In my dream world, I'd have a perfectly stocked home bar with every bottle from Aperol to Zwack. And most importantly, I'd have a great selection of whiskey. But those of us with limited space and limited funds must choose wisely. What's the best bourbon to buy for drinking at home? Is there an expert-approved affordable brand? I called up a few experts to get their advice.
Craig Bridger, bartender at Char No. 4 (Brooklyn)
If you could pick only one bottle of bourbon for the home bar, what would it be and why?
A hard decision, but if I could only keep one bottle at home, I'd go with Blanton's. It's the classic single barrel bourbon. It's got a delicate spiciness that's lovely for sipping, but it's hardy enough for cocktails.
Do you have a favorite affordable bourbon?
Old Weller Antique 107. A fantastic value. W.L. Weller bills itself as the "original wheated bourbon," and while I can't vouch for that, I can vouch for its quality. The Old Weller Antique 107 brings extra body (107 proof) and flavor (bacon, tobacco, caramel) to the party, all for right around $20. It's a whole lot of whiskey for the price.
What's your favorite bourbon cocktail, and the best brand for the job?
It's hard to beat a well-made Manhattan. There's a reason they're so popular. Of course, the Manhattan was originally a rye cocktail, but bourbon Manhattans are the standard now. I won't say there's a "best brand" for a Manhattan (or for any cocktail, for that matter), it's entirely too subjective, and depends on what you're looking for. However, I think it's helpful to remember that a Manhattan is a sweet cocktail, so a spicy, dry bourbon will provide a better counterpoint than a sweet one. Something with a high rye content, like Four Roses or Bulleit works well. For a cool, easy variation on the standard recipe: try a perfect Manhattan (equal parts sweet and dry vermouth), rinse the cocktail glass with smoky scotch, and garnish with an orange peel.
Jayson Wilde, Bar Manager at Bourbon and Branch (San Francisco)
I know this is hard, but if you could have just one bourbon at home, what would it be?
Almost an impossible question to answer! But if I could have just one, I'd go with Black Maple Hill Small Batch. It is everything I look for in a bourbon. Nice balanced sweetness up front, great honeyed citrus, oaky baking spices and vanilla on the nose, rich mouthfeel and a little heat on the finish.
What's your favorite affordable Bourbon?
Knob Creek. It's affordable and you can find it at almost any major grocery store and most bars. It makes a great old fashioned.
What's your favorite bourbon-based cocktail?
The Boulevardier. I love Campari and I love the Negroni. It's essentially the same drink with bourbon instead of gin. However, I will never say no to a great timeless Old Fashioned.
KaMar Gomez, Spirits buyer at Smith & Vine (Brooklyn)
If you could have just one bourbon at home, what would it be?
Would love to say Van Winkle 12 year old 'Lot B' , but as that's not really available I will go with Buffalo Trace. The corn really comes through and that soft sweetness along with the nice woody richness just screams 'classic!' to me.
Awesome. That's not too pricey, either. Any more best-value bourbon picks?
W.L. Weller Special Reserve 7 year old. A fairly robust, wheated bourbon which adds a nice spiciness, and it's under $20.
Do you make bourbon-based cocktails at home?
I prefer just a simple take on the classic cocktail: bourbon on ice with many dashes of the Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic Bitters.