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What’s in my Well – plus a few Wells from Around the World

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Wells Around the World: What’s in your Well?
“The bar at Beatrice & Woodsley” flickr photo by chad_k https://flickr.com/photos/chad_k/4083483885 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

 

The well is the baseline liquor used in any bar. The spirits you choose make a huge difference to your bottom line – but they also have a significant impact on the customer experience. When making your well selections, you have to find a careful balance between a good price point, a quality product, and in some cases even name recognition for your guests.

This week we thought we’d go over a few of my recent Well choices and why I made those choices, and share some wells from other bartenders around the world. I asked our private Mixology Certification Facebook group what they are using in their wells and was pleasantly surprised at the variety of responses!

Check out our respective wells below:

 

 

Premium Cocktail Bar in San Francisco:

The clientele at this bar was a higher income crowd, and we priced our cocktails accordingly. That gave us a bit more flexibility to choose higher end spirits, but also meant our customers demanded higher quality products. When choosing our well, I definitely leaned a bit farther toward brand recognition and high quality.

 

Vodka: Skyy

Since Skyy started in San Francisco in 1992, it had a bit of a leg up on the competition. I found it was also a good value for the price – high enough quality to use in a martini, but inexpensive enough to use across our menu as a well spirit.

 

Gin: Tanqueray

I’ve always had a soft spot for Tanqueray. I think it’s a great example of a London Dry Gin, and it’s a brand with a solid reputation. Nobody’s going to look down on a Tanqueray cocktail. Because we placed it in the well, I was able to negotiate a fairly attractive price, which was just icing on the cake for this selection.

 

Rum: Flor de Caña

We weren’t much of a rum house, so I wasn’t as worried about our rum choice. I was looking for something that was decent to good quality but extremely versatile so we could use it on our cocktail menu and in two part drinks. This one checked all the boxes and was offered at a compelling price point as well.

 

Tequila: El Jimador or Arette

There are so many great tequila brands available in San Francisco, it was hard to choose. I do have one “must have” – any tequila I use must be 100% Blue Agave. Beyond that, I’m looking for something that’s going to be great in Margaritas (our most often ordered tequila drink, by far) but good enough to have as a shot as well. El Jimador and Arette both fit the bill, so I’ve used both at different times.

 

Bourbon: Bulleit

There was a while there when San Francisco just plain loved Bulleit Bourbon. All the cool bars had to stock it, and customers asked for it by name. It’s not as big of a deal nowadays, but still a very well recognized name and bottle. We paid a little more than other Bourbons for this one, but we had to stock it either way, and by putting it in the well I was able to move enough product to negotiate a better price point. Plus – it’s a good quality spirit that I could leverage across the board. Win win!

 

Rye: Rittenhouse Rye

Oh man, I love Rittenhouse Rye. This is quite possibly the best rye for the price. There’s just one problem: it can be very hard to get. (I’ve heard rumors it’s getting easier, though.) I struggled to keep this one in the well, but it was worth it. Even at overproof (100 proof) it overdelivers at its price point. If you can get it, it’s definitely a great choice. I still keep this one on my backbar at home!

 

Brandy: Metaxa

We didn’t use a lot of brandy in our bar program, but this was a decent brandy for the price. By far our most commonly ordered brandy drink was a brandy old fashioned, and this one worked well.

 

Triple Sec: Cointreau

When you’re in a bar that cares about name recognition, you can’t go wrong with Cointreau for your triple sec. It’s extremely versatile, well established, and just plain good. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a great price point on this one, but since it’s a modifier and not a base spirit, I was able to reduce the impact to our bottom line and keep it in the well.

 

 

“Neighborhood” Bar in Oakland

Just across the bridge from San Francisco, Oakland has a strong and up-and-coming cocktail scene. I recently helped a new “neighborhood” style cocktail bar with their opening, and I was in charge of selecting their well. Since this bar was a more approachable “neighborhood” bar, which meant our customers wouldn’t be willing to pay the same premium San Francisco prices – but it also meant they weren’t as brand sensitive either.

My goal here was the best quality for the price. We wanted good enough quality so we wouldn’t be giving anyone a headache, and my choices had to be good enough to leverage on the classic cocktail menu as well. But we were still very price sensitive because our cocktail prices were “neighborhood bar” prices. The trick is finding the balance!

 

Vodka and Gin: Gordon’s

I find the Gordon’s Gin and Vodka to both be good spirits for the price. They are good enough to use in Martinis, but versatile enough to use across our cocktail menu. Meanwhile the price point is very compelling, helping us maintain the margins – especially important as these tend to be fairly high volume well spiritsl

 

Rum: Don Q

Don Q is a decent Puerto Rican Rum. Again, we’re not moving a ton of rum so it wasn’t as important to have a stellar spirit in this spot. Don Q worked well in standard rum cocktails and I was happy with the price we were able to negotiate.

 

Tequila: Lunazul

I was previously unfamiliar with this tequila, but was very pleasantly surprised when the rep suggested it and offered a taste. It is also 100% blue agave (my requirement) and tasted very good for its price point. I was especially impressed that they offered two bottle formats: a square bottle for shelf presentation and a standard round, long-neck bottle for the well. Form factor definitely matters in the well, so that was enough to win me over.

 

Whiskey: Jim Beam 8 Star

This one is just a solid whiskey for the price. It’s a familiar name for customers, which I find to be more important with whiskey than some other well spirits. Plus it’s well balanced and versatile: not too sweet, not too spicy, not too hot. It works well enough in cocktails or two-part drinks and is a fairly safe choice.

 

Rye: Dickel Rye

Again, for a rye whiskey we were really looking for a well balanced spirit at a good price point. Dickel is a great Tennessee style Rye, and has a good balance of spice and sweetness. It’s also very versatile in rye cocktials. This one I chose primarily because of price.

