When we first start to drink, the spirits that we experience usually aren’t expensive, eclectic or too challenging—but they’re often our gateway liquors to bigger, more expensive and generally better things. Sometimes we enjoy them so much, or develop such a strong nostalgia for drinking them, that no matter how developed our palate gets, they’ll always have a place in our bar rotation. From intense, herbal Jägermeister, to birthday cake-flavored vodka, here are seven spirits that everyone must experience at least once. Whether you’re looking to prime your palate or want to revisit your first drinking experiences, these spirits should be on your bucket list of cheap booze to give a chance.
Everyone must experience an ice cold Jäger shot at least once in their life—preferably with Rammstein’s Du Hast blasting on the stereo to accompany it. While the rustic German liqueur is definitely an acquired taste, it’s not as bitter or intense as Italian amari like Fernet, so it’s a great gateway spirit for other European herbal liqueurs in the same category. If you’re too reluctant to shoot it straight, you can mix Jägermeister into a more approachable, sippable cocktail.
If you didn’t experience Fireball in college at least once, you probably had your nose deep into the books or were the anti-social, non-partying type of student. Known for its balance of sweetness, fiery cinnamon flavor and shootability, Fireball is a required drinking experience. If millions of people drink it regularly and swear by the spirit, its cinnamon-sugar charms must be doing something right.
Your first experience with tequila is guaranteed to be a rough time, so you might as well keep it as cost effective as you can. Jose Cuervo, with its troubling caramel-colored-hue, is tequila with training wheels. Once you experience a Cuervo hangover, you’ll either swear off agave-based liquors forever or recognize a 100-percent agave tequila immediately when it’s poured for you. Whatever you do, make sure to mix your Cuervo into a Margarita, or shoot it alongside a lime wedge and salt.
Not only is Jameson whiskey a great introduction to the ever-growing category of Irish whiskies, it’s also the perfect spirit to familiarize yourself with drinking (or shooting) a whiskey straight. Smooth, honeyed and extremely easy to drink, Jameson is one of the most popular whiskies in the world for good reason. Whether you choose to shoot it or sip it in a Highball with a piquant topper of ginger beer, there really is no wrong way to experience this Irish whiskey.
There’s no drinking experience as life altering as your first Irish Car Bomb. You will never forget how it made you feel—the way that your gut rumbles in displeasure on contact with the curdling cream—and the smell of Baileys on your clothes after drinking a round of the creamy beertails. If you’re not up to the Irish Car Bomb challenge, you can always play it safe and try Baileys as a topper for coffee in place of milk. Regardless, the sweet and creamy spirit is a must-try.
While Malibu tastes more like suntan lotion than coconuts, it’s still a required drinking experience. And there’s no better time to revel in its tropical glory than at a beachside bar. Whatever you do, never ever (like never, ever, ever) order Malibu straight or as a shot. Your Malibu experience should be one you remember and don’t regard with disdain. To have the optimal Malibu experience, order the syrupy liqueur in a Highball with pineapple juice and a splash of seltzer. It’s literally like sunshine in a glass.
Birthday Cake Vodka
It doesn’t have to be your birthday to drink birthday cake vodka. And yes, it does taste like uncooked cake batter mixed with gasoline and nail polish remover. But, you’re going to be a better human being if you can regale stories of how you drank a bottle of the sugary flavored vodka and lived to tell about it. Just remember that nothing you mix it with will make it taste any less like birthday cake.