Stock the Bar: What are the Best Liquors for a Home Bar?
Calling all liquor lovers! If you're like us, you love sampling different types of alcohol. But – let's be honest – doing that at a bar can get expensive. So why not create your own home bar instead? Not only will you have access to your favorite drinks, but you'll also be able to experiment with new combinations. To help get you started, we've put together a list of the best liquors for a home bar.
All of the bottles featured in this article are in our online bottle shop so that when you’re done, you can buy to your heart’s content and soon have a fully stocked bar. If stocking the bar isn’t your goal, then maybe you’re better suited to our Stock the Bar club where you can experience a variety of spirits each month.
So, let’s stock your home bar!
For a whiskey to be whiskey it must contain any combination of fermented grains, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. After distillation, it’s aged in wooden barrels (often charred white oak and old sherry casks).
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with a Rye:
- It adds spicy notes like nutmeg and cinnamon to the palate not present in other whiskey types.
- It’s great in sweet cocktails because it counterbalances the sweetness of certain cocktails.
Bottle Recommendation: Redemption Rye Whiskey
For a whiskey to be rye whiskey it must contain at least 51% rye grain. Redemption Rye Whiskey pushes that percentage to the edge, with the mash bill containing a massive 95% rye grain and 5% barley. From Indiana, Redemption Rye Whiskey brings in vanilla, oak, and citrus on the nose and palate with a long, oaky, citrusy finish perfect for classic cocktails.
Another bottle recommendation: Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Woodford Reserve is probably the best value with the best flavor. It’s a versatile spirit: enhancing any cocktail it's in and opening up brilliantly on its own in a snifter. Woodford Reserve uses the five sources of flavor to bring out the exceptional taste. A pre-prohibition-style ratio of 53% rye is in its mash bill, paying homage to history’s original rye whiskeys. Spice and tobacco are the dominant notes among a sea of fruit, floral, and sweet aromatics. This rye is balanced and nuanced, delivering complex flavors in a reasonably priced package.
Rye Whiskey Cocktail Recipe: The Sazerac
Yum, the Sazerac! This boozy classic dates back to the mid-1800s in New Orleans and is the official drink of the city. Absinthe gives this drink its signature black licorice finish.
- (3) dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- (1) sugar cube
- (1) tsp absinthe
- (1 ½) ounces Cognac
- (1) ounce Redemption Rye Whiskey
- Garnish: Lemon peel
- In a cocktail mixing glass, add the sugar cube and dash the bitters on top.
- Muddle the sugar cube with a muddler or a wooden spoon until dissolved.
- Add the cognac, rye whiskey, and absinthe.
- Fill the mixing glass with ice.
- Stir until cold. Strain the drink into a chilled low ball glass.
- Garnish with lemon peel.
Bourbon is an American-made spirit that’s barrel-aged, distilled in charred new oak barrels, and must be made of 51% corn, distilled at 160 proof, and aged for two years minimum at 125 proof. Ensuring purity, no colorings or flavorings are added to the final product.
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with a Bourbon:
- Vanilla and caramel comprise bourbon’s palate, making it perfect for warm cocktails like hot toddies.
- Bourbon adds a richer flavor for classic cocktails like a Manhattan or an Old-Fashioned.
Bottle Recommendation: Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
Elijah Craig, reverend and revered bourbon connoisseur, founded the Elijah Craig Distillery in 1789 in present-day Georgetown, Kentucky. Although he’s earned his place as the Father of Bourbon, this origin is dubious. Elijah Craig’s Small Batch Bourbon has it all. At first, the nose acquires vanilla, caramel, nut, and oak scents, intensifying with every sniff. The palate is austere, delivering subtle oak and sweet vanilla.
Bourbon Cocktail Recipe: Our Pick: Hot Toddy
The Hot Toddy cocktail is the great-grandfather of hot drinks. If you feel a sniffle coming on, this is the beverage to make. While it may not cure your cold, it’s guaranteed to make you feel better emotionally.
- (12) ounces hot water
- (1) lemon peel
- (4) cloves
- (2) tsp brown sugar
- (¼) ounce lemon juice
- (2) ounces Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
- Fill a 12-ounce mug with boiling hot water (or microwave for 1-2 minutes) and let it stand until a little cooler.
- Wrap the lemon peel around the cloves, set aside.
- Empty the mug. Then, fill it halfway with freshly boiled water.
- Add the sugar. Stir to dissolve.
- Add the lemon peel and stir.
- Add the lemon juice and bourbon. Stir again.