 

Brandy: Korbel

Once again, we don’t serve a lot of brandy in this bar, but were looking for something that was decent and good enough for mixing in cocktails.

Triple sec: Stirrings

I always thought of Stirrings as a mixer / syrup company, so I was surprised to find that they have a very good triple sec. Since our clientele isn’t nearly as picky about brands and we were far more price sensitive, I was happy to find such a great quality option at an inexpensive price point.

 

 

 

Wells Around the World:

For kicks, I decided to ask the folks in our Certification Facebook community what they had in their own wells. I was pleased to get responses from across the US and all over the world as well. As a matter of interest, here are a few responses.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!

 

Brazil: Mid to Premium Cocktail Bar

  • Rum: Bacardi Blanca / Oro
  • Cachaca: Leblon / Ypioca 150
  • Gin: Tanqueray
  • Bourbon: Jim Beam White
  • Vodka: Ketel One & Smirnoff
  • Tequila: Jose Cuervo
  • Triple Sec: Bols

 

Alberta, Canada: Chain Bar with a Contracted Well:

  • Vodka: Polar Ice
  • Gin: Beefeater
  • Rum: Lamb’s
  • Tequila: Cazadores
  • Whisky: Wiser’s
  • Bourbon: Buffalo Trace
  • Brandy: Barclay’s
  • Triple Sec: McGuiness

 

Washington D.C.: High Volume, Multi-Location Craft Cocktail bar:

  • Rye Vodka: Sobieski
  • Corn vodka (gluten): Tito’s
  • White rum: Bacardi
  • Dark rum: Goslings
  • London Dry Gin: Brokers
  • American Dry Gin: Blue Coat
  • Tequila: Milagro Blanco
  • Whiskey: Jack Daniels
  • Bourbon: Buffalo Trace and Four Roses
  • Rye: Rittenhouse
  • Brandy/Cognac: Pierre Ferrand
  • Triple sec: Combier

 

U.K. Restaurant Group:

  • Vodka: Finlandia
  • White Rum: Bacardi Carta Blanca
  • Aged Rum: Appleton Estate VX
  • Gin: Bombay Sapphire
  • Bourbon: Jim Beam White Bourbon
  • Tequil: Azteca Azul
  • Scotch: Naked Grouse
  • Triple Sec: Marie Brizard
  • Cognac: Courvouisier VS

 

Romania: Cocktail Bar

  • Vodka: Absolut Blue
  • Gin: Beefeater
  • Tequila: Jose Cuervo S/G
  • Triple Sec: Cointreau
  • Brandy: Jidvei (a Romanian brandy, it’s really good and in good price range)
  • Scotch: Famous Grouse
  • Bourbon: Jim Beam
  • Rum: Havana 3

 

What’s in Your Well?

We’d love to compare notes! What are you using in your well, why did you choose what you chose, and where are you located? Let us know in the comments!
Wells Around the World: What’s in your Well?

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Filed Under: Better Bartending, Business of the Bar

About the Author:

Chris Tunstall

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

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  • Cody Obropta

    I’m a college student studying Civil Engineering at Rutgers University in my Senior year and I really appreciate cocktails. My personal well contains:

    Vodka: Svedka/Smirnoff
    (Usually different flavors like citrus or berry, as I only use them for fruity/sweet drinks when the girlfriend brings friends over)
    Rum: Bacardi Superior (white) & Kraken (dark)
    Tequila: Jimador
    Gin: Gordon’s
    Bourbon (currently): Evan Williams 1783
    Rye: Rittenhouse
    Brandy: (none)
    Triple Sec: DeKuyper’s

    Most popular cocktails among myself and my friends:
    Rittenhouse Old Fashioned, Cosmopolitan, Cuba Libre (Rum&Coke with lime), Gin & Tonic

  • Kyle Harlan

    St Louis, Mexicali themed cocktail bar, with multiple locations
    Vodka: Ruskova
    Gin: Brokers
    Rum: Cruzan light
    Cachaca: Ypioca
    Bourbon: 4 Roses Yellow Label
    Tequila: Sauza/Lunazul
    Rye: Old Overholt
    Pisco: Barsol
    Cognac: Pierre Ferrand
    Triple sec: Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
    Dark Rum: El Dorado

  • Dave Diaz

    I’m a home/freelance bartender with quite a bit experience in getting the best bang for my buck when choosing spirits because budget calls for it (best quality and tasting spirit for the best price I can find), while also still trying to switch it up as much as possible, so I don’t get bored lol. So what may be considered “well” is what I’m usually working with at all times.

    Best Budget Bottles I’ve used SO FAR:
    Vodka: Tito’s
    Gin: Beefeater/Bombay Sapphire
    Light Rum: El Dorado 3 Yr
    Dark Rum: Plantation 5 Yr
    Blanco Tequila: Olmeca Altos
    Reposado Tequila: Probably Espolon
    Mezcal: Del Maguey Vida/Sombra
    Rye: Rittenhouse/Redemption
    Bourbon: Jim Beam White/Elijah Craig/Larceny
    Scotch: Black Bottle/Monkey Shoulder/Cutty Sark Prohibition
    Cognac: H by Hine

  • Laura Wagner

    I run a cocktail bar in KC… we try to find a good value for a decent quality:

    Vodka: Wodka – decent flavor and gluten free, I like it much more than Titos
    Gin: Broker’s
    Rum: Plantation 3 Star & Dark
    Tequila: Cimarron blanco
    Bourbon: Four Roses Yellow alllll the way!
    Rye: Old Overholt
    Triple Sec: Pierre dry Curacao

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