These Are the Bottles That Bartenders Can’t Live Without

Courtesy of Tamworth Distilling
Courtesy of Tamworth Distilling

We often think about what bottle we’d like to be stranded with on a desert island. Some days we’d choose a nice overproof rum so we could pour it into freshly cracked coconuts. Other times we’d pick an American whiskey to remind us of home. Because we wonder what other folks would choose, we asked 32 bartenders to tell us about the one bottle they couldn’t live without. From bubbly Champagnes to the salt and pepper of the cocktail world, these are their all-time favorite bottles.

Von Humboldt’s Natur Wasser Turmeric

“The one bottle I can’t live without right now is the Von Humboldt’s Turmeric Cordial from Tamworth Distilling. Often, I can be found drinking it at home over soda. It’s both low-ABV and made with ginger, galangal and, of course, turmeric. It’s a great option when taking a little break from higher proof spirits because it still has some bite. I’ve fallen in love with mixing it to make Margaritas or white Negroni riffs. They are always a hit at home with my friends or guests behind the bar.” - Amanda Whitt, Prizefight Irish Whiskey

Cherry Heering

“I can't live without Cherry Heering because [it] is so versatile. It plays nice with everything from two-ingredient cocktail builds like a Royale to more complicated eight-ingredient builds like the Singapore Sling. It pairs well with champagne, gin, genever, scotch, vodka, rum and so much more.” - Art Sutley, Bar Business Magazine

Chateau Vannieres Bandol Rosé

“If the Chateau Vannieres Bandol Rosé was discontinued, I would be very sad because it has been my go-to, not-so-basic rosé summer sipper this year. However, if there was a fire, I'd probably save the Chateau de Beaucastel Chateaneuf du Pape from 2003 or the Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve from the ‘70s that I got my hands on, both currently sitting in my wine fridge.” - Morgan Perry, Yoga Unwined

Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro

“Currently, Lo-Fi Aperitifs' Gentian Amaro is the one bottle I can't live without. Its versatility and flavor profile are unmatched. I love that it is wine-based and made with natural ingredients. It’s also light, bitter and floral all at the same time, which means I can drink it by itself, add it as a splash to cocktails like a Paloma, or use it in a spritz. I’ve been drinking Lo-Sé Spritzes all summer. It’s Lo-Fi’s Gentian amaro, rosé, club soda and a grapefruit slice, which ties the whole thing together. It's very easy to make and perfectly refreshing for hot summer days or nights.” - Victoria Canty, The Fat Radish

J.A.B. Sugar Cane EXO Rum

"J.A.B. Sugar Cane EXO Rum is complex, smooth and local to the Bahamas. Single-barrel aged in American white oak for 12 years, this English-style rum has wonderful notes of vanilla, dried sultanas, apricots and a butterscotch aroma. J.A.B. Botanical Spirits are distilled by Bahamian 1er Cru, a wine and spirits boutique minutes away from Baha Mar, and I always keep a bottle at the bar." - Derrick Blackmon, Baha Mar

Amaro Montenegro

"Amaro Montenegro is a great mixer for shots because it goes with everything: You can mix it with mezcal, rye, bourbon or rum. You do half of anything and half of Amaro Montenegro, and it’s a delicious shot that you can cater to anybody’s palate. For anybody who thinks doing a shot of whiskey is going to kill them, it adds a little sweetness and smoothness. At The Penrose, one of our most popular shots is a six month barrel-aged mixture of Amaro Montenegro and dark rum. At first, people aren’t sure they’re going to like it, but then everybody loves it, to their surprise. I’ve heard people refer to it as ‘herby’ because it has a subtle, floral, rose petal aroma. It’s great for adding to other cocktails as well, like a Manhattan. It’s one of the bottles that we use most often behind the bar and a go-to shot mixer for me." - Matthew Tellier, The Penrose

Giffard Abricot du Roussillon

“One of my favorites in the arsenal is Giffard Abricot [apricot liqueur]. It’s so juicy and aromatic, and when properly used, guests really gravitate towards the flavors.” - Aaron Polsky, Harvard & Stone