Tequila is a distilled, alcoholic spirit and type of mezcal. Mezcal contains a variety of agave species, but tequila only has one variety, Weber’s blue agave or agave tequilana. All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Mexican law dictates that only Mexico can produce tequila, specifically in Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas.
There are five types of tequila: Blancos (unaged), Joven (blended), Reposados (aged for up to a year), Añejos (aged for one to three years), and Extra Añejos (aged for more than three years).
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with a Tequila:
- It’s lower in calories and sugar than other liquors.
- There are five types with differing palates, making tequila extremely versatile for shots, sips in a cocktail, and savoring in a glass.
Bottle Recommendation: Mijenta Blanco Tequila
Mijenta Blanco Tequila perfectly exemplifies the Jalisco region and its namesake people. Inspired by the Spanish term “mi gente,” meaning “my people,” Mijenta Blanco Tequila is an unaged small-batch tequila built around the idea of community. Every part of Mijenta’s journey represents environmental sustainability and community support from bottle to glass. On the nose, you’ll find roasted herbal agave, steamed zucchini, vanilla, and tropical fruit. On the palate, you’ll taste rich, cooked agave flavors, vanilla, fresh fruit, and floral, rounding out with a buttery, herbal agave finish.
Tequila Cocktail Recipe: Our Pick: Tequila Sour
This recipe mashes up a classic 1920’s sour cocktail with a margarita bringing a refreshing, tart drink.
- (2) ounces Mijenta Blanco Tequila
- (1) ounce lemon juice
- (½) ounce lime juice
- (2) teaspoons agave nectar
- (2) dashes Angostura bitters
- (1) egg white*
- Garnish: lime wedge
*Optional: egg whites give the sour a thick, creamy texture.
- Add the tequila, lemon and lime juice, syrup, bitters, and the optional egg white to a cocktail shaker without ice.
- Shake for 15 seconds.
- Fill up the cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for another 30 seconds.
- Strain the drink into a glass. If you used an egg white, foam collects at the top.
- Garnish with a lime wedge.
Rum is an alcoholic beverage distilled from sugar: either pure cane sugar, syrup, or molasses. Many rums age in assorted wood casks. The wood type used determines the rum’s final color. Climate plays a critical role in the aging process, deciding how long a spirit ages. Rums produced in tropical climates age for a shorter time than those in cooler climates. This explains why you’ll most likely find dark Caribbean rums aged for only three to five years while a dark Northern American rum may age for around ten years.
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with a Rum:
- Its underlying flavor profile is sweet because it’s composed of sugar.
- Some rums offer tropical flavors like banana or coconut, while others offer spicy, smokey, or earthy flavors. This makes rum versatile for both sipping and cocktails.
Bottle Recommendation: Rhum Barbancourt 15-Year-Old Rum
This Haitian rum was originally reserved for only those close with the makers. Fortunately for us, they brought it into the public marketplace. Rhum Barbancourt aged 15-years to pure perfection, spending eight years in Limousin oak casks, seven years in American former bourbon casks. Carrying caramelized brown sugar sweetness and cinnamon on the nose, this spirit quickly grows into its flavors of tea, nuts, sugarcane, cinnamon, espresso, and oak.
Rum Cocktail Recipe: Daiquiri
Mmm, my favorite cocktail when I was a young girl–well, the virgin version, at least. The Daiquiri is an American classic, owing to its origin to mining engineer Jennings Cox. Apparently, Cox ran out of gin when making gin sours so he substituted it with rum. Turns out the drink was a wild success and we’re glad it was.
- (2) ounces light rum
- (1) ounce lime juice
- (¾) ounce simple syrup
- Garnish: lime twist or wedge
- Add the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until well-chilled.
- Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
- Garnish with a lime twist.
Gin is an alcoholic beverage derived from grain and flavored with botanicals. Its main ingredient, juniper berries, impart its signature pin flavor. There are diverse gin styles from London dry gins to contemporary gins with less pine and more subtle flavors. Although a native spirit of the Netherlands, gin is distilled and bottled globally.
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with a Gin:
- Its trademark piney taste is unmatched by any other liquor. In addition, this special flavor derived from juniper berries infuses cocktails with botanical flavors.
Bottle Recommendation: Sipsmith London Dry Gin
In 2009, Sipsmith became the first copper distillery launched in nearly two centuries bringing back the art of the small-batch to the city. Wheat comprises the gin base, with a botanical bill of angelica, coriander, and licorice. What’s more, it’s distilled using the single-shot method–meaning it's only diluted with water, not other neutral spirits. As a result, Sipsmith London Dry Gin presents classic Juniper-forward notes. The nose is an explosion of orange: orange zest and orange honey. The palate evolves slowly with pine, then a zesty orange mid-palate. Sipsmith is brimming with botanical fortitude.
