Bourbon has cemented itself as the quintessential American spirit, and that means its fanatics are willing to pay a premium. Bourbon connoisseurs pay hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of dollars for bottles that, only a couple decades prior, collected dust on retail shelves (see: Blanton’s). As certain bottles become out of reach, and new ones enter the marketplace, it can be hard to know where to turn for reliable, affordable bourbon, so we asked a selection of bartenders from around the world for their essential bottles for mixing.
“Bourbon is a spirit that we think is one of the most versatile to mix with,” says Tom Godfrey, owner and co-founder of newly opened FOCO in Barcelona. “If the drink is stirred, shaken or thrown, carbonated and served tall, or even blended, bourbon and American whiskey in general plays so well with so many fresh ingredients as well as alcoholic modifiers.”
Godfrey also acknowledges that bourbon’s affordable price point—typically between $25 and $35 for cocktail-friendly options—makes the spirit even more popular. Luckily, the range of bourbon available in 2023 is vast, giving both consumers and bartenders an array of worthwhile options to choose from.
When selecting a bottle, bartenders say they consider the general flavor profiles dictated by a bourbon’s grain mash bill and its ABV. “I like slightly punchier flavors and a higher ABV for something like a sour, where the texture from the egg white and the acidity from the lemon can take a bit of competition in the glass,” explains Rosie Greene, bar manager at Furna in Brighton, U.K. Sarah Ruiz, bar director at Juliana Bar in Guayaquil, Ecuador, agrees: “Higher-proof bourbons have more flavor after dilution and can stand up to more assertive cocktail elements,” like bright citrus or bittersweet Campari.
To cut through the array of options, here is the best bourbon for mixing, according to bartenders.