If you stroll through the aisles of your local liquor store, you’re likely to be inundated with choices. In the tequila section alone, you’ll be met with bottles new and old — some more bespoke and others more mainstream. It’s enough to make someone grab the most well-known brand within arm’s reach and run to the cashier, rather than risk getting stuck in a time loop, wandering a supermarket for all eternity.
The thing of it is, there are gems to be found if you’re willing to be adventurous. And plenty of big brands get bought on name recognition alone, which feels dumb. Plus, why would you want to limit yourself to a few brands when there’s a whole world of liquor out there to be enjoyed neat and in your favorite cocktails? That’s why we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their favorite underrated bottles of booze.
Here are their picks for the lesser-known (or lesser-appreciated) bottles you should try in the new year.
Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia
Juan Arboleda, lead bartender at Da Capo in New York City
“I’d probably say Jose Cuervo. It has such a bad stigma from people drinking it college and not liking the strong flavor of the tequila. I get that. But they came out with this ridiculously good bottle called Reserva de la Familia. It’s over the top delicious—one of the best bottles you can get.”
Nahm Kim, mixologist at Sunda in Nashville
“I think Japanese gin is going to be one of the next big things. I look forward to incorporating Roku from Suntory into the menu at Sunda. Can’t wait for five years from now when all the Tito’s and soda drinkers are at my bar are asking for Japanese gin instead.”
Sacred Bond Brandy
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Tall Boxes (Old Fashioned no. 112) | Sacred Bond Bib brandy | Angostura bitters | Muddled orange & cherry | Liber & Co. gum syrup | @robertosimonson recently wrote an article for @punch_drink that featured his Top 15 cocktails of 2018. Tall Boxes from Chicago’s Prairie School (sadly it closed after only a few months) was featured. I’ve made this a few times since I first got my hands on a bottle of Sacred Bond brandy and every time I love it. A delicious Brandy Old Fashioned. Sacred Bond totally makes this cocktail. Threw on some Boy Genius, one of the best, but all too short, albums of 2018.
Will Benedetto, director of bars at In Good Company Hospitality in New York City
“Sacred Bond Brandy. It’s completely delicious and a workhorse in a cocktail — bold enough to work well with virtually any flavor combination. It’s also really inexpensive.”
George Dickel No. 12
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Benjamin Rouse, bar lead at Henley in Nashville
“This has to be George Dickel No. 12, or as I refer to it, ‘The Other Tennessee Whisky.’ For under $40 you can enjoy a blend of at least 7-year-old whiskey. Don’t tell their neighbor down the road, but I reach for this over the square bottle any day.”