The Drinks Cabinet: Spirits

Posted April 28th at 10:16pm

The heart and soul of a drinks cabinet is of course the drinks, below is some useful information on the spirits you can have in your home bar, so take these ideas and tailor them to your style.

I've had a lot of people tell me what should be in my drinks cabinet, but as I mentioned in the previous section, The Drinks Cabinet: Where to Start, this is your drinks cabinet and as you will be the main consumer of the drinks in your cabinet, you should make sure you have what you like in there.

My drinks choices are simple and based around what I like (neat spirits and Bloody Marys), anything more will generally gather dust until I have a party and that drunk friend we all have finishes it.

So now to the drinks…


Mainly made by distilling fermented grains, beets and potatoes, although other bases like fruits and molasses are also used, then mixing with water, the purity of vodka has always been important. Both the distillation process (with multiple distillations common) and water source impact the purity and so flavour of vodka, along with the base ingredient.

Vodka is considered to have a neutral flavour and smell, making it the perfect supporting act in cocktails. By giving the other ingredients prime position, vodka has become the most commonly used distilled spirit in cocktails and mixed drinks, however is traditionally be drunk neat, straight from the freezer to give it a creamy texture (real vodka should not freeze in there).

A good vodka is a versatile addition to any cabinet, enabling a plethora of cocktail possibilities. Having some orange juice or ginger beer in the fridge, means you have a Screwdriver and Moscow Mule always available at short notice. My favourite morning after the night before drink is a Bloody Mary, so I keep spiced tomato juice stocked up in the fridge.

Our Cocktail Suggestions:
Bloody Mary
Espresso Martini

Our Bottle Suggestions:
Ramsbury Vodka - A fantastic single estate vodka


Seldom drunk neat, gin is another base spirit to make an abundance of cocktails. Gin's juniper-grounded flavour adds more to cocktails than vodka and is key to a Gin & Tonic, a tipple everyone seems to be drinking at the moment. Whilst juniper is ever-present, distillers have a world of flavours to also add, leading a vast assortment of options, with the recent explosion of craft gins pushing boundaries. Either via compounding (though not preferred) or distilling, these flavours are added to neutral spirit, to each distiller's individual recipe.

London Dry is a good place to start, juniper-forward, it is the most widely produced style of gin and most popular in cocktails. Whilst New Western Dry Gin offers almost infinite exploring to find your perfect match.

With Gin & Tonic being so popular, this is one spirit that appears in most drinks cabinets, so having some tonic stocked in a cupboard makes this another easy drink to make. Adding a drop of bitters can create a whole new flavour experience to your standard Gin & Tonic and impress your guests.

And whilst you have the gin, there’s a Red Snapper to try out (Bloody Mary with gin).

Our Cocktail Suggestions:

Gin & Tonic

Red Snapper

Dry Martini

Our Bottle Suggestions:

Campfire Gin - A great example of a London Dry Gin made by a micro distillery

Firkin Gin - This oak-rested gin offers something different and can be drunk neat or provide a new depth to classic gin cocktails…also worth a go in a Smoky Martini.


Whisky (or whiskey) varies more than just in spelling, which we’ve started explaining in our earlier post, Whisky not Whiskey? And where does Tennessee come into it?

This grain-based spirit is seen by many as the pinnacle of aged liquor, used as a neat tipple in their drinks cabinet. The variations in style and flavour mean that it is easy to have a number of whiskies in your cabinet, for example an Islay Scotch, a Highland Scotch, a blended Irish and a Bourbon to finish it off…all have their place, and that’s without mentioning Rye, Canadian and New Age Whisky.

Whisky is also a great cocktail ingredient (I particularly like an Old Fashioned), however unlike vodka it can often be the star of the cocktail, so the quality of your whisky cannot be hidden.

A good Scotch and a lovely Bourbon can be a good place to start with your drinks cabinet, these will cover the majority of whisky cocktails and if you choose well will allow you to sit back and enjoy something sumptuous of an evening alone when you'll need to know how you prefer you're whisky (as is, on ice, or with water).

Our Cocktail Suggestions:

Old Fashioned

Bloody Marianne 

Rob Roy

Our Bottle Suggestions:

Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon - A great way into Bourbon

Glengoyne 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - A fantastic traditional Scotch, well-aged...great drink


Historically made around the Caribbean from molasses (rum and ron) or fresh sugar cane (rhum and cachaça) rum is synonymous with Caribbean holidays and tropical cocktails…think Mojito, Rum Punch and Caipirinha. Rum can also be spectacular when drunk neat, with a growing range of premium aged rum being produced and shared.