Gin Cocktail Recipe: The Vesper Martini
The main ingredient in a classic martini and the gin and tonic (you can’t call it a gin and tonic without gin); gin offers the fresh taste of an Appalachian forest in one glass.
The Vesper Martini
The Vesper, also known as the Vesper Martini, is the iconic James Bond cocktail. James Bond’s author, Ian Fleming, invented the drink, naming it after a fictional double agent named Vesper Lynd, a character in Fleming’s book “Casino Royale.” Although Fleming’s instructions specifically (and famously) say “shaken, not stirred,” spirit-only beverages must only be stirred, or else the final product is a diluted mess with ice chunks floating at the top.
- (3) ounces gin
- (1) ounce vodka
- (½) ounce Lillet Blanc, or dry vermouth
- Garnish: Lemon peel
- In a cocktail shaker, combine gin, vodka, and Lillet Blanc.
- Shake well.
- Strain into a chilled martini glass.
- Garnish with lemon peel.
Vodka is a clear, colorless distilled spirit produced from grains or potatoes. Most flavoring substances dissipate during the distillation process, giving the vodka a highly neutral flavor. It can contain cheap mash bill ingredients suitable for fermentation. In Russia and Poland, cereal grains were traditionally used until potatoes grew popular.
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with a Vodka:
- It’s low in calories and sugar.
- Its mild flavor makes it the perfect complement to many fruity and acidic beverages.
- Because of its high alcohol content, it can be used as an antiseptic.
Bottle Recommendation: Young & Yonder Vodka
Made in Sonoma Country, California, Young & Yonder vodka is a corn-based vodka, distilled from 100% non-GMO California white corn–it can’t get more California than that! The profile is aromatic and flavorful with bright vanilla and citrus aromas on the nose, accompanied by fruity, vanilla flavor, followed by a mellow, lingering finish. This is an excellent choice for citrus-forward cocktails.
These are the home bar staples we recommend, but if you’re able to stretch the pocketbook a little bit more, we have other spirits to complement the ones above.
Vodka Cocktail Recipe: Dirty Martini
So, we introduced you to the gin Martini, but a Dirty Martini is a twist on this classic favorite.
- 2 ½ ounces vodka
- ½ ounce dry vermouth
- ½ ounce olive brine
- Garnish: 2 olives
- In a mixed glass filled with ice, add the vodka, vermouth, and olive brine.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with a small skewer of olives.
Best Alternative Liquors for Stocking Your Home Bar
Scotch whiskey is a distilled spirit made from malted barley. All Scotch must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years and be made in Scotland. Whiskey with an age statement is known as a No Age Statement whiskey (NAS), with the only guarantee that all the whiskey in the bottle is at least three years old. There are five categories of Scotch: single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain, and blended Scotch. There are also five regions of Scotland: The Highlands, the Lowlands, The Isle of Islay, Speyside, and Campbeltown. The flavor of the scotch reflects its region of origin (this is called terroir). For example, Highland scotches are fruity and malty whereas Islay scotches are peaty/smokey and nutty.
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with a Scotch:
- With five categories and regions of Scotch, there is a multitude of complex flavors and brands to choose from, so your palate will never get bored.
- Islay scotch adds a smokey flavor to cocktails, incredibly decadent in drinks like a whiskey sour.
Bottle Recommendation: Compass Box The Story of the Spaniard Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Compass Box Scotch Whisky showcases whiskies aged in Spanish wine casks. Its name relates to the distillery’s founder’s first introduction to sherry–just a chance encounter with a Spanish man from the South of Spain. This scotch is bottled at 43%, not chill-filtered, and all-natural in color. It’s released in small batches with the number shown on the back label. Compass Box’s whisky is a sumptuous malt blend ideal for late evening sipping or stirring into a cocktail.
Scotch Cocktail Recipe: Our Pick: Smokey Whiskey Sour
- (1) ounce Islay single malt
- (1) ounce Elijah Craig 12-Year-Old Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
- (1) ounce lemon juice
- (¾) ounces maple syrup
- (1) dash Angostura bitters
- (1) large egg white*
*Important: This is the egg white only.
- Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker.
- Fill the shaker with ¾ of ice cubes.
- Shake vigorously.
- Strain into a coupe cocktail glass.
Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic spirit made from agave species (maguey). The word mezcal derives from the Nahuatl mexcalli meaning “oven-cooked agave.” The Consejo Regulador del Mezcal (CRM) established three types of mezcal based on production technique: mezcal, made from diffusers for roasting and stainless steel vessels for fermentation; mezcal artesanal, made from stainless steel or copper stills; and mezcal ancestral, made from clay pots, roasted in pit ovens, and fermented in hollowed tree trunks.
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with a Mezcal:
- With mezcal, you can taste the terroir (the complete natural environment where a particular alcoholic beverage is produced; factors such as soil, topography, and climate)--the yeasts, nuances of other surrounding plants, and smell the roasting process.
- Like Scotch, each village and region contributes to unique flavor profiles, giving endless taster options to understand the influence of terroir.
Bottle Recommendation: Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
VIDA de San Luis Del Rio® is handcrafted in the microclimate of San Luis Del Rio, Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s an organic, artisanal Mezcal featured at an entry-level price with broad availability. It is twice-distilled, slowly in small wood-fired, riverside copper stills. Its nose consists of fruity aromatics, hints of honey, vanilla, and roasted agave; a palate offering ginger, cinnamon, burnt sandalwood, banana, and tangerine, with a long, soft finish. As we say, “viva VIDA!”
Mezcal Cocktail: Our Pick: Mezcal Negroni
When I was at university, my friend and I would watch operas and drink Negronis. It was our weekly tradition, and one I remember fondly. This traditional three-ingredient Negroni dates back to 20th century Florence, Italy. Italians enjoyed this Negroni for decades, eventually finding its way to American bars during the craft cocktail buzz of the late 1990s and early 2000s. This Mezcal Negroni is a botanical twist on the original, with its earthy, agave qualities.
- (1) ounce mezcal
- (1) ounce Campari
- (1) ounce sweet vermouth
- Garnish: orange wheel
- Add the mezcal, Campari, and sweet vermouth to a mixing glass containing ice.
- Stir until chilled.
- Strain into an Old Fashioned glass.
- Garnish with orange wheel.
Brandy is an alcoholic beverage distilled from wine or other types of fermented fruit juice. Unlike other spirits like Scotch, bourbon, or tequila, there aren’t governing rules pertaining to the percentage of any fruit used for the brandy, and it can be made anywhere in the world. Brandy is around 40-50% ABV (alcohol by volume), and 80 to 100 proof. There are several types of brandy, like grappa, fruit brandy, pomace, marc, and eau-de-vie. Apple and grape brandies are frequently aged in wood, leading to a deep amber color, whereas other varieties of brandy aren’t aged in wood leading to a transparent coloring. The Southwestern French commune of Cognac and the county of Armagnac are known for their fine brandies.
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with a Brandy:
- It’s a highly complex spirit with several blends, types, barrels, harvests, and grape varieties.
- It mixes well with other spirits like rye whiskey and sweet vermouth.
Bottle Recommendation: Jean Fillioux Cep d'Or "XO Selection" Grande Champagne Cognac
The Jean Fillioux Cep d’Or”XO” Selection” Grande Champagne Cognac is just as complex as its name reveals. It’s a refined, rich cognac aged for a minimum of twelve years on the Domaine de la Pouyade estate. This luxurious cognac is the byproduct of five generations of family expertise, containing exclusively premier cru eaux-de-vie (water of life) from the Grande Champagne terroir. The Jean Fillioux offers notes of toffee and hazelnut before petering out to dark cocoa and espresso-flavored finish. We don’t recommend wasting this stunning spirit in a cocktail (unless you’re feeling spendy). Instead, it’s the perfect evening sipper to put your feet up on the ottoman, smoke your finest Cuban, and remember the good ol’ days.
Brandy Cocktail: Sidecar
The sidecar is the most famous of the classic cognac cocktails. Likely invented around World War I, the drink features cognac (brandy), orange liqueur, and fresh lemon juice, plus a sugared rim.
- (1 ½) ounces cognac (brandy)
- (¾) ounces orange liqueur
- (¾) ounce lemon juice
- Garnish: orange twist, sugar rim
- Coat the rim of a coupe glass with sugar (optional). Set aside.
- Add cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice to a shaker with ice.
- Shake until well-chilled.
- Strain into the coupe glass.
- Garnish with an orange twist.
Amaro and Campari
Amaro and Campari are both Italian-based alcoholic liqueurs. Amaro is a high-quality liqueur made from herbs. Campari is a mixture of herbs and fruits in the solution of alcohols or sometimes water. Amaro is meant to be an after-dinner digestif, whereas Campari is a before-dinner aperitif. According to Eligio Bossetti, a historian at Villa Campari, only three individuals know the exact Campari recipe, which may contain up to 80 ingredients!
