Ask a Bartender: What Spirit Is Underappreciated?


Working with as many spirits as they do, bartenders have the opportunity to become acquainted with some that aren't necessarily appreciated by the broader drinking public. We asked bartenders from around the country: What spirit or liquor do you feel is underappreciated?

Here's what they had to say.

Anthony Bohlinger of Chefs Club by FOOD & WINE, Aspen.

"I feel that vermouths are under-appreciated, but at the same time are making a tremendous comeback, as bartenders and customers are learning how to take proper care of these spirits and use them to their full potential."— Anthony Bohlinger (Chefs Club by FOOD & WINE)

"At this point in time I think gin is a little under appreciated. It has a great history, it kept British sailors alive during the World Wars, James Bond drinks it for Christ's sake, and who is cooler than James Bond? Maybe James Dean but it's tight." — Pablo Kovacs (Tin Roof Bistro)

"Right now I feel like grappa is both under-appreciated and not used enough. It's such a beautifully spiritual thing, coming from what's left of the wine-making process. It's an awesome distinct flavor that works wonders with anything from gimlets to standing on its own feet. I'd love to learn new cocktails using grappa!" — Kenneth Gray (Fishing With Dynamite)

"A couple of great spirits out there missing the limelight. One I am experimenting with a lot now is mezcal. It's totally overshadowed by its cousin, tequila, but an authentic mezcal (generally one without a gimmicky worm in the bottom) is really great. They have a smokiness about them which make them really interesting as sipping spirits, but also gives them enough body to hold up to some great blending for cocktails." — George Reilly (The Twisted Tail)

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Mariena Mercer of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

"It's really a draw for me currently between eau de vie and cachaça. I absolutely adore what Novo Fogo is doing to reenergize the craft cocktail world's perception of cachaça. And I could drink St. George's Thai Basil Eau de Vie every day of my life. Overall, I'm a huge fan of St George's masterful hand of blending and melding flavors, but this is really their defining spirit for me." — Mariena Mercer (The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas)

"Dry vermouth; there is endless usage for a good vermouth in recipe building. If all else fails, I dare you to try it over a large rock with a twist of lemon." — Beau du Bois (The Corner Door)

"Drambuie. I sneak it into lots of things." — Richard Woodruff (Chambers Eat + Drink)

"I still feel Benedictine is under-utilized at cocktail bars. We use it quite a bit a my place, but it could use a little resurgence." — Justin Fairweather (Evelyn Drinkery)

"Gin ... People are scared of it for some reason. Gin is a tastier spirit than vodka. Vodka is essentially flavorless and gin has great flavor for creating new drinks." — Ergys Dizdari (Filini Bar and Restaurant)

Back Problems
Elizabeth Powell of Liberty Bar, Seattle.

"Something that I am incredibly fond of, but don't see used that much in bars, is Batavia Arrack. I dig the slightly funky flavor that it adds as well as the aromatics." — Elizabeth Powell (Liberty Bar)

"I am a big believer in the rise of cachaça, the national spirit of Brazil. It has complexity not found in most other spirits and is incredibly versatile in its application—from the classic caipirinha and batida cocktails to more replacing the more traditional spirits in Daiquiris, Mai Tais, and other tiki-style drinks." — Chris Hopkins (The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas)

"I am still blown away by how gin is viewed by people. I even had one person this weekend say she couldn't drink gin because she would get crazy so she wanted vodka in the drink instead. It's not like I was serving Navy Strength gin! It's a shame. She has probably never understood the beauty of a gin gimlet on a nice sunny day!" — Jeff Faile (Fiola)

"Aquavit! I like using it as a rinse in sherry or vermouth heavy cocktails that are already sweet and herby." — Lauren Lathrop Williams (Jsix Restaurant)

"St Elizabeth's Allspice dram. It's incredibly dry, but also adds a very subtle sweetness to drinks. Even just a barspoon can completely change a cocktail." — John Henderson (Scholars, Tavern Road)

Pub With Cold Beer
Vincent Stipo of Vernick Food & Drink, Philadelphia.

"Becherovka. It is a potable bitters from the Czech Republic. I was introduced to it as a server when I worked in Boston and haven't stopped working with it since."— Vincent Stipo (Vernick Food & Drink)

"Absinthe. There is something of a resurgence in absinthe's popularity right now, but in many instances, for all the wrong reasons. People are drawn to absinthe for its incorrectly documented and perceived nefarious history, but in reality proper absinthe is a beautiful, complex spirit that requires an incredibly talented distiller to produce well." — Ben Anderson (The Corner Office Restaurant)

"By the drinking public? Rum. Too many people have had a bad night with the old Captain (whose surname we won't mention here) and, subsequently, their stomachs turn at the mention of rum. But I feel that both drinkers of lighter booze and those of deep, aged ones will find a spirit that is very satisfying here." — Keith Kenji Cochran (The Narrows, King Noodle,)

"It's not under-appreciated as such, but people need change how they feel about tequila. You could sip on a Hornitos on the rocks just as you could some Maker's and it's brilliant and tasty." — Kahil Nayton ( Larry Lawrence, Terminal 5 )

What spirit do you think deserves a little more love?

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