If you take a look behind any bar in America, you’re bound to find a variety of liquors both familiar (hello, whiskey) and unusual. But what about the workhorse bottles that bartenders reach for again and again? We asked nine bartenders from West Hollywood to Nashville to tell us about their “Swiss Army knife” bottles, or spirits that seem to work in any cocktail. From rare German amari to affordable gins, these are bartenders’ most versatile bottles.
“Bulldog Gin is a jack-of-all-trades gin. Its bright, citrusy, and floral flavor profile makes it highly versatile and approachable. We’ve had success using it in a wide variety of cocktails; everything from Redbeard’s Parlay, a spritz featuring coconut oil washed Campari and curry, to something more delicate and dry like the Bon Vivant No. 2, with its notes of eucalyptus, white tea, and gentian.” — Watson Barry, Le Cheval
“Green Chartreuse is often seen as being more powerful than it is versatile, which is why I love to show its range in a variety of cocktails. Looking for something classic? How about a Last Word. Fruity? Try a Saint Germain cocktail … Bold and simple? Check out the Campbeltown Cocktail with Springbank whisky, Cherry Heering and Green Chartreuse. It can do chocolate too, hot or cold with the French apres-ski Chaude Vert, or the fun and unexpected Chartreuse and chocolate soda. It can even go Tiki-ish with a Chartreuse Swizzle or a Carthusian Colada. It also makes the perfect accoutrement to a big juicy IPA that features Mosaic hops.” — Leslie Ross, Reserve 101
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“Aromatique is a bitter spirit from East Germany. Kind of like an amaro, it subs for just about anything in that category, as well as being delicious on its own. Additionally, if I want to make a quick ‘improved’ version of another cocktail, Aromatique adds a bit of delicious je ne sais quoi to just about any recipe.” — Michael Neff, The Three Clubs
“For fall cocktails, I’m going to go with Old Overholt Rye Whiskey. I always like rye over bourbon because it has more flavor notes to it and better layering characteristics to make cocktails more complex and interesting. This particular rye is incredibly solid for the price, can play well to both sweet and savory profiles, and sometimes at the end of the night is pretty darn tasty all on its own. I’ve made sure that it has been an integral part of all of my programs explicitly for its versatility.”— Jeff Arnold, High Street on Hudson
“My ‘Swiss Army Knife’ spirit is Salers (pronounced “saler”), a gentian aperitif from France. It’s made with a white wine base, and with the gentian root, has many other botanical ingredients. It’s bitter, and sweet, and absolutely packed with flavor. I find that it works well and adds a delicious dimension to any base spirit.” — Sarah Mengoni, Double Take
“Monkey Shoulder is a blend of three single malts, Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Kininvie. The marriage of those single malts, aged in post-bourbon-filled casks, creates a fantastic blended malt whisky. Monkey Shoulder is very versatile; it’s great neat, but even better in cocktails.” — Liz Senyak, Datz
“Giffard Pamplemousse and Abricot. Pamplemousse really brightens up cocktails and pairs well with almost all spirits. In a Negroni, it can act to lighten the bitterness of the Campari while accentuating the grapefruit profile. The Abricot latches onto almost all spirits and modifiers — it pairs well with nutty things like orgeat and sherry, all clear spirits, American whiskey, brandy or Cognac, and citrus.” — Aaron Polsky, Harvard & Stone
“Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur has a little bit of everything difficult: sweet, spice, a touch of smoke. It will go into any neutral spirit or will enhance and deepen more complex flavors. I enjoy it in a bourbon and mezcal Old Fashioned, or it would make an excellent addition to creamy chocolate Martini or anything citrus-based.” — Christen McClure, Chauhan Ale & Masala House
“I keep a bottle of Bitter Truth EXR on hand for the ‘make me something’ requests. It’s like a red vermouth crossed with fernet. It’s just enough to take an old fashioned (any spirit) in a new direction, while keeping it true to the booze. Plus, if you do a Manhattan with any overproof whiskey, a touch of EXR, and a touch of an apricot or cherry, you will look like a genius.” — Jeremy Allen, MiniBar