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We Asked 14 Bartenders: What’s the Most Underrated Whiskey Cocktail? (2023)

Whiskey, in its multitude of expressions, is beloved worldwide for good reason. From rye to bourbon to Irish whiskey and Scotch, the spirit offers near-endless complex flavor profiles that can provide a tasty base in near-endless cocktails. They’re an obvious complement to staple ingredients like citrus and bitters, and cocktails like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned tend to reign supreme on bar menus. That said, there are a slew of equally delicious elixirs that tend to fall under the radar.

To get a better idea of the whiskey cocktails we might be missing, we asked 14 bartenders for their opinions on the most underrated whiskey cocktail.

The Most Underrated Whiskey Cocktails, According to Bartenders:

The Whiskey Smash
The Blood and Sand
The Scofflaw
The Morning Glory Fizz
The Greenpoint Cocktail
The Expat
The Sazerac
The Algonquin
The Whiskey Sour
The Paper Plane
The Adderly
The Midnight Lullaby
The Gold Rush

“The most underrated whiskey cocktail is the Whiskey Smash. Made with simple ingredients and no equipment beyond a shaker, a Whiskey Smash is the unsung hero of the bar. With hints of citrus and mint, it’s a fun and easy-to-drink cocktail.” —Jorge Centeno, chief spirits officer, Deer Path Inn, Chicago

“My favorite is the Whiskey Smash. Whiskey Smashes are classic cocktails that date back to the 19th century and are typically made with whiskey, mint, sugar, and citrus. Despite their refreshing and flavorful profile, Whiskey Smashes may be considered underrated because they are not as well-known as other whiskey cocktails like the Old Fashioned or Whiskey Sour, but once people get their hands on one, they are bound to order another as they taste great and are very refreshing.” —Greg Pugh, bar manager, Bottled Blonde Miami, Miami

“Eight years ago, I was in a big cocktail competition where we didn’t know what the judges were going to have us make. The cocktail chosen for me was the Blood and Sand. Fortunately, I knew it, as I had studied all the whiskey classics. Since then, it has become an absolute staple in my repertoire. I’ve served this drink dozens (hundreds?) of times since, and almost never have my guests not order a second! It is a delicious combination of equal parts whiskey (I prefer Monkey Shoulder Scotch, but bourbon works just as well for a slightly sweeter version), as well as Cherry Heering, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and sweet vermouth.” —John ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick, spiritual advisor, Warren — American. Whiskey. Kitchen., Delray Beach, Fla.

The Scofflaw. It’s a delicious and solid cocktail that first appeared in Harry Craddock’s “The Savoy Cocktail Book” from 1930. The drink is composed of rye, dry vermouth, grenadine, lemon, and bitters. It’s a super-solid and refreshing drink — perfectly balanced and great for any season. More recently, people don’t often mix dry vermouth and citrus anymore, which is why this cocktail is underrated.” —Megan Lazar, head bartender, Koloman, NYC

“In my opinion, the most underrated whisky cocktail would be the Morning Glory Fizz. It’s a mid- to late- 1800s drink that’s kind of well-known among bartenders, but definitely deserves a bit more shine with the general drinking public. The cocktail is made in the classic Fizz style, but is one of the few drinks that contains both lemon and lime juice, and it works really well here. The thing that makes this cocktail, though, is the dash of absinthe — it ties everything together and really complements the whisky base. A good blended whisky works great when making the Morning Glory Fizz — something like Johnnie Walker Black Label or Dewar’s 12-Year-Old is excellent — but to make it more special, my personal favorite would be with a single malt like Clynelish 14-Year-Old. You won’t look back!” —Adam Montgomerie, bar manager, Hawksmoor, NYC

“The Greenpoint Cocktail — I love stirred whiskey drinks, and I love Chartreuse. Since the 1880s when bartenders first stirred the Manhattan, those who followed in their footsteps continued to make variations of this classic and named them after their respective boroughs [like] the Brooklyn cocktail and the Bronx cocktail. The Greenpoint is a modern classic [created] by Milk & Honey in 2006, but it’s rarely ordered these days. It features rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and yellow Chartreuse as well as Angostura and orange bitters. The yellow Chartreuse brings in the magic of those Carthusian monks of France and offers a lively mixture of anise, saffron, and citrus, among many other things.” —Keith Larry, beverage director, Little Rascal Bar, NYC

