When we were kids, most of us spent the rainy (or snowy) days between Christmas and NYE playing board games like Sorry!, Monopoly, and Settlers of Cattan (nerds!). As we grew into adulthood, many of these games grew dusty and un-played, hidden away in some cupboard in our parents’ basements. We turned instead to simple drinking-based games like flip cup and beer pong. Eventually, those games also fell to the wayside as we decided to try chess, backgammon, and poker — each played with a dram of whiskey.
Now, it’s all come full circle. The board games have roared back into frame and whiskey is still in the picture. Which whiskey, you ask? Alli Torres, head bartender at Refinery Rooftop in New York City makes a point of selecting whiskeys that will appeal to all of your winter game night guests.
“One thing I’ve definitely learned as a bartender is that my palate is very different than the person next to me, and the person across from me,” she says. “When entertaining, you’ll never make everyone happy but it’s important to consider something more approachable.”
Point being: It’s important to have a few different whiskeys on hand. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Scotch, rye, and bourbon, but some of our favorite bartenders have other expressions they enjoy sipping on during heated, cut-throat winter vacation game nights. Check their answers out below.
Belle Meade Bourbon
Kala Ellis, manager at O-Ku Bar in Nashville
When I’m drinking with friends, I often reach for Belle Meade. Their bourbon is approachable and easy to drink. They have a variety of different cask finishes if my friends are feeling fancy. But if we’re throwing ’em back, the price is fair and the quality is high. And their newest Green Briar TN Whiskey should be on everyone’s shelf.
Angel’s Envy Finished Rye
Emmanuel “Manny” Pressley, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia
Game night needs something with a little kick, easy enough for a few games, and keeps the energy going. Angel’s Envy Finished Rye is a go-to for me and my friends.
Eagle Rare Bourbon
Brandon Lockman, lead bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Oregon
If I’m showing off for game night, I’ll pick something that’s good enough to impress but affordable enough that they can shoot if it turns into that kind of game night. Eagle Rare 10 Year fits in that category for me.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon
Alejandro Dieguez, head bartender at J. Bespoke in New York City
Maker’s Mark would be my choice for game night, for the sole reason that I have been sharing this one with friends for as long as I can remember; it doesn’t hurt that it comes at a good price point.
Evan Williams Single Barrel
Jonni Montgomery, bartender at Tulio in Seattle
My favorite whiskey for game night is Evan Williams Single Barrel, a staple in most wells. After all, who doesn’t love to celebrate with shots on game night.
Sagamore Spirits Rye
Patrick Turner, bartender at B & O Brasserie in Baltimore
If you’re the one holding game night at your house or apartment, you can’t offer low-level spirits. That’s why Sagamore Spirits Rye is my go-to for game night. It’s a crowd-pleaser.
Jason Werth, bartender at Motif in Seattle
A weird contingent of my friends are from Illinois and they got me hooked on Koval Bourbon out of Chicago that they bring to game night. It uses the ancient grain millet, instead of wheat or rye, mixed with the requisite 51 percent corn mash. I think it adds a distinct fruitiness that I don’t often get from whiskey.
Angel’s Envy Bourbon
Alli Torres, head bartender at Refinery Rooftop in New York City
My go-to for new bourbon drinkers and seasoned vets alike is Angel’s Envy. The port finish is a flavor most respond to with excitement and positivity. If you happen to drink a bit more robustly, Angel’s Envy Rye is one of my favorites of all time.
Jameson Irish Whiskey
Silvia Rho, beverage manager at Copper Lounge in Los Angeles
To do game night right, you have to have the right whiskey. That’s why I go with Jameson Irish Whiskey. Jameson is always a safe bet. My game nights usually involve taking shots, so Jameson is perfect for that.
Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon
Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia
For game nights I will always use Evan Williams Black Label. Evan Williams makes a wonderful and very affordable Bourbon. At a game night there is a good chance you need a versatile whiskey to appease all different types of drinker. Evan Williams is great in a cocktail, a highball or neat.
Laphroaig 10-Year-Old Scotch
Jef Tate, head bartender at Janitor’s Closet in Chicago
Laphroaig 10 – Full-body, smoky with a little residual sweetness to carry and marry the flavors with gusto. A touch of seaside salinity keeps you reaching for the bottle. Sophisticated enough to be enjoyed by the more discerning so the bottle lasts a little longer at a gathering.
Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Wade McElroy, director of food and beverage at Fieldhouse Jones in Nashville
For this, I would go towards something with a lower proof like Buffalo Trace. It is such a classically delicious bourbon and really can please any palate. It will go a lot longer than something that is sitting at 100 proof or higher for prolonged gaming.