Life

We Asked Bartenders To Name The One Whiskey That Gets Them Into The Holiday Spirit

To truly embrace the holiday spirit, you need a passion for coziness, that deeply warming, keenly nostalgic feeling that this season just seems to exude. You can do this in a variety of ways — sitting by a roaring fire, cuddling up with the family to watch Christmas movies, or baking sugar coookies. Or you can just pour yourself a dram of seasonally appropriate whiskey.

Whiskey is pure bliss this time of year. It’s full of many of the same flavor notes as holiday cakes, cookies, and cocktails. And its ability to add warmth to a cold night is unparalleled in the spirits world.

So which one to pick? Rebecca Edwards, co-bar managers at Tavola in Charlottesville, Virginia like to sip on Jameson during the holidays.

“We have a tradition with our friends that after all the family get-togethers are finished we meet at a local bar that stays open 365 days a year for ‘friendsmas,’” she says. “When the tradition started, we were all young restaurant employees who rarely experimented outside beers and shots. Somewhere along the way, Jameson became the holiday drink of choice.”

Austin Doiron, beverage director at NEAT Bottle Shop & Tasting Room in Alys Beach Florida, attributes his tradition to what has to be considered one of the best Christmas movies of all time.

“Old Grandad comes to mind since that was Billy Bob Thorton’s choice of drink in Bad Santa.” He adds. “Old Grand-Dad 114 is actually a good sipper. The regular Old Grand-Dad I would avoid.”

Find more holiday season whiskey picks from our favorite bartenders below.

Dewar’s White Label Scotch Whisky

Danny Caffall, lead bartender at The Mansion Bar in Dallas, Texas

Dewar’s White Label. At all my family gatherings, scotch and water was usually the first drink consumed by the guests. I still think of Scotch on the rocks with a splash of water as some sort of opening act for the beverage marathon that is holiday gatherings.

Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon

Graham Courter, bar manager Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, Tennessee

It would have to be Evan Williams Black Label. My grandfather always kept a bottle in the board game closet, and in high school, I would always sneak a shot when looking for Pictionary. Many years later, when I brought my wife home for the first time, he brought out the same dusty bottle for us to warm our bodies and loosen our tongues; it was perfect.

Pikesville Rye

View this post on Instagram

#pikesvillerye then had some rye on another evening

A post shared by Alvin X Gee (@alvin.x.gee) on

Pete Maben, assistant bar manager at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon

I’m going to have to go with Pikesville rye on this one. It’s perfect when nestling up next to the fire during those cozy nights in. As well as with all of that pre-holiday cooking.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch Whisky

Taha Ismail, bar manager at the Round Robin Bar in Washington, D.C.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label, a blend of Scotland’s rarest Whiskies is not an everyday whiskey, but a special occasion whiskey and perfect for the holidays.

Early Times Bourbon

View this post on Instagram

Cutting out of work early today- figured I’d start getting ready for tomorrow’s #orlandowhiskeyfestival and kick off the early afternoon with some #bourbon by the lake, today with @earlytimeswhisky #bottledinbond Kentucky straight bourbon I picked up while visiting the #bourbontrail. Early Times if you haven’t heard much about it is a brand owned by Brown-Forman, better known for their Woodford Reserve and Old Forester #bourbonwhiskey. • • Pours out a beautiful copper color. The nose first gives off spice followed by notes of sweet caramel and molasses, oak and citrus fruit. On the palate the sweetness takes more of a front seat with salted caramel, vanilla and brown sugar along with plum and raisin, followed by toasted oak and cinnamon spice and slight warming from the alcohol that carries through to the medium-length finish. • • Distribution on this is fairly limited, and where it’s found it is known generally as a bottom shelf brand retailing around $20-$25 for a 1-liter bottle but don’t let that fool you. Is it overly complex? No. But it is a rich tasting, balanced bourbon that you’d be hard pressed to beat for the price. I wish it was distributed in Florida (*wink*wink @brownforman), but if you are a bourbon lover and ever come across it I definitely recommend picking up a bottle. 86/100 • • What’s your inexpensive go-to drink of choice? • • #earlytimes #earlytimeswhiskey #earlytimesbottledinbond #kentuckybourbon #kentuckystraightbourbonwhiskey #lakelife #florida #sittinonthedock #apopka #wintergarden #friday #friyay #quittintime #weekend #americanwhiskey #whiskey #whisky #haveadrink #haveadrinkonme #letsdrink #lakeapopka #lakefront #lakeliving #nofilter #nofilterneeded

A post shared by Ted D (@craftbeerandwhisky) on

Matt Catchpole, general manager at Terra in Columbia, South Carolina

I probably associate holiday whiskey with Early Times more than any other; my grandfather drank it, and it’s what I first learned to make eggnog with. I still use it in my eggnog, most years.

