Los Angeles

If I had to give a colleague a whiskey, I’d give them something I am currently into. I just received a small flask of White Dog from Kings County Distillery and I am currently in love it with it. It is soft, well rounded at 45 percent, and I hope it becomes commercially available. The world needs more white dog.

Mellow Corn Whiskey

Style: Straight Corn Whiskey
ABV: 50%
Average Price: $17.99

Benjamin Rouse, head bartender at Henley in Nashville

Mellow Corn is an incredible corn whiskey that’s smooth and reminds me of growing up. This whiskey is a reminder of where we started as bartenders and is way too tasty.

Suntory Toki Japanese Whisky

Style: Japanese Whisky
ABV: 43%
Average Price: $32.99

Jill Bulmash, mixologist at Monk’s Flask in Asheville, North Carolina

Bartenders know you don’t have to spend a ton to find a good bottle. Suntory Toki is a light, fresh, mellow whisky that is lovely on its own or in a cocktail. It’s versatile and not so expensive that you feel the need to hang on to it for a special occasion.

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