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We Asked 20 Bartenders: What’s the Most Underrated Bourbon? (2024)

Bourbon is among the most popular spirits in the United States, and as its popularity has risen, the options have become increasingly vast. It can be hard to distinguish true quality among the trends in the market. Which bottles are truly delicious? Which ones just offer hype? It’s tough to keep up with the constant evolution of whiskey, especially if you don’t have an unlimited budget. That’s where the whiskey world’s most underrated bottles come in.

To cut through the noise, we turned to bartenders across the country to highlight bottles they think are underrated, whether that means a forgotten classic they reach for over and over or a new product they are excited to see more guests enjoy. In general, underrated bottles tend to over-perform in their price points, and several of the bottles recommended are easy to find at most liquor stores. The recommendations the pros offered run the gamut from classics like Four Roses to a collaboration of Eastern and Western bourbon-making techniques. These are the most underrated bourbons, according to bartenders across the country.

The most underrated bourbons, according to bartenders:

Old Dominick Huling Station Straight Bourbon
Old Grand-Dad Bonded
Eagle Rare 10-Year Single Barrel
Sweetens Cove Kennessee
Medley Bros. Bourbon 102 Proof
Michter’s US 1
Old Charter 8
Four Roses Single Barrel
Del Bac Normandie
Ezra Banks 99 Proof Bourbon
Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon
W.L. Weller Special Reserve
Four Roses
Resurgent Young American
High West Bourbon
Buffalo Trace
J Rieger’s Bottled in Bond Bourbon
Legent Bourbon

“Old Dominick Huling Station Straight Bourbon is definitely underrated. This Memphis bourbon is very smooth and is great for Old Fashioned or even Sazeracs. It’s special because it has a beautiful, distinguished profile that can be sipped slowly over a whiskey ball ice cube, all by itself.” —Juel Triggs, bar manager, Eight & Sand at Central Station Hotel, Memphis, Tenn.

“Our house bourbon at Mother Pizzeria is Old Grand-Dad Bonded. It’s the most perfectly versatile bottle I know. It’s an excellent cocktail whiskey due to the high rye mash. It’s got enough character to sip on, and at the price point where you never have to feel bad watching someone just shoot it back. I always have a bottle on hand.” —Nate Hayden, beverage director, Giusto and Mother Pizzeria, Newport, R.I.

“I would have to say the Eagle Rare 10-year Single Barrel. Although it’s not ‘cheap,’ it is affordable for a single-barrel bourbon and well worth the money.” —Victoria Goodwin, lead bartender, Blue Sunday, Bensalem, Pa.

“We just made the decision to switch to Sweetens Cove Kennessee in our Black Manhattan. We make changes to our cocktail menu via consumer blind taste tests, and Kennessee was the hands-down winner. It is such a mixable whiskey and does not taste like it’s nearly 111 proof.” —Doug Kazley, bar manager, Ambli Global, Denver

“Easy: Medley Bros. Bourbon 102 Proof. Aged a minimum of four years and crafted from five bourbon-loving brothers for 75 years, [it has notes of] vanilla, milk chocolate, roasted corn, and caramelized pineapple. [And it’s] approximately $30. Bar Lesieur uses this in its Bourbon Beurre Blanc cocktail.” —Michael McCaulley, director of beverages, Schulson Collective, Philadelphia

“I think Michter’s US 1 is the best whiskey ever!” —Elizabeth Boleslavsky, co-owner, Fringe Bar, Philadelphia 

“The first bourbon that comes to mind, no doubt, is Old Charter 8. With many Buffalo Trace bourbons becoming harder to get your hands on, Old Charter checks all the boxes. Not only does it share the same mash recipe as several other beloved and coveted Buffalo Trace products — separated simply by maturation and age — it definitely sheds some of the weight of those hefty allocation prices, making it an even more pleasing bang for your buck.” —Mandy Shaver, food & beverage supervisor, 1799 Kitchen & Cocktails at The Harpeth, Franklin, Tenn.

Four Roses Single Barrel. It’s easy to find, complex, high-proof, smooth, and makes great cocktails. The price point makes this spirit even more appealing.” —Travis Robitaille, beverage director, Petula’s, Boston

“As we all know, the bourbon scene has exploded over the last decade, making it difficult to find any ‘allocated’ bourbon at all. Rewind us back to when these bourbons were readily available and one stands out above all to me. Weller Special Reserve is a wheated bourbon that holds several accolades, [and it’s] my favorite bourbon for the price. Coming in at the $20 to $30 retail range, the sweet flavor comes from replacing rye with wheat, which makes this spirit exceptionally smooth and approachable.” —Luis Mantilla, director of restaurants, Nemacolin, Farmington, Pa.

