Dark liquor bottle on a barrel

Dark Liquor Guide—What to Know Before You Shop Online

Imagine being at the bar, eyeing rows of shiny clear bottles. They all look fun and fresh. But then, there’s a corner with dark, mysterious bottles. That’s where the story of dark liquor begins.

Dark liquor isn’t just any drink; it’s packed with history and flavor. Brands like the famous Hennessy and others have tales to tell, whether cheap or expensive. Some are so smooth that people even drink them neat, without mixing anything! But they also make some of the most popular cocktails if you like a good mix.

Recent studies from R&M have highlighted a growing trend towards dark liquors. Several factors contribute to this surge in popularity. Firstly, many brands now produce dark spirits with natural ingredients, catering to a more health-conscious audience. Furthermore, millennials are exhibiting a strong preference for premium craft spirits. As of 2021, 30 U.S. states have maintained policies allowing bars and restaurants to offer cocktails for takeout, further supporting this trend.

What is dark liquor?

A bottle and a glass with dark liquor, shot from above, on a barrel with a black blackground.

Dark liquor refers to spirits with a deep color, usually resulting from the aging process in wooden barrels. As these spirits age, they take on some of the colors and flavors of the wood, resulting in a darker and often richer profile. Common dark liquors include:

  1. Whiskey/Whisky: Includes bourbon, scotch, and rye. They gain their color and complex flavors from aging in charred oak barrels.
  2. Dark Rum: Aged longer than light or gold rums, dark rum has a stronger flavor with hints of caramel, molasses, and spices.
  3. Brandy: Made by distilling wine or fermented fruit juice and aged in oak barrels.
  4. Cognac: A type of brandy from the Cognac region in France, it’s aged in oak barrels and has a rich, smooth flavor.
  5. Armagnac: Another variety of brandy from France but from the Gascony region. It’s distilled using different methods than cognac.
  6. Añejo Tequila: A type of tequila aged for longer periods, resulting in a dark color and richer flavor

Best Dark liquor brands and names

Our experts at Drinksworld enjoy working with various dark liquor brands. They often use these brands to create mixed drinks and cocktails, or even savor them neat. Here’s a list of some top dark liquor names and their popular brands. In each section below, we share liquor names and popular brands:

Whiskey/Whisky:

  • Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch: This 12-year-old blended whisky showcases a rich tapestry of flavors. Its moderate body carries hints of creamy vanilla, dried fruits, and a gentle, smoky finish, which isn’t overpowering but gives it a layered depth.
  • Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey: This iconic whiskey has a distinct smoothness derived from its charcoal-mellowing process. Beneath its signature sweetness, you’ll detect notes of caramel, banana, and a subtle oakiness that rounds it off.
  • Jameson Irish Whiskey: A staple in many bars, Jameson offers a delicate balance of nutty, spicy, and vanilla notes. It’s smooth with a slightly woody finish, complemented by a touch of sweetness. 

Bourbon:

  • Maker’s Mark: This red wax-sealed bourbon offers a harmonious blend of flavors. Creamy vanilla, sweet caramel, and summer fruits lead the palate, with a medium-long finish that embraces warmth and subtle spices.
  • Buffalo Trace Bourbon: A complex character, it exudes aromas of caramel, cloves, and vanilla. In the mouth, it provides a delightful dance of brown sugar, dark fruits, and a hint of mint, culminating in an oaky, slightly peppery finish.
  • Woodford Reserve: Rich and full-bodied, this bourbon boasts a sophisticated palate layered with dried fruit, vanilla, and toasted grains. The finish is long and creamy, with a hint of almond.

Dark Rum:

  • Ron Zacapa Centenario: Elevated by its solera system aging process, this rum has flavors of caramel, honeyed fruit, and a hint of toasted oak, presenting an undeniably smooth texture.
  • Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum: This rum offers a bouquet of brown sugar, spicy oak, and banana. On tasting, it reveals layers of molasses, cocoa, and a touch of green apple.
  • Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva: This Venezuelan rum is wonderfully complex. It’s sweet but not overly so, with caramel, dried fruits, and chocolate flavors, leading to a long, elegant finish.

