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We Asked 19 Bartenders: What’s the Most Underrated Whiskey? (2024)

The world of whiskey is wonderfully vast, which is why it can often be intimidating — even for aficionados. Whether you’re on the hunt for a new Scotch, bourbon, or Irish selection, there is an overwhelming array of styles and prices to choose from.

That’s why we asked bartenders around the country for their picks for the unsung heroes of the category. From one expert’s favorite rye for Manhattans to a smoky dram that hails from the American Southwest to a bourbon that evokes the comforting flavors of apple pie, keep reading for under-the-radar treasures worthy of your next purchase.

The Most Underrated Whiskeys, According to Bartenders:

Wild Turkey Rare Breed
Del Bac Dorado
Larceny Small Batch
Old Grand Dad 114 Bourbon
Old Forester 100 Rye
Redbreast 12-year
Glenfarclas 12-year
Misguided Spirits’ Hinky Dink’s Working Man’s Whiskey
Wilderness Trail Rye Whiskey
Nashville Barrel Company
Mellow Corn
Slane Irish Whiskey
New Riff
Noah’s Mill
Neversink Select Bourbon
Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
Uncle Nearest Tennessee Whiskey
Baller American Single Malt by St. George Spirits
Barrell Craft Spirits
Compass Box Glasgow Blend Scotch Whisky
Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon

“I think underrated can mean a lot of things. When it comes to whiskey, underrated really means what overdelivers for the price. Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a third of the cost, and drinks as complex and deliciously as any of Kentucky’s finest.” —Sean Umstead, co-owner, Kingfisher, Durham, N.C.

“Del Bac Dorado from Arizona. Its mesquite smokiness from the mash and tobacco nose offers a unique flavor that shines in cocktails and as a stand-alone sipper. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a diverse flavor profile from the typical whiskey we’re used to.” —Nikolas Vagenas, bar director and co-owner, Mr. Melo, Williamsburg, N.Y.

“Larceny Small Batch is a great underrated whiskey. This Heaven Hill bourbon follows a similar blueprint to their more famed Old Fitzgerald — it is a wheated bourbon, and in terms of availability, approachability, and price point, Larceny is definitely underrated. It tends to be a crowd pleaser. We like to use it in stirred cocktails as it’s versatile in flavor, and the higher proof adds a good backbone to the cocktails.” —Melissa Romanos, general manager and beverage director, Atlántico, Boston

“A few that come to mind immediately are Old Grand Dad 114 Bourbon, Old Forester 100 Rye, Redbreast 12 Year, and Glenfarclas 12 Year. They’re all quality whisk(e)ys that haven’t needed a heavy marketing presence to stay on back bars. Chances are, a good amount of beverage professionals have one of these bottles at home.” —Tony Edgerton, beverage director, Breva, Minneapolis

“One of the most underrated whiskeys I know is from Misguided Spirits. I discovered their rye a couple years ago and I really don’t think there’s a better bang for your buck out there. It fits perfectly in any classic cocktail. Probably my favorite cocktail I’ve made with it is the Cold Fashioned, using Misguided Spirits’ Hinky Dink’s Working Man’s Whiskey, amaro, and cold brew liqueur.” —James DeFoor, beverage director, Ra-Ra Rhino, Bushwick, N.Y.

“The first ones that come to mind are Wilderness Trail and Nashville Barrel Company. Wilderness Trail is not so new and underrated anymore — they were bought out by Campari a couple of years ago. Their rye whiskey is one I keep on standby for my Manhattans, as it’s really good quality and consistent. Price is mid-range, $50 to $60. Nashville Barrel Co. has been on the scene for some time as well. [I love] looking at the single barrel picks [sold] on their website. Their honey and maple-finished whiskeys are amazing, and their rye is always good.” —Kent Thompson, bar director, Isla, Santa Monica, Calif.

“Hands down, it’s Mellow Corn for me. An 80 percent mash bill of corn and four years in a bourbon barrel gives it a unique character that is unlike most other whiskey pours. It stands up well with amaro in sour drinks, and I even infused freshly popped popcorn into it for our savory crackerjack Manhattan on the menu. Not to mention it sells for less than $22 a bottle. No brainer.” —Travis Gauvin, bartender, Sur Lie, Portland, Maine

“I think Slane is underrated, perhaps in large part because some brands have an outsized influence or cultural representation in the category. I like Slane because it is infinitely mixable in some of my favorite cocktails like the Cameron’s Kick, Manhattans, and the Irish Coffee. The front-loaded spice transitioning beautifully to caramel and butterscotch with hints of sherry is so complementary. And yes, it helps the owners care deeply about sustainability and f*cking love music.” —Eugene Lee, general manager, Big Bar, Los Angeles

“New Riff. I don’t know that it’s underrated, but I might call it newer and lesser known. All of their stuff is bottled-in-bond with the exception of private single barrels, which are barrel-proof. Their oldest juice is just under 10 years old and it’s going to be really exciting to see what these guys come out with over the next few years.” —Garth Poe, bar manager, Easy Bistro & Bar, Chattanooga, Tenn.

