The 28 Best Spirits for Your Bar Cart in 2020 and Beyond

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Credit: MIGUEL PONS JUSTO S.A

It’s safe to say that this week (and month, and year) calls for a cocktail or two. That’s why here at Kitchn, we decided that it was high time to launch our first ever Kitchn Essentials, Bar Edition, the ultimate guide to drinking at home in this Very Strange Year.

A complete guide to drinking would be pretty, well, incomplete without a list of the best spirits for sipping on the rocks, shaking into cocktails, or even transforming into mocktails. By the time you get through them all, your Quarantinis will never be the same. Here are our 28 top picks.

Gin for Gin and Tonic: Xoriguer Gin de Mahón

A crisp, refreshing G&T calls for a spirit with backbone, our experts say. This old-school gin comes complete with a romantic back story of wild juniper (the only thing it’s scented with) gathered from the mountains of the tiny Mediterranean island where it’s distilled. Fans of a piney punch only need apply.

Buy: Xoriguer Gin de Mahón, $44.96 for 1 liter at Astor Wines

Credit: Fords London Gin

Gin on a Budget: Fords Gin

“This budget gin might become your forever gin,” bartender Josh Gandee says of this London distilled bottle that’s made by former bartenders who refused to cut any corners whatsoever. This workhorse shines whether it’s with soda or a martini.

Buy: Fords Gin, $24.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Barr Hill Reserve

Gin When You’re Splurging: Barr Hill Tom Cat Reserve Gin

It took a beekeeper to bring us this London dry-style gin. With only raw, organic Vermont honey and juniper for the botanicals, the gin rests three to four months in new American oak casks where it picks up the notes of ginger, caramel, and vanilla that make it so special for slow sipping on ice with an orange twist or in a stirred drink.

Buy: Barr Hill Tom Cat Reserve Gin, $57.99 for 750ml at Caskers

Credit: Belize Spirits Marketing, Inc

Rum for Mixing: Copalli White Rum

If you like piña coladas … or mojitos or daiquiris, this is the rum you’ve been looking for. This Belize rum is truly organic, with tons of natural flavor and no additives, Jordan Hughes (aka High-Proof Preacher) says, making it incredible no matter your cocktail of choice.

Buy: Copalli White Rum, $29.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Diplomático Rum

Rum for Sipping: Diplomático Rum Reserva Exclusiva

A runaway favorite among Kitchn editors, this Venezuelan rum plays for keeps with cinnamon, vanilla, and burnt sugar notes. Sip it slowly and enjoy that smooth, beautifully long finish.

Buy: Diplomático Rum Reserva Exclusiva, $39.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: WILLIAM GRANT & SONS LIMITED

Scotch Under $40: Monkey Shoulder

We thought it’d be a challenge for our experts to pick a budget Scotch, but many of them came up with this right away. It’s a blended Scotch best for using in cocktails. And look, it “might not be the Scotch you always reach for, but one you’ll turn to in a pinch,” Josh says.

Buy: Monkey Shoulder, $35.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Compass Box

Scotch When You’re Splurging: Compass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky

Don’t let the name or bottle fool you. “This is one of those Scotches that draws you in with its unassuming packaging, and keeps you pouring due to the complexities of flavor,” Josh says. “If you can dream it, you can taste it in this blend.”

Read more: Compass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky

Credit: Russian Standard Vodka

Vodka on a Budget: Russian Standard

For a whiskey bar bartender in the heart of bourbon country to say they can drink a vodka straight, well, that’s basically all we needed to hear about this stuff. Felicia Corbett, a Master of Potions and Whiskey Guardian in Louisville, KY, says this multiple award winner is “really clean tasting and one of the only ones that I can drink neat.”

Buy: Russian Standard, $21.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Double Cross Vodka

Vodka When You’re Splurging: Double Cross Vodka

So we’re filtering vodka through diamond dust now, got it? Each batch of Double Cross vodka gets filtered SEVEN times through diamond dust, charcoal, and limestone filters. “The stuff is as smooth as can be,” Tammie Teclemarian, a freelance food and drinks writer, says. “Perfect for drinking cold and neat.”

