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.
“Balvenie 21 is finished in port casks and is super refined. It has a beautiful creamy mouthfeel and fruity vanilla on the finish.”—Cari Hah, bar manager at Big Bar in Los Angeles
“For a loved one that has expensive tastes, or who has tasted almost everything, this will light up their eyes like a child unwrapping ‘an official Red Ryder, carbine-action two-hundred-shot-range model air rifle’ on Christmas morning.”—Nathaniel Smith, creative director of bar and drinks at Travail Kitchen and Amusements in Minneapolis
“Sherry-finished, this is a great bottle to splurge on—fig, leather and cinnamon with a great smoky finish.”—Travis Sanders, bartender at Pennyroyal in Seattle
“This is what you drink when you strike the lottery or just really appreciate a fine whisky. This one is a truly beautiful and complex spirit that’s oozing with peppery fruit.”—Erick Castro, Erick Castro, proprietor of Polite Provisions and Raised by Wolves in San Diego and Boilermaker in New York City
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“When I’m not worried about budget and craving a little something more mature with loads of baking spice and malt, this is my go-to. It’s a beautiful example of earthy fruit balanced with oak and vanilla.”—Castro
“To be honest, I'm surprised this whisky does not sell for a lot more, as it has plenty to offer for the price. There are plenty of floral notes and tropical fruit with nice balance and a long complex finish.”—Castro
“By using nontraditional yeast strains, this spirit is the perfect marriage of science and magic and perfectly illustrates how tradition and innovation can not only coexist but thrive within the world of single malt whisky.”—Castro
“It's really tasty with lots of fruit and floral.”—Ryan Schaeffer, operational bartender at Four Corners bar in Chicago
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“Everything about this scotch is superb. Signet is a treat from the nose to the finish—complex, deep and satisfying.”—Hah
“The name itself is a high-roller when ordered at a bar. Personally, I think it’s one of the smoothest scotches I’ve ever had.”—Schaeffer
“Aggressively smoky with lots of wood spice and salinity, this scotch begs to be sipped by a fire while sitting in a leather chair.”—Sother Teague, beverage director at Amor y Amargo, Blue Quarter, HoneyBee's and Windmill in New York City
“Rich, smoky, cask-finished in rich Pedro Ximénez barrels, this is a whisky that like its tag line is just a little bit ‘more’—intense palate and aroma, full mouthfeel and definitely a star on any backbar.”—Smith
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“This is a special-occasion dram—so deliciously complex, dried fruit and baking spices on the nose, flavors of citrus and ginger, with hints of smoke followed by toffee and nuts.”—Teague
“My chef and owners bought me a bottle of this for my birthday, and it's a gift that keeps on giving. So many sweet notes—almond, toffee, chocolate, figs—all from a lightly smoky, complex single malt that reminds you how amazing terroir is to scotch’s simple ingredients of just water and malted barley.”—Smith
“This one can be extremely difficult to find, but for those who can find a bottle, they will be rewarded with a bounty of toffee, toasted coconut and Christmas cookies on the nose.”—Castro
“A gem for this price point, it has a fruity and rich palate that finishes with smoke and saltiness.”—Sondre Kasin, principal bartender at Undercote in New York City