Brandy/Cognac:

  • Rémy Martin VSOP: Exuding elegance, this cognac presents an enticing blend of apricot, vanilla, and floral notes. The mouthfeel is velvety, leading to a balanced, warm finish.
  • Courvoisier VSOP: This refined cognac delivers peach, toasted almonds, and jasmine notes on the nose. The palate is a delightful mix of juicy fruit flavors complemented by crème brûlée.
  • Hennessy VS: This bold cognac radiates with fragrant aromas of summer fruits and toasted nuts. The palate is enriched with flavors of fresh grapes, citrus zest, and a gentle hint of oak.
  • More similar dark liquors as Hennessy are Martell (one of the oldest cognac houses) and Camus (a family-run cognac house).
  • D’usse VSOP: This is a contemporary classic with a rich bouquet of blackberry, apricot, and cloves. On the palate, it dances with notes of honey, almond, and a subtle undertone of aged oak, culminating in a smooth, enduring finish.

Añejo Tequila:

  • Patrón Añejo: Amber in its glory, this tequila showcases a symphony of flavors from dried fruits and honey to vanilla and light spices. The finish is warm with a touch of oakiness.
  • Don Julio Añejo: With a golden hue, this tequila offers a rich combination of chocolate, caramel, and tropical fruit. The ending note is smooth, accompanied by a warm spice undertone.
  • Casa Noble Añejo: A premium tequila aged for two years, it presents an intricate palate of butterscotch, dried herbs, and sweet tobacco, leading to a finish that’s long and pleasantly spicy.

Armagnac:

  • Château de Laubade: A true representation of Gascony, this Armagnac bursts with aromas of prunes, toasted nuts, and vanilla. The palate is well-rounded, leading to a robust, lingering finish.
  • Bas-Armagnac Delord: This Armagnac is a sensory delight with its scents of dried fruits, toffee, and a hint of pine. The flavor profile is rich, with notes of cocoa, oak, and a subtle spiciness.
  • Domaine Tariquet VSOP: With a vibrant amber color, this Armagnac captivates with its bouquet of apples, pears, and floral notes. The palate is well-structured, offering flavors of vanilla and a touch of spice.

Mezcal:

  • Del Maguey Vida Mezcal: This artisanal mezcal boasts a smoky aroma with honey sweetness and a touch of vanilla. On the palate, it provides a balance of fruitiness and the distinct earthiness of agave.
  • Montelobos Mezcal: Rich and smoky, it presents a bouquet of roasted agave, fresh herbs, and a hint of citrus. The finish is long, with a gentle warmth that lingers.
  • El Silencio Espadin Mezcal: Distinctly smoky and sweet, this mezcal shines with flavors of roasted fruit, vanilla, and a subtle hint of spice, offering a complex yet smooth experience.

Scotch:

  • Lagavulin 16: This Islay scotch is renowned for its deep peat-smoke aroma, complemented by seaweed and a touch of sweetness. It provides a rich, dry palate and a long, smoky finish.
  • Macallan 12 Sherry Oak: With its lush golden hue, this scotch offers notes of dried fruits, vanilla, and a hint of wood smoke. The palate is rich and rounded, culminating in a full and slightly spicy finish.
  • Glenfiddich 18: Aged in a mix of Oloroso sherry and bourbon casks, this scotch boasts flavors of baked apple, dried fruit, and candied peel, leading to a robust, long-lasting finish.

Japanese Whisky:

  • Yamazaki 12: This single malt offers fruity and rich honey notes. A touch of smoke completes the profile, leading to a long, warming finish.
  • Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky: Distinctly sweet and rich, this whisky delights with flavors of tropical fruits, vanilla, and a hint of coconut.
  • Hakushu 12: This whisky is known for its herbal notes and brings forth mint, pine, and cucumber flavors.

Dark Gin (Barrel-Aged Gins):

  • St. George Dry Rye Reposado Gin: Rested in Grenache and Syrah wine casks, this gin offers a spicy rye base complemented by the botanicals and the subtle fruity notes from the wine barrels.
  • Barr Hill Tom Cat Gin: This barrel-aged gin provides rich notes of oak, juniper, and honey, giving a whiskey-like feel to a traditionally clear spirit.
  • Few Barrel Gin: Aged in oak barrels, this gin merges the botanicals’ crispness with the richness of the oak, providing a unique profile of fennel, pepper, and vanilla.

Check out other Types of Alcohol and Liquor Names.

Other dark alcohol types

Beyond regular drinks, there are many dark alcoholic drinks like red wines and dark beers.

