There are a few essential bottles that we all start with when first building out our home bars: bourbon and rye, vodka, gin, tequila and rum. There’s also the bottles of sweet and dry vermouth that are always nearby for those who love a good Martini and Manhattan. Those bottles alone will get you pretty far and allow you to make a wide variety of classic cocktails, but add just a bottle or two more and a whole new world of cocktails will open up. After you master cocktail basics, these are the five bottles you should keep on hand for next level drinks.
One surefire way to take a classic or original drink to the next level is to add some floral, aromatic St-Germain. The French elderflower liqueur is refreshingly sweet and adds a boost of flavor to almost any cocktail. Make your Margarita taste like springtime, or add a twist to a Gin & Tonic. If you’re looking for something more creative, try one of Supercall’s tried and true St-Germain cocktails. It’s a bottle that could take some time to get through if you’re not actively finding ways to incorporate it into your drinks, but once you get a taste you’ll understand why it’s on this list. Plus, the bottle looks great on your bar cart.
Green Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur with a long history. Carthusian monks in France have been making it since the 1700s using a secret blend of 130 herbs. It’s naturally green (or yellow if you opt for Yellow Chartreuse) and has both sweet and spicy flavors with vegetal notes. You can sip it on its own as a digestif, or mix it into a cocktail. Some Chartreuse-filled classics you should try first include the Last Word, Champs-Elysees and Bijou.
The Danish cherry liqueur has been around since 1818, and has a complex sweet cherry flavor. It’s made from aging cherries, spices and neutral grain spirit in a cask for up to five years. Cherry Heering is essential for the much maligned classic the Blood and Sand, as well as the tiki favorite Singapore Sling.
You know Campari from Negronis and Aperol from Aperol Spritzes. Now it’s time to bring Cynar into the mix. Cynar (pronounced chee-nar) is an Italian amaro made from 13 ingredients. The main one is artichoke, but you wouldn’t guess that from the flavor. It’s moodier and more earthy than other common amari, and works as a tasty, bitter substitute for all kinds of different cocktails. Swap out the sweet vermouth in a Manhattan, for example, or the Campari in a Negroni or Americano. Just a small amount of Cynar adds complexity to the Poison Dart, one of the only bourbon-based tiki drinks. Once you start experimenting, finding a place for Cynar is almost too easy.
Absinthe is surrounded by myths of green fairies and illegality. It’s time to get past that. The high-proof spirit comes in many different styles and colors, the most popular being verte, or green. It missed out on some prime years of cocktail culture thanks to a U.S. ban on absinthe from 1912 to 2007, but it’s still a defining flavor in some early classics like the Corpse Reviver #2, Absinthe Frappé and Sazerac. Bottles to keep an eye out for include St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte, the first legal absinthe made in the U.S., and Leopold Brothers Absinthe Verte.