Countries of origin: Peru, Chile
This fiery, grappa-like spirit is distilled from a variety of South American grapes. Many bartenders use oak-aged Chilean pisco, but the unoaked flavors and fruit-floral aromas of Peruvian pisco are especially appealing. Peruvian pisco is made in two styles: puro, distilled from a single grape variety, and acholado, a blend of two or more varieties.
Ocucaje Pure ($15): Piscos made from the Quebranta grape are robust and a good substitute for brandy in cocktails. This one has lemongrass and anise notes.
Recipe: Pisco Smash
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Barsol Italia ($20): With their floral scents and delicate fruit flavors, piscos made from the Italia grape are great in light, citrusy cocktails. This bottle shows elegant balance, with layers of tropical fruit flavors.
Recipe: Pisco Cup
La Diablada ($38): This acholado (blended) style of pisco is made from Italia, Quebranta and Moscatel grapes. It has sweet, spicy fruit notes and a long finish.
Recipe: Key Lime Pisco Sour
Tequila and Mezcal
Country of origin: Mexico
While both are made from the agave plant, tequila and mezcal are distinct from each other in several ways. Tequila must be double-distilled from blue agave, in one of five designated states. Mezcal can be distilled once or more, can be made from several varieties of agave and can be produced pretty much anywhere in Mexico. The production processes are also slightly different: To make mezcal, the hearts of the agave plant (called piñas) are roasted in large charcoal-fired pit ovens, giving the spirit a wild, smoky flavor. Piñas used for tequila are baked or steamed in an oven for a more refined result.
Top Picks: Tequila
Chamucos Reposado ($45): An amber-colored, reposado-style (wood-aged for at least two months) tequila, it’s ultra-smooth, with lovely vanilla and cedar flavors.
Recipe: Agave Negro
El Tesoro Añejo Tequila ($50): Añejo tequila must be aged for at least one year; this smooth, sipping-friendly tequila is a blend of barrels aged two to three years.
Recipe: Mexico City
Partida Blanco Tequila ($50): This vibrant, unoaked tequila has pleasant citrus notes and plenty of agave character.
Recipe: Tequila Smash
Top Picks: Mezcal
Los Amantes Joven Mezcal ($60): An intriguing, smoky spirit that’s distilled three times. It’s great served on its own and can also add an alluring flavor to cocktails.
Recipe: Mango-Mezcal Paloma
Countries of origin: Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti
Wherever sugarcane is abundant, rum is surely bottled nearby. Rum is typically made from sugarcane by-products like molasses and aged in oak. Most of the rum consumed in the U.S. is imported from Puerto Rico, but the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Haiti all make excellent versions as well.
Don Q Cristal ($14): This cocktail-friendly Puerto Rican white rum displays flowery aromas and a crisp, peppery finish.
Recipe: Pomelo-Mint Mojito
Ron del Barrilito Three Stars ($25): Another Puerto Rican import, this smoky, amber-colored rum is aged in Spanish wine casks.
Recipe: Puerto Rican Rum Punch
Country of origin: Brazil
Also made from sugarcane, cachaça differs from rum in that it’s distilled from fresh sugarcane juice, which helps it retain fresh, grassy flavors. While most cachaça doesn’t see the inside of a barrel, some artisanal producers are making exceptional oak-aged cachaças.
Beleza Pura ($25): A terrific white cachaça with a scent that recalls fresh sugarcane and cut grass.
Recipe: Grilled Lime Caipirinha
Cabana Cachaça ($37): This white cachaça is peppery and clean—a good introduction for vodka drinkers.
Recipe: Marmalade Sour