recommended brands
Recommended Brands

I often get asked in my classes which brands I recommend, so I’ve put together a list. There are lots of great brands that don’t appear here – that doesn’t mean I don’t like them! These are just the brands that 1) I’m familiar with and personally like and use and 2) are available nationally in the US and 3) are reasonably priced for mixing. I also love drinking local brands too, and encourage everyone to patronize their local distilleries.

Gin

  • Beefeater
  • Tanqueray
  • Fords
  • Plymouth

These are all general purpose gins that will work in most cocktail recipes. But there are hundreds of brands of gin and most of them are delicious, so get one of these basics and then start exploring!

Tequila

  • Espolon
  • Milagro
  • El Mayor

There are many other good brands. Just make sure the label says 100% agave and you’re off to a great start.

Mezcal

  • Del Maguey Vida
  • Bahnez
  • Illegal

Rum

Rum is one of the most varied spirit categories, and lots of rum drinks call for combining different kinds of rum. Here are a few of my go-to bottles in various categories.

“White” rum:

  • Cruzan
  • Plantation 3 Star
  • Note: If the ony white rum you’ve ever had is Bacardi, give something else a try. I find that it’s not to many people’s tastes, despite being everywhere, and some people think they just don’t like rum, when they really just don’t like Bacardi

Not all clear rums qualify as “white” rums for recipe purposes. You’re looking for something that’s typically 40-43% ABV and fairly light and neutral in character.

Aged/Gold/Dark rum:

  • Mount Gay Eclipse
  • Brugal Extra Viejo
  • Flor de Cana 7 & 12
  • Appleton Estate Reserve
  • Plantation Dark
  • Hamilton 86

This is a particular tricky category, because color doesn’t actually tell us much about how a rum will taste, but many recipes will specify a color. I’ve ordered this last from things that are lighter and cleaner tasting to things that are a little funkier or heavier.

Pot-Still Rum:

  • Smith & Cross (aged)
  • Doctor Bird (aged)
  • Wray & Nephew (unaged)

These are very funky, ester-y, powerful and overproof rums. You’ll mostly only want to use them if a recipe specifies a Jamaican pot-still rum. But in small quantities they can add a ton of complexity!

Black rum:

  • Goslings Black Seal
  • Myers

Martinique Rhum/Rhum Agricole:

  • Rhum JM
  • Rhum Clement

Cachaca

  • Avua
  • Novo Fogo
  • Leblon

Rye

  • Rittenhouse
  • Wild Turkey

Bourbon

  • Elijah Craig
  • Buffalo Trace
  • Woodford Reserve
  • Knob Creek
  • Makers Mark
  • Wild Turkey

Scotch

Blended Scotches for mixing into cocktails:

  • Famous Grouse
  • Dewer’s White label

Single Malt Scotch

Laphraoig (and sometimes Ardbeg) are the only ones you’ll commonly see called for in cocktails where they add an intense bit of smoke and peat. Laphraoig 10 is the moderately priced one for that. If you’re wanting to pick up a single malt for sipping and are new to Scotch, Balvenie Doublewood, Oban 14 and Aberlour are good places to start.

Irish Whiskey

  • Paddy
  • Powers
  • Redbreast 12

Vodka

Whatever you like – especially when you’re mixing it into cocktails, it doesn’t matter much. Tito’s, Schmirnoff, Absolut – they’re all going to be just fine. Better yet – buy one from your local distillery to support them. 

Brandy

For recipes calling for brandy or cognac:

  • Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
  • Hennessey VS Cognac
  • Copper & Kings American Brandy

Other kinds of brandy:

  • Lairds Straight Apple Brandy
  • Copper & Kings Apple Brandy
  • Barsol Pisco
  • Pisco Porton

Aquavit

  • Norden 
  • Aalborg Taffel (if you can’t get Norden)

Vermouth

  • Cocchi Vermouth di Torino sweet vermouth
  • Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • Dolin dry vermouth
  • Dolin blanc vermouth

The most important thing about vermouth is to make sure it’s fresh! Buy half bottles, store them in the refrigerator, and use them up within a couple/few months.

Orange liqueur

Many cocktails call for orange liqueur, triple sec, or orange curacao. These are all basically the same thing! If you’re only going to have one, get a bottle of Cointreau and use it for all of those things. If you like making tiki drinks, then grab a bottle of Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao as well or instead.

Bitters

The following are essential. But it’s fun to play with other varieties. Bittermens and Bittercube are both brands that make a variety of interesting, well made bitters. For the most part I do not like Fee Bros bitters – they are glycerin rather than alcohol based which gives them a distinct and sometimes overwhelming sweet flavor.

  • Angostura Bitters (original, white label with yellow bottle top)
  • Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Regan’s Orange Bitters #6
  • Chocolate bitters – these are not as essential as the others, but are becoming increasingly so. Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters are the category leader for a (mildly) spicy chocolate bitters. I also like Scrappy’s chocolate bitters for straight-up chocolate intensity.