Everyone has a bartender that comes to mind who they respect and admire. Likewise, everyone has been blown away by the magic manifested by a mixologist, at least once. Maybe it is their demeanor, a nugget of wisdom imparted through a conversation, nailing a recommendation for a drink, every time–it is a question that not everyone gets to ask their favorite bartender, but a question that everyone wants to know about their favorite bartender: “What’s the one bottle you would buy to impress your friends?”
Scotch was the reason why I became a bartender. I think it’s only fitting for me to pick a bottle of scotch. My favorite of all time is Glendronach 15yr Revival. It has complex notes of spice, fruit, coffee, dark chocolate, and honey. It’s finished in Spanish sherry casks of Oloroso and PX. This is a must try. Your tastebuds will thank you for it.
When I am trying to impress my friends, and my jokes and great personality just aren’t enough (pause for laughs), one of my favorite go-to bottles is Angel’s Envy Rye. Because of its limited production and double cask maturation, it does ring in at a casual premium. That said, I still consider it to be an “economical pour.” Its secondary finishing in a Caribbean rum cask lends it a rich, almost maple-like profile which makes a savory and lengthy flavor that, at least in my experience, pleases damn-near everyone.
Because of its richness, the Angel’s Envy Rye is not one that gets polished off in one sitting. That same richness makes it a wonderful grab for split based cocktails, or as a substitute for a sweetener. If I’m not trying to stir or shake, my preferred way to enjoy it is simply over ice with a twist of orange. And despite it being a proofy 50 ABV whiskey, it’s a pour that even my die-hard vodka-only friends have been known to enjoy.
It’s a Barbados powerhouse with vanilla and chocolate on the nose, that doesn’t disappoint on the palate. It ushers in the caramel and vanilla you would expect from a molasses based rum and marries it with the right amount of oak, like a perfectly aged whiskey. It is moderately priced, comes with fantastic packaging and is highly approachable to rum and non-rum lovers alike.
My favorite product in my bar right now is Licor 43, primarily because of my love for the classic Carajillo cocktail. It’s a super versatile product, and great for adding depth, and layers of flavor to cocktails. I used this quite a bit in my book (Beautiful Booze; Stylish Cocktails to Make at Home)
After traveling around Mexico City, I found that many of my friends there would order a Carajillo to round out a big meal, and I instantly became obsessed with this drink as it is only 2 quality ingredients; espresso and Licor 43. It brings in notes from the coffee, but I find that Licor 43 really amplifies the cocktail experience. Since learning to make this cocktail in Mexico City, it’s something I like to introduce to my friends while traveling and at home.
My favorite category of spirits is Rum. Cocktail enthusiasts just starting out may not know which Rum to grab off the shelf when just getting into home bartending. My first suggestion is always Plantation 3 Stars. It’s a blend of rums that offers complexity and a touch of funk. The daiquiri is a rum cocktail and is one of the first cocktails someone should master. The daiquiri is only three ingredients and is only as good as the ingredients you choose. Plantation 3 star makes for a perfect daiquiri.
One addition I recommend for any home bar is a couple bottles of amaro. Besides rounding out your standard tequila and bourbon selections – amari lends a mysterious, sexy vibe to your collection. Don’t be put off by the direct Italian translation – “bitter” – most brands lean a lot more pleasant than perhaps the most well known label: Fernet Branca.
Drink it neat, or experience how it can bring an incredible balance to cocktails such as my personal current favorite, the Paper Plane.
My current obsession is Forthave Spirits Yellow Génépi. A wonderfully unique interpretation of genepy, it’s youthful, almost like drinking a ray of flowery and savory sunshine. It’s got a delightful mouthfeel, perfect for sipping on its own or as a simple highball. It also mixes beautifully into cocktails and adds complexity without trying too hard.
I would say I’d recommended something like Mezonte Raicilla Japo. It’s a super rare and delicious agave distillate from Jalisco and it’s a real WOW factor bottle. You’ll literally never have anything like it. Also, Pedro, who owns the brand and a bar in Guadalajara by the same name is fighting to keep not only delicious but also ethical products alive. You won’t be disappointed!
Italicus Rosolio: Many craft and esoteric spirits can alienate and intimidate novice drinkers, but Italicus is the rare liqueur that unites the advanced imbiber and the uninitiated sampler alike. This modern rendition of an ancient Italian Apertivo is packed with aromatics that range from subtle floral to pepper zest. Its versatile use makes it perfect for the wildly popular spritz style beverage and all manner of low ABV choices. Italicus dresses up a dry martini, shines as a float in a vodka soda and sees great success in a Margarita di Siciliano.
I am not a big drinker and I love bitter things so Cynar is my favorite bottle to keep in my bar. It’s a wonderful digestif that I enjoy on a big cube with a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice. It is also so versatile in cocktails. I can mix it with espresso, lavender or passionfruit and they are all so different. And my favorite infusion to make with it is with celery root.