I frequently get asked about the bottles on my back bar. After all, it’s a bit of a ridiculous home bar and you can see it in all of our videos. While I don’t bother keeping a full inventory of everything I have, I do have a mental list of some of my favorite “unusual” bottles – a list I’m going to share with you today.

In no particular order…

My 10 Favorite – and Unusual – Bottles on my Back bar

Riga Black Balsam

This is a spirit that is difficult to find. I came across this bottle at one of my favorite places to buy spirits in San Francisco. I was mostly intrigued by the menacing looking bottle and the fact that it has been produced since 1752, according to the label.

As for the taste, I usually describe it in comparison to Fernet Branca. I usually describe Fernet as Jagermeister with the sugar taken out. Then I’ll say Riga’s Black Balsam as a bigger, bolder version of Fernet. It has more alcohol (45%), is more bitter (if you can imagine that) and tastes as if it has less sugar than Fernet. In other words, this is not a spirit for the faint of heart!

Pau Maui Oaked Vodka

This was a gift from good friend and reader who lives in Hawaii. It’s an extremely unusual product in that it’s an oaked Vodka – and even more unusual in that it is distilled from pineapple.

With this spirit you will definitely taste some of the tannins from the wood, but the faint sweetness and vanilla notes make it a very fun spirit to work with. Plus… it’s vodka made from pineapple. Awesome.

Lucid Absinthe Supérieure

My only bottle of absinthe, Lucid earned its spot by being a truly “pre prohibition” style of absinthe. Painstakingly created by distiller T.A. Breaux after endless research, I think this product is a pretty good guess of what “real” turn of the century absinthe tasted like.

As such, it’s a bit of a time-capsule, allowing us to experience what drinks were supposed to taste like before “real” absinthe was banned in the USA (and before awful absinthe substitutes subsequently took over the marketplace.) By the way – did you catch our seminar with Lucid last year? You can still sign up for the replay!)

Sonoma Rye Whiskey by Sonoma County Distilling Company

This is one of my favorite spirits on my back bar at the moment. It is a great example of a craft spirit done extremely well. At 48% alcohol, this is a big, bold rye whiskey balanced with notes of butterscotch, this Rye is equally great to drink on it’s own or in your favorite Manhattan.

Back in 2014 we had a chance to interview the master distiller and Adam Spiegel further cemented my love for this spirit. (By the way – they have grown a lot since that video and one of these days we’ll have to do a follow up visit / tour!

Los Cantiles 1905 Bacanora – Blanco and Reposado

When people think of agave spirits, they usually think of Tequila, and more recently Mezcal. But Bacanora is another option and I’ll tell you right now – it brings some serious funk to the party.

The Blanco is the “wilder” of the two with the aroma reminding me of fresh cut pumpkin (of all things!) There is definitely some vegetal elements to the spirit as well as a touch of salinity. The Reposado has calmed the spirit down a bit, but has given the spirit much more depth. Oak has brought out some of the smoky qualities of this spirit and the funk is much more pronounced on the nose.

I keep coming back to this spirit as a interesting sipping agave spirit, and I love to work with it in cocktails when I want to add some vegetal funk. (That should seriously be a band name…) It doesn’t hurt that the bottles look beautiful on the back bar!

Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol

Another Agave spirit that is hard to come by, Sotol was virtually impossible to find in the United States until recently.

The Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol’s exhibit savory elements that I have rarely seen in a spirit. These savory elements along with hints of herbal notes like eucalyptus and rosemary make this a truly unique spirit.

Nocino della Cristina

Nocino is one of my go-to modifiers when fresh fruit is impossible to come by in the wintertime. It adds a beautiful walnut flavor and rich mouthfeel to a cocktail – both things that I think work very well with wintery and spirited drinks. In fact, it’s a key player in one of my favorite winter cocktails – a walnut Manhattan.

Sloe Gin by Spirit Works Distillery

This is (by far) the best example of Sloe Gin that I’ve ever tasted. Instead of the sickly sweet variants you usually see, Spirit Works holds back on the sugar and lets the acidity and fruit come through. It truly is a beautiful example of sloe gin. It’s also very easy to work with in cocktails, due to its balanced flavor and sweetness profile.

Plus I can’t overlook the fact that the Spirit Works crew are just plain good people!  If you’re ever near Sebastopol, California you should definitely go for a visit. (Tell them we sent you!)

Créole Shrubb – Rhum Clément

This is an unusual product to come across in general – and I find myself using it sparingly because I’m running out! It is an orange flavored rhum agricole, and I find it’s a great (and uncommon) way to introduce orange flavor in a cocktail. I really like to use it with sugarcane based spirits like rum.

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal

This is just a beautiful vermouth. The bottle is gorgeous as is the product inside – it’s something that you can (and should) drink on its own, or with a touch of soda water. The flavor is perfectly balanced and I almost feel bad using it in cocktails because it’s so darn good on its own!

Chris Tunstall

Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.