Bartenders Shout Out Their Favorite Bottles Of Liquor For Holiday Entertaining

Now that Halloween is firmly in our rearview, there are mere weeks separating us from the revelry, mouth-watering foods, and creative cocktails associated with the holidays. Mid-November means a season of endless parties that culminate with one giant New Year’s soiree. If you’re the type of person who prefers throwing your own parties, you’re going to need to need to stock up on the right bottles of booze. ASAP.

According to Brian Krux, mixologist at Topnotch Resort in Stow, Vermont, all you really need is a special bottle of whiskey or two.

“Bourbon, rye, scotch, it doesn’t matter,” he says. “It has to be something special. You don’t have to break the bank — decent bottles start at $45 — but I think you need to go north of $60 to get into the ‘special’ category.”

Steve Wells, beverage director at Borago Restaurant in Grayton Beach, Florida opts for rum during the holiday season.

“Every so often, I hear that rum is soon to be the ‘new Bourbon’ in the US and it never happens,” he says. “For that reason alone, I’m picking ‘good rum’ as my most important bottle for holiday entertaining.”

Since there are obviously varied choices amongst the bartending community, we decided to ask some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the one bottle of booze they must-have during the holiday season.

Belle Isle Premium Moonshine

Michelle Hamo, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia

Why bake gingerbread cookies when you can impress your friends and family with a pour of Belle Isle Premium Moonshine infused with cinnamon and vanilla beans? Based out of Richmond, Virginia, Belle Isle has a number of flavors for their moonshine; however, you can easily impress your family with your own infusion. Simply bring a bottle of their 100 Proof Moonshine into the kitchen and toss in some spices or fruit. Their website features a number of recipes you can follow as well.

Compoveda Extra Anejo Tequila

Adam Morgan, bar manager at Husk in Nashville

Aged tequila without a doubt. Who doesn’t like tequila? The Compoveda Extra Anejo is unique because it starts in French oak for 5 plus years, then it’s finished in charred American oak. It’s the perfect middle ground for bourbon and tequila drinkers.

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

Lydia McLuen bartender at KEX in Portland

The Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon is the most important spirit for holiday entertaining. On the palate, you find hints of ripe plum, cherries, and a robust full body. This is a premium whiskey that you’ll be proud to share with anyone at the party, impressing whiskey snobs while being accessible enough for lighter drinkers.

Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut Champagne

Drew Hairston, beverage manager at Dirty Habit in Washington, DC

When celebrating with family or friends, it’s important to have a bottle of bubbles to toast the occasion. I like to have a bottle of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut on hand for casual gatherings, but I bust out the Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noir Grand Cru to commemorate special events. This intense growers champagne is rich and sultry, and will definitely help ingrain memories of your event into your mind due to association with this excellent bottle.

Sacred Bond B.I.B Brandy

Stephen George, bartender at 20|Twenty in Carlsbad, California

Personally, I make sure to have a bottle of brandy or cognac on hand for the holidays. Sacred Bond B.I.B Brandy is delicious and reasonably priced, so I don’t feel guilty mixing it in a homemade Eggnog, or Hot Apple Cider. Brandy is an often overlooked spirit, and we forget what a “crowd-pleaser” it can be.

Amaro Montenegro

Lauren Mathews, lead Bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC

An important bottle for holiday entertaining is Amaro Montenegro. It’s a great bottle to be enjoyed after a big meal. It’s also a solid amaro to start with for those who haven’t had amaro before.

Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Rose

Juan Gonzalez, food & beverage director at Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor, New York

Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Rose. A lovely rose in an almost vinous style, with mouthwatering acidity and a fine, lacy mousse. It carries appealing flavors of ripe raspberry, white cherry fruit, star anise, mandarin orange peel, and honeysuckle. It’s always a crowd-pleaser and a favorite for most palates.

Hangar 1 Vodka

Dwayne Ridgaway, bartender at The Brown Room in Cape May, New Jersey

I would have to say a good vodka is the most versatile spirit to have on hand. As a part of an array of cocktails to sipping on the rocks, it’s probably the most popular to have. I would choose something more special than the name brands to allow for those classic on-the-rocks drinkers. I’m going to suggest two; Prairie is a great bottle at a great value and Hangar 1 is a real winner on the rocks as it is blended with wine grapes and grain that give it a very subtle floral finish. If you are lucky enough to find a bottle of Hangar 1 Fog – grab it. It’s blended with water extracted from the San Francisco fog.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon

Jim Hewes, veteran bartender at The Willard InterContinental in Washington, DC

A good bottle of bourbon, such as Wild Turkey Rare Breed, and a bottle of Grand Marnier. Combined with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg and topped with hot water, you have yourself a classic seasonal drink, served hot or cold, that is perfect for holiday entertaining.

