There’s little reason to mess with the flavors of your favorite classic cocktail—unless, of course, it’s to add higher-quality spirits. This season, shake up the standard daiquiri, margarita and Manhattan recipes by mixing in top-shelf spirits from Wine Enthusiast’s Top 50 Spirits of 2012.
Try this refreshing classic with aged or white rum—or mix both together.
1½ ounces rum, aged and/or white
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
Lime slice, for garnish
Combine all liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime slice.
Top-Rated Rum Recommendations
95 Banks 5 Island Rum (Caribbean; Winebow Inc., Montvale, NJ). Created with input from New York mixologist Jim Meehan, a partner in the Banks 5 brand, this blend of 21 rums from five rum-producing regions—Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Java and Guyana—would make a dynamite daiquiri. A bright lime flavor melds with a warm brown sugar note and a funky, pleasant spice tone on the finish. The purple label lends a rich feel to the bottle design.
abv: 43% Price: $30
93 Appleton Estate 12 Year Old (Jamaica; Kobrand Corporation, New York, NY). Hailing from Jamaica, this smooth 12-year-old rum features a sticky dark-toffee aroma accented by almond and peach notes. On the palate, look for a nice rounded caramel flavor that flashes lots of clove and cinnamon spice on the finish.
abv: 43% Price: $35
Try a festive margarita with reposado Tequila, which melds bright pepper notes with rounded, honeyed flavors from its oak-barrel aging.
¾ ounce fresh lime juice, plus more for rim
Salt, for rim
1½ ounces reposado Tequila
½ ounce orange liqueur
Lime slice, for garnish
Moisten the rim of a margarita glass with lime juice, then dip the rim into the salt. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake ¾ ounce lime juice, Tequila and orange liqueur, then strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with lime.
Top-Rated Reposado Tequila Recommendations
96 Siete Leguas Reposado (Mexico; Gemini Spirits and Wine, Chicago, IL). Excellent all-around for both mixing and sipping neat, this highlands Tequila has a delicacy and a whiskey-like feel to it. Pale straw in color, it features lightly smoky and herbaceous flavors, with a hint of vanilla on the finish.
abv: 40% Price: $45
94 Don Roberto Reposado (Mexico; Aveniu Brands, Baltimore, MD). Don Roberto is one of the few remaining Tequila producers that is 100% Mexican- and family owned. The brand launched in 1924 as the family’s private stock and was originally available only as a gift, not for commercial sales. It’s still gift-worthy, bursting with butterscotch flavor and ending with lilts of fresh apple, pear and a light note of black pepper. Aged six months.
abv: 40% Price: $44
Top-Rated Orange Liqueur Recommendations
94 Mandarine Napoléon Grande Cuvée Liqueur (Belgium; Royal Dutch Distillers, Miami, FL). Beautifully suited for sweetening cocktails made with dark spirits, this liqueur incorporates Cognac, Mandarin orange and spice. Look for a vibrant orange color, and citrus and tropical fruit aromas, with a sweet, mouth-filling flavor that mixes bold orange with caramel.
abv: 38% Price: $37
93 Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao (France; W.J. Deutsch & Sons, White Plains, NY). New to the U.S. market in 2012, this dry Curaçao is intriguing. It should work well as a sophisticated sweetener alongside bitter-edged spirits or dark, biting rye whiskies. While not precisely dry, this golden liqueur features vanilla sweetness tempered by a wash of bitter orange. The scent is rich and agave-like, with a touch of mezcal funkiness.
abv: 40% Price: $30
Whether your whiskey taste runs to Bourbon or rye, this cherished classic stands the test of time.
2 ounces Bourbon or rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1–2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Brandied cherries, for garnish
Pour the whiskey, vermouth and bitters into an ice-filled Old-Fashioned glass. Stir well. Garnish with cherries speared on a toothpick.
Top-Rated Whiskey Recommendations
98 Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (USA; Louisville Distilling Company, Crestwood, KY). This is a beautiful, mouthwatering newcomer to the whiskey scene. Named for the angel’s share—the portion of whiskey that evaporates from the barrel during the aging process—this golden-amber spirit is finished in Port barrels, which accounts for its juicy red-fruit notes that slide into the long finish. Look for orange peel, vanilla and roasted nut flavors too.
abv: 43.3% Price: $46
92 Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey (USA; Castle Brands, New York, NY). Produced in Canada but bottled in Louisville, Kentucky, this 100% rye whiskey has been aged 10 years. Deep gold in color, soft and full bodied, it features vanilla and peach aromas. With a pleasant, citric brightness, its lingering peach and caramel notes precede a smattering of cinnamon and clove. It would be great savored with a chunk of ice or mixed into a rye Manhattan.
abv: 47% Price: $40
Can’t decide between Bourbon and rye?
92 Son of Bourye (USA; High West Distillery, Park City, UT). It’s no exaggeration to say this well-balanced mix of Bourbon and rye provides the best of both worlds, combining the sweetness of Bourbon with the light spiciness of rye. Touches of fruitcake and dried fig on the finish add complexity.
abv: 46% Price: $40