What makes a bourbon smooth? Is it the exact right amount of corn sweetness in the mash bill? The aging process in charred white oak barrels (with maybe a second-run barrel for finishing)? Perhaps it’s the time spent in the barrel itself? Yes, yes, and yes. It’s all of those elements (plus a few other intangibles) coming together in symphony — culminating in the sort of cruisy, easy-drinking bourbons you can savor without any of the “bite” that spirits served neat so often have.
These smooth sippers might not always be “the best” in how they challenge us and expand our palates, but they certainly make for a pleasant drinking experience. The kind of bottles that you’re bound to return to again and again. The type of bourbon that you reach for on a slow evening spent on the back porch.
We asked some of our most beloved bartenders to shout out their favorite bourbons on the basis of smoothness. If you’re looking for that defining characteristic, any of these bottles will give you just what you need.
Piero Procida, bartender at The London West Hollywood in Los Angeles
Angel’s Envy. Many bourbons are just too strong and spicy to drink by themselves and burn your throat on the way down. Angel’s Envy is that exception. Its smooth, sweet and creamy vanilla flavor is amazing and speak to its incredible character. The unique finishing of the bourbon in port wine barrels is what makes the flavors so easy to enjoy and the spirit so easy to drink by itself. It’s actually what makes this bourbon so smooth. At first, you couldn’t find it everywhere, but it’s become so popular now I would be willing to bet it can be found at almost every bar now.
James Arensault, director of food and beverage at Harbor View Hotel on Martha’s Vineyard
My go-to smooth bourbon is Basil Hayden’s. It’d the most underrated brand in my opinion. They produce quality and consistent product and it’s very smooth from start to finish.
Jim Beam Black
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Somehow, this #jimbeamblack managed to find its way home with me today. Fit in perfectly with the rest of the #beam lineup at home. Hope you’re all looking forward to #openingday just as much as I am this week! @jimbeamofficial #bourbon&baseball #extraaged #bargainbourbon #sundaysips
Everson Rawlings, mixologist at Scrub Island Resort Spa and Marina in the British Virgin Islands
Smoothest bourbon I ever had was Woodbridge Knock. But to answer your question, Jim Beam is the smoothest bourbon you can find all over. There are not many high-end bars here in the BVI. This brand is a nice affordable product and is carried all over. Jim Beam Black is another very smooth option.
Zac Johnson, general manager of JJ’s Wine, Spirits, and Cigars in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
It’s tough to beat Buffalo Trace. It might seem like a cop-out, but there’s a reason they have won so many awards, and you can’t beat standard Buffalo Trace on quality versus price ratio. For something that retails around $25, you won’t ever be disappointed with its quality, and at 90 proof, it’s easy to have a second pour. If you’re lucky enough to find a single barrel of it, snag it and make it your everyday dram. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Hudson Baby Bourbon
Sebastien Derbomez, brand advocacy manager of William Grant & Sons
Hudson Baby Bourbon is truly awesome, the team at Tuthilltown Distillery created something unique. It is made from 100% New York corn and aged in tiny barrels, this bourbon can be enjoyed neat or mixed in a delicious cocktail. It’s smooth as silk and the story behind its creation is remarkable
Jon Joseph, bartender at JL Bar Ranch, Resort & Spa in Sonora, Texas
Have you had Bulleit Bourbon yet? Did I even need to ask? This is a well-constructed bourbon with tons of layers of flavors, yet simple smooth enough to just pour on the rocks. We carry all of their whiskeys and they’re a crowd favorite.
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Buffalo Trace is a go-to for me, but I’m also partial to Eagle Rare (from the same distillery) when it comes to a smooth and accessible whiskey. Produced alongside Weller and Pappy, amongst others, it is always a safe bet to have something from this distillery on hand.
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Do you have a bourbon or whiskey in mind that you've been dying to try but haven't had a chance to yet? If so what is it? #breakingbourbon #bourbon #whiskey #whisky #craft #craftbourbon #cheers #saturday #goodstuff #bourbonporn #hillrock #hillrockestate #newyork #whiskeygram #whiskygram #weekend #solera #glencairn #neat #sipbourbon
Colin Stevens, bartender at Thyme Bar in New York City
When it comes to smooth bourbons, look no further than Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon. They are applying unusual techniques, both innovative and traditional, to their whiskey-making process and the result is a very special spirit.
Patrick Dennis, director at BALEENkitchen in Miami
I have to go with Knob Creek. It’s great in cocktails, as well as for sipping. Strong backbone with enough sweetness that you can still sip it at 100 proof. Even with the high alcohol content, it remains smooth.
Leah Stumbo, bartender at Bar Moxy in Nashville
I always go with Blanton’s when I’m looking for smooth whiskey. It is the first whiskey of its kind and offers the flavors of vanilla, honey and caramel making it extremely smooth and perfect to sip on.