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with an Amaro:
- It’s a digestif meant to aid in digestion after a meal.
- It’s made with several macerating herbs, flowers, roots, barks, and citrus. These botanicals are perfect in drinks with other neutral spirits like vodka or gin.
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with a Campari:
- It’s an aperitif, preparing your stomach for digesting meals.
- Its depth of flavor and color add character to your cocktails.
Bottle Recommendation: Campari
Invented in 1860 by Gaspara Campari in Italy, there is only one brand of Campari called Campari. It’s currently produced by the Campari Group, which owns 45% of all global liquor brands by sales. The company now distributes the Campari brand to over 190 countries worldwide. Campari’s flavor is intense, with solid herbaceous notes, orange, bitters, and a dense texture. It tastes like drinking a bitter garden mixed with cough syrup (we promise it tastes good!--especially in a Negroni.).
Campari Cocktail: Campari Soda
Traditionally, liqueur connoisseurs like to serve Campari with soda water.
- (2) ounces soda water
- (1) ounce Campari
- Garnish: lemon or orange slice
- Pour the soda water and Campari over ice in a highball glass.
- Garnish with lemon or orange slices.
And last but certainly not least, we made it to beer. Beer is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world. It comes in third for the most popular drink after water and tea so stocking your bar with a beer is a must. It’s mainly derived from cereal grains like malted barley (most common), wheat, corn, rice, and oats are used as well.
Reasons Why You Should Stock Your Home Bar with Beer:
- It’s the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world, so chances are you’ll always have a guest who wants to drink it.
- There are thousands of brands to try so you can stock your bar with various types.
- It goes with pretty much everything: a burger, a steak, a dessert. Pick your food, and you can find a beer to match its flavor profile.
There are many different beer types to choose from:
- Stout: Similar to porters, stouts are dark, roasted ales. Stouts have less sweetness and have a trace of hops, adding bitterness to the beer. They are crisp, dry, with a bit of bitterness.
- Wheat: Wheat beers are smooth, light, and hazy. They tend to taste like spices or citrus. Hefeweizen or unfiltered wheat beer is one of the most common wheat beer styles.
- Pilsner: A type of lager, pilsner beers vary by their water, varied from neutral to hard. Pilsners are one of the hoppiest lagers with a dry, bitter flavor. They are light golden in color with a clear body and crisp finish, making them perfect for the summertime.
- Ale: ale is a general type of beer with sub-types like India-pale or brown ales. Ales are the oldest beer styles, dating back to ancient times. This beer type brews at a warm temperature for a short time. In the brewing process, brewers use top-fermenting yeasts that ferment on the top of the beer. Other ales:
- Blonde: This is another summertime favorite because of its lightly malted sweetness contrasted with a few hops. Blonde ales are pale in color, clear in body, and taste crisp, dry, and slightly bitter.
- Brown: As the name suggests, brown ales range in various brown shades from amber to brown, with notes of chocolate, caramel, citrus, or nuts. Brown ales vary from region to region since different malts and countries of origin affect the scent and flavor.
- Pale: This is an English style of ale known for its copper color and fruity scent. Similar to the English pale is the APA, American Pale Ale, a hybrid between English Pale Ale and India Pale Ale. APAs are hoppier and feature American two-row malt (Brewer’s malt). These beers pair well with spicy foods.
- India Pale Ale: When first created, India Pale Ale was an English pale ale brewed with extra hops. The reason? High levels of hops stabilized the beer to survive the long trip to India without spoiling. Depending on the hops style used, IPAs may be citrusy or resiny and piney.
- Lager: Lagers are a newer beer style with two main differences from ales. Lagers ferment at a lower temperature for a longer time, relying on bottom-fermenting yeasts instead of top-fermenting ones. These yeasts sink to the bottom of the tank. Lagers have a lighter and crisp taste. They’re lower in alcohol content and clearer in appearance. Lagers are refreshing.
- Porter: porters are a type of ale known for their black coloring, roasted malt aroma, and tasting notes. The variety of the roasted malt used in the brewing process determines the flavor of the porter which can vary from fruity to dry.
Put your pencils down, we’ve finished note-taking for the day. Gather your notes, and go to our online bottle shop to purchase all of the alcohol mentioned in the article. Or, if you’re not ready to take the plunge and stock your bar, then let us do the work for you by joining our Stock the Bar Club, a curated liquor experience. Stock your bar with gins, vodkas, whiskeys, to ensure your guests always have what they desire when they come over to your house for your next dinner party.