We all love gorging ourselves on handfuls of Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, and Skittles in the days leading up to (and after) Halloween. Even as an adult, you’d have to be insane to turn down free candy. But you’re also grown now and sugar hangovers are legit worse than booze hangovers.
You’ve got to pace yourself. With a healthy amount of whiskey, obviously.
When we drink whiskey on Halloween, we look for expressions that remind us of our favorite candies. Evgeny Anisimov, bartender at Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, California agrees with that approach — opting for whiskeys aged in rum or sherry barrels.
“These barrel programs give the expressions a beautiful aroma of butterscotch, maple, and caramel,” he says. “The result is very soft and smooth whiskeys that make wonderful after-dinner drinks.”
Other bartenders look for different candy-centric qualities in their Halloween whiskeys. So we asked some of our favorites pros to tell us the best whiskeys to substitute for candy this Halloween.
Brian Krux, bartender and mixologist at Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vermont
Wheated bourbons are naturally more sweet than other bourbons due to their high ‘wheat bill.’ Larceny Bourbon is distilled at Heaven Hill at 92 proof and contains 20% wheat. At $25 or below, this is pound for pound one of the best bourbons on the market. Big cherry and vanilla notes on the nose beg you to take another sip. Finishing with loads of sweet butterscotch and toffee, this bourbon is my pick to substitute for candy this Halloween season.
Angel’s Envy Bourbon
Steve Wells, beverage director at Borago Restaurant in Grayton Beach, Florida
I have to go with Angle’s Envy, the legacy brand left by Lincoln Henderson. His approach to aging has taken off among several other brands, but he deserves credit for introducing the masses to port barrel aging. If I’m trick or treating, attending a cocktail party, or otherwise in a BYOB setting with limited access to bar accouterments, I’m bringing a bourbon that requires nothing more than a glass.
I think that Angle’s Envy appeals to the seasoned bourbon drinker but is also great for those who skipped over the period of cowboy whiskey many of us waded through to gain our appreciation of craft spirits.
High West Double Rye
Justin Simko, bar manager at The Bar as Husk in Charleston, South Carolina
High West Double Rye or Rittenhouse Rye are my preferred brands around this time of year. The Double Rye tastes like an old fashioned in a glass when I’m looking for something sweeter, and Rittenhouse has more chocolate orange and baking spice flavors while being much drier.
Yamazaki 12-year-old Japanese Whisky
Juan Gonzalez, food & beverage director at Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor, New York
Japanese whisky — Yamazaki 12 year old, in particular. Japanese whiskies start with a crystal clear wash, filtered to avoid the malty and heavier tones of whisky. They’re perfect to complement Halloween candy with an explosion of fruit flavors.
Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old Scotch Whiskey
Dwayne Ridgaway, bartender at The Brown Room in Cape May, New Jersey
For adult Halloween “candy” whiskey, I like The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14-year-old. Finished in rum barrels, Balvenie has a robust nose with molasses and fruit notes on the palate. Flavors that the rum barrels impart during the finish.
Rieger Kansas City Whiskey
Seth Weinberg, head bartender at Bourbon Steak in Nashville
I prefer whiskey to candy or any dessert for that matter. Lots of American Bourbons and straight whiskies have a perceived sweetness as their ingredients are often sweet grains like corn and wheat. Also, American whiskies that are aged in new charred oak barrels will generally be full-bodied and sweet.
One brand that I think is a great substitute for candy is Rieger’s Kansas City Whiskey. They blend a bourbon, rye and corn whiskey with 15-year-old Oloroso Sherry. It’s smooth with a slightly sweet and nutty finish. Truly reminiscent of certain candy bars.
Willett Rowan’s Creek Bourbon
Jonathan Cunningham, bar manager at Husk in Greenville, South Carolina
If I was going to replace Halloween candy with whiskey, I would have to go with Rowan’s Creek from Willett Distillery. It has beautiful, dark, rich, chocolate notes.
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
Nathan Elliott, lead bartender at il Solito in Portland, Oregon
I don’t have a big sweet tooth, so I would say any and all whiskey would be a preferred substitute for candy. But if I was forced to pick just one then I would pick a whiskey that’s high in corn content — you know, because of candy corn — or something with some kick like Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon to keep you warm.
Blanton’s Single Barrel
Leia Pecotte, bartender at Tulio in Seattle
Best whiskey to sub for candy on Halloween for me is Blanton’s Single Barrel. It has a beautiful flavor profile and is like having a wonderful piece of caramel candy to sip on.
Evan Williams Black Label
Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia
Evan Williams Black Label. This whiskey is affordable and very versatile. It has a nice oak and caramel flavor which is great in a cocktail as well as on its own. Evan Williams Black Label is what we use in our house Old Fashioned at Live Oak and it’s our best seller. We did a blind bourbon tasting event last year and this won hands down. During the holidays you’ll be doing a lot of entertaining and that can get expensive. Especially when the party goes into the later hours.
At $15 a bottle for Evan Williams Black Label you can’t go wrong.
Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon
Katie Hestead, bartender at Richard’s in Boise, Idaho
I recommend the Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon. Bourbon has a sweetness to it that will take the place of candy, and the high proof (120!) means it will keep you warm even in the skimpiest of costumes!
Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye
Robert Hall, bartender at Southside Smokehouse in Landrum, South Carolina
If I’m going to substitute whiskey for candy, it would have to be Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye. It’s both sweet and warming, with all of the usual spicy, hearty notes you expect from a nice rye whiskey. Then you add the elevated sugar content from the port wine and it’s perfect.
Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey
Matt Betts, lead bartender at Revival at the Sawyer in Sacramento, California
Skrewball Whiskey (Peanut Butter Whiskey) with creme de Cacao, Mr. Black Coffee Liqueur, and cream. Reminds me of a peanut butter cup with a coffee kick.
Angel’s Envy Rye
Adam Morgan, bar manager at Husk in Nashville
Angel’s Envy Rye without a doubt. The rum finish rounds it out with a subtle sweetness and the 100 proof bottling is right where it needs to be for a neat pour. Best enjoyed with your favorite horror film.