9 Best Bourbons To Pair With Apple Cider

For every season, there's a fruit of which we can't get enough. In the winter, we're constantly peeling all the citrus we can get our hands on. In the spring and summer, it's all about peaches and plums. But in the fall, we just can't stop devouring all those delicious apples. We'll eat them right off the tree, use them in sweet and savory dishes, and even turn them into apple cider.

While it's always a treat to sip cider fresh out of the barrel, every so often, it's nice to add a spirit or two to the fresh-pressed juice. Sure, there are plenty of spirits that pair perfectly with cider, but our favorite is definitely bourbon. There are so many ways to enjoy the spirit, but one of our favorites, especially on a chilly winter night, is by adding a shot or two to a large mug of cider. Now, the only question is which bourbon should we add? We asked several bartenders from whiskey and bourbon bars around the country which bourbons they would choose to spike their cider, and they had plenty of opinions. Some brands you've probably heard of, while others may not be on your radar, and trust us when we tell you there isn't a dud in the bunch.

Old Grand-Dad Bonded

You've probably heard of the bourbon, Basil Hayden. You may have even tasted it. But did you know it was named after Basil Hayden, Sr., a distiller who started making bourbon back in the late 1800s? His recipe, which included a higher percentage of rye, was something he passed down to his son, who passed it down to his son. So, when Colonel Hayden's grandson started crafting his own bourbon, he wanted to name it after the person whose recipe inspired him, and Old Grand-dad was created.

Coming from the Beam Distilling Company, Old Grand-Dad has three distillations. But it's the Bottled in Bond that Wiseguy Lounge bartender Chase Henry chooses to add to his mug of cider. "At 100 proof (50% abv), it has a full and robust body with big cinnamon and caramel notes that play wonderfully with a spiced apple cider, particularly a hot cider," explains the Master of Bourbon. "It's also very cost-effective at around $20 a bottle." But Henry doesn't just approve of adding this high-proof bourbon to a mug of cider; he also uses it to make a cocktail for the Mainstrasse Village menu. "I used it in the past to make an apple pie sour that was one of the first drinks I ever had on our menu."

Bardstown Bourbon Company Origin Series Wheated Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon

Located in the bourbon capital of the world, Bardstown Bourbon Company has been producing bourbon since 2014. The distillery produces over 40 different mash bills. Some of those bills are used by brands like High West and Hirsch, while others are kept to create an extensive list of whiskeys for Bardstown itself. Because there are so many different mashbills and blends, Bardstown has broken each of its liquors down into series: the Collaborative, Discovery, Distillery, Fusion, and Origin. Each series has anywhere from three to 20 different bottles in its library, and each has a flavor all its own. But it's the Wheated Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon from Bardstown's Origin series that Adam Morgan believes is the perfect way to spike that glass of cider.

"Not often do you find a bottled-in-bond wheated bourbon on the market of fair price and high quality," explains the bar manager from Nashville's Husk. "The Bardstown Bourbon Company has released such a bourbon with their Origin Series. This bourbon would partner well with apple cider," he continues. "The creaminess on the palate and hint of cinnamon will certainly shine and lift this seasonal treat." But the mouthfeel or flavors of this bourbon aren't the only reason Morgan prefers it. The proof helps, too. "The 100 proof, I find, is a necessity during cold months to warm the soul via hot apple cider."

Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 7-Year

100-proof bourbons seem to be the way to go for cider because Nick Madden, the bar manager at Elixir in San Francisco, tells us his "top choice" for the pairing is Heaven Hill's Bottled-in-Bond 7 year. "This bourbon is one of my personal favorites. It meets all the criteria for pairing with apple cider," he explains. "Coming in at 50% ABV or 100 proof, it's perfect for cutting through the cider's sweetness without overpowering it."

Heaven Hill first released its Bottled-in-Bond bourbon back in 1939, exactly four years after the distillers first poured its whiskey into barrels. This bottle pays tribute to that, but instead of waiting four years, the distillers now wait seven. Those three extra years and the fact that the company continues to maintain the standards that originally made Heaven Hill the number-one-selling bourbon decades ago are just a couple of reasons why this bottle continues to win awards year after year.

But those awards aren't why Madden chose this bourbon to pair with his cider. He says it's the mash bill. "Heaven Hill has a traditional bourbon mash bill of 78% corn, 12% malted barley, and 10% rye that offers plenty of sweetness with a hint of spice. Having been aged for seven years in American Oak, the wood imparts sweet notes like honey, vanilla, and butterscotch, ideal for pairing with apple cider."

Very Old Barton 100

Another 100-proof bottle, Very Old Barton, is a bourbon that comes from the whiskey behemoth Sazerac, although you won't find it on the website. We were also unable to locate this bourbon on the Barton Distillery website. But just because it's missing from its creators' sites doesn't mean it isn't available. For under $20, you can grab the bottle that Chase Henry describes as having "rich, bready notes as well as orange marmalade flavors."

The second bourbon the Wiseguy Lounge bartender has recommended is 100-proof. Henry tells us he likes the higher-proof whiskeys for mulled cider because "they stand up a bit better." Very Old Barton has three other expressions: an 80 proof, an 86, and a 90. But it's the 100 proof that Henry reaches for when he wants to add a shot or two to his cider. "A rich, full mouth feel of soft caramel and cherries fades to notes of dark chocolate," he explains. "It holds up well when mixed into an Old Fashioned or in cider." And if you're a chocolate fan, Henry has one more suggestion: "Maybe throw a little dark chocolate into the cider with the Very Old Barton 100 to add some depth and richness that will make it stand out."

