Six Essential Base Spirits for Mixing Cocktails

The Essentials

There are so many weird and wonderful spirits to enjoy out there, but every home bar needs to start somewhere.

With these six essential base spirits, your bar will be set on solid foundations and you’ll be able to make literally thousands of cocktails. Quality alcoholic ingredients can be pricey, so when you start, you want to limit buying ingredients you’ll only mix with once a year!

You’ll be able to make recipes to suit any palate and any occasion with these six essential base spirits, and nothing more than the relatively inexpensive ingredients of fresh citrus, sugars, herbs, fruit and mixers.

Over time, as you look to expand your offering, you’ll want to start to fill in the gaps on your shelf and in your fridge with key modifiers.

However, that’s for another day. For now, let’s focus on the essential base spirits you need for mixing cocktails at home. Plus, we’ve included some great recipes, both classic and modern, that you’ll be able to make and enjoy with them, and without having to buy any other bottles


With the resurgence of gin, vodka is not as popular as it once was, especially within cocktail culture. However, vodka still has a lot to offer to cocktail fans, both in modern and classic cocktails. It’s also still the choice of spirit for many, making vodka an essential part of anyone’s home bar spirit collection.

Vodka is often described as flavorless, however this is far from the case, it’s just that those flavours are indeed subtle. They come, in a large part, from the raw ingredient chosen for production. Taste a wheat vodka, next to a rye vodka, next to a potato vodka for example, you will taste a very clear difference. As with any category of spirit you like, tasting different versions side-by-side is the very best way to decide which your favourite is. Don’t be afraid to add a splash of water to each one either, this will really help to open up their flavours and aromas.

Before being mixed into cocktails, in its home nations, vodka was always served neat and chilled along with food. If you’ve never done this, try it with your favourite vodka. You will have a whole new appreciation for vodka and its character.

The subtlety of flavour, along with a light and dry character does make vodka the easiest spirit to work with. However, poor quality spirits, even with something as light as vodka, will ruin your drinks! So, make sure to use our guide to ensure you’re pouring something good!

Once you’ve bought your vodka, you’ll be able to mix these fantastic cocktails without any other bottles of booze

Vodka Collins
Vodka Rickey
Moscow Mule
Watermelon Mule
Bloody Mary


Arguably the most important of all the cocktail ingredients. Open any classic cocktail book and you’ll read cocktails based with gin page after page after page!

This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, gin’s popularity rose along with the first great cocktail era from the late 1800s through to its height in the 1920s and 30s. Secondly, it’s about gin’s character.

Gin has a light and dry flavour profile which makes it easy to mix with. However, it also has character and complexity that adds an important dimension to a cocktail.

There are so many gins these days, and many of them have taken a route of diversification through obscure and sometimes powerful botanicals, the flavouring ingredients in gin. This can have delicious results, but it can also make them more challenging to mix with.

For that reason, we recommend you check out our selection of classic style gins that can easily be mixed into any gin cocktail, modern and classic alike.

Once you’ve bought your gin, you’ll be able to mix these fantastic cocktails without any other bottles of booze:

Gin Buck
Gin Rickey
Gin & Tonic
Tom Collins
Honey Rosemary Sour
Gin Basil Smash
Gin Fizz
Bees Knees
Clover Club
Marmalade Collins
Red Snapper


Next to gin, whisky is probably the other biggest player in classic cocktails. Traditionally when we think of whisky cocktails there would be clear definitions between cocktails using Rye, Bourbon, Scotch, Irish and other whisky varieties. 

However, as whisky production has surged, new areas of whisky production have been created and historical barriers have been crossed, creating a free-for-all in terms of what types of whisky can or even should be used in a particular cocktail.

The Old Fashioned, with its enduring popularity, and the modern explosion of the Whisky Highball are just two examples of cocktail behemoths that every whisky brand wants to be mixed into. Regardless of where they’re from, what grain(s) they’re made of or any cocktail historical norms. Whisky just wants to play in all the best Whisky recipes!

Therefore brands have versions of drinks such as these in their drinks strategies and communications, and we’re here for that! So, when it comes to picking your first bottle of whisky for your home bar, the best advice is to pick a style you like! Don’t get hung up with rules, just get mixing.

There are so many to choose from, but thankfully we have selected some of our absolute favourites in each category. Some are pricier than others, but they’re all delicious and good enough to sip and mix!


