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15 Best Bourbon According to Bartenders: Expert Guide (2024)

Best Bourbon According to Bartenders

When it comes to bourbon, there’s no shortage of options. With each bottle offering a unique flavor profile and character, deciding which one to pick can be overwhelming.

If you’re seeking the best bourbons, one profession we can rely on the most is bartenders – giving the best recommendations.

So, we took the hard work and talked to top bartenders nationwide. Here’s the best bourbon, according to bartenders, that will surely take bourbon cocktails to the next level!

Top 15 Best Bourbon According to Bartenders

1. Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style

Bottle of Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style

Average Price: Around $72/750ml (Reserve Bar)

Alcohol Content: 57.5% ABV

Nose: Dark chocolate and dried fruit

Palate: Oak and spice

Star Rating: ★★★★★

Why We Like It: This bourbon packs a punch with its high proof, making it a favorite among top bartenders for adding complexity to cocktails. It’s a bold choice for those who enjoy a stronger spirit.

“1920 Prohibition Style is our toast to the innovative and enduring spirit of Old Forester.” – Campbell Brown, Old Forester’s President

Old Forester 1920 stands out as the bourbon that offers exceptional value for your money. It’s a delightful bourbon with a favorable mash bill meant for savoring slowly and is consistently accessible.

2. Widow Jane Decadence

Bottle of Widow Jane Decadence

Average Price: Around $104.99/750ml (Total Wine)

Alcohol Content: 45.5% ABV

Nose: Caramel, maple syrup and vanilla

Palate: Cherry and chocolate

Star Rating: ★★★★★

Why We Like It: This stands out for its smoothness and unique flavor profile. Juan Cardona, Mister Mao’s head bartender in New Orleans, likes its rich mouthfeel, saying it’s a complex bourbon.

Upon trying this spirit, we find it versatile, which can be served neat or in a Whiskey Sour.

Unlike the Bulleit Bourbon (from Buffalo Trace), this isn’t budget-friendly, but given the overall profile, it’s a must-try!

3. Four Roses Single Barrel

Bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel on a Wooden Table

Average Price: Around $44.99/750ml (Total Wine)

Alcohol Content: 50% ABV

Nose: Floral and fruity

Palate: Spicy and caramel

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Why We Like It: Bartenders love Four Roses Single Barrel as it ticks all the boxes: well-balanced flavors, smooth finish, and versatility. It’s perfect for sipping neat or in classic cocktails like Old Fashioneds.

We agreed on what Mickey Mullins, a beverage director, says about this bourbon, “It plays well with other ingredients, it’s fantastic on its own, and it’s an incredible value.”

4. Noah’s Mill Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Person Holding Noah's Mill Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Average Price: Around $56.99/750ml (Total Wine)

Alcohol Content: 57.15% ABV

Nose: Dark fruit and oak

Palate: Rich and spicy

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Why We Like It: Noah’s Mill is one of the bartender favorites for its complexity and high proof. It’s a bourbon that can stand up to bold flavors in cocktails.

According to Ferit Ozergul, bar director at Cranes in Washington, D.C., Noah’s Mill stands out as a high-quality whiskey produced by Willett Distillery, and each dollar spent on this whiskey is a worthwhile investment, given its exceptional value for the price.

5. Weller Antique 107

Bottle of Weller Antique 107

Average Price: Around $56.99/750ml (Total Wine)

Alcohol Content: 53.5% ABV

Nose: Butterscotch and oak

Palate: Spicy and nutty

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Why We Like It: A relative of the highly sought-after Pappy Van Winkle, Weller Antique 107 is cherished for its bold flavors and reasonable price point – one of the best wheated bourbons.

It stands out as an exceptionally robust bourbon whiskey [1] from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, boasting pronounced notes with a rich and dense body.

6. Johnny Drum Private Stock

Man Drinking Johnny Drum Private Stock

Average Price: Around $49.99/750ml (Total Wine)

Alcohol Content: 50.5% ABV

Nose: Cinnamon and nutmeg

Palate: Sweet and toasty

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Why We Like It: Bar Manager Colin Berger turns to Johnny Drum Private Stock from the Willett Distillery for its complexity and balance.

