What better day to end a long week than settle in your most comfy chair with a nice drink? Yes, going out is fun, but staying in and savoring one of your favorite liquors beats that any day.
Every well-respected bar has to own a few basics. From spirits to amaros, without forgetting the very important bitters, it may take a while to curate your perfect version of a well-stocked bar.
What is Liquor?
Liquor is an alcoholic beverage that is made of grains that get fermented. The category includes six types of distilled spirits: brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whisky. After fermenting, the water separates from the alcohol through the distillation process.
This increases the alcohol content, so the final product contains at least 40 percent ABV, or alcohol by volume.
What is the Difference Between Liquor and Liqueur?
The basic, simplified explanation is that liqueurs are sweetened spirits with a variety of extracts, flavors, and oils. The liquors provide the base to liqueurs, and they are both distilled spirits.
The older name for liqueurs was cordials, and they used to serve for medicinal purposes. Another difference between the two is the alcohol content.
Liqueurs have a lower content due to the additives that are added to the mix. Their flavors can range from orange, to almond, even coffee. Any spirit that has the name ‘crème’ in it is usually categorized as a liqueur.
What Exactly Qualifies as Top Shelf Liquors?
As many experts say, it isn’t about the price, but the quality of the spirit. And variety is the spice of life. You will need to invest into great quality amaro, bourbon, gin, rye, scotch whisky, tequila, and vodka. Many people will also add rum to their bar carts, and a sweet and a dry vermouth, which should be kept in the fridge.
To add a bit of oomph to your cocktails you should have at least an aromatic or a potable bitter. They really elevate your mixology game, and add variety to your repertoire of mixed drinks.
At the end of the day, you should invest into what your preference is in terms of variety, but always try to get the best quality you can afford.
Now that we broke down the basics, let’s take a look at the 20 top shelf liquors you might want to try. Who knows, they might even become favorites?
But before we go into the nitty-gritty, let us show you two additions to your bar that will elevate your game tremendously.
20. Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto
Technically a liqueur, this bergamot spirit is a great addition to your collection. With abundant notes of bright citrus, herbs, and tonic, this all-purpose liqueur is complemented by a few Italian botanicals.
The reason we recommend this particular bottle is because it makes for a unique spirit to experiment with. If you’re the adventurous kind, this is a delicious way to up your spritzes, martinis, sours, etc.
19. Angostura Bitters
Bitters are considered a liquor, but they cannot be drunk as is. They are a complement to your favorite cocktails, meant to bring out the flavor of your spirit. To put it simply, bitters are neutral alcohol that have been infused with fruits, herbs, spices, and several botanicals.
This additive is flavored with the pungent sharp taste of plant extracts, and they were used in the past for their medicinal properties.
18. Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
This perfect sweet rum is medium bodied, which makes it very easy to drink. It isn’t a favorite in the US for nothing! This variation of spice flavorings will leave you with a nice taste on your palate.
Subtle hints of caramel and vanilla can be detected, and it makes a great liquor to be enjoyed either in summer or in the colder months. Makes a great base for many cocktails because of its spiciness.
17. Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino
For mixed drinks such as the Negroni or the Manhattan, you need to get a sweet vermouth to have on hand. It’s a very accessible and affordable spirit that creates magic in your mixology repertoire.
There are quite a few options that are very good quality, but this offering from Cocchi is a very good alternative. It is very intense with a touch of bitterness and lots of herbaceous notes. It brings lots of depth to any mix, and it can even be enjoyed neat if you’d like.
16. Cinzano 1757 Extra Dry Vermouth
Even if you’re not the biggest fan of dry Vermouth, it is always a good idea to have a good quality bottle ready for making martinis. This spirit has a few different uses such as a martini, as mentioned, or a highball, but it is great for any spritz-style drink as well.
It makes a great supporting mixer in a number of cocktails with its citrusy, earthy notes. For the more refreshing-style drinks, its acidity and florality is a decent complement.
15. Ciroc Mango
The newest vodkas on our list, Ciroc is a French spirit that was introduced in 2003. They offer many variations of infused flavors, but the mango has become a favorite in the last couple of years.
A strong taste with a citrus undertone, it has some spiciness to it that doesn’t overwhelm. Some of the other liquors on this list are better sipped, but this one makes a great base for a number of cocktails.
14. Lunazul Extra Anejo Tequila
This offering from Lunazul is aged for 46 months in used bourbon barrels, which gives it a special taste. As you will notice, most of the top-shelf liquors we curated are of great quality that are worth sipping slowly.
A fairly affordable option, the light and wispy flavoring along a pleasant bourbon finish makes this offering an excellent choice for a tequila. You can spend more than twice the price for other bottles and get very similar results, while this one is just as great.
13. Crown Royal
Canadian whisky brand Crown Royal is manufactured by Diageo, and it has a variety of offerings. Their most popular one is the Shelf Liquor, and not only because it is one of the most affordable liquors.
Made from corn, malted barley, and rye, it is aged in new oak casks. Unveiling notes of caramel, cinnamon candy, cooked apple, and gingerbread, this silky liquor can be sipped neat, on the rocks, or as a base for many cocktails.
12. High West Rendezvous Rye
This rye by High West Distillery is an award-winning spirit that will make a great addition to your top shelf bar cart. It can be sipped on its own, thanks to the subtle herbaceous notes and the candied fruit, molasses, honey, and baking spice flavors.
But if you prefer mixing an old pal or sazerac, for example, it makes for a great base. If you weren’t sure which rye to choose from so many available, this is a great starting point.
11. El Silencio Ensamble Mezcal
El Silencio operates from their new distillery in Xaaga, Mexico has an alluring story. They use mindful and sustainable methods that honor their historic surroundings, which makes their products so much more appealing.
