Ready for a drink? (Of the alcoholic or non-alcoholic variety?) So are we. But how should we stock our home bars for 2020 and beyond? Welcome to Kitchn Essentials: Bar Edition, a guide (from us and a fabulous panel of experts) to the very best beer, wine, liquor, gear, and more.
Shipped to the U.S. in refrigerated containers to ensure its green apple and honeydew melon flavors are as fresh and its spritziness is as vibrant as they are in Portugal, Vinho Verde is sort of like the flavored seltzer of the wine world. "Its crisp simplicity is part of what makes it so refreshing — and its low alcohol makes it perfect for an at-home happy hour," says Diane.
Sunny Spain is the place to go for value in red wine, and this stuff has been reliably great vintage after vintage. It's the kind of hearty, honest, fruity red — with flavors of black cherry, plums, and a hint of violet, and enough tannin to stand up to a burger — that isn't earth-shattering, but you'd always be glad to find in your wine rack at the end of a long day.
From 1,000- to 1,600-foot elevation vineyards on Napa's Mount Veeder, this wine has big tannins; dark, plummy fruit flavors; that brambly, black-currant character reminiscent of berry picking; and loads of dark chocolate and vanilla from toasty oak. This would make an impressive gift — and no one would ever know it was once in the same cart as laundry detergent and granola bars.
If you're adding wine to your order of hand sanitizer and the watercolor kit you're sure you'll use one of these weekends, Josh is a solid choice to add to your cart. It's a soft, easy-drinking red blend that has a ripe fruit character and plush texture that is like the wine equivalent of a cozy throw blanket.
Chardonnay from the outskirts of France's Muscadet region has a refreshing lightness, and because it's not the region's signature varietal, it tends to be very affordable. "A great backdrop to simple weeknight dishes like sheet pan chicken and root veggies, or pasta with mushrooms and whatever else you dig out of the produce drawer, with flavors of slightly underripe pear and Meyer lemon. This is also a great bath wine, accompanied by Epsom salts and a juicy novel," Diane suggests.
The name of this winery is almost too on the nose, because this really is a textbook Napa cab. From prime sites in Napa and its more prestigious Oakville subregion, it's rich and smooth, with flavors of black cherry, currant, and clove, and tannins that are firm but won't suck your mouth dry. Year after year, it's an amazing value that makes a lot of other Napa Valley wineries look like they're overcharging.
The best pinot grigio comes from Trentino Alto-Adige, a beautiful area of Northern Italy. Its proximity to the Alps gives the region strong Sound of Music vibes, and the wines are as fresh and pure as the mountain air. Pinot grigio has an undeserved reputation for being boring, but good PG is anything but. Take our budget pick, for example: Tiefenbrunner's PG is weighty without being cloying, with flavors of ripe apples and pears that make it a wonderful white all year.
Finding a great pinot noir for less than $20 is tough, as pinot is a finicky, expensive-to-grow grape. But Prisma has managed to turn out a perfect cool-climate Chilean pinot noir, with tangy cranberry and rhubarb flavors and just a hint of earthiness. It's hand-harvested, sustainably-farmed, and the perfect accompaniment to a cheese and charcuterie plate that might have been a sophisticated appetizer in the Before Times, but, now, is dinner.
California sauvignon blanc — when it's done well — is the wine equivalent of someone who jogs on the beach every morning and has a rustic-chic house filled with really expensive scented candles. "Lemony crisp, this sauvignon blanc has none of the overwhelming grapefruit punch of New Zealand SB, and would be perfect with a weeknight fish or shrimp dish," Diane says.
If you're looking for a reliable house red wine that you can pick up at TJ's, look no further. This is exactly what you want in a good, cheap red: clean (no weird, overly funky, "off" flavors or aromas), tastes like the place/grapes it's made from, and isn't trying to taste more expensive than it is by using a bunch of fake oak or tricks to make it look darker.
Provençe is where it's at for that super-pale rosé style, but Aix-en-Provençe, the subregion where this wine is from, has higher elevation vineyard sites that make for more complex wines. A dash of the white grape Rolle in the blend gives a touch of snappy acidity. For something a little sweeter and more summery, go with the crisp and strawberry-scented Yes Way Rosé, which has a loyal following of Target shoppers.
