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You know who knows best which bottles to buy? The people who pour and sell drinks—that’s who. We asked dozens of top bartending and spirits industry professionals to tell us which bottles they love and why.
Heads up: The numerical order below is not organized by importance or quality; it’s an alphabetical list, not a ranking. Prices are averages and can vary from state to state.
“A great gift for the history lover, this Nashville bourbon was brought back to life by the grandsons of the original whiskey-maker. They have also been finishing the bourbon in sherry and Madeira casks like a fine scotch. Given our forefathers love of Madeira, this is a great national spirit selection for any patriot.”—Abigail Gullo, bar manager and assistant general manager at Ben Paris at The State Hotel in Seattle
“I was lucky enough to work at a bar that carried this expression back in the early 2000s. I have fond memories of its heady aroma of resin and oak. For a bourbon, it drinks a bit dry, with a long finish of char and tar, with hits of citrus. It’s a splurge bottle for me just based on the memories.”—Sother Teague, beverage director at Amor y Amargo, Blue Quarter, HoneyBee's and Windmill in New York City
“This bottle is generally available and a nice versatile whiskey. Its initial flavor profile is sweet, but it spreads out nicely on the palate and makes a nice Old Fashioned.”—Chall Gray, co-owner of Little Jumbo in Asheville, N.C.
“Bourbon fans with a sweet tooth will find a lot to love in the creme brulee and apple cobbler flavors in this Blanton's. Strong notes of sweet corn and holiday spices round out this classic bourbon.”—Joaquín Simó, partner at Pouring Ribbons in New York City
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“It seems everyone is looking for a bottle of Blanton's to add to their collection, and there’s a good reason why: It’s outstanding. After all of these years, it’s nice to see the original single-barrel whiskey is still on top.”—Erick Castro, proprietor of Polite Provisions and Raised by Wolves in San Diego and Boilermaker in New York City.
“High-proof yet still maintaining that classic bourbon sweetness, it's great with one ice cube to temper it ever so slightly.”—Travis Sanders, bartender at Pennyroyal in Seattle
“Confectionary notes abound upfront in this 100-proof bourbon, but the finish is gloriously dry and spicy. Your Manhattans and Old Fashioneds will be thanking you this holiday season.”—Simó
“If you can find it, this is easily one of the best bourbons Buffalo Trace makes every year—a soft floral option in terms of a barrel-proof.”—Zachary Helton, bartender at Cork & Cow in Franklin, Tenn.
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“This is a strong, spicy and lengthy-tasting bourbon. Heaven Hill really outdoes itself with every different batch of this selection.”—Helton
“A few years ago, you could hardly give this stuff away to the average bourbon drinker, even though the hard-core always knew the real scoop. But now that it won Best Whiskey at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the cat is out of the bag. If you can find a bottle for a good price, do yourself a favor and snatch it up.”—Castro
“Not only is this expression 100% corn, it’s made from an heirloom variety called Jimmy Red, giving it a nutty-sweet flavor that’s extremely intriguing. I got a bottle as a gift and have been buying my own since. This is a distillery to watch.”—Teague
“This is the swan song distilled by the legendary distiller Dave Pickerell, who passed away last year. It was created using a system modeled on the Spanish solera method, with bourbons of various rates of maturity blended into one another to create a final product of great complexity and depth.”—Castro
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“I’m a sucker for a hometown hero, and I’ve watched this award-winning distillery grow from its infancy. Strong at 45% and sweet from caramelized sap in the small barrel maturation, it’s got loads of baking spices and hints of molasses tangled in with sweet corn. I splurge on this bottle as gifts to colleagues and friends not from New York.”—Teague
“This bourbon is like velvet in your mouth, with wonderful buttery toffee notes finishing spicy and balanced.”—Cari Hah, bar manager at Big Bar in Los Angeles
“Noah's Mill is a 114 proof bourbon coming from the Willett family again. It’s the perfect holiday spirit, lush with rich spiced nuts and dried fruit. And a little goes a long way to spike your cocoa.”—Gullo
“It’s different every year, so it’s worthy of repeat gifts.”—Gullo
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“This high-proof rendition of what the distillers feel like a Prohibition-era whiskey would taste like hits on a number of levels. It doesn't overpower your taste buds like most at this proof.”—Gray
“A plethora of dried fruits and savory spices are held in check by remarkably well-integrated oaky tannins. This is exactly the sort of lip-smacking flavor bomb that proves that patience in the rickhouse will be rewarded in the bottle.”—Simó
“Showing off what Seattle can do with great malt, Westland uses new american oak and old sherry casks to make a great whiskey.”—Sanders
“It reminds me of an old smoking room/library—mahogany in color, old oak, dusty bookshelf and raisins in the aroma. The taste? America.”—Joe Pereira, bartender-at-large in New Bedford, Mass.
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“If you want to talk about incredible bourbons that slide under the radar, this is definitely one of them. This is a single-barrel bourbon that comes to us courtesy of the same team that makes Russell’s Reserve and Wild Turkey, both outstanding whiskeys in their own right, and it appropriately comes in at the 101 proof that we love so much.”—Castro
“This 17-year-old bourbon was handpicked by Eddie Russell and takes your palate on a flavor journey.”—Hah
“Master distiller Jimmy Russell doesn't care for over-aged bourbons, and I happen to agree. I like my whiskey like I like my men: a little on the younger side. The exception for both myself and Jimmy is this Rare Breed. At barrel proof, this six-, eight- and 12-year-old blend packs a punch and is a secret Russell family favorite.”—Gullo
“It’s hard to find and rare, for good reason, because it’s fantastic. Woody and honeyed, complex and rich, this bourbon is worth it.”—Hah
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“Holy smokes, they know what they're doing up there in Bardstown. The family-owned distillery makes insanely hard-to-find bourbons for a reason, because everyone that sees a bottle should buy it.”—Helton
“The family at Willett gets their hands on my favorite whiskey. This is a classic, with a really great bottle to boot, which you really want to have in a gift.”—Gullo
“This makes an amazing Manhattan, especially paired with a full-bodied vermouth, like Carpano, or something with more spice, like Punt e Mes.”—Gray
“Woodford makes its own barrels at the Brown-Forman cooperage. No one besides Brown-Forman can do this, therefore Woodford Reserve makes all the decisions going into its bourbon from grain to glass. Other bourbons have to rely on other cooperages to make a barrel they hope is what they want.”—Helton