But thankful doesn’t seem like the right word in this case. Fortunate? Eternally grateful? Proud as punch? This is how we feel about living in the region that produces the best whiskey the world over, from the legendary Pappy Van Winkle to reliable Bulleit to selections from private family-run distilleries like Willett.
Before the holidays is the best time to refresh your bourbon supply with old favorites and new finds. But before you do, read our guide to the house drink of The South.
Best for Game Day
With Wild Turkey 101 on hand, you’ll be a winner with your football friends even if your team is losing. Affordable, but impressive, this is the whiskey you want for a crowd.
Most bourbon tends to be made with corn, rye, and malted barley. But a few, such a Maker’s Mark, use wheat instead of rye, often yielding a sweeter, smoother tipple. With a very balanced, almost floral finish, Old Weller 107 Antique (often referred to as “Baby Pappy”) is our favorite. But watch yourself now—this one goes down easy.
If you’ve seen an orange-labeled bottle—that looks like it sauntered in from a Wild West Saloon—everywhere from the bar down the street to a Jack White music video, there’s a reason: Bulleit Bourbon is straight-up solid whether it’s sipped neat or mingling with bitters in a cocktail.
Best When Company’s Coming
Many of us dream of one day having the whole Pappy Van Winkle collection on our bar cart, but seeing as 65 cases of it were stolen from the famous distiller a few weeks ago, that may have to remain a dream for a while longer. If you’re looking for a small batch whiskey to impress dinner guests, your friend with a subscription to The Bourbon Review or a potential father-in-law, here are a couple that get us giddy. Willett Family Estate Bottled Single Barrel: Since this bourbon goes straight from the barrel to the bottle (uncut and unfiltered), buying a bottle of Willett is like buying a winning lottery ticket each time. You never know what proof you’ll find on the shelf, making each bottle different, but always delicious. Black Maple Hill: This well-balanced bourbon with hints of butterscotch has a cult following similar to Pappy, but for a fraction of the price (about $45).
Having great whiskey doesn’t mean you have to drop a stack. If you’re just stepping into the magical world of bourbon, or you are looking for a more cost-efficient option, both Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel and Four Roses Yellow Label are good choices.
Rye whiskeys are different in that they must be distilled from a mash that is at least 51 percent rye (as opposed to bourbon, which must be at least 51% corn), and lean away from the sweeter side with a more pronounced peppery taste. They’re also perfect for mixing into classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and Sazerac. Try Michter’s Single Barrel Rye.