“One of my all-time-favorite whiskey cocktails also happens to be created by one of my all-time-favorite bartenders — the Expat by Lauren Schell. It’s such a simple blend of bourbon, mint, lime, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters that equates to so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s a bright, fresh cocktail that’s delightful to drink year-round and deserves some more time in the spotlight.” —Robert Struthers, beverage director, Gair, NYC

“I believe the most underrated whiskey cocktail is the Sazerac. It seems to be a regionally known cocktail: Either people from New Orleans or people who have visited New Orleans hold an interest in it. Furthermore, it’s a cocktail that bartenders are reluctant to make a riff on, but plays on Manhattans and Old Fashioneds dot a lot of cocktail menus — including our list at Travel Bar. My play on the Sazerac is a very similar build on the classic, but I use simple syrup instead of a sugar cube; I use both Peychauds and Angostura bitters; and most importantly, I use Roulette Rye from Proof & Wood. The use of this bottled-in-bond, 4-year-old 95/5 rye brings a spicier, bolder flavor. I call this the BOLD Bet Sazerac.” —Mike Vacheresse, beverage director, bartender, and co-owner, Travel Bar Brooklyn, NYC

“My favorite underrated whiskey cocktail is the Algonquin. A riff on the Whiskey Sour, not too many know the Algonquin cocktail. In the Miami heat, it is super refreshing with a combination of rye, dry vermouth, and pineapple that’s shaken until frothy and ice cold.” —Steven Wicker, bar manager, Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company, Miami

“My mother’s go-to drink was a Whiskey Sour, and perhaps that is why I always associate it with a smoky 1970s cocktail party. While it’s hard to say any drink with its own ‘day’ — Aug. 25 — and with a dozen spin-off variations is ‘underappreciated,’ I rarely see one served up in a bar. There’s something so perfect about the balance of the smoky sweetness of whiskey and tart, bright lemon. With or without the egg white, it is delicious and satisfying, and in my opinion, a perfect cocktail.” —John Cassanos, food and beverage director, The Outsider, Milwaukee

The Paper Plane immediately comes to mind as the most underrated whiskey cocktail. Although it has gained a devoted following among cocktail enthusiasts and bartenders in recent years due to its unique flavor profile and simplicity of ingredients, it is still underrated in the sense that it is not as well known as some other whiskey cocktails like the Old Fashioned or the Manhattan. Made with equal parts bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and fresh lemon juice, it was created in 2007 by bartender Sam Ross, with the name being a reference to the M.I.A. song “Paper Planes,” which was playing in the bar when Ross was developing the recipe. Unlike some other classic or modern cocktails that require multiple types of bitters and complex preparations, the Paper Plane can be made with just four ingredients that are easy to find at most liquor stores or bars. It’s a cocktail you can feel comfortable ordering even at a busy bar, as the equal parts won’t put a strain on any bartender, even during high volume.” —David Miller, beverage director, Pennydrop Bar + Kitchen, St. Louis

“The Adderly cocktail is an often-forgotten whiskey cocktail that is due for a comeback! The spice from rye whiskey blends with lemon juice and the sweetness of maraschino liqueur beautifully. Orange bitters and a flamed orange coin take the cocktail to a next level of deliciousness.” —Ray Fritz, head bartender, Blue Smoke, NYC

“Any cocktail that introduces people to another category of spirits is a winner in my eyes. In Boleo, the cocktail Midnight Lullaby pays homage to the modern-classic Midnight Stinger created originally by Sam Ross out of Attaboy and Milk & Honey. Both the Midnight Lullaby and the Midnight Stinger are Whiskey Smashes that cut the whiskey in half and replace it with Fernet. The original has Fernet-Branca and ours has Fernet Lola, which was created in partnership with Rhine Hall Distillery here in Chicago for us to serve in Boleo. We softened the edges of the Midnight Lullaby with a bit of vermouth and saline. So, in short, split-based Whiskey Smashes are underrated — hopefully they’ll start popping up more this summer as they are very summer-friendly.” —Guillermo Bravo, beverage director, Boleo, Chicago

“The most underrated whiskey cocktail, in my opinion, is the Gold Rush. It’s a simple combination of whiskey, honey, and lemon, and when balanced properly, it tastes like butter. I like mine with 2 ounces of bourbon and equal parts lemon and honey, but you can swap out the bourbon for rye if you want more baking spice notes, or add some fun bitters — the possibilities are endless. This is a whiskey cocktail that is simultaneously full and refreshing, and uses ingredients that you may already have at home.” —Katie Kennedy, spirits director and head bartender, Contento, NYC

The article We Asked 14 Bartenders: What’s the Most Underrated Whiskey Cocktail? (2023) appeared first on VinePair.

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