Following the comments in one of yesterday’s posts, Young Reader Hank F. emails and asks:

“What would YOU consider a decently-stocked liquor cabinet?”

I’m not going to comment on quantities, because that depends on personal / family consumption levels (e.g. whenever Son&Heir comes over, all my beer magically disappears, while when Daughter and Fiance visit, my gin supply gets absolutely devastated).

Likewise, what you keep on hand depends on what you, and any likely visitors, may prefer.

I grew up during a time when not having a selection — whereby a visitor wouldn’t find at least a second- or third choice of liquor — would be regarded as poor hosting.  So here are my thoughts:

  • Blended Scotch  a.k.a. “drinking in quantity / with a mixer” Scotch. Two bottles should suffice.
  • Single-malt Scotch:  I have quite a few, but one bottle each of two or three different brands should do likewise.
  • Irish Whiskey:  like blended Scotch, this can be mixed at will.
  • Ordinary gin:  not everyone likes gin (poor fools), but as long as you have one brand to be mixed with tonic or whatever, you’ll be okay.
  • Sipping gin:  like single malt Scotch, you only need one or two.
  • Brandy:  I only keep South African brandy on hand, but good luck finding it outside Seffrica.  (I’ve found that Spanish brandy is actually quite drinkable with a mixer, especially when compared to Californian brandy, which is uniformly dreadful).
  • Rum:  I like the dark, spicy kind, which makes the best Cuba Libre (rum ‘n Coke) for serious drinking.
  • Bourbon:  I don’t drink this much (or at all), but it’s like blended Scotch — mix it with anything. or nothing.
  • Vodka:  get a cheap brand like Smirnoff for mixed drinks.
  • Tequila:  I’ll admit to not knowing diddly about this Mexican stuff, as I only ever drink it in margaritas.
  • Vermouth:  only if you plan on serving martinis .
  • Liqueurs:  you’ll need quite a few because of the taste range, but really only a bottle of each:  Kahlua / Tia Maria (coffee), Amaretto (nut), Drambuie (whisky), Cointreau / Grand Marnier (orange), Godiva (chocolate), Midori (melon), Chambord (raspberry), and so on.  I love the hard-to-find Mandarin Napoleon (mandarin orange, duh), but most people find it way too sweet.
  • Port:  here we have the dry / sweet / semi-sweet divide (ruby, tawny, muscat etc.), but anything by Taylor, Fonseca, Sandeman’s or Warre will impress.  For an “everyday after-dinner” port, the Australian(!) Cockburn Fine Ruby  is excellent.
  • Sherry:  As with port;  but Harvey’s Bristol Cream is the J&B of sherries:  just about everyone likes it.  Dry Sack isn’t bad, either.

So, to summarize:  if like Reader Hank I were starting from scratch to create an Everyman liquor cabinet (i.e. without the high-end sipping stuff, but with brands of decent quality which you wouldn’t be ashamed to serve), it would contain one or two brands from each of the following categories (and everything depends on how it tastes to you):

Scotch:  J&B / Famous Grouse / Dewar’s
Irish:  Bushmill’s / Jameson’s / Tullamore Dew
Gin:  Tanqueray / Bombay Sapphire
Vodka:  Ketel One / Grey Goose
Bourbon:  Maker’s Mark / Knob Creek / Jack Daniel’s / Jim Beam
Tequila:  Jose Cuervo Gold (dark) / Patron Silver (white)
Rum:  Myer’s Dark / Captain Morgan Spiced / Wray & Nephew White
Sherry:  Harvey’s Bristol Cream
Port:  Sandeman’s Rich Ruby / Cockburn’s Fine Ruby
Liqueur:  Kahlua, DiSaronna Amaretto, Grand Marnier and Bailey’s Irish Cream.

If you wanted to extend your cabinet by adding some sipping liquors (one or two brands only, and once again without nosebleed prices):

Scotch:  Glenmorangie Original 10-year-old /  Aberlour 12-year-old
Brandy:  Courvoisier XO
Gin:  Sipsmith / No. 3 London Dry
Rum:  Pusser’s 15-year-old / Gosling’s Dark
Vodka:  Belvedere / Grey Goose
Tequila:  Patron Extra Anejo (I was told by the Son&Heir)
Bourbon:  Barrell / Rabbit Hole Dareringer

There you have it.  As everyone has their own opinions about booze — which is a Good Thing — feel free to add your suggestions in Comments.  But I don’t think the above would be a selection that Reader Hank would be ashamed of.


  1. Jose Cuervo Gold- Nada.
    The best rule of thumb with tequila is to only buy a bottle that states somewhere on the label that it is 100% agave( 100% de Agave, 100% Agave Azul, 100% Blue Agave, etc). If that is nowhere to be found on the label ( check out Jose Cuervo Gold) then it is 51% tequila and 49% whatever.