Buy: Double Cross Vodka, $34.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Haas Brothers

Tequila on a Budget: Cimarron Blanco

How do you take your tequila? Doesn’t matter, you’re covered with this budget pick. It “sips well over ice, but also doesn’t mind getting its hands dirty in some great cocktails,” Josh says. And Tammie gives it a thumbs up for a “clean, mellow agave flavor” that works great in drinks or a round of shots.

Buy: Cimarron Blanco, $25.99 for 1 liter at Drizly

Credit: Cabeza Tequila

Tequila When You’re Splurging: Tequila Cabeza

The good news is you don’t have to splurge too much to get a great tequila. “For the price you’ll be blown away by what’s inside,” Josh says. “This tequila is great for filling up Paloma pitchers or for pouring into an open can of Squirt.” Sold.

Buy: Tequila Cabeza, $34.99 for 750ml at Total Wine & More

Credit: Courtesy of Lunazul

Tequila for Margaritas: Lunazul Blanco Tequila

A few of our experts gave a particular nod to this straightforward, 100% agave tequila. It’s relatively cheap but high quality, Felicia says. “This is the tequila I cut my teeth on in Mexico,” Kitchn contributor Dana McMahan says, and “the only bottle I’ll grab when I’m mixing up margs.”

Buy: Lunazul Blanco Tequila, $24.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Mezcal Union

Mezcal: Mezcal Unión Uno

This is a fruit-forward mezcal handcrafted by the union of mezcalerias families in Oaxaca. It’s created from two types of maguey (or agave) and roasted for days, giving it the smoky essence mezcal is known for. “It’s well-balanced and great on its own or in cocktail making,” says Kitchn’s Studio Food Editor Amelia Rampe.

Buy: Mezcal Unión Uno, $36.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Old Forester

Whiskey for Classic Cocktails: Old Forester 100 Proof

Both our bourbon country experts picked Old Fo. “This is basically Louisville’s house bourbon,” Dana says. “It’s always on my bar, and always my go-to for an Old Fashioned.” At 100 proof, it “stands up to ingredients and still shines through,” says Felicia.

Buy: Old Forester 100 Proof, $32.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Laphroaig

Whiskey from Outside America: Laphroaig 10 Year Cask Strength

Think you know smoky Scotches? This one’s cranked up to an 11, Jordan says. “It’s definitely a slow sipper, but it’s perfect for cold winter nights.” Just add a wool tartan lap blanket for ultimate cozy.

Buy: Laphroaig 10 Year Cask Strength, $84.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Kirin Company

Bourbon for Non-Bourbon People: Four Roses Small Batch

If you don’t like bourbon, you may just need to try again. Start with this easy sipper. With notes of vanilla and oak, “almost no burn and a creamy mouthfeel, this bourbon will make anyone a true bourbon fan,” Jordan says.

Buy: Four Roses Small Batch, $37.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Wild Turkey Bourbon

Bourbon on a Budget: Wild Turkey 101

The kickin’ chicken may be one of the most unfairly underrated bourbons out there, but 101 is a classic for a reason. “With so many country songs written about or because of it, they’ve got to be onto something, right?” Josh says. We agree. Hey, if it’s good enough for Master Distiller and bourbon legend Jimmy Russell — who’s been known to choose this as his go-to — it’s good enough for all of us.

Buy: Wild Turkey 101, $37.99 for 1 liter at Drizly

Credit: Buffalo Trace Distillery

Bourbon When You’re Splurging: E.H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel

Rounding out your top shelf? Build it around this Bottled-in-Bond beauty. Aged in a century-plus old warehouse in Kentucky’s rolling hills, “this one is definitely a bourbon you want to take your time with to truly appreciate,” Jordan says. Sip slowly as you reflect on “notes of oak, various spice, maple syrup, figs, and orange peel.” And pay attention to the sweet finish.