Why these two spirits? Bourbon is a uniquely American spirit with a variety of classic cocktails, including many that we serve here at the Round Robin Bar, revolving around bourbon. Orange liquor, like Grand Marnier, is a staple ingredient of any bar as it is a universal flavor that can be used at any time of the year and like bourbon is found in a variety of popular cocktails. Aside from cocktails, bourbon and orange liquor also combine to make a great base for a turkey marinade!

Green Chartreuse

Seth Weinberg, bartender at Bourbon Steak in Nashville

When I think of holiday entertaining, I think of holiday food and over-indulging. It’s important to keep a good digestif around the house to help your guests feel better after having a second helping. I think Green Chartreuse is a prefect high alcohol herbal and bitter digestif that will keep your guests celebrating all night.

Becherovka Herbal Liqueur

Justin Simko, bar manager at The Bar at Husk in Charleston, South Carolina

For me, it’s Becherovka. It’s a cinnamon liqueur from the Czech Republic that has 1/5 the sugar that Fireball does. It’s not high proof either, so you can add it to a Hot Toddy or an Apple Cider and not have it sneak up on you like a bigger whiskey would.

Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum

Steve Wells, beverage director at Borago Restaurant in Grayton Beach, Florida

In an attempt to prepare myself for the imminent (yet never actualized) popularity of Rum, I have experimented over the years with several rum-based cocktails -sometimes in the style of bourbon- and I find it to be far more than the syrupy-sweet sum of the mixers it usually appears with. Mount Gay is the most versatile and ubiquitous, but my absolute new favorite is Plantation Rum, albeit I’ve only had their barrel proof and pineapple-infused, they are tops for me.

Tito’s Vodka

Nathan Elliott, lead bartender at il Solito in Portland, Oregon

Vodka. Specifically, Tito’s. I’m personally not a big Vodka fan, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s the number one selling spirit at my bar. If you don’t have any other spirit, you will still be able to entertain nearly any group with vodka. Make martinis, make mules, everyone will be happy.

Clase Azul Reposado Tequila

Leia Pecotte, bartender at Tulio in Seattle

Being a pretty solid bourbon drinker, I was surprised at how much I love a good sipping tequila. Clase Azul Reposado is my must-have this season for entertaining. It is worth the price tag for sure. Flavor notes of silky sweet vanilla with almost a toffee finish. It’s a wonderful treat to give someone who usually drinks bourbon, like myself.

Balvenie 12 Double Wood Scotch Whisky

Evgeny Anisimov, lounge barternder at Park Hyatt Aviara’s Park in Carlsbad, California

The biggest entertainer in my house would always be a bottle of whiskey. I like to have a bottle of Balvenie 12 Double Wood. It is a very approachable and tasty single malt. It is perfect for sipping by yourself or sharing with friends.

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia

Katie Hestead, bartender at Richard’s at the Inn at 500 Capitol in Boise, Idaho

You should always have a good amaro on hand. I recommend Nonino- it’s on the more mellow side as far as amaro goes. It’s a great digestif after a big meal, but you can also swap it in for sweet vermouth in Manhattans or add it to your coffee for a cafe corretto.

Laphroaig 12 Year Old Scotch Whisky

Robert Hall, bartender at Southside Smokehouse in Landrum, South Carolina

In my opinion, the most important bottle for entertaining is something unusual or out of reach for the group that is being entertained. Again, it is difficult to choose just one. Every Christmas we throw a huge party and invite our family, friends, and restaurant regulars and I bring out my Laphroaig 18 and my Elmer T Lee. They are wildly different from one another, but they are perfect examples of their genre. The Laphroaig is a smoke bomb, but delicate and complex at the same time, with all of the heart of the Atlantic Ocean. Elmer T Lee is my perfect bourbon. Perfect sugar content, perfect burn, a range of flavors across the palate and a nose to rival the most expensive perfume.

Fernet-Branca Amaro

Matt Betts, lead bartender at Revival at the Sawyer in Sacramento, California

Fernet-Branca is a must-have for entertaining as a great digestif for those heavy meals with a high enough proof to help enhance the gathering.