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Bartenders Name Their Favorite Unexpected Spirits To Sip Straight

There are a handful of spirits that fit the criteria for drinking neat. We’re talking about Scotch, bourbon, rye, and various other whiskeys, rums, tequilas, and mezcals. Otherwise, most spirits are best suited as mixers. Or so drinkers are often led to believe. But if you branch out and try some different spirits, you’ll find that there’s a whole world of unexpected sippers out there just waiting for an ice cube.

Jorge Centeno, head bartender at The Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest, Illinois has a pick that’s usually used as a cocktail ingredient.

“Definitely Vermouth,” he says. “I enjoy it because it’s so full of flavor, it’s fun and complex, the options are endless, lower ABV than vodka or whisky. There is definitely a vermouth for everyone.”

Centeno isn’t the only bartender with strong opinions on less-than-typical bottles to enjoy neat or on the rocks. 16 bartenders and mixologists were kind enough to let us in on their picks for the best unexpected bottles to drink straight. Check them all out below and click the prices to buy a bottle for yourself.

Clairin Le Rocher Rum

Clairin Le Rocher

Anton Kinloch, owner of Fuschia Tiki in New Paltz, New York

ABV: 46.5%
Average Price: $40

Why This Bottle?

Clairin Le Rocher specifically due to its use of 30% dunder [the liquid left after distillation] resulting in this incredibly aromatic spirit. It’s also distilled to proof so there’s no additional water added — this is as good as it gets.

Cardenal Mendoza Brandy de Jerez

Cardenal Mendoza

Jeremy Williams, head mixologist at MDRD atop the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, Michigan

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $49.99

Why This Bottle?

As a lover of various types of brandy, I have lately been enjoying Cardenal Mendoza brandy de Jerez. Regarded as ‘gran solera reserve,’ this brandy is outrageously complex and shows deep fig and raisin character with notes of old wood and molasses. I love this brandy in a cognac tulip or a snifter.

Amaro Nonino

Amaro Nonino

Daniel Yang, lead bartender of Electra Cocktail Club at The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas

ABV: 35%
Average Price: $50

Why This Bottle?

At the end of a hard day, if I really need a solid drink, my go-to is an aperitivo or digestive. One of my favorites is Amaro Nonino. This grapa-based amaro has stronger influences of citrus, gentian, and a touch of caramel, definitely easy to down when in need of a mood pick-me-up.

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin

The Botanist

Darron Foy, bar manager at The Flatiron Room in New York City

ABV: 46%
Average Price: $40

Why This Bottle?

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin. Made by Bruichladdich who knows their way around a distillate, this gin is infused with 22 locally foraged botanicals (such as wood sage, creeping thistle, and lemon balm), it offers a silky texture, with beautiful floral notes that showcase the versatility of the Islay distillery, as well as the complexity of the Island itself.

Fernet-Branca

Fernet-Branca

David Ortiz, corporate beverage manager at Rocco’s Tacos in Tampa, Florida

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $33

Why This Bottle?

A unique spirit that I enjoy drinking neat is Fernet-Branca Liqueur. It’s an Italian aperitivo liqueur that’s very bitter but serves as a digestive. Once you acquire a taste for it, it will become part of your drinking habit.

Dolin Blanc Vermouth

Dolin Blanc

Robert Kidd, head bartender at Le Cavalier in Wilmington, Delaware

ABV: 16%
Average Price: $15.99

Why This Bottle?

Dolin Blanc Vermouth is delightful served chilled. Especially in the summer at the start of a meal or between courses. I love to serve it in a wine glass with a lemon twist and a mint leaf. The lemon adds just the right amount of acid, and the mint leaf really brings out the alpine aromatic quality of the vermouth. Vermouth first and foremost should be something delicious we can enjoy — not just one of the ingredients we reach for when making a martini.

Belvedere Organic Infusions Lemon & Basil Vodka

Belvedere

Federico Doldi, beverage director of Gansevoort Meatpacking in New York City

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $32

Why This Bottle?

I recently had the chance to taste the new range of Belvedere Organic Infusions. I have to be honest, I was not a fan of flavored vodka, but when I tasted the Lemon & Basil there was a party in my mouth. The flavors are so clean and rich that I just add some ice and keep sipping it all day long.

Green Chartreuse

Green Chartreuse

Ryan Mish, bar manager at The Graceful Ordinary in Chicago

ABV: 55%
Average Price: $60

Why This Bottle?