Villanella won't blow you away with complexity, but it's clean and refreshing, with subtle flavors of pear and melon and a dry, crisp finish. It's also from Valdigue, the area of Italy that comprises Trentino-Alto-Adige and the Veneto, which is where most good pinot grigio comes from. A consistent winner.
Forget saving Champagne for special occasions. Can't we all use more bubbles on the daily now? In true Costco spirit, what’s in the bottle matters more than what’s on the bottle with their Kirkland bubbly. Somehow only 20 bucks, it’s Authentic True Champagne (from France) and the pop of the cork is just as happy-making as bottles vastly more expensive. “I love it with fried chicken,” Dana says, but you should toast literally anything you find good in 2020 with this bottle of bright, tasty goodness.
Grüner veltliner is the perfect everyday white, and this one from Berger is even better, because you get a liter instead of the standard 750ml. Refreshing, but not too tart, with flavors of crunchy pear and honeycrisp apple, it goes with almost anything. It's just what you want in your refrigerator for a glass of white while you're cooking, a quick pan sauce, or, if it's been lingering for a few too many days, a white wine spritzer.
This winery is known for its Beaujolais, but this bottle is its answer to a house red. An unpretentious Gamay that's fresh, exuberantly fruity, and best served a little cool, it goes with everything from roast chicken to steak to pad Thai. From certified organic vineyards in the "cru" area of Morgon in Beaujolais, it's what to serve when you want to seem like you're sophisticated and Know About Wine, but don't want to seem like you're trying too hard.
The Perrin family are French winemaking royalty; they make everything from Chateau de Beaucastel (one of Chateauneuf-du-Pape's most famous wineries) to Chateau Miraval, the rosé brand Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie founded. And they make Vieille Ferme, one of the most reliable labels available in grocery stores. A blend of carignan, grenache, cinsault, and syrah, it's a solid, medium-bodied red with no icky fake oak, some nice ripe cherry flavors, and soft tannins.
Boxed chardonnays usually falter when winemakers try to make them taste more expensive than they are, with enough buttery character and vanilla from oak to make you feel like you've wandered into a Yankee Candle store. But if you let a simple wine just be what it is, well, what's wrong with that? This chardonnay doesn't have the richness or level of oak spice of more expensive California chardonnays, but what it does have tastes real, and it'll stay tasting fresh for weeks.
If you're living that socially distanced life, it can be hard to carve out time with your significant other. The days seem to melt into each other, a bland blur of sweatpants and snacks. For a date night at home to work, you need to put on real clothes, get some fancy takeout or pull out a more involved recipe, and open up this grenache-based blend from France's Rhone Valley. It's rich enough to feel fancy, with flavors of sun-ripened strawberries and a hint of resinous herbs, but not so heavy that you're limited to a roast when it comes to food pairing.
This is not your grandma's blandly sweet Vouvray. This chenin blanc, from famed producer Huet and one of the most prized vineyard sites in Vouvray, smells like those fancy pears that come swaddled in styrofoam and gold foil, expensive herbal tea that calls itself tisane, and a touch of waxy church candle. When you taste it, an electric spark of acidity will jolt you right down to your toes. Whew!
J's Cuvée 20 is like Champagne's more fun younger cousin, with aromas of toasted almonds and ginger, and flavors of ripe golden delicious apples and juicy pears. The texture of the bubbles is creamy and frothy and just a delight to drink. Pop one the next time you plan a decadent at-home brunch and want to have a very happy morning.
This is not actually non-alcoholic wine — it's just grape juice. But it's grape juice made from high-quality wine grapes. Navarro makes delicious pinot noir in California, and they also sell juice from pinot noir and gewürztraminer grapes that come in real wine bottles with corks and everything. Because this is juice, not wine, it's pretty sweet, but you can really tell it's pinot noir; it's got kind of an Ocean Spray cranberry cocktail vibe, but better.