Yellow Spot Irish Whiskey

"Yellow Spot Irish Whiskey is my go-to. I don’t drink much at home at all, but there’s always a bottle of Yellow Spot in my house for whenever anyone comes over for a nightcap or an impromptu celebration. It always shows up on special occasions—when I got married, when my friends got married—and there’s always a photo of us having a Yellow Spot at 9 or 10 in the morning. When Ireland qualified for the Euros a few years ago, I remember watching the game at a friend’s house and, of course, we broke out the Yellow Spot to celebrate. I think it’s universally well-liked. It’s very smooth, but it has a really good, aggressive aftertaste—you get all the vanilla flavors. Anytime someone’s coming over from back home in Ireland, I ask them to pick up a bottle at duty-free." - Richie Blaine, Bua


"At home or work I need a bottle of Aperol. One of the most important cocktails to the modern drunkard is the Aperol Spritz. You can drink these pretty much anytime of the day. Perfect one drink cocktail. Perfect 10 drink cocktail. Easy to make at home. Recipe is on the back of the bottle. Easy to order at the bar, and most bartenders don’t mind making it, if not happy to. It’s simple yet sophisticated and damn delicious." - Avery Underhill, Break Room 86

Taylor Chip Dry White Port

"I’ve been really vibing on Taylor Chip Dry White Port after traveling in Portugal this spring. I’d always been obsessed with fortified wines like sherry and vermouth, and after visiting the Taylor Fladgate cellars in Porto with my mom, we decided that white port is the best thing ever. For most people, I think ‘port’ immediately brings to mind red, syrupy, thick dessert wine, but this is a beautiful, light aperitivo. White port and tonic is the thing that everyone drinks in Portugal—young, old, male, female. It’s not gendered. Every demographic likes it. You can drink it on ice or add a twist of lemon or throw some tonic in it. You can sip on it and substitute it in so many cocktails, like for the sweet vermouth in a White Negroni or for the dry vermouth in a Perfect Manhattan. A bottle of white port makes such a lovely gift to give someone, and it’s a great thing to have on hand, especially in hot weather.” - Melissa Derfler, The Wren

Contratto Vermouth Bianco

“My personal desert island bottle would be Contratto Vermouth Bianco. Not only does vermouth contribute interest to many classic cocktails, but I’ve been finding ways to use it just about anywhere. Plus, it’s such high quality it even makes for a fine sipper all by itself on the rocks—accent with a citrus peel and you're in business” - Nikki Guard, Tag Restaurant Group

Angostura Bitters

"I would say a bottle I can’t live without would be Angostura bitters. I love it in all forms because it is very versatile in the kitchen and bar. I love making Angostura bitters milkshakes, [or] Bitters and Soda. I love making a cranberry sauce and adding some dashes of Angostura, and of course it is the perfect seasoning to any cocktail!" - Brynn Smith, Sotto and Rossoblu

"I'd probably say Angostura bitters. It's versatile to use and gives depth in cocktails. Angostura bitters to cocktails is like salt and pepper to food. A chef can make an amazing meal, but you need salt and pepper to tweak it to perfection. Angostura bitters gives you that slight edge." - Linda Linh, La Descarga

Rittenhouse Rye

"To me, there’s nothing better than a good Manhattan, and at a price point of around $25, you can’t do better than Rittenhouse Rye. It’s bottled in bond, high proof and super spicy. With just rye, a little bit of Carpano Antica, a glass and some ice, you can make a restaurant-standard Manhattan at home and feel like a baller. And you can impress your friends with a great drink without having to worry about fresh juices or fancy syrups. It’s also great in a Boulevardier! Instead of the traditional equal parts, I make mine with 1.5 oz rye to .75 oz Campari and .75 oz Carpano Antica so that the rye’s flavor comes through more against the amaro and the vermouth. You don’t always need to use something expensive like Whistle Pig in a cocktail. Rittenhouse is a great value and super tasty." - Turlough O’Neill, Wilfie & Nell

Larmandier-Bernier Longitude Champagne

“If there’s one bottle I can’t live without, it’s got to be Champagne, specifically Larmandier-Bernier’s ‘Longitude.' Sophie & Pierre Larmandier run the family domaine in the village of Vertus, farming all of their own vineyards according to biodynamic practices. The Longitude is perfect for all occasions: made from 100-percent Chardonnay [grapes] grown in four different premier cru and grand cru villages, you can drink it straight through dinner or have it for breakfast. Sophie and Pierre are extremely gracious hosts, hard working farmers and gifted winemakers, and I could not live without their Champagne!” - Michael Elmore, Arcana

