8 Unique Bottles to Upgrade Your Home Bar, According to Bartenders
Expert mixologists suggest you add these under-the-radar bottles to your bar cart.
These are bottles that bartenders covet. They have a world of cocktail applications and can elevate your at-home bartending game—think bittersweet botanical liqueurs and martini-ready sherries. Here, bartenders weigh in on their must-have bottles for your home bar. All that’s left to do is to grab a shaker and get sipping.
“Everyone should have a solid bottle of Espadin mezcal to mix cocktails with,” says Justin Lavenue, co-owner of Austin’s The Roosevelt Room. “These bottles, such as Del Maguey Vida, Ilegal Joven, San Luis Alipus, and Fidencio Joven, mix wonderfully in cocktails, are affordable, and are meant to be used in cocktails, as opposed to many of the higher-end, artisanal labels on the market that should only be sipped neat.”
One of Lavenue’s essentials is a dunder-rich, funky Jamaican rum, “such as Hamilton Pot Still Black, Smith & Cross, and Plantation Xaymaca. These rums, when used in small doses (around a bar spoon to a 1/2 oz) in conjunction with other base spirits, can add some incredible complexity to cocktails. I often add 1/4 oz of Hamilton Pot Still in my Rye Old Fashioneds at home, and the salinity and depth of flavor in the rum brings all of the other ingredients together to make an infinitely more alluring and sultry final product.”
“I love Cynar,” says Arelene Roldan, co-owner of The Mermaid in Los Angeles. “It’s a bitter liqueur that can be substituted for Campari in many classic cocktails like Negroni, a Black Manhattan, or a highball. It’s a bittersweet Italian liqueur made with many botanicals and its main focus is artichoke. The artichoke adds an earthy, woodsy, slightly sweet element to cocktails.”
“One of my bar-cart staples happens to be sparkling wine,” says Jonathan Pogash, award-winning mixologist and founder/owner of The Cocktail Guru, Inc. “There are so many wonderfully simple and satisfying cocktails that utilize sparkling wine, and for me, personally, a prosecco like Mionetto is my choice for its quality, mixability, and affordability. Not only can a host serve a glass of Mionetto on its own, but they can also prepare it in a Bellini, Mimosa, French 75, or any cocktail that calls for sparkling wine.”
“Midori is a fun liqueur that always elicits excitement when used (sparingly) in cocktails,” says Robert Granicolo, co-owner of Toronto’s Cry Baby Gallery Cocktail Bar. “The electric green hue that the drink takes on adds a playfulness and the right amount of sweetness when mixed into a drink. Seeing people’s reactions when we overdo a Midori cocktail with big tropical garnishes is priceless. At home, substitute it for a simple syrup—throw it in a daiquiri for a melon flavor or a sour.”
Since 1737, Chartreuse has been made by a group of Carthusian monks from a secretive blend of over 130 herbs and plants. “Aside from being the nectar of the gods,” says Jason Allmond, bar manager at The Broughton Common in Savannah, “Chartreuse is wonderful on its own and it can add a lot of versatility to home bars. Everyone should have the ability to make Last Words [equal parts gin, chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and lime juice] and all its variations. It’s a really useful spirit that adds an extra boozy kick to every cocktail you put it in.”
“Specifically Manzanilla, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximinez Sherry,” says Lavenue. “Having a variety of sherries stocked in your refrigerator will be one of the best decisions you can make. The nutty finish that these products bring to the fold is unmatched by any other product on the market. Making a dry martini? Sub a little bit of dry vermouth for Manzanilla sherry, and boom, you have a completely different drink. Making a Manhattan? Sub in a little of Oloroso or PX Sherry in place of the sweet vermouth, and you’ll be blown away at the difference it makes.”
“It’s basically just a step away from hand sanitizer,” laughs Lavenue. The overproof spirit Everclear is the perfect base for at-home distilling projects, like limoncello.