Bartenders Pick The Underrated Bottles Of Booze You Should Try In 2019


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.”

Roku Gin

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

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

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.”

Don Julio Blanco

Gina Alfano, bartender at City Works in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

“What is the most underrated bottle of booze? Don Julio Blanco, because it gets frequently overlooked in comparison to other brands but what makes it superior is its smoothness in both mixed drinks and on its own.”


Evan Danielson, beverage director at City Winery in Nashville

“I know this sounds crazy but I’m going to go with Jägermeister because it’s gotten a lot of hate in the mixology world. I’ve blind-tasted bartender friends on it, and every time they’re blown away when I reveal the bottle…for the longest time, their only exposure to the stuff was in Jager Bombs and in ice-cold shots. Now, I’m not going to be slinging it back all the time, but Jager is a solid product with pedigree and has paved the way for us to discover little known Amari and aperitif liqueurs.”

Chopin Vodka

Dawn Kurtz, bartender at South Branch in Chicago

“What is the most underrated bottle of booze? Chopin Vodka. Its four times distilled, smooth, gluten-free (as long as you have the black label) and moderately priced, in line with some of the more popular vodkas on market.”

Smooth Ambler Contradiction

Lacy Hawkins, national brand ambassador for Monkey 47 Gin

“Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon, without a doubt! This is a blend of wheated and rye whiskeys from West Virginia, giving off a smooth-sweet note, combined with the spiciness that Americans love. Coming in at 50% ABV makes for a strong backbone when making Old Fashioned’s or Manhattan’s and the price for a bottle this good feels like a real steal.”

Ancient Age Bourbon

Bryson Downham, beverage director at Toups’ Meatery in New Orleans

“I’m going to go with Ancient Age Bourbon. It’s the house whiskey of the Buffalo Trace distillers and has been since before they changed their name from Ancient Age to Buffalo Trace. It’s soft and golden with a hint of spice, and so unbelievably affordable.”

Jim Beam White Label

Felipe Ojeda, beverage director at Taurus Beer & Whiskey House in Miami

“Jim Beam White Label is criminally underrated. It’s the forgotten bourbon and it’s a shame. It tastes like banana nut bread and has a ton of applications from cocktail to just sipping neat.”

Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch

Ashley Bretthauer, bartender at The Diplomat in Milwaukee

“What is the most underrated bottle of booze? Monkey Shoulder Scotch, great story with a great history and comes from three of the greatest Speyside distilleries. I just think people don’t know where it comes from and why they decided to make it, but they should definitely give it a try.”

New Amsterdam Gin

Mallory Kilsdonk, bartender at Bootlegger in San Diego

“The first one to come to mind is New Amsterdam Gin. It’s clean and subtle. It’s the perfect introduction to gin for the majority of people who think they hate gin. (I love changing people’s mind about gin, or any spirit they think they hate but will adore in the right cocktail!) It’s not heavy on the juniper — a tasting note that turns many newbies off at first — but still provides the more prominent flavor that gin has to offer.”