Buy: E.H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel, $84.24 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Louisville Distilling Co. LLC

Spirit to Give as a Gift: Angels Envy Rye

This rum cask-finished whiskey drinks like the wings of angels, Dana says. “This was one of my favorite Valentine presents ever, so I can 100 percent vouch for it as a gift.” Bonus: If you’re in (or planning a trip to) Louisville, you can visit the downtown distillery, Felicia says, and have it engraved.

Buy: Angels Envy Rye, $109.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Chartreuse

Herbal Liqueur: Chartreuse

Looking to add that je ne sais quoi to a cocktail? Think yellow chartreuse. “Sweet and mysterious, it adds a ton of incredible flavors and depth to a drink,” Jordan says. Or keep it simple and pour the syrupy French goodness over ice with sparkling water, et voila: instant cocktail. It’s also delicious in hot chocolate. You know, in case it’s that kind of winter.

Buy: Chartreuse, $34 for 350ml at Drizly

Credit: Distilleries et Domaines de Provence

Anise Liqueur: Henri Bardouin Pastis

Made of 50 herbs and spices (21 of which are secret ingredients) this intriguing bottle will keep you coming back. Which is kind of the idea. “In France, pastis is the cheapest thing you can get in a bar and you just keep filling up your glass with water to kill time, so I always like to buy it in a liter bottle to encourage long pours,” Tammie says.

Buy: Henri Bardouin Pastis, $30.99 for 750 ml at Drizly

Credit: Campari Group

Bitter Orange Liqueur: Aperol

Popular with our experts (and you know, the world), this is the key to the classic and trendy Aperol Spritz. But! “Remember there is more to this special liqueur than summer spritzes,” Jordan says. “It also goes incredibly well with whiskey and gin cocktails.”

Buy: Aperol, $29.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Courtesy of Cointreau

Bottle to Channel Your Inner Ina: Cointreau

Back in April, Ina showed all her Instagram followers how to make Cosmopolitans by the PITCHER. Her recipe calls for one cup of any sort of orange liqueur but Queen Ina uses Cointreau, which means we should all use Cointreau.

Buy: Cointreau, $38.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: St. George Spirits

Bitter Red Liqueur: St. George Bruto Americano

Everyone knows Campari, but there is a whole world of bitter red liqueurs. The “herby bitterness and California citrus make this bitter red liqueur a distinctive choice for your Negronis,” says Tammie. Also: “This stuff shines simply with ice and seltzer as well,” she says.

Buy: St. George Bruto Americano, $29.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Pavan

Floral Liqueur: Pavan

Yes, yes, we know and love St. Germain, aka “bartender’s ketchup,” as one of our experts dubbed it. But for a subtler sweetness laced with orange blossom, you’ll want this gorgeous Art Nouveau bottle on your bar. Ketchup it’s not, but Pavan plays as well with whiskey and gin as it does soda or bubbly.

Buy: Pavan, $32.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Patron

Booze for Election Night: Patrón XO Cafe

Bound to be the 2020-est night of 2020, you might want something strong for November 3rd. Josh picks this stuff. “It’s delicious, it’s sweet without being saccharine, and more importantly it’s made with coffee so you can stay up to watch results without having to tape your eyes open.”

Buy: Patrón XO Cafe, $24.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Booker's Bourbon

Best Way to Spend $100: Booker’s Bourbon

This straight-from-the-cask and unfiltered bourbon may not be a beginner’s whiskey at eye-watering proofs (the one we just tried was 126.5 proof!), but that’s kind of the idea. Released in batches — and ranging from $75 to north of $100 — each one will bring its own barrel-bestowed gifts, like hints of baking spices and candy corn, to the proverbial party.

Buy: Booker’s Bourbon, $84.99 for 750ml at Drizly

Credit: Ritual Zero Proof

Alcohol-Free Spirit: Ritual Zero Proof Tequila Alternative

What if you must have a margarita, but not so much on the tequila? This is “definitely the best product for making booze-free margaritas,” Jordan says. “It’s pretty amazing how it closely replicates the aroma, flavors, and even the subtle burn of tequila.”

Buy: Ritual Zero Proof Tequila Alternative, $26.99 for 25.4 ounces

Credit: Photo: Andria Lo; Prop Styling: Anna Raben