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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!