We Asked Bartenders Which Bottles Of Whiskey You Absolutely Need This Holiday Season

It’s officially November. The start of the holiday season. Get ready to be barraged by ads and carols.

This also means that holiday entertaining is right around the corner. Family parties. Lots of stiff pours. You definitely don’t want to wait until the last minute to grab a few random bottles of bottom-shelf booze just as your friends and family are about the arrive. You’re ready to move past the plastic handle of $10 dollar bargain whiskey. Time to level up this holiday.

Bartender Seth Weinberg of Bourbon Steak in Nashville likes to make sure he has one or two special bottles this time of year.

“Keeping a good bottle of whiskey around the house is the key to hospitality,” he says. “I would suggest a nice balanced bottle of Scotch with some age. It shows sophistication and thoughtfulness.”

What if your guests aren’t fans of Scotch? We tapped some of our favorite bartenders to do the work for you.

Willett Family Estate single barrel Bourbon

Adam Morgan, bar manager Husk in Nashville

Holidays are the best times to bring out the good bottles to share. If you can get your hands on a Willett Family Estate single barrel, you will be a crowd favorite.

Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye

Michelle Hamo, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia

Catoctin Creek’s Roundstone Rye. This is two-year-old rye made in copper stills and aged in new charred oak. The mash bill includes as much locally sourced, organic rye as the distillers can get their hands on. This is a must for any holiday tipple as it is affordable (approximately $45 a bottle) and offers a youthful and bombastic flavor profile with enough subtle oak tannins to make it an enjoyable sipper or addition to a mixed drink. You can expect pepper, raw wood, spice, cinnamon, caramel, dried fruit, and toffee when you pour this into a glass. Spare an ice cube or drops of water as this whiskey is already open and ready to meet you. This flexibility makes it a perfect addition for all of the winter holidays.

Old Forester 1870 Bourbon

Lauren Mathews. lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC

A whiskey that drinkers should have in their liquor cabinet this holiday season is Old Forester 1870. It’s 90 proof, which is good for sipping, but also makes killer classic cocktails. My favorite is making a traditional Hot Toddy with it.

W.L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon

Stephen George, bartender at 20|Twenty in Carlsbad, California

The W.L. Weller Special Reserve is something that I try to keep stocked up on. The entire Weller lineup is great, but some a very tough to get your hands on. This Bourbon is “wheated” in style, so has that subtle sweetness, and goes down easy.

Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye

Lydia McLuen, bartender at KEX in Portland, Oregon

Russell’s Reserve 6-Year-Old Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey deserves some space in everyone’s liquor cabinet this holiday season. The heavy char used in the maturation of Russell’s Reserve Rye contributes bold notes of honey, wood tannins and cinnamon to the whiskey, coupled with spicy notes of Rye. This makes it a crowd-pleasing whiskey for both Hot Toddies as well as Old Fashioneds that you might make on Christmas day.

Whistle Pig 10 Year Old Rye

Brian Krux, bartender and mixologist at Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vermont

Every drinker should have a bottle of Whistle Pig in their liquor cabinet for this holiday season. This 100 proof rye is not meant to be broken out on casual nights; it is to be shared with your closest friends and family. The spiciness of this rye will warm you up on the coldest nights. Drink it neat and it almost has a viscosity and warmth similar to Grand Marnier. It’s no wonder these guys won best whiskey in the world back in 2017 at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Old Forester 1920 Bourbon

Justin Simko, bar manager at The Bar at Husk in Charleston, South Carolina

For holiday entertaining, I’d say the Old Forester 1920. It’s about $50 dollars a bottle, great alone or mixed and stands up to anything, including ice.


Juan Gonzalez, food & beverage director at Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor, New York

Few Rye Whiskey. It’s a blend of 70 percent rye with corn and malted barley. This crisp, spicy rye brings forward notes of deep red fruit thanks to years of fermentation from Loire Valley wine and aging in oak barrels.

Dalmore 15 Year Old Scotch

Seth Weinberg, head bartender at Bourbon Steak in Nashville

Generally, good bottles of Scotch are much easier to find on the shelf in America over American whiskeys. For the holidays, I suggest the Dalmore 15-year or 18-year expressions.

Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch Bourbon

Jonathan Cunningham, bar manager at Husk in Greenville, South Carolina

When it comes to holiday entertaining, I suggest a bottle of Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch. It can be a little tricky to find, but to me, it’s the quintessential bourbon.

Horse Soldier Bourbon

Steve Wells, beverage director at Borago Restaurant in Grayton Beach, Florida

Horse Soldier Bourbon, this is an easy one. The movie “12 Strong” will do a far better job explaining the story behind this bottle than I could ever paraphrase, but here it is: The USA’s initial response after 9/11 was to send a team of Green Berets into the hills of Afghanistan on horseback. 18 years later, several of them are still friends and are now making bourbon — delicious bourbon — and are soon to be producing their booze in a Florida distillery. For me, that’s the perfect safe space at a holiday party in the year 2019 — Delicious bourbon & a Patriot owned/operated business? Even your most polar opposite family members can agree to those terms.

Pikesville Rye

Nathan Elliott, lead bartender at il Solito in Portland, Oregon

Pikesville Rye Whiskey would be my choice here. It’s an incredible whiskey for the price and will please any and all whiskey sippers alike. Its depth and complexity have made it a widely regarded spirit and will showcase sophistication, even with the most critical whiskey drinkers.

Blanton’s Bourbon

Leia Pecotte, bartender at Tulio in Seattle

My must-stock for a liquor cabinet over the holidays is again Blanton’s. It’s my go-to for sipping during these gray rainy days that lead into fall and Thanksgiving. The taste is sweet with notes of vanilla and caramel and finishing with clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Perfect pairing with any holiday gathering.

Whistle Pig 12 Year Old Rye

Evgeny Anisimov, bartender at Park Lounge in Carlsbad, California

Whistle Pig 12 years old is a great sipping whiskey as well as a fantastic addition to any cocktails you would love to serve during this holiday. Just mix it with Carpano Antica vermouth, add couple dashes of bitters and you got yourself a phenomenal Manhattan.

Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scotch

Katie Hestead, bartender at Richard’s in Boise, Idaho

For the holidays you absolutely need a good scotch. I recommend Bruichladdich Classic Laddie. It’s an unpeated Scotch from Islay that will please all whisky drinkers. Enjoy it around the fireplace, after a big meal, or keep your secret flask filled when your family starts talking politics.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky


Robert Hall, bartender at Southside Smokehouse in Landrum, South Carolina

Choosing one whisky over all others is difficult. Very difficult. If you focus on this time of year and the cool weather that comes along with it, and narrow it down for a broad audience, I might have to go with Hibiki Japanese Harmony. It is easy to drink for the whisky novice, but still satisfying for someone with a more developed palate. Japanese whisky, in general, is a nice bridge between American whiskey and Scotch whisky, as it has the hot, smoky notes of Scotch with the sweetness and smooth, delicate nature of bourbon. For the average person, cost and availability is also an important consideration when choosing a whisky, and Japanese Harmony is accommodating on both points.

Michter’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon


Matt Betts, lead bartender at Revival at the Sawyer in Sacramento, California

My favorite for the holidays to share with friends and family is Michter’s Straight Bourbon. With the tasting notes of Rich caramel with balanced vanilla, stone fruit notes, smoky depth, with an oak finish. Goes perfect with any meal and is a great balanced Bourbon.