From Salina, an island in the volcanic Aeolian archipelago, this is a deliciously easy-drinking take on Sicily's nero d'Avola grape. With flavors of ripe cherry and blackberry, a hint of dried fruit, and a tangy, mouthwatering finish, nero d'Avola is often compared to syrah, but it doesn't have syrah's meaty heft or huge tannins, making it perfect for almost any kind of pizza you might be having — even if that pizza came frozen in a box.
If ever there was a wine made for an expensive ribeye, it's this naturally farmed blend of cabernet, merlot, cab franc, and petit verdot. The flavors of blueberry and blackberry, the hint of black tea aroma, the little bit of cocoa powder on the finish. Don't even bother making a fancy sauce — this wine is the sauce.
Often wines grown in coastal regions, like Spain's albariño, are described as tasting briny and "of the seaside," and that's especially true of this wine. For a bracing accompaniment to sushi, at once lemony fresh and almost salty, there's nothing better. Made from biodynamically grown grapes near the historic village famous for albariño, Cambados, it's refreshing but surprisingly weighty — perfect for a night of splurging on sushi.
Technically a light red wine, Bisson's ciliegiolo, from steep vineyards along Italy's Ligurian coastline, is marketed as a rosé in the U.S. It's best chilled but not ice cold, and tastes of tart cherries and wild raspberries. The color is absolutely beautiful — a clear, perfect red that's like holding a ripe raspberry up to the light. Pair this with salty snacks, comfy clothes, and a night snuggled on the couch doing absolutely nothing.
We couldn't help ourselves: We had to pick an orange wine. Because, well, you get it. This wine has more of a deep honey color and flavors of almonds, resinous herbs, and orchard fruits, with more heft and a bit of tannin. It might even be complex and interesting enough to keep you from biting all your nails off while you watch the returns.
Port seems to call to mind one of two extremes: the super-expensive vintage wines meant to be cellared for decades, or the cheap, overly sweet stuff. This ruby port from Quinta de la Rosa is a great combination of affordable and delicious. Reminiscent of raspberry jam, it's smooth, luscious, and sweet, but not cloyingly so, and is great on its own or with dark chocolate.
With more than 10 years of bottle age (2006 is the current vintage available of this wine), Cuvée Nicolas is a rare example of a prestige bottling from a famous Champagne house that has the substance to back up its high price. Made with fruit highly ranked in Champagne's "echelle des crus" system, it's at the age where it's beginning to develop complex aromas of honey and tea, and has kind of a burnished, marmalade flavor to it.
This is a modern take on an old-school style of Chilean red. Meant to be drunk chilled, it's full of bright cranberry and raspberry fruit, and it's dangerously drinkable. While some wines end up tasting a bit chemical-y and off when they're canned, Aupa tastes just as great out of these cute turquoise cans as it does from a traditional bottle. Perfect for taking on a fall picnic or to your next socially distanced hangout.
Missing the occasional tasting room visit? Feeling too antsy to commit to an entire bottle? Vinebox club members get nine wines, by the glass, every three months. And they're always surprising, interesting, and satisfying. The company also has fun wine Advent calendars, featuring 12 different samples.
Poor Corona. Please don't let this ridiculously horrible year stop you from stuffing a lime down the neck of this still-most-swiggable beer that we all love. Yes, it's a basic pick from a sea of interesting craft beers, but couldn't we all use something simple these days?
You know how sometimes you want to have your beer and drink it too? Thanks to the Colorado-based brewpub chain Post Brewing Company (where "hot chicken loves cold beer"), you can totally toss back some cold ones and still "Get S*** Done." (Yes, that's what GSD stands for.) It may only be 3.5% in alcohol, but it still delivers that brown malt flavor sensory reward.
With love from Michigan, Two Hearted is “hands-down one of the most awarded, coveted, talked-about and deserving India Pale Ales on the planet,” Julia says. And among beer nerds, it made Centennial hops famous. If you're not familiar, know that these hops level out bitterness and add the flavors and aromas of grapefruit and pine.