Dalmore 12 Year Old Scotch Whisky

Devon Daley, bar manager at Sternewirth in San Antonio, Texas

I really have two options here. First is a revisit to Booker’s, a whiskey that I love and that shows up at a lot at holiday gatherings. The second is the Dalmore 12 Year. This is mostly due to it being a preferred scotch for my grandfather, with whom I spent a lot of my childhood holidays. Now, as an adult, Dalmore 12 Year is something I drink to remember him and reminisce.

Redbreast 15 Year Old Irish Whiskey

Jeremy Allen, general manager at MiniBar in Hollywood, California

Redbreast 15 Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey makes me think of the holidays. It’s too complex to chew on every day; it’s more for occasions and reflection, which is something we tend to do this time of year.

Jameson Irish Whiskey

Drew Breen, bar manager at Jianna in Greenville, South Carolina

When it comes to holiday sipping, for me, it’s Jameson. I know it doesn’t have much to do with holidays, but always held a special place because of memories made over a glass of it.

Glenmorangie Signet Scotch Whisky

Benjamin Rouse, head bartender at Henley in Nashville

Glenmorangie Signet is Christmas Morning is a bottle. This dram is a little more on the pricey side but if you like Scotch and you like hot chocolate, look no further. This should be enjoyed with close family or friends, fireside, preferably with a cigar in hand.

Jim Beam Black Label Bourbon

Kristian Niemi, owner of Bourbon, Columbia, South Carolina

Jim Beam Black label is my holiday go-to. I can put six bottles on the bar and let my guests go at it for cocktails or drinking on the rocks. It’s top-notch but doesn’t break the bank. I learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea to put the good stuff out. When you see someone mixing it with diet ginger ale, it really puts a damper on the holidays.

Canadian Club Whisky

Justin Miller, executive chef at Anthony’s Chophouse in Hamilton County, Indiana

Oddly enough, the brand of whiskey I think of the most around holidays is Canadian Club. My family always made a batch of ‘Whiskey Slush’ using Canadian Club, ginger ale, and lemon juice. We have it at almost any family get together and even seeing the label makes me think of being with family.

Breckenridge Spiced Whiskey

Keith Zintakmon, bartender at JRDN in San Diego

When it comes to holiday sipping, I pick Breckenridge Spiced Whiskey. Breckenridge distillery makes great spirits, and their spiced whiskey has all of the lovely baking spices, flavors and warmth of the holidays.

Chivas Regal 12 Year Old

View this post on Instagram

Gazda 👔 . . . . . . #pabdock13 #chivasregal12

A post shared by Dock13PUB (@_dock13_) on

Ben Rojo, bartender at Black Emperor in New York City

Chivas Regal 12 Year Old is my most nostalgic dram at holiday time. It was the preferred whisky of each of my grandfathers, two men who did not agree on much else. At age eight, the Rusty Nail was the first cocktail I was ever tasked with building, and every winter I bring home a bottle of Chivas to nudge me back towards simpler days.

Jim Beam White Label Bourbon

Cole Newton, bartender Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans

I always associate Jim Beam White Label with the holidays, because that was the whiskey that my mother used to make her Bourbon Balls, a staple of her slate of holiday cookies. It nestles right into that sweet spot of being affordable enough to cook with, but still good enough to sip on while you do.

Templeton Rye

Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia

This time of year, I always like to enjoy Templeton Rye. Templeton holds a special place in my heart because it’s the only Whiskey a friend’s dad will drink. At Thanksgiving, we would get done stuffing our faces and he would pour us a healthy glass of Templeton and say, “here this will help burn the food down.” Drinking will always invoke feelings and I love the thought of those Thanksgivings in my younger days.

W.L. Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon

Mike Wolf, author of Garden to Glass: Grow Your Drinks from the Ground Up

Weller, whether it’s the 12 year, 107, or one of the Pappy releases, will always make me think of the holidays because it’s one of the only times you can actually find any around town. It’s a celebratory pour—you’ve made it this far into the year.

WhistlePig 15 Year Estate Oak Rye Whiskey

Casey Bunch, bartender at The French Room Bar in Dallas, Texas

When I think of the holidays, I think of family and gatherings. For that reason, I also think about breaking out the good stuff. I recently came across WhistlePig’s 15 year Vermont Estate Oak and wow, it is delicious. As far as why, when else am I going to break out the good stuff? Best enjoyed with those closest to you.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon

Brad Pickle, bourbon master at Bar Bourbon in Arlington, Texas

When it comes to holiday drinking, I like to drink Makers Mark because I always remember my Uncle making his Eggnog with it when I was growing up.

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon

Denis Cote, bartender at The Limelight Hotel in Ketchum, Idaho

For the holidays I always go with Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon. It just seems so festive to me to enjoy with friends and family, either straight or in a hot toddy.

Rittenhouse Rye

Jarhn Blutstein, beverage manager at Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa in Montauk, New York

Rittenhouse rye. I always have a barrel-aged Manhattan going at our house for the holiday entertaining and I love using Rittenhouse. It’s a great value and stands up well to the sweet vermouth.

×