    1. Frankly, if any drink is generally served with limes and salt, or else mixed in a fruit slushy, it makes the perceived x-content rather irrelevant.

      1. Kim, tsk tsk. There ARE sipping tequilas, hold the salt and lime. Herradura Seleccion muy Suprema being one I’ve enjoyed (heck, tequila was my entry into distilled spirits!). Another excellent joven tequila is sold in the US as Fortaleza, in it’s native country it is known as Los Abuelos. The great-grandson running it now has the last name of Sauza, so he knows a thing or two.

        I’ve preferred sipping distilled spirits, and rarely have a margarita or mojito. Scotch, either blended or single malt, Irish (same), bourbon (Buffalo Trace makes MANY excellent products, and the distillery grounds are a beautiful thing to behold) are what I’ve had one hand prior to getting married. And I’ve been to The Glenlivet, Tullibardine, Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries.

        As for liqueurs, when my wife and I went to Jamica for our honeymoon, lo’ coming up on 5 years ago, she raved about a rum liqueur only available there: Sangsters. And she was right!

        Lastly, Jack Daniels’ is NOT bourbon! It’s Tennessee whiskey due to it’s being filtered through maple wood charcoal, and why I won’t drink anything less than the Gentleman Jack or the Frank Sinatra Jack. I really don’t care to suck on a charcoal briquette, thank you very much.

  2. I can’t believe a Texas resident wouldn’t put Tito’s at the top of the vodka list. It used to be THE best bargain until people got wise to its quality and they raised the price. My everyday vodka is Tanqueray. Smooth and super cheap. I think Grey Goose is bigly overrated. Too oily.

    No real use for Jim Beam. There are better quality bourbons that work well as both a mixer and can be sipped straight (Four Roses small batch is quite the utility player).

    And screw you for getting me hooked on Sipsmith (the lemon version is fantastic). The only place to get it is in N. Kentucky. Luckily the big box liquor store always has it on sale.

    1. I drink vodka, if at all, with OJ so the taste/quality is pretty much irrelevant.

  3. One of our favorite hunting camp drinks was 100 proof Wild Turkey. In the words of a late friend “That stuff will make you return things that you never stole.” I had a last drink with him by pouring some on his grave and I don’t think that the grass has ever grown back.

    1. As long as you passed it through your kidneys first, he’s not gonna complain.

  4. Some years back I got a pleasant surprise from a bartender friend who put a shot in front of me and said “Try this.”, it was Patron Cafe (coffee flavored tequila). I’m not usually one for flavored anything alcoholic, preferring to add my own flavor if I want, but this stuff is WONDERFUL. Nice and sip-able after dinner, Hell it would be nice on vanilla ice cream. Just be careful, as wonderful as it tastes, it IS still tequila and will knock you on you ass if you’re not careful (ask me how I know, go ahead!). As they say, “Tequila makes my clothes come off.”

    Of course this same bartender once did the same thing with Southern Comfort and lime, foul stuff, took four shots of Jameson to get the taste out of my mouth.

    OK, next question: Now that we have the stocked liquor cabinet, what mixed drinks do you consider a proper host should be able to make off the top of his head (IOW without asking the guest what’s in it, or sneaking onto Google to find out).

    Here’s my list, leaving out such things as gin-and-tonic with the contents in the name:

    Martini (For the record, martinis are made with GIN, asking for a vodka-martini is like asking for a jack-and-coke made with rum).
    Manhattan (as well as variations like the Rob Roy and Metropolitan)
    Old Fashioned
    Bloody Mary
    Mint Julep

    Funny story about that last: My wife and I visited friends in Georgia a few years ago, and it happened to be Kentucky Derby day so they made Mint Juleps for us. My wife thought the Mint Julep was a fru-fru drink, wasn’t expecting it to be half bourbon. Since she’s not a drinker, but she didn’t wish to offend our hosts, we sneakily switched glasses when mine was empty and hers was still 3/4 full.

    1. According to some chauvinistic Southerners a Mint Julep should never be made by someone from north of the Mason Dixon line.

    2. Honestly, I don’t do mixed drinks as a rule (other than the simple ones like G&T, Jack & Coke, Cuba Libre etc.) so I’m not big on the named cocktails — and certainly not when Scotch is an ingredient.

  5. I would have added one or more of the high end Rye Whiskies.

    Beam Suntory makes an award winning one locally and my Irish cousin claims he likes it better than Irish whiskies. But then, he’s Irish…

  6. Over the years I have developed a taste for Rusty Nails, Scotch and Drambuie, and am absolutely hooked on green Chartreuse. I always order it when I’m in a snotty attitude restraint or bar just as a test. I have had it delivered to the table on the rocks or in a brandy snifter and not straight up in a narrow mouth liqueur glass. I just had Amazon deliver a bottle of el Guapo, British Colonial Style tonic syrup. This is for my self medication against the bug. The jury is still out about whether or not I like the stuff, but it sure ain’t Schweppes.

