Okay, you’re getting on board with home mixology. You’ve picked up the basics, you’re whipping up Manhattans and Martinis, and you’re ready for the next step. Here are the second five bottles every home bar needs. These tipples will expand your cocktail repertoire immensely, enabling all sorts of new concoctions both classic and original.
With its instantly recognizable earthy and herbal flavor, tequila is really unique in the world of spirits. You can reasonably substitute bourbon for rye whiskey and even vodka for gin, but nothing will ever quite work the same way as tequila in a cocktail. If you’re only gonna have one tequila on hand, go with a reposado bottling, which is aged between 2 and 11 months in wood—it’s the most versatile, good for Margaritas and Palomas as well as sipping neat. But whatever you do, choose a 100-percent-agave tequila: The bottom-shelf stuff (the stuff that gave you that wicked hangover that one time in college) can be made from agave mixed with other sugar sources, and it’s really awful.
One word: Daiquiri. The three-ingredient classic (not the frozen version, not anything with muddled berries or liqueurs or any other nonsense) is the ultimate cocktail to whip up when you want to impress your guests, at any time of year. And rum is also great for experimenting with different types of fruits and herbs in cocktails—it’s quite forgiving in slightly off-balance concoctions. A clear rum is your best bet for versatility, but if you’re a big tiki fan, you can jump to a dark aged rum instead.
Bright red and extremely bitter, this Italian liqueur seems at first glance like an idiosyncratic supporting character that’s only good in very specific situations. But in reality, Campari will work in just about any drink. The art of making a great cocktail is all about balance. Maintaining equilibrium between sour and sweet is familiar to even most amateurs, but throwing bitter into the mix will actually help keep other flavors from getting out of hand. Added too much lemon to a Whiskey Sour? Add a quarter-ounce of Campari and your drink will be saved. And that’s not to mention the Negroni and the Boulevardier, two drinks that should be in any aspiring mixologist’s toolkit.
With Campari, you have bitter covered; now you need to add smoke to your flavor palette. There are two very different options here: Islay Scotch or mezcal. The former gets its signature briny and iodine notes from burning peat to dry the barley used, while the latter’s more earthy smoke comes from roasting agave over charcoal in pits. Either way, a float of the spirit atop most any cocktail will give it a welcome jolt. And when it’s cold (or you have a cold), either one makes an excellent Hot Toddy.
Angostura may be the undisputed champion of the bitters world, but Peychaud’s is the undisputed runner-up. The two have the same bitter backbone of gentian root, but their full flavors couldn’t be any more different from one another. Made with the same formula since the early 1800s, Peychaud’s is redolent of anise, but don’t worry if you hate licorice—you’re only using a few drops as an accent. Peychaud’s plays especially well with brandy, as in the original Sazerac cocktail, or atop a Pisco Sour, but it’s tasty in just about any brown spirit-based drink. And for a nice non-alcoholic treat, add a few drops to a glass of club soda.