5 Bottles to Create a Restaurant-Worthy Bar at Home

Better vodka, rum, tequila, bourbon, and gin to mix up thousands of classic cocktails.

<p>Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO</p>

Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO

Bottles like Beefeater and Ketel One are cocktail stalwarts, no question. They’re safe, dependable, and easy to find anywhere. But if you’re looking to build out your home bar with more variety, it may be time to explore alternatives that allow you to keep things classic while adding a little extra excitement.

When stocking a home bar, you’ll need the basic spirits — vodka, rum, gin, bourbon, and tequila. In professional settings, bartenders place their most frequently used bottles from each of these categories in the “rail,” a narrow shelf at waist-height in the front of a bar. This allows for each bottle to be within arm's reach at any moment. At home, this would be the equivalent of the go-to bottles stored on the top shelf of your bar cart, rather than the dusty ones tucked away in the back corners of far-away cabinets.

These classic spirits are the base of most “well drinks,” simple cocktails that rely on bottles typically found in a bartender’s rail. Add a splash of club soda to vodka, bourbon, or tequila and you have a highball. Throw in a big squeeze of lime, a dash of simple syrup plus rum or gin to make a Daiquiri or a Gimlet. Classic cocktails are classics for a reason — they’re simple to create and a small change in ingredients open up endless variations. But using high quality spirits can make them something truly worth savoring.

If you’re looking for an easy way to increase the quality of your cocktails at home, think of stocking your home bar (or rail, if you will) like your pantry: choose well-made, delicious, and interesting basics. Here are five great brands you might not be as familiar with — a vodka, rum, tequila, whiskey, and gin — to add inspiration to your drinks.

Haku Vodka

<p>Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO</p>

Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO

This Japanese vodka from spirits brand The House of Suntory is distilled from white rice and filtered through bamboo charcoal. The bottle gets its name from the Japanese word for white or pure, reflecting the vodka’s gentle flavor and its pristine quality from the polished white rice and charcoal filtration. Its soft, round mouthfeel, clean flavors, and subtle sweetness make it ideal for anything from a Moscow Mule to a simple Vodka Soda with a spritz of grapefruit.

Haku Vodka By the Numbers

  • Price: $28

  • ABV: 40%

  • First released: 2018

  • Grains: 100% Japanese white rice

Ten To One Dark Rum

<p>Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO</p>

Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO

Marc Farrell founded Ten To One to shift people’s perception of rum away from pirates and Panama hats, and redirect it toward the real history of the Caribbean. His excellent dark rum has baking-spice and tropical-fruit notes making it a standout in cocktails, but also a versatile ingredient for both sweet and savory dishes. It’s perfect in a classic Rum Punch or a tart and sweet dark rum Daiquiri.

Ten to One Dark Rum By the Numbers

  • Price: $45

  • ABV: 40%

  • Age: Blend of 8 year rums from Barbados and Dominican Republic, alongside Jamaican and Trinidadian rum

  • Cask type: American white oak ex-bourbon casks

Lalo Tequila Blanco

<p>Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO</p>

Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO

Third-generation tequila maker Eduardo “Lalo” González uses agave from the Jalisco Highlands for this lightly herbal, elegant blanco. For González and his co-founder David Carbadillo, tequila is meant to be enjoyed. It’s equally at home sipped on its own, shaken up with lime in a Margarita, paired with grapefruit in a Paloma, or mixed into something as simple as a Ranch Water.

Lalo Tequila Blanco By the Numbers

  • Price: $50

  • ABV: 40%

  • Agave: 100% blue Weber agave, average age 6–7 years old

  • Age: None

  • NOM: 1468

Michter’s US 1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

<p>Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO</p>

Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO

This small-batch bottling from one of bourbon’s most acclaimed distillers is a fantastic introduction to Michter’s, a brand whose 25-year aged rye whiskey can sell for north of $20,000. The much more modestly priced US 1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon has everything you could want in a whiskey: rich caramel notes, a touch of oak, and a smooth, lingering finish. Try it in a classic Old Fashioned or, if you’re feeling springtime-y, a Mint Julep.

Michter's US 1 By the Numbers

  • Price: $50

  • ABV: 45.7%

  • Age: At least two years

  • Cask type: Charred American new white oak

Fords Gin

<p>Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO</p>

Food & Wine / ROBBY LOZANO

Beloved by bartenders, Fords Gin is expressly intended for using in cocktails — its ergonomically shaped bottle is even designed for ease of pouring, and an emphasis on botanicals like grapefruit peel and coriander seed help it work with a range of mixers. Thanks to its versatility, Fords is ideal for both professional use and at your home bar. A splash of dry vermouth, a stir on ice, and a lemon twist, and you’ve got one of our favorite Dry Martinis.

Fords Gin By the Numbers

  • Price: $30

  • ABV: 45%

  • First released: 2013

  • Style: London Dry

  • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, lemon, bitter orange, grapefruit, angelica, cassia, jasmine, orris root

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