You’ve probably seen the words “straight whiskey” on plenty of whiskey bottles over the years, but you might not know what the designation means. It’s pretty simple actually — a whiskey (in the U.S.) can have the title of “straight” if it’s fermented from a cereal grain mash bill and distilled to no more than 80 percent ABV (160 proof). Also, according to US regulations, it has to be aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years and at no more than 62.5 percent ABV when the maturation process begins.
If the juice meets these criteria, it can be labeled as a “straight” whiskey. Since a large portion of whiskeys on your local liquor store shelves do hit these marks, it’s not a particularly unusual designation.
To help you pick a straight whiskey ideal for fighting off the last chill of winter 2021, we reached out to a handful of bartenders and asked them to tell us their picks for closing the season strong. Check their picks below!
Kings County Empire Rye Whiskey
Cory Coose, bartender at Tak Room in New York City
This is a tough choice given all other whiskeys, but this one has just a fantastic profile, beginning on the nose with winter spices and rounded out flavors from the good bit of malted barley. It finishes off with some warm bread on the palate. It’s a simple and elegant way of doing Rye.
Average Price: $30
Ben Potts, owner and bartender at The Sylvester in Miami
Rittenhouse is a great straight rye whiskey with a great price tag and a lot of flavor. It’s spicy, rich, and full of caramel and vanilla sweetness. Perfect for mixing and sipping neat.
Average Price: $28
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
Josh Curtis, bar director at Carbon Beach Club at Malibu Beach Inn
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is my favorite not only because of its charcoal mellowing, but also because of its true rock-n-roll heritage in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine. I think of Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin backstage chugging from the bottle, Keith Richards of the Stones stepping from the limo with a bottle in tow, and Michael Anthony of Van Halen pounding on his JD bottle-shaped bass while swigging on stage. It might not seem underrated, but it definitely is.
Average Price: $26
Daviess County Straight Bourbon
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
Daviess County Straight Bourbon from Lux Row distilling has recently resurfaced as a label, but has roots on the Kentucky/Indiana border dating back to the late 1800’s. To me, it’s exactly what you want out of something so straightforward. The “mixed” mash bill of both high rye and wheated bourbons starts with a touch of oak and stone fruit on the nose, while the palate imparts strong amounts of corn, dank lumber and honey without ever losing the sharp peppery tones of the rye. Ideal for cocktails and pouring over a large cube of ice.
Average Price: $36
Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Blake Jakes, director of beverage for The Kennedy Bar in Pensacola, Florida
Wild Turkey is consistently amazing. The Russell family can do no wrong when it comes to making whiskey. I love the bite it has and still retains such a smooth end note. It’s hard to match.
Average Price: $22
Old Forester 86
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Old Forester 86 has been a staple bourbon whiskey that won’t break the bank but will suit your glass nicely. With notes of charred oak, vanilla, and leather, it’s the mellow sipper you need for the end of winter.
Average Price: $26
New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye
Bill Whitlow, owner of Proper Food & Drink in Covington, Kentucky
I am going to have to go extremely local here and go with New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye. They are doing a killer job for a relatively young distillery. Their limited ryes, such as the Balboa, are stupid good. But their straight rye, with its cinnamon, caramel, and subtle spice, is perfect for an old fashioned or on its own.
Average Price: $40
Eagle Rare 17
Roberto Berdecia from La Factoria in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Eagle Rare 17 because it’s full of flavor. It’s aged for almost two decades, creating a velvety smooth, vanilla, caramel, and toasted oak flavor.
Average Price: $1,200 ($99 MSRP)
Marta De La Cruz Marrero, food and beverage supervisor at Burlock Coast in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Bulleit Bourbon is unique because it has a bold, spicy character with a finish that’s distinctively clean and smooth. Medium amber in color, with gentle spiciness and sweet oak aromas, the mid-palate is smooth with tones of maple, oak, and nutmeg. The finish is long, dry, and satiny with a light-tasting toffee flavor that lingers long after the final sip. Simply combine our bourbon whiskey with cloves, lemon juice, brown sugar and hot water.
Average Price: $29
Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon
Jess Manchenton, bartender at Talk Story Rooftop in Brooklyn, New York
My favorite straight whisky is Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon. It is uniquely aged at sea and the barrels feel the love from all of the elements, heat, ocean water, the movement of the ship. These things greatly affect the outcome of the final product. You taste much more of the barrel on the delightful small batch bourbon as the temperatures are warmer and the movement of the barrel allows the full integration of the flavors from the wood and elements. Salinity, caramel, and warm baking spices combine for this perfect sipping bourbon.
Average Price: $75