Heady Topper is one of the most well-known IPAs out there. (It can also be pretty hard to find because so many people want to scoop it up!) So allow us to suggest HT's little sister, Focal Banger, made by the same brewery. Pro tip: Drink it straight from the can, and not too cold, so you make the most of that hoppy experience.
When a beer writer says words can't do something justice, we just take her word for it and give said beer a try. This Belgian-style red ale with sour cherries, a blended barrel aged beer from a revered San Diego-based brewery, is the perfect pairing with salty, fatty deliciousness. Julia says it's extra wonderful with barbecue.
Crisp, clean, and smooth, this Pilsner-style lager with German noble hops brings a balancing bump of bitterness, Julia says, making it totally sessionable and rewarding to drink. We think it’s summer in a bottle, which is still kinda nice during these colder months.
Oh yeah, this is going to be a NIGHT. The kind of night that calls for a boozy, delicious, easy-drinking tripel. No parlez-vous Français? The name of this beer translates to "the end of the world." We'll just drop that right there without comment.
Need a beer to signify that it's time to close your laptop and sign off of work for the day? We've got you covered. Palatable beyond belief, this light-bodied Maine brew packs clove and vanilla notes along with an inviting collar of foam. Need a snack, too? Julia suggests pairing it with lighter cheeses or even a lightly toasted slice of sourdough bread dressed with butter and salt.
When you're talking a pairing as quintessential as pizza and beer, you've GOT to get it right. Done. Take it from Julia: “The pale malt flavors from this beer go with toasted bread crust edges of wood-fired pizza like two high-school kids on their third date.” If you want something less mainstream, allow us to suggest Little Kings.
It’s a question for the ages, and Julia has the answer: “When you get takeout and don't know what beer to pair with it, you cannot go wrong with El Sully. It will wake up your palate and ease you into any meal.” With graham cracker pilsner malt notes and virtually no bitterness, we're in.
We're not all beer people and that’s OK. If you fall in that camp, though, it’s worth giving this Belgian-style brew a try. When an expert says it’s from the heavens, we pay attention. With layered malt flavors and cherry notes (plus higher ABV and carbonation than the usual brew) this may just make you rethink beer altogether.
We've got your hops right here. This Seattle-based brewery is right near one of the world's most prolific hop regions. Luckily, they're all about sharing the love with this hoppy goodness.
For those looking to learn about lots of different craft breweries around the country, there's Craft Beer Club. Sign up and you'll get 12 beers (four styles, three of each) shipped to your house every month. The list of breweries that work with this beer club is a long one, so you'll be sure to learn about new places every month.
Because sometimes you want ice cream with your beer — and leave it to Trader Joe’s to deliver. This beer-that's-really-a-dessert is a coffee-y, chocolate-y, malty stout. Just add vanilla ice cream and more chocolate.
Wowza. Buckle in for this 18% (!!!) brew. “Called the Holy Grail for hop heads, this beauty is continuously hopped throughout the brewing process for 120 minutes,” Julia says. It’s seasonal (and worth every sip if you can find it) so grab it while you can.
You can 100 percent have the hops and taste of a boozy IPA sans the alcohol, and this Connecticut craft brewer proves it with their legit IPA. How sure are we you should keep this in your fridge? 100 percent sure.
This Pacific Northwest lager is just 100 calories, 6 carbs, and lightweight on the ABV front (just 3.6%). It's mellow, malty, crisp, and clean. And it comes in a cute, old-school stubby bottle!
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.
“This budget gin might become your forever gin,” Josh 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.
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.
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 says, making it incredible no matter your cocktail of choice.
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.
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.
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.”
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 says this multiple award winner is “really clean tasting and one of the only ones that I can drink neat.”
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 says. “Perfect for drinking cold and neat.”
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.
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.
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,” Dana says, and “the only bottle I'll grab when I'm mixing up margs."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
“Let me set the scene,” Josh begins. “You are sitting under a tree in Normandie, the bees are buzzing around fresh fruit that has fallen from the trees, you have a picnic, and Edith Piaf begins playing. Yes, it tastes like that.”
