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.
“I’m not just saying this because my name is on the bottle or because part of this blended single malt whisky has Auchentoshan aged in my native Minnesota’s own oak but because this dram is completely worth the effort to track down and sip or even mix in a cocktail as it’s designed. High proof instills more flavor, along with the smallest touch of smoke balanced with sherry casking, and it’s made from whisky stocks spanning six decades. This is truly a phenomenal whisky for the bartender or scotch lover in your life.”—Nathaniel Smith, creative director of bar and drinks at Travail Kitchen and Amusements in Minneapolis
“My time in Scotland taught me that smoke is more than just pungent notes; like barbecue, it also carries other notes along your palate for longer. In Bowmore 12 Year’s case, there’s tropical fruit that surprisingly dances on your tongue, and a great introduction for a gift to someone not quite sold on peat yet.”—Smith
“It’s a great entry-level Islay, with subtle peat smoke, perfect for an evening sipper on the rocks.”—Sanders
“Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Heavily Peated Islay Barley has the most elegant peat that builds on your palate and lingers.”—Hah
“This whisky is a truly unique and well-made spirit loaded with various fruits and spices. Fortunately, it still comes at a reasonable price, but it hardly matters since it can be so hard to find a shop that can keep it in stock.”—Erick Castro, owner of Polite Provisions in San Francisco and bartender at Boilermaker and Raised by Wolves in New York City
“A little peat and a little oloroso sherry, and you have a beautiful marriage of flavor for a great bottle to sip on.”—Sanders
“With the price of scotch and aged spirits in general getting so high, the under-$50 category seems to shrink with each passing year, but Highland Park 12 Year is just one of those bottles that always delivers at a good price.”—Castro
“This scotch manages to toe the line between peaty and lightly sweet, finishing dry and long.”—Hah
“I’m not going to say that this bottle is for everybody. In fact, I would say that it’s quite the opposite, but that’s part of its charm. When you’re in the mood for Laphroaig, nothing else comes close, and as a bonus, it’s a great accent in cocktails.”—Castro
“I have probably never used another scotch for cocktails as much as Laphroaig 10 Year, and that’s saying a lot. Whether adding smoke to your sour or an olfactory element to an Old Fashioned or using it as a base spirit—one of our most popular cocktails is a Mexican-influenced Laphroaig cocktail called the Santa Muerte, with spiced grapefruit cordial, lime and Mexican lager)—Laphroaig is polarizing but perfect for both a home or cocktail bar.”—Smith