Vodka, a neutral spirit, can be made from grains, vegetables, fruits and even sugarcane. It is usually clear and colorless but it is not flavorless as some believe. It's a highly mixable spirit and essential in many modern cocktails like the Cosmopolitan. For stocking your home bar, try a bottle of Absolut or Ketel One. Both can also be used to make your homemade vodka infusions.
^Try that vodka in these classic vodka cocktails.
Gin, a neutral grain spirit distilled with various botanicals, is a popular ingredient in many classic cocktails such as the Negroni. That means, it's definitely one liquor you should always have on hand. While there are four varieties of gin, it is best to start with a London Dry gin such as Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray. Later you can add the other varieties if you want to try them.
^Try that gin in these classic gin cocktails.
Tequila, made from the agave plant, is produced in one of five Mexican states. The best tequilas are made from 100 percent agave and will have that stated on the label. If it doesn't say this on the label, the tequila is a mixto and is a blend of agave and other sugars. For your first bottle of tequila, get a 100 percent agave blanco (also called silver) tequila such as Cazadores, Milagro or Patron which are all great in margaritas.
^ Try that tequila in these classic tequila cocktails.
Once referred to as "kill-devil," rum is a distilled spirit made from sugarcane. There are many different types of rum on the market including white (or light), dark, aged, spiced and flavored which is gaining in popularity. It's not necessary to have all of these varieties in your home bar but you should have at least a bottle of light rum, probably Bacardi, on hand for making piña coladas, mojitos and daiquiris.
^Try that rum in these classic rum cocktails.
By definition, brandy is wine that has been distilled into a spirit and aged in barrels. Note, we are not talking about the artificially flavored, low proof cheap stuff. Instead, we are talking about real brandy that includes cognac, armagnac and calvados. Keep a bottle of Courvoisier cognac behind the bar so you can drink sidecars whenever you want.
^Try that brandy in these classic brandy cocktails.
Distilled from either grains or malted barley and aged in wood barrels, Scotch whisky is popular all over the world. The different categories of Scotch whisky might be confusing but don't let that stop you from enjoying this fine liquor straight or in a cocktail such as the Rob Roy or Blood and Sand. Start with a bottle of blended Scotch such as Chivas Regal 18.
Bourbon whiskey is an American bar staple — or at least it should be. Made only in America and aged at least two years in new charred oak barrels, bourbon is essential in a classic Old Fashioned. Each brand will have its own unique flavors but two we suggest you try are Maker's Mark and Bulleit.
Known for being smoother and softer than Scotch, Irish whiskey was once the most popular spirit in the world. This has changed but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have a bottle on hand. You can't enjoy a glass of Irish coffee without it. Jameson and Bushmills are both brands you'll be able to find at your local liquor store.
Orange liqueur isn't a main spirit like the other ones listed above but it is an essential for the home bar. Drinks such as the margarita, sidecar and cosmopolitan aren't the same without it. Triple sec, Cointreau and Grand Marnier are the most popular choices for orange liqueur.
Vermouth is a red or white wine that is flavored with various herbs, roots, bark and flowers. The most common versions of this aperitif spirit are sweet and dry. Both have very low alcohol content and are used in many classic cocktails.
Sweet vermouth is typically red and used in drinks such as the Negroni and the Manhattan. Dry vermouth, on the other hand, is typically white and is needed to make a Dry Martini. When buying these for your home bar, purchase small bottles and store them in the refrigerator after opening. Two brands to look for are Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry and Martini and Rossi.