Once you’ve bought your whisky, you’ll be able to mix these fantastic cocktails without any other bottles of booze:

Whisky Sour
Whisky Highball
Old Fashioned
Hyde’s Honey Old Fashioned
Mint Julep
Hot Toddy
Irish Coffee
Marmalade Collins


To be clear, we’re not talking about flavoured or ‘spiced’ rums here. Much as they can be used to mix into cocktails, and some are even rather good, they’re not what we’re discussing here.

We’re talking about classic style rums, made by fermenting and distilling molasses, the byproduct of refining sugar. Without added flavourings, rums are not only incredibly complex in character, they are also incredibly varied. Pot Still made rums are heavier in character compared to the lighter, drier Cuban style rums made using a column still.

Both pot and column made rums are bottled in different styles; including unaged, barrel rested and barrel aged. Time aging in the barrel adds more depth of flavour, smoothness and softer flavours like vanilla which get more prominent the longer the rum is aged for.

From stirred, booze forward cocktails, to light refreshing and even fruity cocktails. Rum is used in every style of cocktail you can think of. This makes it essential for any curated home bar booze selection!

Once you’ve bought your rum, you’ll be able to mix these fantastic cocktails without any other bottles of booze:

Radcliffe Rum Sour
Marmalade Rum Old Fashioned
Dark ‘n’ Stormy
Pirate Iced Tea

Agave Spirits

The spirits of Mexico! The original ‘mother’ agave spirit is the smoky Mezcal. From the original Mezcal spirit bore a number of regional varieties.

The most popular and famous is the unsmoked Tequila, made using the Blue Webber agave that must be made in the Jalisco region of Mexico, around the town of Tequila. Then there’s the less well known variety of agave spirit called Bacanora from the northern state of Sonora. This was outlawed until the 1990s when restrictions started to be lifted and production slowly restarted.

Tequila is most commonly used in classic cocktails, while Mezcal has become ever popular in modern recipes such as the Naked & Famous and even a smoky version of the Negroni.

That being said, you can play with any agave spirit you like in classic Tequila cocktails, such as adding a smoky character to a classic Margarita by using Mezcal. You can even try using agave spirits in other classic recipes to add a unique take, such as a Dry Martini with Bacanora!

Agave Selection

Once you’ve bought your agave spirit, you’ll be able to mix these fantastic cocktails without any other bottles of booze:

Skinny Margarita
Tommy’s Margarita
Ranch Water
Ultimate Tequila sunrise

Cognac / Brandy

Cognac and Brandy?! An essential cocktail spirit?! Yes and YES!

Sadly, Brandy and Cognac is often only thought of in the context of old men, cigars, members clubs and after dinner sipping. We say no more! Brandy is not only delicious in cocktails, it has a long and rich cocktail heritage too.

A little like the fact that Mezcal is the mother spirit of all agave spirits, Brandy is the mother spirit of varieties such as Cognac, Armagnac, Eau de Vie, Pisco and others.

Essentially a Brandy is made by fermenting and distilling fruit. The most common of these fruits are grapes. However, brandy can be made from plums, raspberries and the second most common fruit used, apples.

For a Brandy to be a Cognac, the style of brandy most commonly used in classic cocktails, the grapes must be grown in the Cognac region of France. This region includes famous and less famous grape growing areas (or Crus), such as Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderise.

The grapes from these regions are harvested, pressed and fermented into wines, then distilled into grape Eau de Vie. Once the Eau de Vie is aged in french oak, it can then be called Cognac. Part of the character of a particular bottling of Cognac will be the percentage of wine from these different regions, as the terroir (or grape growing conditions from place to place) has a huge impact on the flavour profile of the grapes and therefore the final product itself.

We have some great recommended brands of both Cognac and American brandy for you to play with here on Candra. Don’t feel that you have to overspend either, for example, the base level VS (Very Special) bottling by Martell is excellent in cocktails.

Once you’ve bought your brandy, you’ll be able to mix these fantastic cocktails without any other bottles of booze:

Marmalade Collins
Strawberry Cognac Collins
Mulled Cider
Spiced Honey Wine (+ Red Wine)
Champagne Cocktail (+ Sparkling Wine)
Pisco Sour / Brandy Sour

As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
@Candra_Drinks  #MakeBetterDrinks  #CandraDrinks

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