“One of our current favorites is our single-barrel bourbon from High West distillery, American Prairie. Aromas of orange, caramel, and spice make it an excellent choice for a classic Old Fashioned, or for a seasonal summer twist, muddle in fresh peach slices with syrup and bitters and top with blackberries. The bourbon is distilled regionally in Park City, Utah, and a portion of the proceeds of bottle sales go to the conservation effort of the American Prairie Reserve in central Montana.” —Peter Szekely, director of restaurants, W Aspen, Aspen, Colo.

“Del Bac Normandie, a Tucson Annual Limited release whiskey, is one of the most underrated bourbons. It has a nice citrus-forward nose with a caramel fruity finish, and is comparable to the Weller C.Y.P.B.” —Jonathan “Ilonis” Heredia, bartender, The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, Marana, Ariz.

“Ezra Banks 99 Proof Bourbon is an inexpensive party in your mouth. I am an Old Fashioned drinker and a bourbon and rye sipper. I make my house-made bitters with Ezra Banks that we use for our signature Old Fashioned. It’s got a great body to it, goes down smooth even with the higher proof, and ends with an elegant soft spice of rye on your palate. It’s great for beginners and connoisseurs.” Frank Oley, beverage director, Seven Sins, NYC

“I would say that Russell’s Reserve 10 Year is often underrated amongst other bourbons. It is a more approachable proof than the distillery’s other offering of Wild Turkey 101, [and] Russell’s Reserve is non-chill filtered. Its lower proof lends itself to the easy sipping, consistently drinkable end of this age statement range. It’s hard to find another 10-year-old bourbon in this price range with the full flavor profile and approachable proof of Russell’s Reserve 10 Year.” —Nick Jackson, Head Bartender, The Rum House, NYC

“The most underrated bourbon in my humble opinion is W.L. Weller Special Reserve. The little-known secret to the consumer world is that it is almost the exact same liquid as Pappy Van Winkle (one of the most coveted bourbons on the market), but way more affordable. It’s quite delicious and one of my favorites to drink.” —Evan Hawkins, co-owner, Romeo’s, NYC

“I think my choice would have to be Four Roses. I think people tend to underestimate affordable bourbons, but I think it’s one of the most approachable and versatile bourbons out there. We use it in our Perfect Old Fashioned and Derby Spritz at Virginia’s and it works beautifully in both, despite them being totally different drinks.” —Clay Sears, beverage director, Virginia’s, NYC

“Resurgent Young American bourbon is a fantastic and complicated bourbon that performs well in various cocktails, while also being able to hold its own when enjoyed neat. It’s great for whiskey drinkers who find higher-shelf bourbons too sweet, as it has some added heat being 104 proof. Pair it with Amaro Averna and Dolin Rouge for a fantastic Black Manhattan!” —Bill Ting, bar manager, SouthGate, Philadelphia

“High West Bourbon is one of them and one of my favorites. Very well balanced, rich, and earthy. The tasting notes of candy corn and honey nougat make this whiskey so delicious. Personally, I enjoy it in an Old Fashioned, but has the complexity to stand on its own, neat, or just one ice cube.” —Arbi Talani, assistant general manager, The Grand Tier Restaurant, NYC

“Buffalo Trace. For all the excitement about shiny new things, or impossibly hard-to-secure releases available only to the wealthy on secondary markets, I feel like benchmark staples that deliver so much value get overlooked and are underrated as a result.” —Gareth Rees, beverage manager, ilili, NYC

“Maybe because it comes from Missouri and not Kentucky, but I don’t think J Rieger’s Bottled in Bond Bourbon gets the appreciation it deserves. A strong rye presence adds a string of cinnamon throughout the palate that complements the cherry and vanilla of this 6-year-old whiskey. The high proof also provides a strong backbone to layer flavors in every cocktail from a sour to a Pendergast.” —Will Patton, bar director, Maass, and Hive Hospitality, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“For me, Legent Bourbon stands out. It’s a collaboration between Fred Noe and Shinji Fukuyo, merging Eastern and Western whiskey-making methods. Blended with bourbon aged in ex-wine and ex-sherry casks, its aroma boasts sweet and dried fruit notes. On the palate, it’s classic bourbon with rich layers of oak, vanilla, and caramel flavors. Legent pushes the boundaries of bourbon-making, staying true to its essence while introducing fresh flavors and complexity.” —Thi Nguyen, bar director, Moon Rabbit, Washington, D.C.

*Image retrieved from Igor Dudchak via

The article We Asked 20 Bartenders: What’s the Most Underrated Bourbon? (2024) appeared first on VinePair.

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