  7. All wonderful choices, of course, and tastes are very personal. However, I find it interesting how the brand preferences have changed over the years from when I started drinking (I’m sixty-something now).

    For instance, not one mention of Johnny Walker Black Label, my go-to blended scotch. Not one. Back in the day, this WAS the go-to blended scotch in the U.S. with J&B a close second. J&B is one of the only brands from back in the day I still see here. The reason those two were so popular, most likely, is because the two most popular single malts back then (there wasn’t the plethora of singles back then, at least in the U.S.) were Glenlivet (top note in JW Black), and Glenfiddich (top note in J&B). Your single malt choice then usually matched your blended choice.

    Another brand conspicuous by its absense is Beefeater Gin, still my fave. While you can always find it at the liquor store, sadly, more and more often you can find bars that don’t stock it. Over the last several decades Bombay Saphire seems to have edged it out of top place. I actually do not care for Saphire, but I do like the Bombay Green label stuff. But taste is a funny thing, and I’m stuck on Beefeater for martinis, although Tanqueray is unbeatable in a gin & tonic, for some reason. They just seem to be made to go together.

    On the affordable blended scotch side, while I’ve always like DeWar’s for things like Rob Roy’s or Rusty Nails (and sometimes just a lighter sip than JWBL) I’ve been delighted to discover Famous Grouse about ten years ago. One of the best values for the money in Scotch, IMO. Recently I’ve been introduced to Monkey Shoulder by a friend. Funny name, I know, but if you see it, try it, I do not think you’ll be disappointed, it’s a marvelous scotch blend for the money.

    I can honestly say until about ten years ago, I did not like American whiskies. But I have developed a taste for bourbons and ryes of late. Again, in terms of value for the dollar, I don’t think Buffalo Trace can be beaten, and for a dollar or two more, Eagle Rare is superb. The Buffalo Trace distillery makes several higher end whiskies I love, Blanton’s and Col. E.H. Taylor among them. Browse their many brands here.

    I’m really puzzled about Beefeater, though. Used to be Beefeater = Gin in the U.S. Now it’s a has been for some reason.

    1. I am 70 something and my Gin is Beefeaters and my Scotch is Johnny Walker Black. Gin is an acquired taste I learned from my First wife’s Father – he was a Landman / attorney who drank the hell out of it. My second wife and I have been married for 20 years but I still prefer Beefeaters on the rocks for a before dinner drink. During the 17 years between first and second wife I worked all over the world for Exxon and developed the Johnny Walker Black taste for scotch – still is my scotch I like best. Though as I age, I pretty much just have a few glasses of Malbec and call it good.

  8. If you like tequila, then try the liqueur Agavero. It is to tequila what Drambuie is to whisky.

  9. +1 for Black Label.

    My advice to your reader would be to invest in a couple of vintage cut crystal glasses. I know you can drink single malt out of paper cups if you have to, but nothing completes the moment when sitting down for a serious drink with your mate than a couple of nice glasses

  10. To echo (and agree with) Pete Townshend: I’d like to thank Remy Martin cognac for saving my life by making the bloody stuff so expensive.

  11. I am fortunate to live near Corvallis Oregon, home of Vivacity Distillery.

    They make an organic sipping gin called… hang on, I need to get out of the shower to check the label… OK, I’m back.
    It’s called OREGON NATIVE, from all-Oregon ingredients.
    To mix this with something less would be grounds for summary corporeal punishment(s).

    Vivacity also makes a chocolate/coffee liqueur called TURKISH.
    Magical on coconut ice cream!

    Also from Corvallis, Spiritopia Distillery makes a small-batch hand-crafted award-winning GINGER LIQUEUR.
    Sipping only.
    Although I can imagine it on a dark dark chocolate ice cream with dark chocolate chunks.

    What do you do in the shower?

  12. If you’re going to get a vodka, just make sure it’s a potato vodka. Vodka is meant to be made from potatoes. I’ll take a $15 bottle of potato vodka before I take a $40 bottle of grain vodka.

    A good single malt scotch is a like a good woman – what you like is what you like, you probably can’t afford it, and it’ll kill you in the end.

  13. It’s an odd coincidence you mention Pusser’s 15 year the same time it shows up in my state store..

    I had the shitty circumstance of putting my first dog down and getting a decent bonus from work, so I splurged on a bottle of Pusser’s 15. That’s really good rum. Almost reminds me of bourbon, very unique flavor in a rum.

  14. I have the regular Pusser’s rum (not the 15) because it’s what Mrs. Free Market drinks, and I like to be prepared. (Laproiag for Mr., btw.)

  15. Oh dear. I fear you would be disappointed were you to view my stock: I don’t do spirits at all except for in the cooking. OTOH I’m sure my modest wine rack would please, with its very quaffable red and whites. Albeit they’re half bottles, because it’s just me at home. A nice American red I’ve found is Qupe.

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