Made up from Espadin, Mexicano and Tobaziche magueys, this joven mezcal is perfect for sipping neat. With striking notes of cracked white pepper, jasmine, and sweet smoke, this liquor has a long, enduring finish.
10. Pierre Ferrand Double Cask Reserve Cognac
Whether you’re a sipper or a sidecar fan, this offering from Pierre Ferrand is a complex yet smooth cognac that you will be glad you picked up. First aged in cognac barrels, it is then matured in Banyuls casks.
Using this ancient technique, the end result creates a cognac that is meditative. Enjoy the subtle notes of chocolate, coffee and spice, and the aromas of prunes and nuts for a very interesting taste.
9. Haku Vodka
This vodka is made from 100% Japanese white rice and it is filtered through bamboo charcoal. It has soft, rounded floral notes, and such deep complexity, that will create a new appreciation for vodka. Since vodka is generally not the most dynamic of the spirits, it is a must in any bar.
For the martini lovers that don’t want the delicate flavors of a vermouth to compete with the botanicals of a gin, this is the perfect substitute. Or even a plain old vodka and soda will satisfy your palate nicely.
8. Equiano Rum
We all need a carefully curated rum in our collection of top shelf liquors, and this Afro-Caribbean rum is co-founded by Ian Burrell, an industry icon. It is an award-winning expression that is combined from an eight-year old offering from Barbados and a ten-year old rum from Mauritius.
The result is a rich and complex liquor that has notes of toffee, toasted vanilla, dried fruits, and banana. This harmonious blend is better sipped slowly, but for mixing drinks, their lighter blend of Bajan rum with fresh cane juice is more appropriate.
7. Johnnie Walker Black Label
One of the best-selling premium liquors on our list, this distillery is another long-standing Scotch whisky manufacturer. They offer many variants, all of them with something special to offer.
A smooth, carefully crafted liquor, it is great enjoyed neat, on the rocks, but you can also mix it in cocktails if you’d like. Although you’d probably want to sip it in order to really experience its taste to the fullest.
6. Grey Goose Vodka
This French vodka is a fairly newcomer to the market. Since it launched in 1998, it has taken the world over with its smooth taste and clean, crisp texture. Made from French wheat and using underground spring water from the Chateau de la Martiniere vineyard, it distinguishes itself from other vodkas with their high quality ingredients.
The brand exudes luxury, so a great vodka to invest in if you’re not sure which to pick.
For the gin category, this offering is a great option. This is an overproof gin that was rested in Amontillado sherry casks, which gives it a unique flavor. Bottled at 54.5 % alcohol, it has a nice dry profile that makes a great base for a Martini.
A carefully selected blend of botanical make this gin very fragrant, with notes of grapefruit, juniper, and hints of jasmine. The higher percentage of alcohol is welcomed for an extra kick at the end of a long day. A respectable choice for your perfect gin martini.
4. Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky
One of the best liquors you will ever taste, this Single Malt Scotch whisky has been around since the early 1800s. The distillery has been in operation for almost two hundred years now, and they’ve perfected their recipes.
Indulging in any of their offerings will impress you with their smooth taste and beautiful color. Their distillery uses 14 copper pot stills for the production of their spirits, and either bourbon or french oak casks for the aging process.
3. Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Bourbon
This old fashioned bourbon is one of the best options in its category. Incredible on the rocks, or you can even sip it just as is. With notes of rich caramel, toasted sugar and vanilla, it goes down smoothly, and has a bold finish.
This top shelf liquor is twice barreled for added complexity. Not only does it taste amazing, the deep, rich amber color makes your bar look amazing. You will probably need to pick up more than one bottle once your guests will have a taste.
2. Hennessy V.S. Cognac
Although we already picked a very decent cognac, Hennessy is a no-brainer for any cognac enthousiast. Introduced in 1765 in France, the famed cognac brand is popular on a global scale, and it exudes class and stature. If you happen to have a bottle of this ubiquitous liquor in your cabinet, you know you’re doing well.
This spirit is made from a blend of eau-de-vie that has been aged in wooden barrels for at least four years. With notes of candied fruit, cinnamon, and cloves, this liquor is best sipped.
1. Glenfiddich 26 Year Grande Couronne
Aged in European and American oak before being transferred to ex-cognac casks for final aging process, the Grande Couronne expression from Glenfiddich is an incredible Scotch whisky bottle. With notes of brown sugar, baking spices, coffee, fennel, toasted oak, and vanilla, your palate will delight in those complex aromas.
Then it all leads to a dynamic and long finish. You and your guests will enjoy sipping on this very slowly, because, well, it’s not the cheapest bottle you will get to complete your bar.
These are the 20 top shelf liquors you might want to try for a well-stocked bar. Of course, if you have your favorites already, by all means, stick to them. But if we succeed in introducing you to at least one or two different options, then our job is done. Enjoy, but please drink responsibly. Cheers!
- What is Liquor?
- What is the Difference Between Liquor and Liqueur?
- What Exactly Qualifies as Top Shelf Liquors?
- 20. Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto
- 19. Angostura Bitters
- 18. Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
- 17. Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino
- 16. Cinzano 1757 Extra Dry Vermouth
- 15. Ciroc Mango
- 14. Lunazul Extra Anejo Tequila
- 13. Crown Royal
- 12. High West Rendezvous Rye
- 11. El Silencio Ensamble Mezcal
- 10. Pierre Ferrand Double Cask Reserve Cognac
- 9. Haku Vodka
- 8. Equiano Rum
- 7. Johnnie Walker Black Label
- 6. Grey Goose Vodka
- 5. Ford’s Officers’ Reserve Navy Strength Gin
- 4. Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- 3. Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Bourbon
- 2. Hennessy V.S. Cognac
- 1. Glenfiddich 26 Year Grande Couronne