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Bartenders Name Their Favorite Bourbon Whiskey Sips Of 2021

2021 is finally over. And, if you’re anything like us, over the past year you enjoyed your fair share of bourbon whiskey. Whether it was neat, on the rocks, or in your favorite cocktails, you likely sipped more than a few different expressions between January and December. Maybe you even found time to try something really special and splurged on a higher-priced bottle instead of your usual affordable-yet-flavorful Buffalo Trace or Four Roses.

If you did, we hope it was memorable.

Bartenders, while often given the chance to sample some hard-to-find bottles due to their line of work, also spend their own hard-earned cash on more expensive and rarer bottles. It’s the best way to experience something award-winning and highly-crafted that you might not otherwise get a chance to sample from liquor vendors. So we asked a collective of bartenders and bar professionals to tell us their absolute favorite sips of bourbon from last year.

Keep scrolling to see all of their picks.

Knob Creek 12

Knob Creek 12
Knob Creek

Lewis Caputa, lead bartender at Rosina Cocktail Lounge in Las Vegas

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $80

Why This Bourbon?

Knob Creek 12! Oh goodness. I had this right before a steak dinner, and it really changed how and what I thought about bourbon. It’s so smooth with fantastic chocolate notes and a little spicy on the first taste.

Bardstown Fusion Series #5

Bardstown Fusion Series #5
Bardstown

Daniel Yang, lead bartender at Electra Cocktail Club in Las Vegas

ABV: 47.45%

Average Price: $65

Why This Bourbon?

When I think back to the best sip of bourbon of 2021, the first bourbon that comes to mind is Bardstown Fusion Series #5. A solid 94.9 proof and a hearty blend of three different bourbons, you’ll find wonderful notes of orange, chocolate, and plantains, in this absolute beauty. Don’t let that higher proof intimidate you though, I’ve yet to find a smoother finish on any other bourbons on the market.

Willett Family Estate 6 Year Old

Willett Family Estate 6 Year Old
Willett

James MacInnes, liquor boss at Klaw in Miami

ABV: 60-62%

Average Price: $499

Why This Bourbon?

I’m always the most impressed by the team over at Willet Distillery when it comes to American whiskeys. Willet produces a skew dubbed the Willet Family Estate which varies in age statement and ABV, depending on the individual bottling. Most bottling’s feature a curated mix of corn, rye, and wheat and the fun lies in finding which one works best for you.

Elijah Craig 23

Elijah Craig 23
Heaven Hill

Lee Noble, mixologist at Art in the Age in Philadelphia

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $1,699

Why This Bourbon?

I picked up a bottle of Elijah Craig 23 for my birthday on a whim. It’s almost shocking how smooth it is, like drinking spicy brown butter. It’s definitely worth the price tag.

Old Rip Van Winkle 10

Old Rip Van Winkle 10
Buffalo Trace

Subhash Sankar, head mixologist at Alaia Belize in San Pedro Town, Belize

ABV: 53.5%

Average Price: $1,399

Why This Bourbon?

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 is known as one of the finest bourbons in the world. While most bourbon is made from a mash of corn, rye, and barley, the Van Winkle recipe calls for a sweeter mix of corn, wheat, and barley. It has a cherry, fruit punch, cinnamon, and buttery mouthfeel.

This is where the “Pappy” taste really shines. The finish is full of spice, vanilla, and oak with some dryness. It’s a satisfying finish.

Weller Full Proof

Weller Full Proof
Buffalo Trace

Josue Villacis, head bartender at MILA Restaurant in Miami

ABV: 57%

Average Price: $350

Why This Bourbon?

Weller Full Proof was my best sip of 2021. It was filled with soft and delightful wheat notes and little to no heat considering the high alcohol content. It’s definitely a bottle to try if you get a chance.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon
Old Forester

Christopher Devern, lead bartender at Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia

ABV: 52%

Average Price: $1,299

Why This Bourbon?

I was fortunate enough to grab a bottle of this year’s Birthday Bourbon. It is as special as birthdays should be. From the smell to sip, this bourbon had tons of character and flavor. I enjoyed the warm oak and drier finish after the initial taste of toffee and burnt sugar.

If you find yourself in Philly, stop by the Red Owl Tavern. I still have a few pours left so you can see for yourself.

Thomas S. Moore Cabernet Cask

Thomas S. Moore Cabernet Cask
1792

Mark Phelan, beverage director of 16″ On Center in Chicago

ABV: 47.65%

Average Price: $83

Why This Bourbon?

I love what they’re doing at 1792 Distillery, with my favorite being the Thomas S. Moore Cabernet Cask Bourbon. The rich bourbon profile progresses seamlessly into the robust flavors of red wine, finishing soft and dry and begging for another sip.

William Larue Weller

William Larue Weller
Buffalo Trace

John “Fitzy” Fitzpatrick, spiritual advisor at Warren American Whiskey Kitchen in Delray, Florida

ABV: 67.7%

Average Price: $2,500

Why This Bourbon?

My favorite from the Fall 2020 BTAC collection was William Larue Weller but I didn’t have the opportunity and pleasure to try it until spring this year. When I first tasted it, the intense flavor absolutely blew my socks off. It was a whopping 135.4 proof. This is the quintessential example of a superbly made whiskey; the higher proof amps up all the classic flavoring but doesn’t burn and offend the palate like some poorly made, higher proof whiskies might.

There is no better bourbon on the planet. Yeah, I said it.

Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 25

Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 25
Orphan Barrel

Ally O’Keefe, bartender at The Bower in New Orleans

ABV: 45.5%

Average Price: $225

Why This Bourbon?

I had this bourbon as a nightcap on a chilly night in December, and it was exactly what I was looking for. Flavors of maple syrup, cherry cordial, walnut, and pecan made it the perfect winter sipper. Despite the age, it still had enough heat and spice to keep me warm, with enough soft, lightly sweet notes to make it the perfect after-dinner treat.

George T. Stagg

George T. Stagg
Buffalo Trace

Justin Wilson, lead bartender at The Kimpton Sylvan in Atlanta

ABV: 60-70%

Average Price: $999

Why This Bourbon?

I was fortunate enough to sample this incredibly hard-to-find bottle earlier this year. At 58 percent ABV, this one has some heat on it and makes for a rich and complex sipping experience. There are notes of caramel, cherry, vanilla, and a hint of smoke. Each sip seems to bring out different flavors.

Blanton’s Single Barrel

Blanton’s Single Barrel
Blanton

Alejandro Mendoza, restaurant and bar manager at Hotel SLO in San Luis Obispo, California

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $199

Why This Bourbon?

Although in recent months it’s getting harder and harder to come by, this Buffalo Trace bourbon is a long-standing favorite of mine. Originally made for Colonel Blanton’s family, this bourbon comes in at 46.5 percent ABV, and has a sweet enmesh of citrus oak and baking spices.

This is the original single-barrel bourbon.

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