A deftly-crafted homemade Old Fashioned or Manhattan is tough to beat. But all that measuring, muddling, stirring, and fussing can present a delay in drinking pleasure, especially when you’re playing host. Fortunately, the best ready-to-drink bottled cocktails closely replicate a bar experience—minus the mixologist. Once dismissed as cloyingly sweet shortcuts, today’s bottled cocktails can rival drinks born of the best bartenders, according to Ansley Coale, CEO of California-based Craft Distillers, the company that offers the barrel-aged Fluid Dynamics cocktail line. “When you allow excellent ingredients to marry over a period of time, instead of drinking a cocktail right after you mixed it, the richness and flavor increase exponentially,” Coale says. Go ahead and slip your friends our top picks—we’ll never tell.
The Six Best-Tasting Ready-to-Drink Whisky Cocktails
Bully Boy Old Fashioned—$30/750 ml
The high-rye pot still whiskey of Boston’s first craft distillery, aged in charred 53-gallon new American oak barrels, meets raw sugar and Angostura bitters.
Tastes like: Baking spice notes evoke winter holidays and keep the sweetness—brown sugar, maple syrup—in check. Ginger, clove, and savory spice, along with tangy orange, offer balance.
Crooked Water Spirits Manley’s Old Fashioned—$45/750 ml
Demerara sugar and two types of bitters (Angostura and Bittercube Orange Bitters) dance with bourbon at least 2 years of age, sourced from Wisconsin-based Yahara Bay Distillers and others. Serve over ice with an orange twist.
Tastes like: Prominent orange notes are punctuated by ginger, vanilla, and spice, including cinnamon stick, plus iced tea. The sweetness is pronounced, but not overpowering, lending richness that is tempered by the bitters.
Fluid Dynamics The 1850 Cocktail—$64/liter; $20/200 ml
Tamar Distillery in Redwood Valley, California remixes the Sazerac with Germain-Robin brandy, Low Gap whiskey, and a touch of absinthe for authenticity. Add bitters and serve over ice.
Tastes like: Spirit-forward with a nose of luscious pears and dates, as well as chocolate. The palate is peppery, tart, and full, with ginger and anise notes before the elegant finish of caramel, licorice, and butterscotch.
High West 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan—$50/750 ml
Non-chill filtered 95% rye whiskey (from Indiana’s MGP Ingredients) joins sweet vermouth and bitters for a 90-day stay in used barrels to harmonize the flavors. Tasty stirred and strained, with ice, or neat.
Tastes like: Profoundly fruity and a bit funky thanks to generous vermouth—with pronounced orange notes balancing out the spicy rye and dark cherry flavors, but not overly sweet.
Old Forester Mint Julep—$30/liter
Everything in the Kentucky Derby classic but the ice—bourbon, mint oil, and sugar. No wonder they serve over 120,000 juleps at the Derby each year! Simply pour over crushed ice and add mint leaves.
Tastes like: A refreshing easy-drinker; the sweetness here is just right. Highly honeyed and mighty minty—almost medicinal—with a viscous mouthfeel.
Wandering Barman Boomerang—$7/100 ml
Bourbon, New York maple syrup, hickory-smoke concentrate, and orange bitters earn this comparison to a burnt maple Old Fashioned.
Tastes like: Menthol and citrus aromas lead to pronounced savory and smoky bacon-like flavors. Pleasingly woody with sweet brown sugar and herbs, turning dry on the finish.
…And Six More Excellent Ready-to-Drink Whisky Cocktails
Fluid Dynamics Rye Manhattan—$64/liter; $20/200 ml
Tamar Distillery serves up its take on another classic with 2 year old Low Gap rye whiskey aged in new charred oak and used bourbon and cognac barrels, and Vya sweet vermouth. Add bitters, stir with ice, and strain, or serve on the rocks.
Tastes like: Fruity and wood-forward on the nose and palate, with tart candy apple and luscious grape notes; the viscous palate offers bountiful vanilla.
Jefferson’s Barrel Aged Manhattan—$40/750 ml
A blend of Jefferson’s straight bourbon, sweet and dry vermouths, and barrel-aged, spiced black cherry bitters, finished in original Jefferson’s bourbon barrels for four months. (Developed in collaboration with former Esquire magazine editor-in-chief David Granger.) Stir with ice and strain, or serve on the rocks; garnish with a cherry or an orange peel.
Tastes like: Candied sweetness with notes of bubble gum, baking spice, banana, and a hint of pineapple, before a dry finish.
Watershed Distillery Old Fashioned—$33/750 ml
Made by the Columbus, Ohio-based distillery from bourbon, raw sugar, local cherry juice, and bitters. Proof varies by batch.
Tastes like: Pleasant and quaffable, with notes of cloves, tilled earth, and subtle spice balancing gentle sweetness on the nose and palate, with a whisper of tobacco leaf on the finish.
Handy & Schiller Barreled Old Fashioned—$40/750 ml
Made with with Buffalo Trace bourbon and Peychaud’s bitters, and aged in Buffalo Trace barrels at the Frankfort, Kentucky distillery. Serve on the rocks, garnished with an orange peel.
Tastes like: Honeyed sweetness, along with caramel, pumpkin pie, apricot, iced tea, and bursts of spicy cinnamon and nutmeg punctuate the nose and palate, before a pleasantly bitter finish with a hint of marmalade.
Handy & Schiller Barreled Manhattan—$40/750 ml
Peppery Sazerac rye whiskey meets vermouth and Peychaud’s bitters; the cocktail ages in Sazerac rye barrels at the Buffalo Trace distillery. Serve on the rocks, stirred and strained, or neat, garnished with a maraschino cherry.
Tastes like: A robust nose offers candied spices, vanilla, anise, and just the right amount of heat, which continues onto the palate and finish, along with citrus and a touch of licorice.
Maker’s Mark Mint Julep—$25/liter
The Kentucky Derby classic, ready to pour into a julep cup filled with shaved ice; up the ante by muddling mint to express the oils, and garnish with more fresh mint leaves.
Tastes like: Piquant spearmint accents the bourbon’s floral sweetness, bountiful vanilla, and candied fruit flavors for an exhilarating race-day sipper.