Sure, you can drink whiskey whenever you want. A nice dram of smoky Scotch is perfectly suited to slow sipping around a summer campfire and a tumbler full of rye on a single rock is right at home on a brisk autumn afternoon. But winter is bourbon season — a natural match, thanks to the weather, the baking spices, and the rich foods served this time of year.
“Bulleit Bourbon always makes me think of winter,” says Melissa Crisafulli, bartender at Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette in Monterey County, California. “It’s a long-standing tradition for my friends and me to savor it on the rocks while we eat holiday pie.”
With so many cozy sense memories like Crisafulli’s in play and so many brands available, it’s difficult to figure out which bourbons are right for you and your tastes. To help you navigate, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the one bottle they can’t manage winter without.
Andres Padilla, head bartender of 312 in Chicago
I can’t imagine winter with Basil Hayden’s. It’s both sweet and smooth so you can make anything from a hot toddy to a whisky sour with it. It’s also hard to beat the price.
Ezra Brooks 7 Year
Gabe Briseno, bartender at Employees Only in Los Angeles
When it comes to winter bourbons, I pick Ezra Brooks because it’s an old-style whiskey that is affordable and can be found in most bottle shops around America.
Four Roses Single Barrel
Taylor Scoma, manager of Stacked Sandwich Shop in Portland, Oregon
Four Roses Single Barrel is definitely my go-to in the winter months for any of my bourbon needs. For a cheap bourbon, it has a really smooth and balanced finish all the way down. What I really love about it is this bourbon’s flexibility. It’s great on its own while also being a perfect flavor for any kind of bourbon cocktail, and for the price that is a great deal.
Wild Turkey 101
Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC
I’m continuously restocking Wild Turkey 101 for my home bar. I really enjoy hot toddies in the winter months and Wild Turkey has just enough punch to feel good after two toddies. It also has excellent smoothness for winter cocktails in general and complements a beer when poured neat.
Old Forester 1897 Bottled In Bond
Daniel Burns, manager and bartender lead at Elixir in San Francisco
We need a nice hot bourbon to get us through the winter right? Old Forester Bottled In Bond has a high ABV and four years of barrel aging to get us through the cold months in taste and style.
Elijah Craig Small Batch
When it comes to bourbons for winter, hands down Elijah Craig Small Batch. It’s a classic super smooth sipper through and through, with a slight sweetness and subtle spice. Also, it’s one of the best bangs-for-your-buck.
Eagle Rare Single Barrel
Nick Meyer, beverage director at in Ronan in Los Angeles
Eagle Rare Single Barrel bourbon. It’s my favorite go-to bourbon for drinking neat by a fire, and it also lends itself really well to pairing with different baking spices, which is so appropriate in wintertime.
1792 Small Batch
Michelle Hamo, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia
If I am going to reach for a bottle of bourbon to get me through a long cold winter, I’m going for serious quality like 1792 Bourbon Small Batch. It has a high rye content which is right up my alley, makes a bold and almost explosively delicious pour, and is incredibly refined and elegant.
It’s hefty at 46.8% ABV, but it goes down smoothly and curls warmly into your chest.
Wild Turkey! This might not be the classiest choice, but that’s what I kind of like. It’s just a traditionally made whiskey that is simple and delicious. It is a great product at an affordable price, especially if we are talking just a bourbon to have on hand for cocktails, sipping, mixing and more. Their tag line is “real bourbon, no apologies” and I agreed with that so much that one night after drinking a decent amount in New Orleans I decided to get a tattoo that says ‘No Apologies’.
Josh Korn, bar manager at West in Portland, Oregon
Larceny is my wintertime staple. It’s a wheated bourbon from the Fitzgerald distillery, and it has a richer, rounder texture and feel than bourbons with traditional mashbills. At 92 proof, it holds up beautifully in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan on the rocks, it makes a great hot toddy, and it’s warm and smooth enough to sip neat.
St. George Breaking & Entering
Hailey Coder, lead bartender at The Park Bistro & Bar in Lafayette, California
St. George Breaking & Entering Bourbon, it has amazing flavors that can create many different types of cocktails. It will bring any group of people together and is perfect for winter.
Jason Werth, bartender at Motif in Seattle
My winter standby is Blanton’s Bourbon. It’s heavy enough to hold up against the Seattle weather and has a smooth caramel oak finish that lingers. It’s the gold standard for winter bourbons.
Savage and Cooke Burning Chair
Cameron Lang, bartender at Center Hub in Irvine, California
Savage and Cooke’s Burning Chair. I’m a huge fan of Savage and Cooke distillery right now. Being based out of California was surprising enough, but the quality of this bourbon is phenomenal. The tasting notes are very festive and perfect for the holidays. With hints of toasted marshmallow, coffee, a touch of honey and some charred smoke at the end. An absolute staple for any bourbon enthusiasts looking to enjoy something new and under the radar. Also, to mention, the bottle is totally rad.
Old Forester Signature 100
Chris Heinrich, head bartender at Tre Rivali in Milwaukee
Old Forester Signature 100 Proof has been my winter mainstay for years. Its richness and big body lend itself staying power in any cocktail, standing up to the mightiest of vermouths and Amari. In a cocktail, over ice — heck, even right out of the bottle – it’s a warming delight.