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The 9 Best Whiskeys for Old Fashioneds to Drink in 2021

From bourbons and ryes to barrel proof bottles.

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An Old Fashioned, that classic blend of whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water is only as good as the spirit that goes into it. The perfect whiskey, says Flavien Desoblin, owner of The Brandy Library and Cooper and Oak in Manhattan, is "one that has a higher strength and can pierce through the veil of the orange, bitters, and cherry."

Robert Krueger, head bartender for JF Restaurants, agrees. "You need something sturdy enough to survive the stirring down and the dilution as the ice melts," he says, "so you're looking at a floor of 90 proof." His best advice for the perfect Old Fashioned: Make sure your ice is clean, be judicious with the citrus—don't rub it on the glass rim—so it doesn't overwhelm the drink, and don't be afraid to experiment. Try stone fruit in summer, swap the simple syrup for Cointreau or Maraschino liqueur, or add viscosity with gum arabic.

Whichever way you make it, says Krueger, "it's all about big, chewy, delicious flavors." And those start with the proper whiskey. Here are our expert's top picks for the best whiskeys to use to make that flawless Old Fashioned.

Best Overall: Four Roses Single Barrel

Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Courtesy of Wine.com

  • Region: Kentucky
  • ABV: 50%
  • Tasting Notes: Stone fruits, cocoa, caramel

According to Desoblin, a high rye content "makes the cocktail come alive with character," and this bourbon does the trick. With its rye-forward mash bill, it has the spicy, herbal, and fruity notes that an Old Fashioned asks for. And at 100 proof, it's powerful enough to "show up strong even after dilution," Krueger notes. "Its big fruit flavors are really satisfying." 

Read Next: The Best Whiskeys

Best Budget: Old Grand-Dad 114 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Old Grand-Dad 114 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Courtesy of Wine.com

  • Region: Kentucky
  • ABV: 57%
  • Tasting Notes: Spice, honey, orange zest

"The rye brings spice into corn," says Krueger, "but the proof is what's going to carry through." A bartender's bottom-shelf favorite, Old Grand-Dad benefits from the 47% rye mash bill that its maker, Jim Beam also uses for Basil Hayden, on top of a high ABV. 

"If you were to do a best of both worlds between a bourbon and rye," says Desoblin, "you get that with Old Grand-Dad 114. It's a bourbon with a lot of character."

Read Next: The Best American Whiskeys Under $50

Best Top-Shelf: Michter's 10 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Michter's 10 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Courtesy of Drizly

  • Region: Kentucky
  • ABV: 47%
  • Tasting Notes: Toffee, maple, vanilla, oak

"This is one of the most delicious, richest, most satisfying bourbons produced," says Krueger. He loves it neat, but notes "if you want to show you can make a great cocktail, this whiskey is it." This kind of quality is not surprising when the juice comes from a Louisville distillery with 267 years of bourbon-making under its belt, and its methods, says Krueger, are "uncompromising."

Best Affordable Rye: Rittenhouse

Rittenhouse Rye

Courtesy of Drizly

  • Region: Kentucky
  • ABV: 50%
  • Tasting Notes: Orange peel, baking spices, caramel

The whiskey for Old Fashioneds at The Brandy Library has always been Rittenhouse. "It has power and depth, but it's a very well-balanced whiskey," says Desoblin. "At just 51% rye, it doesn't go to the herbal, almost medicinal extreme of other ryes." Krueger agrees that this classic, full-flavored bottle yields a "textbook" Old Fashioned.

Read Next: The Best Whiskeys

Best Splurge Rye: Redemption Rye 10 Year Barrel Proof

Redemption 10 Year-Old Barrel Proof Rye

Courtesy of Drizly

  • Region: Indiana
  • ABV: 51% 
  • Tasting Notes: Chocolate, herbs, spice

At 95.5% rye, this knockout bottle brings the spice, says Krueger, but its 10 years of aging balances the assertive grain, mellowing the whiskey just enough that you can discern all the other layers of flavor: sweet milk chocolate, chewy black licorice, and pickle-ready herbs like dill and tarragon. It's a fascinating, savory whiskey for the drink.

Best Bourbon: Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Courtesy of Reserve Bar

  • Region: Kentucky
  • ABV: 45%
  • Tasting Notes: Orange, molasses, honey

From America's oldest continuously operating distillery, named for its location on the route where the buffalo once crossed the Kentucky River, this rich bourbon is relatively low in alcohol, but that doesn't keep it from shining in the cocktail. "Its orange spiciness stands up in an Old Fashioned," says Krueger, "so the whiskey doesn't disappear." 

Read Next: The Best Bourbons

Best Single-Barrel Bourbon: Eagle Rare 10 Year

Eagle Rare 10yr Bourbon

Courtesy of Drizly

  • Region: Kentucky
  • ABV: 45%
  • Tasting Notes: Oak, toasted bread, vanilla

"Buffalo Trace (Distillery) makes a lot of great bourbons, but the stuff they keep around and select for a single barrel after 10 years is always totally satisfying," says Krueger of this special bottling. "Its sweet, toasted flavors are just delicious." Another advantage? "The quality is top shelf, but price-wise, it comes in lower than you'd think." So you don't need to hesitate before using it in a cocktail. "It's a great fit for an Old Fashioned," says Desoblin, "as its woody notes stand out."

Best Wheated Whiskey: Woodford Reserve Wheat Whiskey

Woodford Reserve Wheat Whiskey

 courtesy of Drizly

  • Region: Kentucky
  • ABV: 45%
  • Tasting Notes: Baked apples, mint, apple blossom

"You can get some menthol notes on wheated whiskies that gives them a crispness, which is a high note in an Old Fashioned," says Krueger. "The fresh-herb flavor is what I like about wheated bourbons." With the wheat at 52% of the mash bill, this bottle delivers a floral, fruity punch.

Read Next: The Best Gifts for Whiskey Lovers

Best Barrel Proof: Elijah Craig Barrel-Proof

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon

Courtesy of Drizly

  • Region: Kentucky
  • ABV: 66%
  • Tasting Notes: Butterscotch, cinnamon, oak, apple

"It's so rich and complex, you will definitely taste the bourbon itself," says Desoblin. Even though it's such a big bourbon, he declares it is "also very elegant," with a good balance between power and layers of flavor. His final verdict? "It's like everything you want from a bourbon."

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Betsy Andrews is a freelance journalist specializing in food and drink, travel, and the environment, and has been writing about wine and spirits for two decades. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Eating Well, The Wall Street Journal, SevenFifty Daily, VinePair, Wine Enthusiast, Travel & Leisure, and more.

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