Why aren't more of us drinking cider with Thanksgiving dinner? This refreshingly dry take on an apple cider is simple and delicious, Josh says, pairing well with just about everything on the table. And hey, if the turkey ends up a little dry, the light carbonation will help you out.
This cider is incredibly easy to drink. It's not too sweet, not too dry, and perfectly apple-y. Consider it sparkling apple juice for adults.
Kitchn staffers love, love, love this canned rosé cider, a perfect match of New England apples and traditional California grape skins. It's a perfect all-day sipper or a champ with your Sunday sitdown.
A canned soda for adult palates (think: Ginger Turmeric and Spritz Aromatic) that stands up beautifully on its own for an alcohol-free drink or serves as the mixer for an instant cocktail. Bitters and the exact right amount of carbonation win the expert nod, and the super cute packaging doesn't hurt.
With grown-up flavor options like Lime Lemongrass and Grapefruit Cardamom, this is not what you'd expect from a hard seltzer. Hint: It's better. Fresh, clean, and bright, Press is everything we love about fizzy water — but with a modest alcohol boost. There's zero weird aftertaste and it was a total standout in our spiked seltzer taste test.
You don't have to be a kombucha fanatic to fall for hard kombucha — especially JuneShine100. The twice-fermented green tea has the perfect amount of carbonation, contains 100 calories, and has only 1 gram of sugar per can. Unlike a lot of canned drinks, this has ZERO unpleasant aftertaste. For what it's worth, this is basically all that our Lifestyle Editor, Lauren Masur, drank this summer. You know, aside from water.
The simpler the drink, sometimes the harder it is to get it just right. Serve up this exquisitely balanced Old Fashioned and “the first thing out of your friends' mouths will be ‘where can I get one of those?’" says Josh. Oh, and they come in the handsomest little cans.
You'll be drawn in by this hot-pink can, and you'll stick around for the ingredients (black currant buds and young pine cones!). It's lightly carbonated and has a base of vacuum-distilled beet molasses. Yes, you read that right.
This. Is. Brilliant. Jordan calls this line of twist-and-shake bottled cocktails the best he’s tried. You twist the the base of the bottle to "activate" it, mix things up, and drink. You'll have to watch the videos on the site to really understand what's going on.
You want a standby that plays equally well with gin or whiskey and you don't want to break the bank? Then you want to reach for this grocery store staple. Without blowing the budget you're going to churn out fantastic Negronis and martinis.
If you want to bring out the big guns, go for this collaboration between the famed Jerry Thomas bar in Rome and a Piedmontese distillery. You’ll be in good company, because “this stuff is legendary among the cocktail cognoscente,” Tammie says. “Sip it with an ice cube or shake up something classy.”
Dry and clean; sweet, crisp, and delicious. Whether you’re changing up your martini, riffing on a Negroni clear edition, or deglazing a kitchen pan, this is the standby the experts count on and so should the rest of us.
Kitchn editors and experts agree: This is the quality white vermouth. Deserving of its almost fanatical fan base, thanks to a secret blend of herbs and spices, Cocchi is what you want when you want the perfect Aperitivo.
Our staff had a mini (friendly) fight over which brand should win for this category, but our experts helped break the tie in favor of this mix from McClure's, a pickle purveyor in Detroit city. "It's made with the brand's own pickle brine, dill, and garlic. It has so much going on, I don't even feel like I need to have fun accompaniments to hang outside the glass," says Lisa Freedman, Kitchn's Lifestyle Director.
We have a great recipe for pitcher margaritas on the site, but if you want something a little, well, spicier, go with this mix. It's made with fresh lime juice, sugar, and real habanero peppers (no fructose or artificial colors or flavors). And it is Hot with a very capital H.
Don’t be put off by the fact that these bitters are so widely available. They're on every shelf because they're seriously that essential. A few of our experts recommended them too, and we trust these bartenders that nothing does for a cocktail what a couple dashes of Ango will do.
Both Polynesian and Caribbean schools of tropical cocktails inform this “incredible blend of island spices and herbs,” Jordan says. Yes, it’s fantastic in tiki-inspired drinks, but you should totally try some in your next Old Fashioned, too.
