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Bartenders Name Their Absolute Favorite Whiskey Sips Of 2021

We’re a few weeks into 2022 and while we’re all about looking forward instead of dwelling on the past, we can’t help but think back on some of the best food and drinks we tried last year. Previously, we asked some bartenders and bar professionals to tell us their favorite sips of bourbon from 2021. Today, we turn our attention to their absolute favorite whiskey sips of the past year.

That means our scope is a little broader this go-’round — we’re talking about single malt scotch, bourbon, rye, blended scotch, Irish whiskey, American single malt, and various other varieties of whisk(e)y from all over the world.

Our panel of bartenders threw out some great whiskeys that we think you’ll enjoy. Some are available at your local liquor store, some are limited releases, and others are hard-to-find, expensive, unicorn bottles. All are good.

Keep scrolling to see all of their picks!

Redbreast 27 Irish Whiskey

Redbreast 27 Irish Whiskey
Redbreast

John “Fitzy” Fitzpatrick, spiritual advisor at Warren American Whiskey Kitchen in Delray, Florida

ABV: 53.5%

Average Price: $640

Why This Whiskey?

As a Fitzpatrick I am, no doubt, partial to my Irish whiskey. I had the opportunity to try the Red Breast 27-year-old this past summer and had no idea what to expect. When I first tasted it, I was completely caught off-guard by the unusual flavor in a most amazing way. Orange zest, cinnamon, vanilla, and more dried fruit come together like no other whiskey I’ve ever tasted.

Dare I say I enjoyed it more than my beloved Midleton Very Rare? Let’s just say it is one of the most unique and delicious whiskeys I’ve ever had the opportunity to taste. Simply amazing.

Uncle Nearest 1856 Tennessee Whiskey

Uncle Nearest 1856 Tennessee Whiskey
Uncle Nearest

Joseph Samuel, bartender at Billy Can Can in Dallas

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $55

Why This Whiskey?

I’ve been trying a lot of Uncle Nearest lately. They have won quite a few awards and I like their story. It’s caramel up front with a wheaty rye finish. Of the two, my pick is Uncle Nearest 1856. This 100-proof, award-winning expression is a blend of eight to 14-year-old Tennessee whiskeys.

Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese Whisky

Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese Whisky
Nikka

Daniel Yang, lead bartender at Electra Cocktail Club in Las Vegas

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $73

Why This Whisky?

The grand prize of best whisky of 2021 for me still goes to one of my all-time favorites, Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky. With a high corn mash bill, this Japanese whisky uses the Coffey distillation process to give us light and not too complex grain forward notes, while still offering spice and a touch of smoke.

A wonderful segue into Japanese whisky for those who love bourbon, definitely a winner.

Glenmorangie Signet Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Glenmorangie Signet Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Glenmorangie

James MacInnes, bartender at Klaw in Miami

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $189

Why This Whisky?

Single malt scotch took the trophy home for me this year. I have always tried to be impartial when it comes to tasting spirits, but there is something about the way the Scots distill. Glenmorangie, in particular, impressed me with their Signet bottling. A

ttempting, and succeeding, in capturing the roasted flavors of espresso bean and chocolate in a dram, this whiskey really leaves an impression on the more adventurous drinker.

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Bourbon Whiskey

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Bourbon Whiskey
Buffalo Trace

Subhash Sankar, head mixologist at Alaia Belize in San Pedro Town, Belize

ABV: 53.5%

Average Price: $1,777

Why This Whiskey?

This bourbon whiskey is bottled at nearly barrel proof. Just a splash of Kentucky limestone water is added after a decade of aging. Rich, yet smooth, this bourbon takes a back seat to none. A sweet vanilla nose with caramel, pecan, and oak wood with smooth, mellow flavor consisting of robust wheat, cherries, and oak. It features a long, smoky wheat finish with hints of fruit, spice, and oak tannins.

Caol Ila 30 Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Caol Ila 30 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Caol Ila

Josue Villacis, head bartender at MILA Restaurant in Miami

ABV: 55.1%

Average Price: $740

Why This Whisky?

