Behind the Bar

The Bottles Bartenders Can't Live Without

We asked bartenders around the country what versatile spirits they'll be reaching for this fall.
What will bartenders be reaching for this fall? A spirit that can mix with just about anything. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.
What will bartenders be reaching for this fall? A spirit that can mix with just about anything. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

Bartending is a jack-of-all-trades profession. Few jobs require the individual to think on their toes the way mixology does. While any good bartender remembers how to mix classics like Manhattans and Negronis better than a family member's birthday, that doesn’t mean they aren’t constantly making down to the wire decisions. Those last-minute choices can sometimes determine whether a cocktail is a rousing success or a mishmash of flavors.

Bartender Jonathan Shock's Mack the Knife cocktail.

Since bartenders themselves are masters of multitasking, they should have their own go-to bottles, right? That is, the spirit they can’t work without. The liquor they believe works like a Swiss Army knife in almost all cocktails. We asked a handful of bartenders to tell us the bottles they can’t live without and how they'll be mixing them this fall.

Jonathan Shock, bartender at Prime + Proper in Detroit, MI

“As a category, I would say rum, just because it's so incredibly diverse. It varies from dark and rich with molasses and caramel to incredibly light, smelling of bananas and the rainforest. If I was really forced to choose one specific bottle, I would say Clement 6 year or Flor de Cana 7 year. They both have the oak and body to hold up in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan, but are both still bright and complex enough to make a delicious Daiquiri or Mojito. Rum doesn't have a lot of rules, so it gets to have the most fun.”

Mack the Knife

pictured above

  • 1.5 oz Clement 6 Year
  • 0.75 oz Montenegro
  • 0.5 oz lemon
  • 0.25 oz cinnamon syrup

Says Shock: “This light and autumnal cocktail demonstrates Clement's versatility as a spirit. Light and floral but still oaky with a backbone to hold up to any cocktail or vermouth. This cocktail is also a bit of a 'switch blade' in the way that you could remove the lemon juice and reduce the Montenegro down to half an ounce and be left with a delicious, slightly bitter stirred cocktail similar to a Manhattan. Clement 6 Year is truly my Swiss Army knife spirit on the backbar.”

Allen Lancaster, bartender at The Bar at The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, SC

“I have developed an affinity for Genever, specifically Boomsma Oude Genever. Genever is made from a blend of two distillates — a juniper botanical-infused neutral spirit and malt wine. The Oude, or "old" style, is comprised of an elevated share of malt wine, and Boomsma's version spends time in small oak barrels to produce flavor resembling something close to a gin-whiskey lovechild.

Although I don't feel there is a spirit that would work in ANY cocktail, I find the Boomsma Oude to be exceptionally versatile and "Swiss Army knife"-like, as it can be used in a myriad of whiskey and gin drinks. A few examples would be a Manhattan, Last Word, Martinez, and a delicious Old Fashioned with orange bitters.”

Bartender Allen Lancaster reaches for Genever as his catch-all spirit, because it works in both gin and whiskey cocktails.

Clear Skies Over Manhattan

pictured right

  • 2 oz. Boomsma Oude Genever
  • 1 oz. Dolin Blanc sweet vermouth
  • 2-3 dashes orange bitters

Joey Goar, Bartender & Whiskey/Brown Liquor expert at Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Baltimore, MD

“If I had to make a choice then I would go with Falernum. Falernum at its core is a Caribbean syrup/liquor made primarily from sugar, lime zest, clove, almond, ginger, and often vanilla. There are both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of Falernum, but I prefer the alcoholic versions, such as John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum, due to the sweetness being more muted, which allows the spice notes to shine through even more.

The different components in Falernum lend themselves to other spirits very nicely as well. The spice notes go well with aged spirits such as whiskeys or brandies, while the citrus and sweet notes play as a great balance for bitter or more aromatic spirits such as Fernet-Branca or Campari. It is also a staple in any tiki bar and is called for in several classics like Swizzles, the Zombie, a Mai Tai, or the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club cocktail.”

Zach Rivera, beverage director at Headquarters Beercade in Chicago

“For fall, I think pimento dram can be tossed into almost anything. It's got enough spice for warm weather, but doesn't impose too much on the rest of the flavors in the cocktail.”

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