Wilderness Trail High Rye Bourbon

While most bourbons start with a sour mash as the base for their spirits, Wilderness Trail Distillery creators Shane Baker and Pat Heist start their bourbon with a sweet mash. A sour mash adds the necessary amount of acid to begin the fermentation process so that each bourbon tastes the same from batch to batch. But by using a sweet mash, Heist and Baker ensure that the flavors from their locally sourced ingredients shine through without the harsh finish some bourbons tend to have. 

While each whiskey uses the same sweet mash, it's the ratio of grains used for each spirit that separates Wilderness Trail's three whiskeys. Even though the wheated bourbon, the rye, and the high rye bourbon have all won awards, it's the high rye bourbon that The Flatiron Room's marketing manager and spirits educator, Sarah Valvo, chooses for her cup of cider.

Both bourbons start with 64 % corn and 12% malted barley in their mash bills. But where the wheated bourbon uses 24% wheat, the high rye uses 24% rye. Changing out that one ingredient changes the flavor of the whiskey, and Valvo really appreciates it. "The rye really gives it a great kick of spice," she says.

Four Roses Yellow Label

So, many bourbon names have interesting origin stories. Some were named after the man or woman who created the liquor. Others are named for the location where they're distilled. There are even some that get their names because of how the bourbon is made. But none of them are nearly as romantic as the story behind Four Roses

Since red roses have long been the symbol of love, Four Roses creator Paul Jones, Jr. requested that the Southern belle he was courting wear a corsage of four red roses to show that she had accepted his proposal of marriage. Don the corsage she did, and so Jones commemorated the moment by naming his bourbon after that event and that corsage. He trademarked the name in 1888 and Four Roses bourbon has been on bar shelves ever since. It's even behind the bar at Elixir in San Francisco. 

But Nick Madden doesn't believe this bourbon should be limited to just professional bars. He thinks it deserves a spot on your home bar as well. "Priced at only $22, this bourbon is a workhorse and should be on every home bar," exclaims Elixir's bar manager. Because the yellow label is a high rye bourbon, Madden says it has "spice, floral, and fruity notes that complement apple cider perfectly." 

Wild Turkey 101

Created in 1869 when the Ripy brothers opened their distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, Wild Turkey didn't actually get its name until an executive shared his bourbon with friends during a hunting trip. Turns out they were hunting wild turkey. Decades later, and with more than 15 different whiskeys on its docket, Wild Turkey is a classic. Like all bourbons, there are plenty of people who swear by this bourbon. Joseph Oddo, the beverage director at the Jack Rose Dining Saloon is one such person. "Running one mash bill, Wild Turkey showcases consistency and the power of rickhouse management by putting out other expressions like their Russels Reserve line," he explains. But the expression that Oddo feels is best suited for apple cider is Wild Turkey 101.

101 has been part of the Wild Turkey brand for over 60 years. This award-winning bourbon is 101 proof (hence the 101 in its name) and has a mash bill that has a higher amount of rye than some of the other well-known bourbons out there. Those factors, along with how it's made, are why Oddo describes this bourbon as having "big baking spice and lots of candy apple on the backend" which is why Oddo believes this bourbon is the perfect choice for a large cup of cider.

Milam & Greene Triple Cask

When we asked Sarah Valvo for her favorite bourbon to pair with apple cider, she wasted no time in answering. "Our top favorite would have to be Milam & Greene Triple Cask," says the spirit educator for New York City's The Flatiron Room. "Heather Greene is doing such a great job blending delicious whiskies, and this has been our favorite for a while," she continues.

Unlike so many other bourbons that are based in Kentucky and use Kentucky ingredients, Milam & Green sets itself apart by not only basing its distillery in Texas but also using grains from Texas, Oregon, Wyoming, and Washington. What makes the Triple Cask truly unique, though, is the fact that it consists of three different whiskeys from three different states. The Texas bourbon, which is produced at the Milan & Green distillery in Blanco, Texas, brings the spice. The Kentucky whiskey adds hints of vanilla and fruit, while the Tennessee whiskey provides the tannins necessary to give the bourbon its complex makeup. Even though this bottle is on the higher end, coming in at just under $50, it would be worth adding to your home bar to enjoy neat, on the rocks, or in a cup of cider on a cool winter's night.

Buffalo Trace

If you're looking for classic bourbon that's both delicious and easy on your pocketbook, Buffalo Trace is the way to go. Available for around $30, this is a bourbon that deserves to be added to your home bar. Created in Kentucky, the bourbon capital of the world, at the oldest continuously operating distillery in America (which also just happens to be haunted), Buffalo Trace has been around for several decades. While the Buffalo Trace distillery boasts several highly sought-after and hard-to-find bourbons like Blanton's and Pappy Van Winkle, you can find this bottle of bourbon in every liquor store across the country. 

A bourbon that's this accessible can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, and so it has. While it would make a great Mint Julep or Brown Derby, Sean Ebbitt, the owner of Lexington's Bluegrass Tavern, recommends adding it to a mug of cider because its flavors of vanilla, brown sugar, and anise make "a more balanced sweet and spicy apple cider." A cider that Ebbitt says would be delicious, hot or cold.