Veteran Bartenders Pick the Best New Spirits

These new classics belong in your liquor cabinet.

If your stash of spirits and liquors leans more towards mid-century than modern, it’s time to rethink your selections. Of course there are bottles that never go out of style – Campari, Plymouth Gin, Dolin Dry Vermouth – but several up-and-comers are worthy of a spot next to them. We asked five seasoned bartenders and cocktail pros from around the country for their suggestions on what to try now. Here are the new classics that have earned the quiet respect of the liquor intelligentsia.

Frank Liotti

Current Gig: Bartender at Freemans in Manhattan.

Career in a Sentence:“I’ve been a bartender since 1997 or so…when Sex on the Beach was the hottest drink around.”

Favorite new booze…

Carpano Vermouth Bianco: “Handcrafted in small batches with the finest ingredients, it has an herbaceous complexity rarely seen in a white vermouth that is somehow crisp and simple. It’s an instant classic; it will take your classic martinis to a perfection you never thought possible. No one will need to ask you for a ‘very dry’ martini ever again.”

Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur:  “Ancho Chile Liquer is a sugar-cane-based liqueur that adds a smoky, anchochile flavor to any cocktail. Add it to your favorite tequila cocktail for depth, complexity and a delicious smokiness…. Everyone I’ve had taste it has raved about it: a definite crowd pleaser.”

Pavan: A replacement for the ubiquitous St. Germain, Pavan has a super intense, Muscat grape flavor with a touch of orange blossom. Its versatility can liven up many cocktails or simply turn up the volume of a glass of champagne.”

Favorite New Cocktail:

The Les Paul

2 oz. gin

1 oz Carpano Vermouth Bianco

Dash celery bitters

Pinch of salt

“This subtle spin on a classic Gibson puts the spotlight on this crisp and complex dry vermouth. Build ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice. Stir to temperature. Serve up in a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a cocktail onion.” 

Jennifer Colliau

Current gig: Beverage and Bar Director for The Interval in San Francisco

Career in Two Sentences: “I’ve been a bartender for 18 years…. I also own a syrup company, Small Hand Foods.” 

Favorite new booze…

St. George Dry Rye: “Gin is the most mixable of spirits, and the St. George Dry Rye is an earthy, masculine take on it. I drink like an old man, so I’m always looking for complex spirits that can be sipped as well as mixed. The Dry Rye is delicious neat, unlike most gins, and it is a terrific sub-in for a traditional whiskey drink, like an Improved Old Fashioned.”

Fortaleza Blanco: “Tequila is my go-to spirit, either sipped neat (never ‘shot’) or mixed with soda water and a little lime as a more ‘session-able’ drink. I prefer blanco to better taste the fresh agave it was made from and the earth that agave was grown in. Fortaleza Blanco has delicious creamy flavors and a spicy herbal finish.”

Imbue Petal & Thorn Vermouth: People think they don’t like vermouth, but most folks haven’t tried vermouth that hasn’t been sitting open in a speed rail for six months. Neil Kopplin started making domestic vermouth several years ago and recently came out with Petal & Thorn. It is fantastic; drink it chilled before or after dinner, or mix with soda water with a lemon twist. Using vermouth instead of high-octane spirits can extend your evening by keeping you from getting too tanked too quickly.”

Favorite New Cocktail: 

Improved Gin Cocktail

2 oz St. George Dry Rye gin

Barspoon Small Hand Foods Gum Syrup

Barspoon Luxardo maraschino liqueur

2 dashes absinthe

lemon twist garnish

“Add everything to a rocks glass along with a large piece of ice and stir well to chill. Garnish with a lemon twist.”

Vincent Favella

Current Gig: Bartending at 151 Rivington on the Lower East Side, Oak & Iron, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and The Bar Room on the Upper East Side.”

Career in a Sentence: “I’ve been a bartender for 15 years.”

Favorite new booze…

AnCnoc Whiskey: “It has great balance; it has smoky characteristics without being too peat-y. It has great structure, and is delicious either neat, or on the rocks, and makes a mean cocktail.”

Rendezvous Rye: “My favorite cocktail is the Old Fashioned made in the northeast style – with rye whiskey. High West Distillery from Utah makes a wonderful rye, called Rendezvous Rye, which is my favorite pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar. It has good alcohol content, is affordable, and is tasty because Utah has delicious water.”

Caorunn Gin: “Recently, a few new gins have hit the market from Scotland. My personal fave is Caorunn Gin. The botanicals are foraged and have really cool maritime notes from their close proximity to the ocean. Cocktails made with Caorunn should be made with care with its delicate nature in mind. Think Plymouth style.” 

Favorite New Cocktail: 

A Lazy Spring

1 oz. Caorunn Gin

1 oz. rosemary-infused Bianco/Blanc Vermouth

1 oz. lemon juice

1/4 oz. honey syrup

2 full turns freshly ground black pepper

“Stir and strain onto new ice in a highball glass.  Top with club soda and stir briefly. Garnish with a lemon twist.”

Craig Hiljus

Current Gig: Partner in the beverage consulting firm Cask & Courtesy

Career in a Sentence: “I grew up in the business and have been behind the bar on and off my whole life.”

Favorite new booze…

Ford’s Gin:“86co launched a line of spirits about two years ago designed by and for bartenders.  Quality and price is right on for cocktails menus and home bars.  I like to use their Ford’s Gin.” 

Clement Canne Bleue:“Rhum Clement recently launched Clement Canne Bleue, which is an incredibly delicious RhumAgricole distilled from a single varietal of sugar cane.” 

Favorite New Cocktail: 

White Negroni

1.25 oz Ford’s Gin

1 oz  CombierPamplemousse

.75 oz CarpanoBianco

Barspoon of Dry Vermouth

“Stirred, strained over a fresh glacier and garnished with a grapefruit peel.”

Ms. Franky Marshall

Current Gig:Vice President of the United States Bartender’s Guild, New York Chapter

Career in a Sentence: “I’ve been a bartender longer than a hipster’s beard!”

Favorite New Booze…

Power’s John’s Lane Release: “This single pot-still whiskey is aged for a minimum of 12 years and is wonderful, silky, yet complex enough to hold the interest and palates of scotch and bourbon drinkers alike.”

Fernet Vittone:Fernet is a type of amaro, but some folks mistakenly think it’s a brand. This one has about 40 different botanicals; the recipe goes back to 1842, and it’s apparently aged in Slavonian oak from Croatia. It’s a wonderful digest if, but it also works very well in cocktails, and is great over vanilla or chocolate ice cream.”

Highland Park Freya:Part of the Valhalla Series, it’s classic because it’s aimed at, and priced for, collectors. It’s bourbon-barrel-aged, so a little drier with that vanilla, coconut, flavor, soft peat, and not too heavy on the smoke. Intense, but not overbearing. This is one to drink while pondering life’s mysteries.”

Favorite New Cocktail: 

Bitter Monkey

1.5 oz Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky

1 oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

1 oz Aperol

2 dashes Miracle Mile Chocolate Chili Bitters (Or you can sub 2 dashes Angostura, 1 dash mole bitters)

“Add all ingredients to mixing glass. Stir with ice. Strain into a double rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with an orange twist.”

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