Do 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.
1: BALCONES BABY BLUE ($44)
“This is one of my favorite American whiskeys on the market. Consistent, peculiar and incredibly appealing, there’s nothing else quite like it.”—Chaim Dauermann, co-owner at New York City’s Stay Gold.
2: BERNHEIM ORIGINAL STRAIGHT WHEAT ($35)
“Bernheim is a delicious, unique whiskey and fun deviation for drinkers who typically enjoy wheated bourbon (W.L. Weller, Maker’s Mark, Pappy Van Winkle).”—Sean Hoard, bar director at Portland Ore.’s Mighty Union.
3: CHATTANOOGA 1816 CASK ($41)
“The best cask for the money, it’s sourced whiskey and not afraid to admit it.”—Jose Medina Camacho, bar manager at Birmingham, Ala.’s Marble Ring.
4: KNOB CREEK RYE ($46)
“With the recent interest in American whiskey, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good expressions that are also affordable. Knob Creek is readily available and a great bang for your buck, meaning that you don’t have to covet the bottle you have, knowing that your local liquor store probably has some on the shelf right now. If you like this and you come into a touch more cash, get the cask strength if you can find it, for a more intense rye.”—Jamie Boudreau, owner of and bartender at Seattle’s Canon.
5: MELLOW CORN ($19)
“I find the 100 percent corn flavor profile so easy to use with other spirits or on its own.”—Lucinda Sterling, managing partner and bartender at New York City’s Middle Branch.
6: MICHTER’S US*1 AMERICAN ($48)
“It’s balanced and toasty. Anyone who has had the other Michter’s products should try it, and anyone who hasn’t should start here.”—Patrick Marran, bartender at New York City’s On the Rocks.
7: MICHTER’S US*1 KENTUCKY STRAIGHT RYE ($48)
“This is a solid sipping rye if there ever was one—just superb at its price range and category.”—Nathaniel David Smith, bartender at St. Paul, Minn.’s Hodges Bend and ambassador for TeelingIrish whiskey.
8: RIEGER’S KANSAS CITY ($35)
“Rectified whiskeys get a bum rap, but this beauty from K.C.’s masterful bar impresario Ryan Maybee proves that this category shouldn’t be dismissed so readily. A tiny dose of oloroso sherry adds a gloriously oxidized note to a bouquet already redolent with holiday fruit pies.”—Joaquín Simó, partner at New York City’s Pouring Ribbons.
9: RITTENHOUSE RYE ($25)
“Does your gift recipient like cocktails? Then why not give them every bartender’s favorite rye? It’s affordable, proofy and beyond delicious.”—Smith.
10: SONS OF LIBERTY UPRISING ($49)
“I love this whiskey unabashedly, being from the same town as the distillery, and I get a bottle every time I’m in New England.”—Marran.
11: TWO JAMES JOHNNY SMOKING GUN ($45)
“It’s such a strong and spicy bourbon. Weird (to the average drinker) and tasty, this is becoming one of my favorites because the taste lives up to the story for sure.”—Marran.
12: WILD TURKEY 101 RYE ($26)
“It’s some of the best rye around. With the affordable price and one-liter bottles, it’s a no-brainer.”—Adam Fortuna, assistant general manager and sommelier at Grand Rapids, Mich.’s Reserve Wine & Food.
13: WILLETT FAMILY ESTATE BOTTLE STRAIGHT RYE ($49)
“Hopefully, this is still under $50 in your market, because it’s simply one of the smoothest and yet delightfully aggressive rye whiskeys ever made.”—Smith.
14: WOODFORD RESERVE KENTUCKY STRAIGHT MALT ($44)
“Woodford Reserve Kentucky straight malt is a consummate introduction to the growing and exciting category of American Malt Whiskey.”—Hoard.
15: WOODY CREEK STRAIGHT RYE ($49)
“American whiskey made from 100 percent rye mash is not common, and it’s even less common to find one this good. This is very young, very appealing and unfamiliar enough that it’s sure to impress people who want to try new things.”—Dauermann.