Bartenders Tell Us The Best High-End Bourbons To Drink This Fall

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Fall is rumbling towards us like a herd of elephants, traveling at an uncomfortable speed. This means that summer is almost in our rearview and, for most of us, that really sucks. Sure you escape the heat, but the days of suntan lotion, flip-flops, and summer cocktails will be over and that’s hard to accept. The end of the season isn’t all bad news, of course. Silver linings abound. The beginning of fall means pumpkin and sage agnolotti (or PSLs if you’re more basic), cozy sweaters, and of course a return to dark spirits like bourbon.

September also happens to be Bourbon Heritage Month, so the time is right to stock up on some high-quality, delicious whiskey. And with the money you’ll save from not buying meat for the cookout every weekend (and then getting about 1/18th of your money back when everyone “kicks in”), autumn is also the perfect time to shell out a few extra dollars to get your hands on some high-class stuff.

To kick off our fall drinks coverage, we’ve tasked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the best bourbons to splurge on. Check out all of their responses below.

Willett Family Estate Single Barrel

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Justin Keating, beverage director of Bluegrass Hospitality Group in Lexington, Kentucky

“Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Bourbons are some of my favorite higher-end bourbons. They have multiple ranges of years and can vary in complexity tremendously barrel to barrel. For the most part these bottles are sold exclusively out of their gift shop, but are available every so often at bars and liquor stores.”

Eagle Rare Bourbon

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Michelle Farley, bartender at Del Frisco’s Grille Brookfield Place in New York

“Eagle Rare is my favorite bourbon because I enjoy the finish more so than other quality bourbons. It has a hotter finish which exudes higher alcohol content.”

Angel’s Envy

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Juan Coronado, beverage consultant at Bresca in Washington, D.C.

“Angel’s Envy is the idea of a family (father, son and grandson) who have achieved creating a perfectly balanced bourbon. It’s a small batch hand crafted whiskey produced in Louisville and is finished in port casks, which I love because it gives it great sophistication and complexity. On the nose, it is pretty subtle providing scents of brown sugar and caramels and the finish has powerful notes of oak, orange, walnuts. There is really nothing like this one.”

Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel 125th Anniversary

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Kyle Davidson, general manager/beverage director at Elske in Chicago

“My favorite high end bourbon has to be the Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel 125th Anniversary. A perfect 103 proof and a mixture of 3 of the 10 four roses mashbills from 13 to 18 years old. I still remember what it tastes like even though I finished the bottle years ago. Four Roses does such intense work with their range of yeasts and mashbills and I feel like this one perfectly blended all of the stone fruit, baking spice, cedar and maple notes that come through in their other whiskies. I believe it won world whiskey of the year in 2013 and I would pay a pretty penny for another bottle.”

Blanton’s Original

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Camilo Tavera-Lead Bartender at Hakkasan at Fontainebleau Miami Beach

“I enjoy Blanton’s neat, over ice, or served as a ‘Highball cocktail.’ The round, mellow flavors and hint of spice developed behind this product, are as unique as their distinguishable bottling and style. Serve, sip, and enjoy.”

Buffalo Trace

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Gerald Contreras, lead bartender at L Bar at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida

“Depending on what the guest is looking for, I would suggest either Bulleit or Buffalo Trace – two of my go-to bourbons. I find that Bulleit works really well for an Old Fashioned with its strong, oaky, full flavor, while Buffalo Trace is slightly sweeter and perfect for a Manhattan. That’s also one I would suggest neat because it is a little bit smoother. Both have a hint of spice but the Bulleit has a little more bite to it, making it a great component for a mixed bourbon drink.”

High West American Prairie Bourbon

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Miguel de Leon, general manager and Sommelier at Pinch Chinese in SoHo in New York City

“My favorite would be High West’s American Prairie Bourbon — aromatic, just lightly sweet, and unbelievably well-balanced — not to mention that 10% of their tax profits helps them save the American Prairie in Montana! Feel good and save the earth? Cheers to that! ”

Booker’s

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Johnny Swet, co-owner and mixologist at JIMMY at The James in New York City

“I love Booker’s Bourbon. It’s one of my favorite high-end bourbons because it’s bottled straight from the barrel, unfiltered. You really get that intense barrel effect when drinking it.”

Old Fitzgerald 11 Year Bonded Bourbon

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Jeremy Lake, bar manager at Rosaliné in West Hollywood, California

“I’d recommend the newly released Old Fitzgerald 11yr bonded bourbon or the ultra-rare John E. Fitzgerald VS 20yr bourbon. Both are wheated, both are exceptional, and both will cost a pretty penny for a dram. The Old Fitzgerald 11yr is bonded so, it’s higher proof, and has a good amount of age on it. The John E. Fitzgerald is exceptionally old for an American whiskey and is left over distillate from the Stitzel Weller distillery, which is the original home of the famous Pappy Van Winkle line. This wheated juice, then, is arguably a truer ‘Papp’ than the current delicious product coming from Buffalo Trace distillery now.”

Hudson Baby Bourbon

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Carlos Arteaga, beverage director at Halifax in Hoboken, New Jersey

“My favorite higher end bourbon is Hudson Baby Bourbon. I would recommend this Bourbon for many reasons: for one, as a beverage director at a New Jersey restaurant, I appreciate that it’s produced locally in Tuthilltown Gristmill, New York. It’s also not like the usually heavy smoky bourbons, but rather, it’s light and smooth. This bourbon is so easy to drink, but I know it’s not from Kentucky — please don’t shoot the messenger.”

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades

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Dzu Nguyen, bar manager at Horsefeather in San Francisco, California

“My favorite high-end bourbon is definitely Wild Turkey’s 17 year old Master’s Keep Decades release. It’s got all the complexity of long oak age whiskey: tobacco, burnt sugar, dry oak, finishing with a creamy mouthfeel but doesn’t suffer from some of the more undesirable aspects of long aged bourbon. Plus, it comes in at a lower proof by virtue of its aging process, not from cutting with water at bottling, so it really shows the mastery of the craft that Jimmy and Eddie Russell possess.”

George T. Stagg

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Jeremy Williams, lead mixologist at Lumber Baron Bar in Grand Rapids, Michigan

“My favorite high end bourbon that I’ve been fortunate enough to have tasted is George T. Stagg. It’s part of Buffalo Trace’s ‘Antique Collection’ and is a barrel proof bourbon that gets put through some pretty rigorous aging. The bourbon sits in casks for far beyond the typically allotted time frame for bourbon and is placed on the top floor of the barrel house where the temperature is warmest. What they want to have happen is evaporation — because as water leaves the barrel, the ethyl alcohol level increases as the bourbon is concentrated into a smaller volume. In time, and with only a few gallons remaining in each barrel, the proof with reach over 140, which is what it’s bottled at.”

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