Polar “is one of those seltzers that looks unassuming as it sits on the bar at a wedding or in your fridge,” Josh says, “but I often elect to make cocktails for friends so I can top it with Polar and chug what's left.”
Your good gin deserves a co-star with equal billing. Tammie loves Q Tonic because it's actually dry. Julia says the “nuanced quinine, agave as the sugar source, and robust carbonation” totally work together to help this tonic stand out from other options.
Hiding in plain sight at Kroger, this ginger beer is drastically cheaper than other options and has the bite, the burn, and the sweetness that a lot of other brands are missing. You heard it here first: Jump on this before the rest of the country finds out about it.
Sanpellegrino makes more beverage options than you realize. Josh calls this deep brown, lightly carbonated drink — redolent of Mediterranean Chinotto oranges — “magic” for working with spirits and non-alcoholic cocktails alike.
They had us at champagne vinegar, but the punchy grapefruit flavors keep us coming back. “This bottled grapefruit shrub is the perfect introduction you need to the world of sipping vinegars,” Josh says. (“Careful,” he adds, “it only gets more funky from here.”)
Sure, it would be nice to always have a stock of fresh fruit on hand for drinks, but we live in the real world. But what if you absolutely must whip up a fruity concoction and are sans, say, lychee, passion fruit, or guava? Turn to Felicia’s go-to: “These purées use real fruit so they don't come off super syrupy,” she says.
Any brand will do here, as long as you're looking at Castelvetrano olives. “Castelvetrano olives should have their own flag, their own Instagram account, their own spokesperson,” Josh says. “I've yet to find a better martini olive that starts and finishes with salty vanilla flavors.”
The label seriously says “For adults only!” and “XXX Hot," so you know these pickles mean business. “They hurt so good,” Josh says. “One of those good mouth burns that is only fixed by eating more.” They're not just for cocktail hour, either — be sure to try them on a sandwich.
We want our rim salt to be pretty, yeah? But it’s also got a job to do. Done and done. “These large flakes not only look gorgeous on the glass, but they also sit on your tongue a little longer to add a new complexity to your mezcal margarita,” Josh says.
In the closest we got to a unanimous decision among our experts and Kitchn staffers, these Luxardo cherries won by a mile. “Anything else is an abomination,” Jordan says. End of story.
A few of our experts had the same pick here, saying it's worthy of a craftsman. That pakkawood handle, though. It “looks like something that would be gifted on Downton Abbey,” Josh says, “and it peels fruit like nobody's business.”
Most so-called "bar boards" are just small rectangular pieces of plastic, but think about it: What are you most likely cutting up on your bar cart? Juicy lemons and limes! So you really do need a board with grooves for juices. This Epicurean board has a groove, looks great, and can go in the dishwasher.
There is a real art to properly using a bar spoon, but this lovely one can help home bartenders get the hang of it. There's just something about this spoon that really encourages the right grip and makes for easy stirring.
Nothing ruins a cocktail like your mixing glass breaking (this is a real thing that happens!). Pros, including Jordan, give props to this seamless, “incredibly durable” beauty. Plus, the subtle "hammered” design says you're serious about your home bar.
Those simple metal cocktail shakers professional bartenders use? They're a pain in the butt! They sweat, get your hands all cold, and can be tough to open. For at-home bartenders, we like this double-walled version. It won't drip condensation, is easy to hold, has a twist-to-lock leak-proof cap and built-in strainer, and it'll still look good on your bar cart.
The devil is in the details, and this strainer designed by bartending’s “mad scientist” Don Lee gets them all just right. “With a wide surface and an extra tight spring, it works incredibly well to prevent small pieces of ice or solids from entering your perfect cocktail,” Jordan says.
How not fun is a leftover bottle of flat, day-old bubbles? Never mind, because you never have to find out. This little bottle stopper seals in the happy so the next-day pour is just as festive. Bonus: You don't have to take it off to pour, so bubbles keep on bubbling.
