For bartenders and drinkers alike, there’s some baggage to unload when it comes to drinking flavored spirits. The memories of Pinnacle Marshmallow vodka, Fireball, Stoli “O” and other artificially flavored spirits popularized in the 1990s and early aughts are still fresh enough to send chills down one’s spine. But, with premiumization reaching spirits across categories over the past two decades, it was only a matter of time until cocktail-worthy flavored spirits came to market.
“I think they are making a small comeback,” says Andrei Marcu, bar manager at Coupette in London. “Many of these spirits are flavored using natural ingredients with little to no sugar added, instead of artificial ones which previously dominated the market. For me, that is very attractive.” It’s a sentiment shared by Ray Tremblay, director of beverage at Coje Management Group in Boston, who denounces the “crazy flavors” of the past, such as cookie dough vodka, and praises refined products whose natural flavoring actually enhances them.
These higher-quality flavored spirits have given bartenders and home enthusiasts an alternative to creating their own infusions, which often lack consistency and quality from batch to batch compared with commercial products. “If you want to do something a little bit more flavorwise, or want to put a twist on a classic drink, flavored spirits are the way to go,” says Jorge Figueroa, beverage director at All Day Baby in Los Angeles. “They’re a great way of adding distinct flavors without compromising the alcohol content.”
But mixing with a flavored spirit should still be done in moderation. “In my opinion, less is more,” says Figueroa. “As long as you let that flavor be the star, flavored spirits can work in any type of cocktail—from Martinis to Piña Coladas.”
To sift through the ever-expanding category of flavored spirits, we surveyed bartenders from around the world to better understand which ones they turn to for cocktails, and why. Here are the top bottles they recommended.