So once again, rum is a stable of many drinks cabinets, covering a wide range of options, but particularly useful for reminiscing about summer days in the sun…at least for me.

As we mentioned in our earlier post Rum, Rhum, Ron, Ron is the most widely consumed of the varieties, as it is commonly used on cocktails and its sweeter taste, often with hints of caramel, cocoa or coffee, make it the easiest entry-point for novices. Therefore a good ron is a nice place to start with rum for your drinks cabinet and then a well-aged sipping rum/rhum/ron can be the next addition (I currently have Depaz Port Cask Finish Hors D'Age Rhum Agricole, which was The Summerton Club's February deliver).

Our Cocktail Suggestions:


Rum Punch

Rum Old Fashioned

Our Bottle Suggestions:

Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva - A well rounded rhum, good for all occasions

Ron Zacapa Centenario XO Rum - It’s very difficult to go wrong with Ron Zacapa, which is becoming a major brand in ron (thanks to Diageo). This is one to pull out and impress your friends


Derived from the Dutch word brandewijn, meaning "burned wine", brandy is made by distilling fermented fruit, usually grapes, going by the names of Applejack, Armagnac, Calvados, Cider Brandy, Cognac, Eau-de-Vie, Grappa, Pisco, etc around the world. Although according to EU rules, brandy can only be made from grapes (with Somerset Cider Brandy the only exception I’m aware of, which is the result of one man’s very, very long battle with the EU).

Brandy is a staple of many classic cocktails, although for me an aged brandy, such as Armagnac or Calvados, is divine on its own.

A brandy for cocktails isn't a usual start point for the uninitiated, but don't let that put you off, as brandy cocktails are just are easy to make as other spirit cocktail and they taste great.

As a neat tipple a wonderfully aged brandy is a great way to impress friends, as well as a nice way to relax after a long day.

Not sure what brandy to start with? The Summerton Club will be sharing some fantastic brandies with members throughout the year.

Our Cocktail Suggestions:


Pisco Sour

Applejack Flip

Our Bottle Suggestions:

Janneau XO - A big brand in Armagnac, they are that for good reason

Lecompte 12 Year Old Calvados - A great entrance into calvados


Lemon/lime wedges and salt have given tequila an awful name, there is so much more to this Mexican spirit made from the blue agave plant, which differs from mescal that is made from any type of agave.

Proper tequila is made with the same care and attention of a fine cognac or exquisite whisky, I suggest you aim for 100% agave to get the best out of a tequila. The other option is mixtos, which must contain a minimum of 51% agave and often uses glucose and fructose.

The are four main age statements:

Blanco/Plata (white/silver) – bottled immediately after creation, this is an unaged, white spirit

Reposado (rested) – aged over two months

Añejo (aged) – aged over a year

Extra Añejo (extra aged) – aged over three years

Some purists believe that blanco/plata is the only way to drink tequila, savouring its bold agave flavour. However, for me, I prefer an aged tequila that has had the chance to mellow. A good aged tequila in your drinks cabinet can be drunk neat, used in cocktails or consumed as the traditional tequila slammer. It will also be a great conversation starter.

Our Cocktail Suggestions:


Bloody Maria

Tequila Sour

Our Bottle Suggestions:

Casamigos Añejo Tequila - George Clooney’s tequila brand

            Liqueurs (including Vermouth)

This is a potentially a vast category but in essence these are key ingredients to finish some classic cocktails, for example sweet vermouth in a Rob Roy, orange liqueur in a Cosmopolitan and coffee liqueur in an Espresso Martini, although sometimes the liqueur is the only spirit in a cocktail.

Liqueurs also have the potential to be the entire drink, my current favourite is a cold filter coffee liqueur as it saves me the effort of making an Espresso Martini.

As before, what you like is important, so just get the liqueurs you need to make you favourite cocktails and the ones you like to drink on your own.

Our Bottle Suggestions:

Conker Spirit Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur - My Espresso Martini cheat

Antica Formula Carpano Vermouth - Part of numerous classic cocktails

Note:  You may have noticed that my two favourite cocktails are a Bloody Mary and an Old Fashioned, in their various guises. As I said, it's what you like that matters, so as these are the cocktails I like, I've shared the cocktails above.