Bartenders Shout Out The Best American-Made Whiskeys For Memorial Day

For many, Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer. The weather is warm, the sun is out, and it’s a day filled with barbecues (even if this year you’re both the grillmaster and the only attendee). It’s just about as good as day drinking gets. Sally Gatza, lead bartender of LA Jackson in Nashville, spends her holiday drinking as patriotically as possible.

“Like Don McLean said in ‘American Pie’ — ‘…and them good old boys drinking whiskey and rye…’,” she notes. “Any whiskey from America is appropriate on Memorial Day. Try Buffalo Trace on the rocks with a tiny American flag in it. You’ll feel good and so will your dad.”

Other bartenders feel just as passionately as Gatza. That’s why we asked them to tell us their favorite American-made whiskeys to drink on Memorial Day.

Bulleit Straight Rye

Jim Richard, chef at Red Fish Taco in South Walton, Florida

Memorial Day will hopefully be filled with a long day on the beach social distancing with family and friends. I foresee shrimp on the grill during the day, sipping ice-cold, locally brewed beers, but as the sun begins to set and the ribs are getting tender, ice-cold watermelon is being scarfed as soon as the sharp knife peels off a wedge… that’s when the Bulleit Straight Rye comes out to finish off the perfect day.

The rich smooth finish stands up perfectly to the smoked pork and I’ve been known to add a cube and a chunk of watermelon to soften it a bit.

High West Double Rye

Gord Hannah, head bartender at The Drake Hotel in Toronto

I know that everyone is going to immediately rave about all the amazing rare bourbons that seem to be all the craze this last decade, but I am going to a different route. For me, the allure of the U.S has always been the cowboy. The wandering stranger seeking refuge in a saloon for a moment of peace and a place to hang his hat. The first thing he does is belt down a shot of whiskey before he turns to join the room. That bottle will be shared with the room and serve as an ice breaker for the rest of the evening, that bottle must be moderately priced and reek of all things American. High West Double Rye Whiskey is affordable, desperately close to being illegal (one of the ryes in the blend is distilled to a remarkably high ABV) and has hints of apple pie on the palate.

A perfect way to honor the American cowboys (and cow people) at home and abroad.

Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye

Ian Clark, bar supervisor at Topside in Baltimore

I’d have to go with Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye. I tend to drink whiskey straight only in the cooler parts of the year, but this rye has a nice lightness to it. It still has a pronounced rye spiciness with some baking spice notes, but the body and mouthfeel are a little lighter, which is more attractive to me in the late spring and summer.

Old Forester 86 Proof Bourbon

Tim Wiggins, co-owner and beverage director at Yellowbelly in St. Louis

I would definitely reach for a bottle of Old Forester 86. It makes great classic cocktails and also works well as a light sipper. It’s earthy and sweet without being overly fussy and complex. It is also a solid brand with good people that we love to support at our restaurants.

Four Roses Yellow Label

Brandi Carter, beverage manager at Elvie’s in Jackson, Mississippi

Four Roses Yellow Label is a great, mixable American whiskey. I love it in anything from a whiskey sour to an old fashioned. But it’s also smooth enough to be enjoyed on its own all weekend long.

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon

Catalina Borer, bartender at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia

The list is endless. I feel naming one would be unfair to so many amazing American whiskeys. Ultimately, it’s about which one goes best in the moment. If we’re talking specifically about Memorial Day, then I am thinking, barbecues in the backyard, long hours in the sun, and country music or bluegrass playing in the background. Keeping that in mind, I would choose: Basil Hayden’s. I think it’s a great whiskey-bourbon. It’s drinker friendly, a great way to introduce friends to the all-American whiskey world.

I find Hayden’s smooth but with loads of personality. It’s priced fairly and you can drink it straight up, on the rocks, or have fun and mix it up.

Sagamore Rye

Spencer Elliott, bartender at Bounce Sporting Club in Chicago

I like spicy, earthy, and smooth ryes for Memorial Day, so I’ll usually grab a bottle of Sagamore Rye. A classic Maryland rye from Baltimore, this whiskey pairs well in any cocktail or just on the rocks. I particularly love the way it holds up in an Old Fashioned. The sweetness of sugar and baking notes of the bitters meld wonderfully with this complex and unique rye.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel

Westin Galleymore, spirits director at Underbelly Hospitality in Houston

Jack Daniels, specifically and only Jack Daniels Single Barrel Barrel Proof. I remember big block parties and barbecues growing up that my parents hosted during the summer. My dad used to always drink a Jack and Coke at some point, always as all the guests walked in, before all the wine was opened. Often times, he would have me make that Jack and Coke, after showing me how to get the right ratio of whiskey to ice to coke. It was one of the first drinks I learned how to make, and it always reminds me of that backyard filled with people. Still, I prefer the Single Barrel Barrel Proof to the classic Jack.

Noah’s Mill Bourbon

Kira Webster, beverage director at Indo in St. Louis

Noah’s Mill. It tends to be overlooked since a lot of the other whiskies from the Willett distillery have risen in popularity, but Noah’s Mill is just as good, and a little easier to find. For a younger whiskey, it’s super smooth, quite tasty, and awesome for Memorial Day since it comes from one of America’s oldest, and most renowned, whiskey distilleries.

Uncle Nearest 1856 Whiskey

Piero Procida, bartender at The London West Hollywood in Los Angeles

Uncle Nearest 1856 Whiskey. Memorial Day weekend is a wonderful time to enjoy a nice smooth whiskey at a BBQ, but one that can also stand up to the meaty foods people typically tend to eat. Of course, we pay homage to our veterans, and nothing is more Americana than a true American Whiskey like Uncle Nearest. The company has not been around that long and is very young, but it closely represents the original recipe of a wonderful American Whiskey. It is named after the real pioneer is said to be the one who taught Jack Daniel’s how to make Whiskey, the true godfather of Tennessee whiskey, Nathan “Nearest” Green. I love the story behind this Whiskey which creates a nice tale to tell your friends around the barbecue.

Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon

H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of ELIXIR in San Francisco

The whiskey in hand! Keep it cheap and easy for party cocktails. You can’t go wrong with a handle of Evan Williams Black Label mixed up a bottle of Fresh Victor Three Citrus and mint for whiskey smashes all weekend long.

Leadslingers Bourbon

Kyle Harlan, beverage director of Mission Taco Joint in Kansas City

Leadslingers is the only bourbon I drink on Memorial Day. I can’t say that I particularly like it, but I am a veteran, and on Memorial Day I remember my fallen brothers by drinking whiskey made with them in mind.

Buffalo Trace Bourbon

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Pete Stanton, head bartender at Ai Fiori at The Langham in New York City

Buffalo Trace is my go-to at home, Its pound for pound my favorite whiskey per dollar. Since Memorial Day is an all-day affair it’s better to stick to affordable standards.

Evan Williams 23-Year-Old Bourbon

Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami

Evan Williams 23. This is a surprising bottle that I stumbled across years ago. Often overlooked due to the Evan Williams label, this is some seriously awesome bourbon. Great body, smooth with some heat and a really nice mouthful of flavors. It’s not the easiest to come across and will carry a moderate price tag — all the more reason to save it for a special occasion or holiday.