It’s arguably the toughest decision any whiskey drinker has to make: choosing a go-to brand.
While old faithful might not be your all-time favorite and you may not even keep a bottle of it in your liquor cabinet at home, it’s reliably enjoyable and will always be waiting for you at the airport, hotel or dive bar.
With the Kentucky Derby tomorrow, which always puts us in a whiskey and Mint Julep state of mind, we asked a range of liquor experts around the country for their go-to bourbons. Here’s what they order when their options are limited to just a few bottlings.
Dave Broom, author of Whiskey: The Manual
“I find it very hard indeed to pass by a chance to have some Four Roses Single Barrel. It’s a bourbon with finesse rather than power, light leather, flamed citrus, maple syrup, fleshy fruits and perfectly balanced oak. What’s not to love?”
Reid Mitenbuler, author of Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey
“Wild Turkey 101 is usually easy to find. Brands like this always remind me how the ubiquitous brands are often made to higher standards than many niche offerings with higher price tags. I love how bourbon is contrarian that way, upending the “rules” of modern foodie culture.”
Heather Greene, author Whiskey Distilled, A Populist Guide To The Water Of Life
“Whiskey for me is a seasonal drink. As the weather warms, I’m looking for a whiskey that delivers vanillas, spice and front-to-middle-of-palate dynamics. This month I’m really into drinking Maker’s 46 with a large cube of ice.”
Larry Rice, bartender and co-owner of top Louisville whiskey bar The Silver Dollar
“I’m a huge Four Roses Single Barrel fan. It’s readily available comes in at barrel proof. Usually about 110-114 proof. It’s spicy, rich and has a long finish. I suggest letting it get 5-10 minutes of air before drinking it. I like mine neat but at that proof there’s no shame in adding an ice cube.”
Lew Bryson, former managing editor of Whisky Advocate and author of Tasting Whiskey
“The bourbon would be Knob Creek. Reasonably priced for what I get: solidly nine years old, 100 proof, always in stock, great in a cocktail or with a cube. And they have it almost everywhere I go.”
Gary Regan, co-author of The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys
“Jack Black! It’s not bourbon, I don’t drink it at home, and it’s not the most sophisticated dram on earth, but I do love it. Makes me feel tough. And I can get it at near-as-damn-it any bar in the world.”
Philip Greene, author of the new book, The Manhattan: The Story of the First Modern Cocktail with Recipes
“I’m reminded of the William Faulkner quote, ‘There is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others.’ But if the choices are limited, I’m very happy with Four Roses Yellow Label, as well as Buffalo Trace, they’re both good, honest bourbons, great in a cocktail or just with a big old ice cube or two.”
Albert Schmid, author of The Manhattan Cocktail: A Modern Guide to the Whiskey Classic
“When I travel through airports or stay at hotels my go to bourbons are Woodford Reserve or Knob Creek, but if I see it at the bar I will order Eagle Rare. I enjoy the vanilla and orange peel aromas—the oak and caramel flavors. In addition, Eagle Rare usually has a pocket-friendly price point—a great bargain for a top notch whiskey.”