Giffard Crème Pamplemousse Grapefruit Liqueur

"I think Giffard Pamplemousse grapefruit liqueur is a must-have for a cocktail maker. It adds a zing to a drink, much like Cocchi, but with a different flare. Most cocktails have a citrus base and a sweet base, and Pamplemousse adds another sweet dimension without being offensive or overly grapefruit-heavy. It has a nice, sweet, citrusy flavor that tastes like fresh fruit, but when you add it to a cocktail, no one can ever even detect that it’s grapefruit. You can add it to almost anything: It goes fantastically with bourbon or vodka or gin, and it pairs nicely with honey, ginger or tea flavors. I actually haven’t found anything that it won’t go with. When a guest asks me to make something off-menu, there’s one drink I make that is extremely malleable: mezcal (or tequila, or any spirit, really), lemon, Pamplemousse, honey and ginger, poured over a rock or crushed ice or up, however you want to serve it. Many people use Lillet or Cocchi to add another layer of intrigue to their cocktails—Pamplemousse is my go-to instead." - John Warren, The Bonnie

Manzanilla Sherry

“Without hesitation, it’s a bottle of manzanilla sherry. This wine is one of the most versatile ingredients out there and can fit into any style of drinkers’ wheelhouse—nothing is off the table. Its bright acidity, tannic structure and mouthwatering salinity give the wine its identity and allow it to play a strong supporting role or be the main attraction. Crushed ice and fresh fruit make for a refreshing cobbler; split-base cocktails can bring delicious low-ABV results; substitute it for vermouth in a Martini (a few oysters wouldn’t hurt, either); or just pour yourself a fat glass and do your happy dance.” - Mclain Hedges and Mary Allison Wright, The Proper Pour, RiNo Yacht Club and Morin

Nastro D'Oro Monte San Costanzo Amaro Liqueur

"At Felix, we have curated a fantastic selection of esoteric amari. My favorite find is Nastro D'Oro Monte San Costanzo Amaro Liqueur from Campania, Italy. A great alternative to Fernet-Branca, this amaro has a similar flavor profile but is hotter and dryer on the palate. I like to drink it on the rocks with a lemon twist." - Eli Kestenbaum, Felix

Edmond Vatan Sancerre Clos la Néore

“One wine I must always have in my possession has to be Domaine Edmond Vatan Clos la Néore Sancerre. The first vintage I had the pleasure of enjoying was 2011, and it was like nothing I had experienced before. It was fleshy and lush on my palate with a solid mineral drive. Aromas of ripe quince mingled with crisp apples, zesty citrus, green melon, apricots, herbs and white flowers. Its complexity was profound and I was completely in awe. When I read Sancerre on its label and realized the wine was entirely Sauvignon Blanc, I was even more beguiled. In this bottle, I had found an outlier to everything I thought I disliked about Sauvignon Blanc. An obsession grew out of this moment. Vatan’s production is tiny, but it has not deterred my efforts to collect these rare, age-worthy bottles. Clos la Néore has even spurred a discovery and love for wines of other artisanal vignerons from the exceptional terroir of Chavignol.” - Anncherie Saludo, L’Artusi


"Bartenders need to have a good orange liqueur at arm's reach. Cointreau is always present in my home bar. It's extremely versatile and can be used with just about any spirit to take a good cocktail to greatness. A 'Coin Style' Margarita is my personal favorite Marg style, and the name, afterall, is derived from Cointreau." - John Richards, Los Chingones

Rhum Clement Creole Shrub

“A quality orange liqueur is a staple in any bartender's arsenal, so choosing one that is balanced and can be used in a variety of applications is key. Clement Creole Shrubb is bold and powerful enough to stand out in complex cocktails, but also balanced enough to be the perfect compliment in simpler drinks like a classic Margarita.” - Chad Michael George, The Way Back

Diplomatico Planas

“One of our current favorite bottles behind the bar has become Diplomatico Planas. This Spanish-style rum from Venezuela is aged up to six years and then charcoal filtered up to six times. The end result is a clear rum that has body and structure on par with any darker aged rums. They also bottle the rum at 47 percent, adding to the richness of it.” - Gram Howle, The Ordinary

