Top Shelf: The Best Booze & How to Drink It

By Playboy Magazine Photography by Travis Rathbone , Illustration by Robert Harkness

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We're living in the golden age of spirits. But with so many exceptional bottles out there, it can be a little overwhelming. To make it easier, we survey the best bottles in the hottest styles—and enlist New York's coolest bartender, Thomas Waugh,to show you elevated ways of mixing, muddling and sipping.

To help us navigate the oceans of top-shelf liquor available to the modern drinker, we enlisted Thomas Waugh to dispense advice, share recipes and teach us a trick or two. Waugh has tended bar at legendary watering holes Alembic in San Francisco and Death & Co. in New York City. He now runs the bars for Major Food Group, the company behind New York's Carbone, Torrisi Italian Specialties and ZZ's Clam Bar.Gin The Other White Spirit

If you're one of the thousands of vodka drinkers who dismiss gin, it's time to take a second sip. New brands are smoother than the ones you've had before. If you're already a gin fan, update the way you mix the classics. Here Waugh deconstructs the gin and tonic, that deceptively complex cocktail.

WAUGH SAYS: “Use oversize glassware for a G&T, big enough that you can get your nose down into the glass and pick up all the subtleties, not just of the gin but of the tonic as well. A double old-fashioned glass, a stemless wineglass or a brandy snifter will do the trick.”{"pbembedwidget":"editorial-gallery","id":"15784"} Recipes The Spanish G&T

If Spain has a national cocktail, the gin and tonic is it. Restaurants there routinely keep multiple brands of tonic water and gin on hand, and garnish and flavor their G&Ts with way more than a lime peel. Here is Waugh's version of a Spanish G&T. Many of the botanicals typically used in the spirit's distillation make an appearance in the glass, further flavoring the drink.Ingredients 1 lime wedge 11/2 oz. New York DistillingCompany's Perry's Tot Navy Strength gin 4 oz. Fever-Tree or Q tonic water 5 juniper berries 5 coriander seeds 3 cardamom pods 1 star anise pod 1 horse's neck lime peel (see below) 1 cinnamon stick Directions

Squeeze lime wedge into a frozen 15-ounce brandy snifter and drop it in. Add gin and tonic water, then ice. Add the spices and botanicals to the glass and stir. Garnish with lime peel and cinnamon stick.(Notice we use only one and a half ounces of spirit. That's because it's navy-strength gin, which is typically 114 proof. The declared reason for its potency comes from the days when it was supplied to the British Royal Navy. If a barrel of the liquid accidentally burst open and soaked the fleet's gunpowder, that is the proof at which the powder could still ignite.)

To help us navigate the oceans of top-shelf liquor available to the modern drinker, we enlisted Thomas Waugh to dispense advice, share recipes and teach us a trick or two. Waugh has tended bar at legendary watering holes Alembic in San Francisco and Death & Co. in New York City. He now runs the bars for Major Food Group, the company behind New York's Carbone, Torrisi Italian Specialties and ZZ's Clam Bar.Rum The Tiki take over

No disrespect to rum and Coke, that energizing insta-cocktail, but there are other, finer ways to enjoy rum. In the better bars, a modern tiki-cocktail revival is going on: Think no canned juices, higher-quality booze and fewer hangovers. Here's how to mix it up.

WAUGH SAYS: “Ditch your blender for the best-tasting tiki drinks. Shake your ingredients in a cocktail shaker and pour them over ice that you've smashed with a mallet in a clean ziplock bag. The flavors will really come through.”{"pbembedwidget":"editorial-gallery","id":"15785"} Recipes The Coconut

When Thomas Waugh makes this tiki-inspired cocktail at ZZ's Clam Bar in New York City, it turns heads. The blowtorch he uses to ignite the cinnamon stick has a lot to do with it, but the intoxicating aroma of the cinnamon smoke is just as attention-getting. There aren't many drinks you can almost taste before sipping, but this is one of them.Ingredients 1 coconut 1/2 oz. honey syrup (see directions) 2 oz. Angostura 1824 rum 1/2 oz. canned unsweetened coconut milk 1/2 oz. Coco López cream of coconut 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice 1 dash Angostura bitters 1 cinnamon stick Directions

Drill two holes in top of coconut so a cinnamon stick and a straw can fit in them. Make honey syrup by combining two cups honey with one cup boiling water. Let cool. Pour liquid ingredients over ice into a shaker and shake well. Strain and funnel into the prepared coconut. Fill a medium-size bowl with crushed ice to use as a base to prop up the coconut. (Waugh uses banana leaves as well.) With a torch or lighter, ignite the tip of the cinnamon stick until it burns and releases its aromatic smoke.The Cardamom

Why use just one spirit when you can use three? In this drink from ZZ's Clam Bar, rum adds depth of flavor, gin adds bite and chartreuse gives it an herbaceous quality. But the essential ingredient is a cardamom tincture that adds a whole other dimension of exotic flavor. Use the leftover tincture to flavor other simple cocktails such as a gin and tonic or a tom collins.Ingredients 2 dashes cardamom tincture (see directions) 1/2 oz. vanilla syrup (see directions) 2 oz. Plymouth gin 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice 1/2 oz. green Chartreuse (regular or VEP) 1 tsp. rhum agricole Directions

First make cardamom tincture: Smash 15 green cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle. Put in a plastic container with 10 ounces of 151-proof neutral-grain spirit. Let sit for 24 hours and strain the liquid through a coffee filter.Make vanilla syrup by combining one split vanilla bean with two cups water and two cups white sugar in a pot. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Remove vanilla bean. Let cool.Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake well. Strain over crushed ice into your favorite tiki mug.

To help us navigate the oceans of top-shelf liquor available to the modern drinker, we enlisted Thomas Waugh to dispense advice, share recipes and teach us a trick or two. Waugh has tended bar at legendary watering holes Alembic in San Francisco and Death & Co. in New York City. He now runs the bars for Major Food Group, the company behind New York's Carbone, Torrisi Italian Specialties and ZZ's Clam Bar.Bourbon Liquid Gold Assets

Bourbon is one of America's finest contributions to the world of drinking, and the old ways of distilling and aging it are making a comeback. This is a spirit that is best savored simply: with a cube of ice, a splash of water or nothing at all.

WAUGH SAYS: “Don't mess up your perfectly aged bourbon with less than perfect ice. Even if you don't hand-carve your cubes, be sure to use the best water you can get your hands on. Use filtered tap or bottled water to avoid off flavors.”{"pbembedwidget":"editorial-gallery","id":"15786"}


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