As a wine expert, I’m often asked what I sip when not drinking wine. The answer is spirits.
For me, it’s about stocking my bar with the staples. Bring on a classic martini, savory Manhattan or pristine margarita, and I’m a happy Thirsty Girl.
This shopping list of “brown” spirits such as bourbon, scotch and tequila will get you started creating a home bar, but it is also a guide to top-shelf spirits to try when out on the town.
The famous American whiskey primarily hailing from Kentucky is a favorite of mine for its brown sugar and toasted spice flavors. It’s strong, but because bourbon has been aged in new oak barrels and made mainly with corn, there’s an inherent sweetness to it. Not ready to drink it neat? An ideal way to sip bourbon is to pour it over ice with a dash of ginger ale. (Try an organic mixer called Q Ginger for a delicious cocktail. qginger.com)
Basil Hayden’s 8-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon, $38: My go-to bourbon for its elegance and style. The historic distiller uses rye in its whiskey to create a spicy, tea-like character. It is not as powerful as other whiskeys with a lighter body, and has a hint less alcohol. smallbatch.com/basilhaydens
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon, $45: As the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, Woodford is highly regarded. Falling on the powerful side of the scale, its mouth-warming flavors of vanilla and crème brûlée are an indulgent treat. woodfordreserve.com
is a type of whisky (no “e” in “whisky” when referring to Scotch) made in Scotland. It is more of an acquired taste than bourbon because of its signature peaty, moist-earth aromas, but many bottlings capture a fruity freshness, too. Styles are dependent not only on the distiller but also the area of production. If you like aggressive flavors, look to producers from the isle of Islay (pronounced eye-la). I prefer slightly sweeter styles from the Highlands and Speyside areas.
Glenmorangie Original Ten-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch, $35: Single malt Scotch is made only with malted barley at a single distiller, and
Glenmorangie is a superstar. Its succulent “original” bottling is lighter-bodied than others, and silky smooth. It sports a citrusy freshness and floral aromas. I like to pour a dram over ice with a squeeze of orange zest.
Johnnie Walker Black 12-Year-Old Blended Scotch, $30: Blended Scotch whisky is a mélange of different malt whiskies and regions to give layers of complexity to the spirit. Full-bodied and lush, it’s a richly styled sip.johnniewalker.com
Named for the Mexican city of Tequila and its local volcano, tequila is a fiery spirit I adore. Made from the blue agave plant grown in Tequila and surrounding hillsides of the Jalisco area, it is crafted in three primary styles: un-aged blanco (white) or plata (silver); reposado (rested), which is aged a year or less in oak barrels and has a hint of amber color; and añejo (aged), which spends up to three years in oak barrels gaining richness, color and complexity.
Casa Noble Reposado Tequila, $48: Casa Noble, whose distiller is partly owned by musician Carlos Santana, is like a designer suit — beautiful to look at and fits like a glove. Triple distilled, aged a year in French oak barrels and imbued with a stunning velvety texture with smoky aromatics, this is a personal favorite. Packaged in a handblown blue glass bottle, it makes an impressive gift as well. casanoble.com
Tres Agaves Blanco Tequila, $28: Clear, crisp and pristine, this blanco is one to enjoy alone or use for mixed drinks. Tres Agaves’ many products also feature an organic agave nectar-infused margarita mix, and its website includes an education video series about tequila (watch with glass in hand). tresagaves.com
Note: If you want to learn more about spirits, pack your bags. Visit the American Whiskey Trail (discus.org/trail), the Scottish Highlands (mcleanscotland.com), or head to Jalisco and take a trip to Tequila with Tres Agaves Tequila Tours and Academy (tresagaves.com/distillerytours).