“Noah’s Mill asserts itself as a true heavyweight of the bourbon community and is highly underrated. Bottled at a hefty 57.15 percent ABV, this sipper is for the avid consumer looking for a complex bourbon experience that is both rich and unique at a respectable price point (around $60 a bottle). While certainly a sipper, Noah’s Mill definitely makes excellent spirit-forward cocktails including Old Fashioneds and Manhattans with a more brazen sweet vermouth, such as Carpano Antica Formula or Yzaguirre Rojo Reserva.” —Alex Taylor, lead bartender, Bethany Beach Ocean Suites, Bethany Beach, Del.

“Neversink Select Bourbon from Port Chester, N.Y., is one that I particularly enjoy. It begins as a non-distiller-produced wheated bourbon, but it’s their special touch of aging it in barrels that were previously used to age their apple apéritif that provides round fruit aromas, along with balanced vanilla and spice on the palate and a rich mouthfeel. At 90 proof, this is a great value bourbon. I tend to use it for sour cocktails like a Gold Rush, or for stirred numbers like a Boulevardier — not only for its price point, but for being a whiskey that drinks like homemade apple pie.” —Leif Huckman, beverage director, Inness, Hotel Kinsley and Lola, Accord and Kingston, N.Y.

“Willett whiskey is so cool; it’s like the undercover agent of the spirits world. It’s hiding so well that even Waldo’s like, ‘Where did that guy go?’ If whiskey were a secret club, Willett would be the VIP, and the rest of us are just struggling to get on the guest list.” —Mauro Villalobos, beverage director, Superfrico at Spiegelworld, Las Vegas

“The most underrated whiskey is always Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Yes, it is highly rated and many will speak its praises, but it does not receive half the accolades it should for being an absolute benchmark bourbon year in and year out. It is a disservice that it remains under the radar for the general consumer, so I am sure to push it whenever I get the opportunity.” —Joel Lee Kulp, owner, The Richardson, Brooklyn

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon is the most underrated whiskey. This is a great bottle for the casual whiskey fan or for a home bartender looking to take a step up without breaking the bank. It has a very traditional mash bill, which makes it well rounded and pleasant to drink without an overwhelming amount of heat. It has subtle smoke flavor and warm spice notes, which make for a great Manhattan, yet it has enough richness and depth to sip slowly on its own.” —Rachel Snider, bar manager, Paradiso Hi Fi, Burlington, Vt.

“It has gotta be Mellow Corn, a corn whiskey that is arguably the best shot there is. It’s 100 proof and at least 80 percent corn, and tastes like buttered popcorn as much as whiskey really can. You’re almost guaranteed to pay less than $20 for a bottle and at that price point there is literally nothing better. I can’t tell you the amount of times that I have ‘revisited the tasting notes’ of Mellow Corn after a tough shift.” —Patty Dennison, head bartender, Grand Army Bar, Brooklyn

Uncle Nearest Tennessee Whiskey is a whiskey that more bars need to carry. Nearest Greene was an African-born slave in Tennessee and eventually became a master distiller. Upon being freed, he used his own success with whiskey to train other master distillers. His pioneering work was eventually overshadowed by one of his students, Jasper Daniel (better known as Jack Daniel). This whiskey brims with history, delivering all the elements of limestone, charred maple, and crystalline water in a glass.” —Steve Martin, head bartender, Figure Eight, NYC

“One bottle that I love and that doesn’t get as much attention is Baller Single Malt by St. George. Its plum and peat is an amazing combination that reminds me of the now very hard to find and expensive Hibiki 12. Considering this will run you about $50 a bottle, I consider it a must-have for my home, and will always call for it if I’m out and am not sure what to drink. I also have to champion Barrell, which isn’t underrated per se, but is absolutely not as popular as it should be. Everything they make is great, but if you need to pick one, start with the relatively new core product line and grab a bottle of Vantage. It’s less than $100, and another one I reach for often.” —Sean Saunders, general manager, Paradise Lost, NYC

“Compass Box Glasgow Blend Scotch whisky is a wonderful, very complete blend of whiskies that range from a nicely peated Islay to sherry and bourbon-rested single malts. The blend creates a wonderful, full-bodied [profile] that has smoke, fruit, and subtle notes of vanilla on the palate to sip neat or create a cocktail with. [Another pick is] Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon, one of the only bourbons to have a vintage year on the bottle. The 43 percent ABV has some grit that works well in cocktails; the age statement is seven to eight years and drinks with smooth maturity. The palate is a nicely spiced bouquet of honey and orchard fruit. Criminally underpriced and often overlooked, it stands up to any premium marketed bourbon.” —Davey Sarantos, bar lead, Majordomo, Los Angeles

“I’ve had the opportunity to taste and become familiar with hundreds upon hundreds of unique bourbons, rye, Scotch, Irish, and Japanese whiskeys during my career. There is one that has always remained a staple in my liquor cabinet as both a budget-friendly, Tuesday night sipper and a fantastic bourbon for cocktails: Larceny, a wheated bourbon from Heaven Hill distillery. Larceny has a nose of sweet caramel and light floral notes, a soft, sweet palate of honey and fall spices, and a medium-bodied mouthfeel with only slight ‘hot’ finish that belies its 92 proof. At only around $30 a bottle, I believe Larceny is not only a great value, but also a great sipper regardless of price!” —Cory Dudis, general manager, Van Ryder at Le Meridien Salt Lake City Downtown, Salt Lake City

*Image retrieved from Adam Wilson via

The article We Asked 19 Bartenders: What’s the Most Underrated Whiskey? (2024) appeared first on VinePair.

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