When a cocktail newcomer heads into a good-sized liquor store, the options can be overwhelming. It’s a sprawling, sometimes intimidating place. Choices are sometimes made for less-than-informed reasons: the design of the label, old habits, or advertising materials. In “Home Bar Basics (and Not-So-Basics),” I recommend specific liquor brands with the clear purpose of making it easy for home bartenders to find the best quality among the racks at their local shops. Availability can vary state to state, so I did my best to focus on products with wide distribution and great value. All in keeping with the “Authentic – Practical – No Bullshit” tagline on the book cover.

But to completely focus on the big brands does a disservice to the hundreds of independent producers creating some truly stunning sips. These small-batch spirits, liqueurs, and other peripheral products like bitters are handmade and idiosyncratic. “Small Batch” is sometimes defined as a production of less than 20 barrels per year, but don’t hold me to that. Because of their small volume, producers can focus on doing things in a unique way, differentiating their character from the big guys. They’re made by people who put their heart and soul into every detail and are in it for the love of their craft, not market dominance. They don’t have huge marketing budgets (if at all), so any notice they get is just from enthusiastic word-of-mouth referrals and mentions in print or online. Oh, and all the awards they win don’t hurt.

To help build a list of recommendations, I recently sat down over burgers and Negronis with Forrest Cokely, spirits consultant and former Liquor Specialist at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California. Since 1957, Hi-Time has been a local legend here in SoCal – a family-owned beer, wine, and spirits emporium that’ll do some serious damage to your pocketbook if you let it. Don’t get me wrong: their prices are fair, it’s the selection that’ll kill you. If it’s legal and available, odds are they have it. And odds are, Forrest has sampled it and can tell you if it’s any good or not. His blog has fascinating tasting notes (the guy loves language as much as he does spirits). Give Forrest a follow on Twitter to keep up with his discoveries.

The end result of our lively discussion are his favorite picks, listed below – spirits that are probably best enjoyed neat or with a splash of ice-cold water to open them up. But don’t let that stop you from trying them in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan! By trying out these products, you’ll be supporting independent companies and expanding your world – not a bad deal.

If you have a hard time finding them where you live, I’ve included links to buy these products at Hi-Time if they stock them online. Hi-Time ships to every state where it’s legal – and internationally. Forrest told me they ship pallets full of tequila over to Japan all the time. Go figure!



  1. Adam Larson says:

    Great read Dave keep up the awesome work. Can’t wait till you’re back in stock with the book and looking forward to Vol. II

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