Green Chartreuse makes a great neat pour. It collects dust in a lot of bars but has so many cocktail applications. By itself, it is herbal and sweet but with a proof that leaves you with a warm feeling. It’s great for sipping casually but also can help catch up to friends that are already well into their night.

Suze Liqueur

Suze

Chandra Richter, chief mixologist at Drinkworks

ABV: 20%
Average Price: $30

Why This Bottle?

It may be an acquired taste, but right now I am really enjoying sipping on Suze. It’s a complex French liqueur made from gentian root. It is delicately bitter with layers of citrus and floral. I typically serve it neat, but because of the citrus flavors, it’s really nice with a simple twist of lemon, too.

Christian Drouin Calvados VSOP

Christian Drouin

Adam Fournier, bar director at Fellow in Los Angeles

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $75

Why This Bottle?

I secretly love calvados and almost always have an open bottle on my bar cart. I’m particularly fond of anything produced by the Christian Drouin family. This is some of the best apple brandy in the world and the crisp apple flavors melded with the oak aging with a finish of intense baking spices creates a meal in a glass.

Branca Menta

Branca Menta

David Nasser, bartender at the New Orleans Marriott

ABV: 30%
Average Price: $32

Why This Bottle?

Emphatically, Branca Menta. For years, the “bartender’s handshake” among cocktail culture bearers has been a shot of Fernet-Branca. It’s a bitter, dry aperitif and digestive that isn’t for the meek. Branca Menta, on the other hand, is the mint-tinged version of the same spirit. It slides down easily, with an earthy feel that leaves you warm and fuzzy inside.

[Editor: This is a favorite of mine, too.]

Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream

Whisper Creek

Brandon Parnell, general manager and director of beverage for Flora-Bama in Perdido Key, Florida

ABV: 20%
Average Price: $22

Why This Bottle?

Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream. The base spirit for this family of brands is Tennessee whiskey which lends itself perfectly as a complement to the natural flavors that define these killer cream-based products.

Kintaro Honkaku Shochu

Kintaro Shochu

Ryan Pines, beverage director at Ukiah in Asheville, North Carolina

ABV: 25%
Average Price: $35

Why This Bottle?

I would have to say lately it has been Kintaro roasted barley shochu. I can have it straight or in a highball. It’s very versatile and I love that long finish of roasted barley. It’s definitely different, but not to be missed.

Amaro Del’erborista

Del’erborista

Sother Teague, beverage director at Overthrow Hospitality in New York City

ABV: 21%
Average Price: $66

Why This Bottle?

It may be an unexpected bottle to you, but to me, it’s as regular as the mail. Amaro Del’erborista from the Varnelli family in la Marche Italy. It’s a gentian and honey amaro that’s made with honey From bees that pollenate the gentian and local vegetation. This leaves the honey with a distinctively bitter flavor. The botanicals are toasted with open flames before macerating giving the final product a slightly smoky aroma and flavor that’s transportive.

Due to an earthquake, fire and, the global pandemic it’s been hard to come by for a while. If you see it, buy it.

Tequila Cascahuin Plata 48

Cascahuin

Jeff Bell, bartender at PDT in New York City

ABV: 48%
Average Price: $60

Why This Bottle?

Tequila Cascahuin Plata 48. It’s a higher proof blanco tequila that’s actually perfect for sipping on a hot summer day or to have with soda and a squeeze of lime. It’s one of the purest expressions of blanco tequila.

Bozal Guías de Calabaza Mezcal

Bozal

Deke Dunne, master mixologist at Allegory DC in Washington, DC

ABV: 45.5%
Average Price: $98

Why This Bottle?

I recently tried Bozal Guías de Calabaza, their vegetarian pechuga-style mezcal, at Espita, a Washington, DC based mezcaleria. It was an absolute joy to drink. Pechuga is a traditional, ceremonial style mezcal that is usually distilled with chicken or other types of meats, and is incredibly savory and creates a unique drinking experience. I was blown away by Bozal’s vegetarian offering, Guías de Calabaza. Firstly, I had never had a vegetarian pechuga, and secondly, it was one of the most fun drinking experiences I have had in a while. Here they used ingredients such as pumpkin stems, plantains, and seasonal fruits and grains. They also used chepiche, an herb commonly used in Mexican cooking to season meats. It was a super vegetal, as one might expect, but it surprised me with a fruity, but meaty savoriness.

The fact that they could achieve the same savoriness as a regular pechuga while using strictly vegetarian ingredients is super cool stuff. Needless to say, I ended up ordering a couple more pours that evening. This bottle is a limited release but pick it up if you can. You won’t regret it.


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