Casa Magdalena

“I always have a bottle of Casa Magdalena on hand—a Spanish-style rum from Guatemala, aged in Portland at the House Spirits Distillery. Every sip is crafted from sugar cane that is seeded, planted, harvested and distilled by the Leal family at Ingenio Magdalena. With an earthy, complex flavor of grass and tropical notes, this rum is perfect for cocktails and makes the most delicious Daiquiri." - Shel Bourdon, Two Roads Hospitality

Blanc Vermouth

"Easy answer—blanc/bianco vermouth. I love it. It has gotten to the point where my staff makes fun of me. Need a little more complexity in a refreshing, shaken cocktail? Blanc vermouth. Want to round out a bitter cocktail, but want to keep it light enough for summer? Blanc vermouth. Need a base for a low-ABV cocktail that still tastes like you’re drinking booze? You guessed it. It’s refreshing but complex and has the perfect balance of sweet and dry elements all on its own. I’m pretty partial to Dolin Blanc. The white fruit and floral notes give it an understated elegance." - Kacey Liebes, Counting House

Albert Boxler Riesling Sommerberg

“The one bottle I can't live without is Albert Boxler Riesling Grand Cru Sommerberg. It's available at our restaurants, Little Park and Lafayette. There are few wines which provide the unadulterated flavors and deliciousness of top Alsatian Grand Cru. This has the added benefit of a unique sense of place, minuscule production, unbelievably versatile with food (or without!) and is made by an amazing family from an impossibly steep vineyard. It’s pure magic! - Josh Nadel, NoHo Hospitality Group

Alexander Jules Manzanilla Sherry

"I would probably say Alexander Jules manzanilla sherry. It’s like my ketchup—I find a way to put it in everything because it adds a bit of nutty savory-ness and keeps my cocktails from getting too sweet. It’s one of my four most used ingredients, the others are Maldon smoked salt, vanilla extract and orange bitters." - Gaby Mlynarczyk, Accomplice Bar

Varnelli Amaro Dell'Erborista

Varnelli Amaro Dell'Erborista is my go-to amaro of choice to cap off a night of festivities. There's something deeply refreshing (and even sobering) about sipping on this balanced and complex Italian bitter." - Jhonel Faelnar, Atoboy and Atomix

El Silencio Espadin Mezcal

"The one bottle I probably couldn’t go without would be El Silencio Espadin Mezcal. A well balanced mezcal that you can just shoot straight up, slowly sip, mix with citrus for a mezcal Margarita or simply add mole bitters, a little agave simple, stir to chill and you’re good to go!" - Joel Martinez, Madame Siam

Old Grand-Dad

“Jim Beam Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Bourbon, which is named after the distiller's grandfather, Basil Hayden. It's affordable, nice to sip by itself and works great in Manhattans and other cocktails. It's almost always on sale in PA and is just a Philly bartender's go-to. I love it so much, I even have a tattoo of the bottle!" - Zach Kessler, Royal Boucherie

The Macallan 12 Year

"I always have a bottle of Macallan 12 Year somewhere at home. There's a sweetness from the dried fruits, and then there are some ginger notes. It reminds me of my hometown, Alsace, and is the perfect drink after a long day. I usually enjoy it neat, sometimes with a splash of water." - Maxime Heitz, Le Coq Rico

Del Maguey Vida Mezcal

“For my at-home bar, I would always have a bottle of Del Maguey Vida Mezcal. It’s an agave-based spirit that is bright with peppery notes that has a nice balance between sweet and smoky. It makes an amazing mezcal margarita for outdoor barbecues, but it also appeases the single malt scotch drinker. Great for making cocktails. At The Lost Lady, we’re currently making a cocktail called Red Baron with Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, fresh lemon juice, agave, fresh strawberry, mint, Angostura bitters and soda water. I love it.” - Jason Mendenhall, The Lost Lady, Goodnight Sonny, The Wayland and The Wild Son

Occhipinti Red SP68

“I fell in love with the red SP68 from Occhipinti. It's pretty hard to find today, but we carry it at Loosie Rouge. We have only a few bottles left, and I heard there is already some shortage for next year. I may keep the last few for me in a secret place otherwise I don’t know how I could survive next year!” - Vincent Marino, Loosie Rouge and Loosie’s Kitchen & Cafe