Don't be fooled by how simple this set looks. Elaborate doesn't mean better. And it’s not just for wine. These stoppers are “perfect for sealing over vermouth or other more delicate liquids,” Jordan says.
When you're in the kitchen, this Chef'n handheld juicer is hard to beat, but for mixing up drinks, reach for this OXO version. It comes with two reamers (one for smaller lemons and limes and one for, say, grapefruits and oranges). And the reamers sit on top of the measuring cup, which catches the juice and acts as a sturdy base while you work. Just juice and pour!
Our experts geeked out over this elegant bartending essential. Felicia loves the feel of the curves, while Jordan gave it points for the multiple smaller measurement marks (no need for jiggers in every size!). Bonus pick: Home bartenders might also like this sturdy little OXO double jigger.
Multiple pros nominated this hybrid beer glass, declaring it a must. Even the homeliest pils is classed up in a stemmed beer glass, and the triangle shape plus bump at the lip is all the better to deliver flavor.
It’s IKEA for the win with this shockingly affordable rocks glass. “This beauty is right for the price,” says Josh. “And if you live with people who are prone to breaking dishes, then you'll have no problem stocking up. The knobby exterior also makes it easier to hang onto the glass during, say, scary parts of movies.”
This glass will likely get used a lot, so why not get something with a subtle upgrade? Jordan appreciates this simple tall glass for its eye-catching silver rim. And we like that it’s technically designed for commercial use, so we know we can count on it to stand up to 2020-level usage at home.
There’s just something oh-so sophisticated about sipping bubbly from a coupe (although of course you can imbibe plenty else with them!). And “these are cute, sturdy, and not too expensive for a set,” Tammie says.
Does anyone really need or want a special glass for every possible wine? No. For an all-purpose glass, “You can't beat Schott Zwiesel when it comes to a price-to-quality ratio,” Diane says, giving it points for a nice, big bowl and fairly short stem so it’s not too top-heavy or fragile. (There’s enough that’s fragile right now — the least we can have is a sturdy wine glass!)
Prefer a stemless glass? Channel some French bistro vibes when you pour your house wine — or a special one, why not? — into this classic tumbler. Its pluses rack up: stackable, dishwasher-safe, and tough enough for your rowdiest night (or day, we're not judging).
Who knows what next spring/summer will look like. If backyard drinking is still preferred over bar drinking, allow us to suggest these gorgeous insulated wine glasses. Warning: Socially distanced visitors are going to want to steal these from you.
For your neighborhood stroll, beverage in hand, you're not looking for a glass that screams, "Hi, I'm drinking booze!" This kids' bottle is sized right for drinks, keeps your cocktail cold around the block and beyond, and its handle lets you pay attention to other things like walking the dog.
If you're at this level of whiskey geekdom, you will appreciate every detail of this upgrade to the traditional snifter. “The Norlan glass is double-walled to prevent your fingers from warming the spirit,” Jordan says. “And it's further designed to better capture the aromas and flavors of the spirit.”
Carts & More
This elegant cart and its classic mid-century design got some serious love from our experts and it’s easy to see why. It’s so beautiful, “you'll find yourself wanting to take it door to door for some neighborly martini orders,” Jordan says. Umm, roll it on over here, please?
Look, this isn't the cheapest blender out there, but our experts agreed that you have to go for the gold if you want the best texture and consistency for any and all blended drinks. They actually begged: Learn from their mistakes and save yourself from buying all the wrong blenders — just get the Vitamix right out of the gate.
No wine cellar in your basement? No problem! This mini fridge can hold up to 18 bottles and can be tucked into a corner or under a counter. It has a temperature range between 41°F and 64°F, a double-paned glass door that protects bottles from UV light, and comes in under $200.
Missing draft beer these days? Get a keg of your favorite beer and set it up in this Kegerator. Other options of this quality will cost you more than $500, but this one leaves around $100 in the budget for more beer.
While King Cube Ice Trays get most of the glory, there's also a time and place for nugget ice. Like, when you're making mint juleps or rum and Cokes. “This machine makes a pound of crunchy ice an hour!" says Dana. "Yay for no more gas station runs to pick up ice.”