Well drinks. Not “Fantastic drinks.” Not “Listen-guys-I’m-gonna-be-shutting-off-all-my-social-media-accounts-during-my-blue-period drinks.” They’re just well. And that’s fine.
See, well drinks are made with “well liquors,” the workhorses of our drinking and socializing lives and the bottles that constitute the “well bar.” If you go to a bar and order a vodka soda, you’ll be getting the well vodka; anytime you don’t specify a booze, you’ll get the well selection of whatever’s appropriate for that drink. What’s nice is this system allows your friendly, or even surly, neighborhood bartender to maintain consistency and offer you a bit of affordability. What’s nicer is that you can build your own well bar at home by the same principles the pros build theirs.
And why wouldn’t you? Sure, we all love that token bottle of Single Malt or the mini collection of sipping tequilas we’ve got going on. But the well can keep thirsts slaked on a more regular basis. The “damn, what a Wednesday, who’s up for some Palomas?” basis. But before you start buying up bottles, it’s important to understand the purpose of well liquor. It’s not just about relative price versus quality range comparison. Although that’s a huge factor, you shouldn’t reach to the bottom of the bottom shelf because the price is right. Well liquors tread a beautiful middle ground where tastiness meets comparative affordability. And there’s another important factor: well liquors are tasty but they’re not pushy. They don’t enrobe your palate in briny smoke or take your senses on a forced tour of English botanical gardens and juniper groves. They need to be moderate — but good— so they can be flexible, applicable to a variety of drinks since you’ll be serving them at your home bar. And then, yes, asking for tips.
One of the great steals in the annals of rye whiskey, and drinking generally. A bottle of this spicy, warm, not-at-all-harsh whiskey would cost you less than $20, which means, despite the markup you’ll find in any bar, you’re gonna get a solid drink, mixed or straight up.
You get a higher proof gin but it’s mellowed, as in it’s not a hiss in the face, because of some savory juniper balanced with sweet spice and citrus notes. Not heavily herbal or vegetal (see the whole thing about nothing announcing itself). Good for a bartender — professional or home — because it’s also just about $20 and it’s also happy to mix into a huge variety of cocktails or just a glass with some ice.
One of the beauties of a good well liquor is that it’s usually widely available, like Espolòn tequila. You can go straight silver, a good bet for mixing, though the reposado spends six months in white oak, meaning it can straddle the gap between a decently affordable sipper or something to mix as part of your (increasingly magnificent) well.
Seriously, vodka is a spirit that’s intentionally stripped of all of its character. What you’re left with is texture— variably smooth vodkas that can feel more or less rich or oily or burning-hot on the tongue. And then, yeah, there’s the fact Smirnoff won that New York Times taste test against some much more expensive labels.
This is a bourbon that’s so affordable and so consistent, it’s why bartenders of every stripe (from amateur to suspendered-mustachioed pro) like to stock up on the stuff. It’s not the most integrated bourbon you’ll find, a bit perkier with the spice and less caramelly rich, but a roundly awesome bourbon at that price range.
Chances are you’ve seen this bottle behind some bar, sometime in your life, and that’s because it’s both affordable — typically under $30 — and stylistically perfect. Brisk biting notes of juniper, bright citrus, and even a bit of cracked pepper. Highly serviceable in a G&T but just as easy to mix into a Negroni or Gimlet.
You can get good darker rums for a very good price, but if you want a drink like a daiquiri or even something to chuck over some ice on a hot day, this Nicaraguan rum will do the trick. Surprisingly supple, with a bit of fruit though no residual sweetness. Even a little lime and ice and you — and your “bar” guests — should be happy campers.
You can, no doubt, find blended Scotch in the wells of many bars and you can make a point of stocking them in your own. But Jameson’s also the most popular Irish whiskey in the world for a reason. You get the grass and meadow florals of a lot of Irish whiskies, with a hit of something chewy, richer and a bit fruity as you dig in. Clearly good enough for a shot and a beer, though why not treat yourself to a tumbler and sit back, admiring your newly stocked well?