Caol Ila 30 Year is my pick. It’s just not what you expect from an Islay with deep spice and mild peatiness as it opens up some tropical fruit. It’s really next level. I suggest you try it if you ever get a chance.

Seven Stills 1.21 Gigawatts Whiskey

Seven Stills 1.21 Gigawatts Whiskey
Seven Stills

Robert McCarthy, bartender at Seven Square Taproom in San Francisco

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $40

Why This Whiskey?

1.21 Gigawatts by Seven Stills has delightful chocolate, coffee, and nutty notes with a hint of spice. This whiskey first began as an imperial oat stout that was then distilled and aged in new, charred American oak barrels.

Barrell Dovetail Whiskey

Barrel Dovetail Whiskey
Barrel

Christopher Devern, lead bartender at Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia

ABV: 61.45%

Average Price: $80

Why This Whiskey?

Barrell has been making some very experimental and interesting whiskey lately. One of them was the Dovetail release, blending whiskey that had been finished in a variety of casks including rum, port, and Cabernet. At around 124 proof, I recommend pouring over a big cube or adding a drop of water to open it up and bring out the array of flavors.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof Tennessee Rye Whiskey

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof Tennessee Rye Whiskey
Jack Daniel

Mark Phelan, beverage director of 16″ On Center in Chicago

ABV: 60-70%

Average Price: $299

Why This Whiskey?

I’m a big fan of the Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof special releases, and their rye release this year was a reminder of their team’s impressive talent. It has a huge mouthfeel, rich dried fruit, and toasted cinnamon notes, and is shockingly balanced at such a high proof.

It’s a memorable sip from a wild and wacky year.

Navazos Palazzi Palo Cortado Single Cask Whisky

Navazos Palazzi Palo Cortado Single Cask Whisky
Navazos Palazzi

Ally O’Keefe, bartender at The Bower in New Orleans

ABV: 52.5%

Average Price: $100

Why This Whisky?

This was such a unique whisky. Made from 100 percent Spanish-grown corn yet aged in the cask of traditionally dry sherry, I didn’t know what to expect. The bouquet was presented with freshly cut wood, butterscotch, caramel, and crème brûlée. On the palate, this whisky was hot, buttery, and exceptionally smooth, with notes of sweet red fruit, Medjool dates, fig, butterscotch pudding, sautéed mushrooms, and brown sugar.

It was earthy, somewhat funky, and yet dessert-like. Absolutely delicious.

Harleston Green Blended Scotch Whisky

Harleston Green Blended Scotch Whisky
Harleston Green

Jonathan Howard, bartender at Audrey in Nashville

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $26

Why This Whiskey?

The best sip of whisky I had in 2021 was Harleston Green Blended Scotch because of the unbelievable number of cocktail options it holds. From the first moment I tasted it, my mind was racing with opportunities for interesting flavor combinations. It has really lovely notes of honey, spring flowers, and warm spice that helps please the palate all the way around.

Sagamore Spirit Straight Rye Whiskey

Sagamore Spirit Straight Rye Whiskey
Sagamore Spirit

Justin Wilson, lead bartender at The Kimpton Sylvan in Atlanta

ABV: 41.5%

Average Price: $41

Why This Whiskey?

Sagamore Spirit Straight Rye out of Baltimore. It’s very easy to drink with notes of vanilla, earthy spice, and honey that come through on the palate. I really enjoyed this one.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye Whiskey

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye Whiskey
Buffalo Trace

Alejandro Mendoza, restaurant and bar manager at Hotel SLO in San Luis Obispo, California

ABV: 64.75%

Average Price: $800

Why This Whiskey?

I just got a chance to try this one a few weeks ago, and it did not disappoint. A perfect tribute to the man credited for coming up with one of America’s most famous cocktails, the Sazerac. The flavors that stand out in this one are figs, toffee, clove, and mint.

It’s hard to come by, but a must-grab if you can.

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