You know who knows best which bottles to buy? The people who pour and sell drinks—that’s who. We asked dozens of top bartending and spirits industry professionals to tell us which bottles they love and why.
Heads up: The numerical order below is not organized by importance or quality; it’s an alphabetical list, not a ranking. Prices are averages and can vary from state to state.
“It has one of the smoothest yet complex flavor notes for a bourbon—classic corn flavor with baking spices and wood. The kicker is that there's a tropical note of bananas, sweet pineapple and mango flavors that really creates a truly interesting experience.”—Juyoung Kang, lead bartender at Las Vegas' Dorsey
“Belle Meade is a bourbon made in Tennessee that’s just simply perfect. It’s smooth sipping with all the right notes of sweet, spice and everything nice. But this new experiment of casks is coloring outside the box. There’s a sherry, cognac and now this Madeira cask. And this Madeira cask just blew my taste buds. It’s just heaven.”—Kang
“It’s a single-barrel bourbon (that claims to be the first). Besides the bourbon being very good for the price, this is an awesome gift. The bottle is beautiful, and the corks are meant to be collected so you can use it as repeat gift.”—Tomas van den Boomgaard, beverage manager at The Langham, Chicago
“It has classic oak with a balance of orchard fruits and soft caramel.”—Fu
“Year in and year out, it’s one of the most satisfying, affordable bourbons you can find. You can tell how beloved Elmer was, because this bottle has all of the quality of much more expensive bourbons at a fraction of the cost.”—Neal Bodenheimer, owner and bartender at New Orleans' Cane & Table and Cure
“It’s hearty, uncut and unfiltered, with rye spice, clove and smoke.”—Fu
“Ridiculously smooth, this bottle is the ultimate crowd pleaser for bourbon drinkers of all stripes—light and fruity but exceedingly flavorful.”—Bodenheimer
“Everyone is so quick to dismiss a product with ‘Jim Beam’ on the label. This is a limited-production 12-year-old bourbon finished in PX sherry casks that will change your mind about that. It’s an excellent after-dinner sipper.”—Michael Lazar, whiskey concierge and lead bartender at San Francisco's Hard Water
“It’s actually a pretty affordable, smooth bourbon, especially when it’s set at around 114 proof. It has nutty core fruit notes from scent to taste—a high-proof bourbon that’s balanced, smooth and at the right price tag.”—Kang
“With this age statement comes long notes of cocoa backed with notes of maple sweetness and cedar wood.”—Izaguirre
“Known for its choice of where the water comes from, it turns making bourbon the right way into a true work of art. What’s also surprising is that it’s from New York. It’s just a great, balanced and smooth bourbon, all thanks to its limestone mineral water.”—Kang
“I'm not a big fan of old bourbon, but when it's done right, it’s delicious. This is one I grab for.”—Ehrmann