18 Essential Liquors & Liqueurs for Your Home Bar

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From martinis to sazeracs, there is a wide variety of cocktails and drinks that people love to enjoy at home within the comfort of their own bar. Of course, every quality drink needs the proper ingredients. Here is a list of liquors that no proper home bartender would be caught dead without.

1. Bourbon

This Kentucky classic is known for its oaky taste with hints of vanilla and caramel.

Popular bourbon mixers:

  • Old fashions
  • Mint juleps
  • Manhattans

Bourbon brands:

  • Top shelf: Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style
  • Budget choice: Jim Beam

2. Vodka

Distilled from potatoes, this Western European favorite is known for its subtlety and ability to be mixed into a wide variety of drinks.

Popular Vodka mixers:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Moscow Mules
  • Cosmopolitans

Vodka brands:

  • Top shelf: Absolut Vodka
  • Budget choice: Tito’s Handmade Vodka

3. Whiskey

An incredibly diverse drink hailing from Scotland, this liquor has many different kinds of tastes depending on the brand.

Popular Whiskey mixers:

  • Irish coffee
  • Sazeracs
  • Whiskey sours

Whiskey brands:

  • Top shelf: Johnnie Walker
  • Budget choice: Jameson Irish Whiskey

4. Rum

A favorite among pirates and landlubbers alike, this liquor is known for its sweet, toasted sugary taste.

Popular rum mixers:

  • Mojitos
  • Cuba Libres
  • Hurricanes

Rum brands:

  • Top shelf: Bacardi
  • Budget choice: Plantation

5. Gin

Known for its potency, this spirit usually boasts a taste made from different herbs and spices, typically juniper. 

Popular gin mixers: 

  • Gin fizzes
  • Gimlets
  • Negronis

Gin brands:

  • Top shelf: Hendrick’s
  • Budget choice: Gordon’s London Dry Gin

6. Tequila

With an agave taste and enjoyed by all since 1666, this liquor makes a perfect pairing with Taco Tuesdays. 

Popular tequila mixers:

  • Margaritas
  • Tequila sunrises
  • Mexican mules

Tequila brands:

  • Top shelf: Silver Patron
  • Budget choice: Mi Campo Reposado 

7. Brandy

Hailing from France, this spirit is known for its flowery taste, with a fruity zest.

Popular brandy mixers: 

  • Metropolitans
  • Tom & Jerrys
  • Brandy Daisy

Brandy brands:

  • Top shelf: Remy Martin 1738 
  • Budget choice: Paul Masson Grande Amber Brandy

8. Scotch

This liquor of Scottish origin is known for its malty taste. 

Popular scotch mixers:

  • Smoky martinis
  • Rob Roys
  • Scotch & Sodas

Scotch brands:

  • Top shelf: Balvenie 21 Yr Port Wood Scotch Single Malt
  • Budget choice: Glenlivet 12 Yr Scotch Single Malt

Liquors vs Liqueurs

The difference between these isn’t just the fact that the latter sounds fancier. Simply put, liquor is sweet, while liqueur is not. Even though sugar is sometimes used in the fermenting process with liquor, the flavor doesn’t stick around. Liqueurs are a staple for any home bar, and below are some of the most popular. 

  1. Grand Marnier

Originating from France, this liqueur is known for its taste similar to orange-flavored brandy. The flavor itself is darker in classification, with hints of vanilla and oak.

Popular mixers:

  • Between the Sheets
  • Kamikazes
  • Vipers

Top shelf: Cuvee Du Centenaire

Budget choice: Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge

Substitution: Cointreau, but expect the flavor profile to change

  1. Amaretto

Translating to “a little bitter” in Italian, this liqueur is made from apricot pits with variations by brand by including different spices. 

Popular amaretto mixers:

  • Amaretto Sours
  • Alabama Summers
  • Italian Sunsets

Top shelf: Disaronno Originale

Budget choice: Amaretto di Amore

Substitution: almond extract or orgeat Italian soda syrup

  1. Bailey’s Irish Cream

A hug in a mug, this Green Isle favorite is a combination of Irish whiskey, cream, and chocolate. This makes the perfect recipe for anyone who wants a kick to their favorite coffee or chocolate dessert. The liqueur is also available in a variety of flavors, from apple pie to strawberries and cream. 

Popular mixers:

  • Mudslides
  • White Russians
  • Chocolatinis

Top shelf: Bailey’s Irish Cream Original

Budget choice: Bailey’s Almande

Substitute: Check out this great recipe!

  1. Campari

Another Italian addition, this dark red liqueur is considered an apéritif and is known for its bitter taste. 

Popular Campari mixers:

  • Negronis
  • Americanos
  • Venitian blushes

Top shelf: Campari Aperitivo

Budget choice: Knight Gabriello

Substitute: Aperol or pomegranate juice with few drops of bitters

  1. Cointreau

A triple sec liqueur known for its orange flavor, Cointreau is an ingredient of many widely-known cocktails, such as margaritas and cosmopolitans. This makes it a necessity for any home bar under construction. Not only is it used for drinks, but it can also be used as glazing for different foods like chicken wings 

Popular mixers:

  • White Lady
  • Sidecars
  • Cointreau Spritz’s

Top shelf: itself for triple sec

Budget choice: DeKuyper

Substitute: Any other triple sec/orange liquor. 

  1. Kahlúa

This liqueur truly needs no introduction, as it is considered the number-one-selling coffee liqueur in the world. It is known for its sweetness, but don’t confuse it with just coffee, as it will get you feeling tipsy faster than beer or wine.

Popular mixers:

  • White Russians
  • Black Russians 
  • Brave Bulls

Top shelf: Cafelua

Budget choice: Tia Maria

Substitute: Any other coffee liqueur. Also, check out this great recipe for making imitation Kahlúa!

  1. Sambuca

This Italian liqueur is known for its lack of color and is often flavored with anise and licorice.

Popular mixers:

  • Flaming Lamborghinis
  • Sambuca L’Arancia
  • Black Martinis

Top shelf: Romana Sambuca

Budget choice: Knight Gabriello

Substitute: Ouzo, Anesone, Roiano

  1. St. Germain

Known for its subtle taste, this liqueur is flavored with elderflowers, with sweet and floral notes.

Popular mixers:

  • French Gimlets
  • Elderflower Spritz
  • French Tarts

Top shelf: St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Budget choice: St. Elderflower

Substitute: Elderflower syrup, Grand Marnier, rose or violet liqueur for another flavor profile

  1. Frangelico

This is the first in its league when it comes to hazelnut liqueurs, with a lush and toasty flavor, including hints of vanilla and white chocolate among other herbal flavors.

Popular mixers:

  • Frangelico Iced Coffees
  • Satin Angels
  • Frizzantes

Top shelf: Frangelico Liqueurs

Budget choice: DeKuyper Hazelnut

Substitute: Praline liqueur, for a sweet and nutty taste.

  1. Absinthe

Famous for its potency, this liqueur is a combination of its native plants, green anise, sweet fennel, and other different herbs. The taste can range from smooth to spicy.

Popular mixers:

  • Death in the Afternoon
  • La Louisiane
  • Corpse Reviver No. 2

Top shelf: Lucid Absinthe Superieure

Budget choice: Cristiani, Parnasse edition

Substitute: Pastis, anisette, anise extract

You should now be well equipped with the best liquors and liqueurs possible in order to make your home bar one that the neighbors are sure to be jealous of. Don’t be afraid to get creative and invent a signature cocktail of your own. As always, drink responsibly!