It exudes an approachable flavor profile – a crowd-pleaser that works well in a modern and classic cocktail [2].

7. Michter’s Bourbon

Michter's Bourbon Bottle

Average Price: Around $41.99/750ml (Total Wine)

Alcohol Content: 45.7% ABV

Nose: Stone fruit, vanilla, caramel notes 

Palate: Smoky depth, oak finish 

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Why We Like It: Michter’s offers a bourbon expression with its own unique character. Most bartenders appreciate the variety and quality of this brand, making it suitable for different cocktail styles.

Notably, Jason Hedges, a beverage director at Skirtsteak NYC, likes Michter’s for the bourbon’s genuine nature, saying, “Anyone who has tasted their bourbon can happily attest to the same,” which we totally agreed.

8. Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon

Man Holding Bottle of Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon

Average Price: Around $49.99/750ml (Total Wine)

Alcohol Content: 45% ABV

Nose: Toffee and cinnamon

Palate: Baking spices and honey

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Why We Like It: Bartenders appreciate Frey Ranch Bourbon for its well-crafted flavors and the distillery’s commitment to quality. It’s a bourbon that represents the craftsmanship of American whiskey.

Whether savored straight, over ice or incorporated into cocktails, this spirit embodies unwavering authenticity and deserves a place on the shelves of any reputable whiskey establishment or liquor store.

Also Read:

9. Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey

Bottle of Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey on a Table

Average Price: Around $40.99/750ml (Total Wine)

Alcohol Content: 44% ABV

Nose: Caramel and oak

Palate: Spices and dried fruit

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Why We Like It: Bartenders appreciate the balanced flavor profile of Wyoming Whiskey, making it a reliable choice for cocktails that highlight the bourbon’s character.

According to bartenders, Wyoming whiskey offers excellent value as a sipping whiskey [3] rather than one primarily intended for mixing.

It gives the same vibes as the Old Grand Dad Bonded but with a more delightful character.

10. Larceny Small Batch

Man Drinking Larceny Small Batch

Average Price: Around $32.99/750ml (Instacart)

Alcohol Content: 46% ABV

Nose: Honey and citrus

Palate: Butterscotch and nutmeg

Star Rating: ★★★☆☆

Why We Like It: Larceny Small Batch is one of the favorites for its approachable and smooth character. According to bartenders, it’s a popular choice for cocktails like the Whiskey Sour.

We agree with the lead bartender, Jared Kelly, of Merchants Cigar Bar in NYC; Larceny is a quality bourbon at an affordable price. Heaven Hill is commendable for crafting this booze.

11. Evan Williams Single Barrel

Close Up Image if Evan Williams Single Barrel

Average Price: Around $31.99/750ml (Total Wine)

Alcohol Content: 43.3% ABV

Nose: Vanilla and caramel

Palate: Nutty and oaky

Star Rating: ★★★☆☆

Why We Like It: According to bartenders, specifically Harrison Ginsberg, a bar director of Overstory in NYC, Evan Williams Single Barrel provides reliable quality at an affordable price.

Bartenders find it a sweet spot and a solid choice for everyday cocktails and sipping. But what makes it more remarkable is that it’s only the vintage-dated single-barrel bourbon on the market.

12. Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

Bottle of Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon on a Box

Average Price: Around $29.09/750ml (Total Wine)

Alcohol Content: 47% ABV

Nose: Vanilla and oak

Palate: Caramel and spice

Star Rating: ★★★☆☆

Why We Like It: This EJ bourbon brings depth to drinks like the Manhattan. This is a go-to bourbon for bartenders when crafting cocktails for its rich, full-bodied flavor.

Like what Karl Paredes, a head bartender, says about this great bourbon, it provides a soft texture, living up to its heat. This may be overly sweet to Scotch [4] fans, but it’s rich and an affordable bourbon.

13. Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon

Bottle of Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon

Average Price: Around $27/750ml (Wine-Searcher)

Alcohol Content: 50.5% ABV

Nose: Vanilla and spice

Palate: Caramel and pepper

Star Rating: ★★★☆☆

Why We Like It: Wild Turkey 101 is a go-to budget-friendly option that doesn’t compromise on flavor.

According to bartenders, they often reach for it when mixing up traditional cocktails like the Kentucky Mule.

It offers excellent affordability, considering the rich flavor in each serving. Despite its relatively elevated alcohol proof, Wild Turkey 101 maintains a smooth and refined character.

14. Virgil Kaine Ginger Infused Bourbon

Two Men Drinking Virgil Kaine Ginger Infused Bourbon

Average Price: Around $29.99/750ml (MSRP)

Alcohol Content: 40% ABV

Nose: Ginger and citrus

Palate: Spicy and sweet

Star Rating: ★★★☆☆

Why We Like It: This unique bourbon infuses the spicy kick of ginger, adding a twist to classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned or Manhattan. That’s why bartenders really appreciate its creative potential.

Virgil Kaine retains its rich flavor and intricate complexity while offering an affordable price point that gives a gentle reminder that higher prices don’t necessarily equate to superior quality.

15. Four Roses Yellow Label

Four Roses Yellow Label on a Wooden Table

Average Price: Around $21/750ml (Wine-Searcher)

Alcohol Content: 40% ABV

Nose: Floral and fruity

Palate: Light and fruity

Star Rating: ★★★☆☆

Why We Like It: Four Roses Yellow Label offers a milder profile, making it a versatile choice for mixing. Bartenders often use it as a base for various cocktails, like Mint Julep and Southern Spritz.

“Bartenders’ favorites can become bourbon enthusiasts’ cherished discoveries.” – Liquor Laboratory 

Four Roses yellow label is an excellent sipper despite its low price tag. It doesn’t compromise on quality and is an excellent alternative to the Four Roses Single Barrel or Woodford Reserve.  

Note: The star rating was determined based on a blind test, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. Each product was evaluated on its overall quality, flavor profile, aroma, complexity, smoothness, and certified bartender’s recommendation.

FAQs

What bourbon do bartenders drink?

Bartenders drink a range of bourbons based on their personal preferences. However, many of them turn to versatile and well-balanced options like Four Roses Single Barrel or Old Forester 1920 when crafting cocktails.

Can you ask a bartender to make your bourbon stronger?

Yes, you can ask a bartender to make your bourbon stronger by requesting a double shot or specifying the amount of bourbon you’d like in your drink.

Can bourbon go bad or expire?

Unlike wine, bourbon does not spoil or expire in the same way. Properly stored bourbon can last indefinitely, although its flavor may change over time. However, once a bottle of bourbon is opened, it may gradually lose some of its flavor and aroma due to oxidation.

What is the significance of the proof on a bourbon label?

The proof listed on a bourbon label refers to the alcohol content of the spirit, with higher proof indicating a higher alcohol content. In the United States, proof is typically twice the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV). For example, a bourbon labeled as 100 proof would have an ABV of 50%.

Key Takeaways

Bartenders are the ultimate experts in the bourbon world, and their recommendations are the most reliable.

After speaking with bartenders, Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style earns the highest praise with a perfect five-star rating for its bold and intense flavor profile.

But you can try other favorites like Four Roses Single Barrel and Widow Jane Decadencewhich provide diverse flavors to suit various preferences and cocktails.

So, the next time you find yourself at the bar, don’t hesitate to ask your friendly bartender for their bourbon recommendation—it might just lead you to your new favorite sip. Cheers!

References:

  1. https://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/418
  2. https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/5-things-you-didnt-know-cocktails-bartending.htm
  3. https://www.britannica.com/topic/whiskey
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/felipeschrieberg/2020/04/27/5-facts-about-scotch-whisky-you-should-know/
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