We Asked Bartenders For The Best Whiskeys To Pair With Your Holiday Family Drama

The holidays are meant to be joyful. You get some time off. There are endless parties with friends and co-workers. Your family finds a central place and gathers as one giant crew.

Okay, that last one isn’t always a good thing. It depends on how functional your extended family is. If your drunk uncles decide they want to talk politics, your aunts are on you about your relationships, or your parents are down on your style choices, you’re probably going to need a little booze to get through it all. Jarhn Blutstein, area beverage manager for Gurney’s Resort in Montauk, New York uses Scotch to alleviate family tension.

“Hands down, you need a single malt scotch this time of year,” he says. “Scotch warms me up and always puts a smile on my face.”

Casey Bunch, bartender at The French Room Bar in Dallas opts for bourbon. “Nothing mitigates family drama like high proof bourbon,” he notes.

Like us, the people who make your drinks aren’t immune to the stresses of family gatherings. That’s why we decided to ask some of our favorite bartenders to tell us which whiskeys they like to drink to pair with the inevitable family drama of the holidays.

Old Forester Rye


Amanda Britton, mixologist at Bardo in Charlotte, North Carolina

This year I’ll be reaching for Old Forester Rye. It has a high malted barley content and it’s 100 proof — which is the minimum needed to handle holiday family drama.

Hakushu 12 Year Old Japanese Whisky

Ben Rojo, bartender at Black Emperor in New York City

Hakushu 12 is my desert island whisky. Verdant grass and ripe fruit with whispers of sherry and peat. The sublime balance this malt strikes between what ought to be discordant parts may not embody what family time is, but certainly what it aspires to be.

James E Pepper 1776 Rye

Dan Schuettinger, beverage director at Oak Steakhouse in Alexandria, Virginia

I’d have to go with an overproof rye whiskey, such as Rittenhouse or James E Pepper 1776. The extra bite that you’ll get out of these will certainly distract you from whatever it is your aunt Karen just said that’s making your blood boil.

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey


Cole Newton, bartender at Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans

Whiskey, in general, is something that can appeal to adults of all ages and across ideologies, but be careful about coming across as elitist. “Ugh, no small batch pot still rye?” is not a take that’s going to win the heart of a Seven and Seven drinker.

As for a specific brand, I think that “whatever Dad drinks” is the best whiskey to make everyone a little more at ease. For me, that’s Jack Daniel’s Black Label. There’s also a great opportunity to pivot the discussion Nearest Green, the former slave who taught Jack how to make whiskey, and how his story was buried for hundreds of years in the company lore. Won’t that be a fun conversation?

Booker’s Bourbon

Rebecca Edwards co- bar managers at Tavola in Charlottesville, Virginia

Booker’s. Anyone dealing with family holiday drama deserves a bit of indulgence, and this one fits the bill. Not only is it delicious, but it’s strength and flavor complexity will make your Uncle’s rants about the economy quickly fade into the background.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch Whisky

Roman Cervantes, bartender at La Pulperia in New York City

The best whiskey to pair with the obvious, inevitable drama that is sure to come with holiday get-together is Johnnie Walker Black Label. It is my family’s favorite whiskey when it comes time to get together for the holidays.

Old Granddad 114 Bourbon

Mike Wolf, author of Garden to Glass: Grow Your Drinks from the Ground Up

I would say Old Grandad 114. It’s quite high-proof so it does the job quickly and efficiently. You won’t have to keep going back to the bottle for more as the drama increases throughout the evening.

Kentucky Owl Rye

Maxwell Reis, beverage director and bartender at Gracias Madre is Los Angeles

Kentucky Owl Rye, Batch #1. That first batch of Kentucky Owl Rye was half the price of the next batch, and had a higher ABV to boot. Its yearly release hits the shelves right around the holidays, and the spice notes of it are off the chain. It tastes so good you’ll forget that your uncle and your mom haven’t stopped arguing about who has to pick up grandma from the airport for the past three hours.

Old Forester 100 Bourbon

Austin Doiron, beverage director at NEAT Bottle Shop & Tasting Room in Alys Beach, Florida

When talk begins of who’s getting grannie’s inheritance or why my little brother has been married twice in two years, I enjoy three fingers of Old Forester 100 (neat). It’s a great bourbon to begin the day and at $35 I’m okay with leaving it out for the family to enjoy as well.

Balvenie 14 year Caribbean Cask Aged Scotch Whisky

Douglas Cruz Jr., bartender at Nico Osteria in Chicago

Balvenie 14 year Caribbean Cask Aged. This specific whisky combines great qualities of both worlds-single malt and rum, offering structure, smoothness, and spiciness. In other words, it warms your body and holds that peat flavor from single malts yet subtle sweetness. The rum casks enhance notes of vanilla, add spicy aromatic qualities and make it an easy-drinking whisky (especially neat), pairing very well with the flavor and festive vibes of the holidays.

Woodinville Rye

Melissa Crisafulli, bartender at Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette in Monterey County, California

The best whiskey to pair with family drama would be a rye whiskey, right now my choice would be Woodinville Rye. This is coming from Washington state and is the first distillery to open in Washington, their rye is 90 proof which packs enough punch to drown out the questions about college and when you are getting married.

Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon


Keith Zintakmon, bartender at JRDN in San Diego

What is the best whiskey to pair with the inevitable family drama that comes with the holidays and why? Well, that’s easy. Why not pair family drama with a cask strength bourbon? Bust out the Willett Bourbon cask strength and create your own happy place in the midst of family chaos.

Koval Rye

Daniel Dameron, bar manager at Husk Savannah

I like Koval Rye. They only use the hearts from the first run and cut to 80 proof, which makes it much more approachable to your family member’s usuals (Jack Daniels and Crown Royal).

Fremont John Jacob Rye

John Walter, lead bartender at Outlier in Seattle

Any rye whiskey will be best for family drama as it’s not sweet like bourbon, it has more corners to cut through the political pabulum that inevitably get brought up by the most boring family members (get a hobby, Meghan!). Fremont Distillery’s John Jacob Rye is a good introduction to ryes as it toes the line between the sweetness of bourbon and the relative harshness of other ryes.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon

Justin Miller, executive chef at Anthony’s Chophouse in Hamilton County, Indiana

Dealing with family drama is a normality for just about anyone celebrating a holiday. In my family, it seems that my aunts always tend to get into it over something that happened thirty plus years ago. So, in this instance, I would choose a lighter bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark. It’s a little on the sweeter side with a lower ABV, so you can have a few while sit back in your armchair and watch your aunts go at each other.

George Dickel No.12 Whisky

Benjamin Rouse, head bartender at Henley in Nashville

I try to keep affordable whiskey on hand for this predicament year-round! My current go-to is George Dickel Recipe #12 Tennessee Whisky. Being from Tennessee, I do catch some heat from the Old NO. 7 lovers in my family but Dickel has a little more warmth at 90 proof that wards off the winter chill. This dram is also smooth and approachable enough to bring that holiday spirit to any Grinch.