Jim Meehan's Essential Bottles For The Fall 2014

What to stock up on for the season

It's Spirits Month! Get in on all the booze-filled fun.

Stocking a bar may seem daunting. Instead of buying everything at once, try making a shopping list using recipes for your favorite cocktails, keeping seasonal ingredients—in this case fall and winter—in mind.

My 12-bottle bar for fall (see the slideshow) is organized around the components of a cocktail: base spirits like apple brandy, modifiers including vermouth, sweeteners such as maple syrup, bitters and some bubbly for long drinks like a highball or fizz. There are more modifiers than anything else because they're what you need to make cocktails.

The list (download the pdf) features spirits and mixers prepared with seasonal produce, including pears, apples and pumpkins from a broad geographic swath spanning sea to shining sea. And one from the state of Oregon—where we're gearing up for Portland Cocktail Week in my new hometown.

Laird's Straight Apple Brandy

Base Spirit: Laird's Straight Apple Brandy, $30

Laird's is famous for its Applejack, a blend of apple brandy and neutral spirit; it's somewhat similar to a blended whiskey in composition. The bonded (100-proof) aged straight apple brandy has the character of its more distinguished relatives in Normandy (Calvados), without the earthiness.

Clear Creek Distillery Pear Brandy

Base Spirit: Clear Creek Distillery Pear Brandy, $40

This brandy is made from Bartlett pears harvested in Oregon's Hood River Valley. Nothing captures the fruit at its peak ripeness like this eau-de-vie (30 pounds are needed to make one 750-mL bottle), which can be chilled and served on its own or mixed into cocktails.

Great Lakes Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit

Base Spirit: Great Lakes Distillery Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit, $54

This was distilled in Milwaukee from pumpkin beer, then barrel-aged like a whiskey. Unusual new products such as this beer schnapps epitomize the ingenuity of craft spirit distillers, whose experiments are driving innovation in and out of the category.

Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth

Modifier: Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, $29

It's a big, bold sweet vermouth with the power to tame any base spirit in a cocktail. The vanilla notes pair perfectly with aged ryes, brandies and rums, which tend to be ordered more frequently during the cold months.

Lustau Palo Cortado Sherry

Modifier: Lustau Palo Cortado Sherry, $20

Delicious on its own, a perfect pairing with ham and cheese, and a peerless ingredient in a cocktail, where it mixes like a vermouth with more acid. Dried figs, apricot and almonds are just a few of the notes this rare style of sherry exhibits.

Plymouth Sloe Gin

Modifier: Plymouth Sloe Gin, $60

Plymouth Sloe Gin is made by macerating Plymouth gin right out of the still with fresh sloe berries: a bright red fruit that combines the tartness of a cranberry with the lusciousness of a raspberry. The mixture marinates for six to eight weeks, then is sweetened and diluted to 26 ABV, and rests for another six to eight weeks before filtration and bottling. The age-old tipple of English hunting parties: It tastes great right out of the flask or in a Sloe Gin Fizz.


Modifier: Strega, $32

Strega just so happens to translate to "witch" in Italian. A historic herbal liqueur with a pepperiness that distinguishes it from the better-known Yellow Chartreuse, Strega's color comes from the addition of saffron.

Grade B Maple Syrup

Sweetener: Crown Maple Syrup Grade B, $28

Grade B Maple Syrups are the boldest in flavor and are the perfect sweetener for cocktails prepared with barrel-aged spirits and fall produce such as pumpkins, squash and yams. Maple syrup is harvested in the springtime, but shines during the cold months in cocktails.

Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Grenadine

Sweetener: Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Grenadine, $18

Jack Rudy Grenadine is Charleston restaurateur Brooks Reitz's handsomely packaged pomegranate syrup. In addition to his grenadine, he has a tonic syrup and an aromatic bitters, which can be found nationwide in the cocktail sections of stores such as Crate & Barrel, Sur La Table and Whole Foods.

Abbott's Bitters

Bitters: Abbott's Bitters, $15

This historic aromatic bitters containing Angostura bark was recently re-released by Tempus Fugit, a history-minded producer and importer based out of California whose products allow bartenders to re-create century-old cocktails. The Abbott's Bitters pair particularly well with cognac and apple brandy cocktails.

Miracle Mile Toasted Pecan Bitters

Bitters: Miracle Mile Toasted Pecan Bitters, $25

These are made by Louis Anderman in Los Angeles—perhaps the most exciting city to imbibe in America right now. All of his bitters are prepared with farm fresh ingredients and typically end up on the menus of the cities most hallowed haunts. He does a little bit of wholesale through Umami Mart in Oakland and Barkeeper in Silver Lake.

Virtue Lapinette Sparkling Apple Cider

Lengthener: Virtue Lapinette Sparkling Apple Cider

One of former Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall's traditional ciders produced in Michigan, Lapinette is a barrel-aged French-style cider that's delicious on its own. It's also ideal in the old-school Stone Fence cocktail: A highball prepared with hard cider and your favorite brown spirit.