To truly embrace the holiday spirit, you need a passion for coziness, that deeply warming, keenly nostalgic feeling that this season just seems to exude. You can do this in a variety of ways — sitting by a roaring fire, cuddling up with the family to watch Christmas movies, or baking sugar coookies. Or you can just pour yourself a dram of seasonally appropriate whiskey.
Whiskey is pure bliss this time of year. It’s full of many of the same flavor notes as holiday cakes, cookies, and cocktails. And its ability to add warmth to a cold night is unparalleled in the spirits world.
So which one to pick? Rebecca Edwards, co-bar managers at Tavola in Charlottesville, Virginia like to sip on Jameson during the holidays.
“We have a tradition with our friends that after all the family get-togethers are finished we meet at a local bar that stays open 365 days a year for ‘friendsmas,’” she says. “When the tradition started, we were all young restaurant employees who rarely experimented outside beers and shots. Somewhere along the way, Jameson became the holiday drink of choice.”
Austin Doiron, beverage director at NEAT Bottle Shop & Tasting Room in Alys Beach Florida, attributes his tradition to what has to be considered one of the best Christmas movies of all time.
“Old Grandad comes to mind since that was Billy Bob Thorton’s choice of drink in Bad Santa.” He adds. “Old Grand-Dad 114 is actually a good sipper. The regular Old Grand-Dad I would avoid.”
Find more holiday season whiskey picks from our favorite bartenders below.
Dewar’s White Label Scotch Whisky
Danny Caffall, lead bartender at The Mansion Bar in Dallas, Texas
Dewar’s White Label. At all my family gatherings, scotch and water was usually the first drink consumed by the guests. I still think of Scotch on the rocks with a splash of water as some sort of opening act for the beverage marathon that is holiday gatherings.
Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon
Graham Courter, bar manager Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, Tennessee
It would have to be Evan Williams Black Label. My grandfather always kept a bottle in the board game closet, and in high school, I would always sneak a shot when looking for Pictionary. Many years later, when I brought my wife home for the first time, he brought out the same dusty bottle for us to warm our bodies and loosen our tongues; it was perfect.
Pete Maben, assistant bar manager at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon
I’m going to have to go with Pikesville rye on this one. It’s perfect when nestling up next to the fire during those cozy nights in. As well as with all of that pre-holiday cooking.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch Whisky
Taha Ismail, bar manager at the Round Robin Bar in Washington, D.C.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label, a blend of Scotland’s rarest Whiskies is not an everyday whiskey, but a special occasion whiskey and perfect for the holidays.
Early Times Bourbon
Matt Catchpole, general manager at Terra in Columbia, South Carolina
I probably associate holiday whiskey with Early Times more than any other; my grandfather drank it, and it’s what I first learned to make eggnog with. I still use it in my eggnog, most years.
Dalmore 12 Year Old Scotch Whisky
Devon Daley, bar manager at Sternewirth in San Antonio, Texas
I really have two options here. First is a revisit to Booker’s, a whiskey that I love and that shows up at a lot at holiday gatherings. The second is the Dalmore 12 Year. This is mostly due to it being a preferred scotch for my grandfather, with whom I spent a lot of my childhood holidays. Now, as an adult, Dalmore 12 Year is something I drink to remember him and reminisce.
Redbreast 15 Year Old Irish Whiskey
Jeremy Allen, general manager at MiniBar in Hollywood, California
Redbreast 15 Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey makes me think of the holidays. It’s too complex to chew on every day; it’s more for occasions and reflection, which is something we tend to do this time of year.
Jameson Irish Whiskey
Drew Breen, bar manager at Jianna in Greenville, South Carolina
When it comes to holiday sipping, for me, it’s Jameson. I know it doesn’t have much to do with holidays, but always held a special place because of memories made over a glass of it.
Glenmorangie Signet Scotch Whisky
Benjamin Rouse, head bartender at Henley in Nashville
Glenmorangie Signet is Christmas Morning is a bottle. This dram is a little more on the pricey side but if you like Scotch and you like hot chocolate, look no further. This should be enjoyed with close family or friends, fireside, preferably with a cigar in hand.
Jim Beam Black Label Bourbon
Kristian Niemi, owner of Bourbon, Columbia, South Carolina
Jim Beam Black label is my holiday go-to. I can put six bottles on the bar and let my guests go at it for cocktails or drinking on the rocks. It’s top-notch but doesn’t break the bank. I learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea to put the good stuff out. When you see someone mixing it with diet ginger ale, it really puts a damper on the holidays.
Canadian Club Whisky
Justin Miller, executive chef at Anthony’s Chophouse in Hamilton County, Indiana
Oddly enough, the brand of whiskey I think of the most around holidays is Canadian Club. My family always made a batch of ‘Whiskey Slush’ using Canadian Club, ginger ale, and lemon juice. We have it at almost any family get together and even seeing the label makes me think of being with family.
Breckenridge Spiced Whiskey
Keith Zintakmon, bartender at JRDN in San Diego
When it comes to holiday sipping, I pick Breckenridge Spiced Whiskey. Breckenridge distillery makes great spirits, and their spiced whiskey has all of the lovely baking spices, flavors and warmth of the holidays.
Chivas Regal 12 Year Old
Ben Rojo, bartender at Black Emperor in New York City
Chivas Regal 12 Year Old is my most nostalgic dram at holiday time. It was the preferred whisky of each of my grandfathers, two men who did not agree on much else. At age eight, the Rusty Nail was the first cocktail I was ever tasked with building, and every winter I bring home a bottle of Chivas to nudge me back towards simpler days.
Jim Beam White Label Bourbon
Cole Newton, bartender Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans
I always associate Jim Beam White Label with the holidays, because that was the whiskey that my mother used to make her Bourbon Balls, a staple of her slate of holiday cookies. It nestles right into that sweet spot of being affordable enough to cook with, but still good enough to sip on while you do.
Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia
This time of year, I always like to enjoy Templeton Rye. Templeton holds a special place in my heart because it’s the only Whiskey a friend’s dad will drink. At Thanksgiving, we would get done stuffing our faces and he would pour us a healthy glass of Templeton and say, “here this will help burn the food down.” Drinking will always invoke feelings and I love the thought of those Thanksgivings in my younger days.
W.L. Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon
Mike Wolf, author of Garden to Glass: Grow Your Drinks from the Ground Up
Weller, whether it’s the 12 year, 107, or one of the Pappy releases, will always make me think of the holidays because it’s one of the only times you can actually find any around town. It’s a celebratory pour—you’ve made it this far into the year.
WhistlePig 15 Year Estate Oak Rye Whiskey
Casey Bunch, bartender at The French Room Bar in Dallas, Texas
When I think of the holidays, I think of family and gatherings. For that reason, I also think about breaking out the good stuff. I recently came across WhistlePig’s 15 year Vermont Estate Oak and wow, it is delicious. As far as why, when else am I going to break out the good stuff? Best enjoyed with those closest to you.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon
Brad Pickle, bourbon master at Bar Bourbon in Arlington, Texas
When it comes to holiday drinking, I like to drink Makers Mark because I always remember my Uncle making his Eggnog with it when I was growing up.
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
Denis Cote, bartender at The Limelight Hotel in Ketchum, Idaho
For the holidays I always go with Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon. It just seems so festive to me to enjoy with friends and family, either straight or in a hot toddy.
Jarhn Blutstein, beverage manager at Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa in Montauk, New York
Rittenhouse rye. I always have a barrel-aged Manhattan going at our house for the holiday entertaining and I love using Rittenhouse. It’s a great value and stands up well to the sweet vermouth.