Red Wine

When people think of dark alcoholic beverages, red wine is often the first that comes to mind. Varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon stand out with their deep hue and full body, bursting with flavors of black cherry, plum, and subtle black tea or tobacco notes. Conversely, Merlot tends to be smoother and fruitier, offering hints of black cherry, raspberry, and aromatic herbs. Then there’s the versatile Shiraz, or as some regions call it, Syrah, which can swing from a fruity smoothness to an intense, full-bodied experience, flaunting flavors of blueberry, plum, and sometimes even a punchy black pepper.

The picture shows a bottle of red wine next to a full glass, with a piece of decorative wood in the background, all set against a dark backdrop.

Fortified Wines

These wines have had their narratives fortified with some extra alcohol. Portugal’s sweet, red Port is a prime example, resonating with rich, fruity flavors like raspberry blackberry intertwined with caramel and cocoa. Madeira, hailing from its namesake Madeira Islands, boasts unique flavors thanks to its distinct heating process. Whether you opt for a sweet or dry Madeira, expect roasted nuts, stewed fruit, and caramel notes. And then there’s Sherry, a Spanish delight whose spectrum ranges from light variants akin to white wines to darker, richer Amontillados and Olorosos.

The image shows a bottle tilted and pouring a fortified wine into a wine glass against a dark background.

Dark Beers

Beyond wines, the world of dark beers offers a plethora of tastes. Stouts, for instance, are the epitome of richness, oozing flavors of roasted barley, coffee, and chocolate—Guinness being the flag bearer of this category. A tad lighter, Porters bring a smooth blend of roasted grains, chocolate, and occasional caramel hints to the table. And if you’re seeking something malty and slightly sweet, Brown Ales are the way to go, with their delightful notes of caramel, chocolate, and nuts. Newcastle Brown Ale is one name that resonates well with enthusiasts of this category.

The photo shows a tall glass of beer with foam on top, on a wooden surface with peanuts next to it, and a warm, dark background.

Ciders

Ciders can span a spectrum of colors, but the darker variants are particularly intriguing. These ciders, primarily made from fermented apple juice, carry a robust apple flavor. And it’s not just apples; the dark ciders often blend in harmonious notes from berries, stone fruits, or even spices, making every sip an adventure.

The image shows a clear bottle of golden liquid on a wooden table with red apples around it, suggesting apple cider, with a dark background.

Dark liquor drinks and cocktails

You can drink dark liquors neat, but they are also the base for many classic and well-loved cocktails. Each drink highlights the rich and varied flavors of the spirit, whether it’s the smoky depth of a good whiskey or the sweet warmth of aged rum. Here are some our favorite and popular drinks made with dark spirits (click on the respective photo to go to the full recipe):

  1. Old Fashioned: Made with whiskey (often bourbon), sugar, Angostura bitters, and an orange twist. This cocktail is a timeless classic, emphasizing the rich and nuanced whiskey flavors.
    A side shot of an Old Fashioned cocktail in an old-fashioned glass on a coaster placed on a beige table surrounded by some brown sugar cubes, a bar spoon and an orange twist
  2. Manhattan: A mix of whiskey (typically rye), sweet vermouth, and bitters. It’s garnished with a maraschino cherry.
    A side shot of a Manhattan cocktail in a cocktail glass on a brown wooden table with a plant on the side and a bar spoon and mixing glass on the background.
  3. Mojito: Although typically made with white rum, it can be made with dark rum for a deeper flavor. It blends rum, lime juice, sugar, mint leaves, and soda water.
    A side shot of a Mojito cocktail in a highball glass on a white marmol table with half of a lime on the side
  4. Dark ‘n’ Stormy: A refreshing drink with dark rum and ginger beer garnished with a lime wedge.
    A side shot of a Dark and Stormy cocktail in a highball glass on a table, and plant leaves on the side.
  5. Rusty Nail: A simple combination of Scotch whisky and Drambuie, a honey and herb-infused Scotch liqueur.
  6. Brandy Alexander: A creamy dessert cocktail made with cognac or brandy, crème de cacao, and heavy cream, garnished with a sprinkle of nutmeg.
  7. Sazerac: One of the oldest American cocktails, it’s made with rye whiskey, absinthe, a sugar cube, and Peychaud’s bitters.A side shot of a Sazerac cocktail in an old fashioned glass on a coaster surrounder by a bar spoon and lemon wedges, with plant leaves on a side.
  8. Cuba Libre: A classic mix of dark rum, cola, and a splash of lime juice.
    A side shot of a Cuba Libre cocktail in a highball glass with two half limes on the side and a basket with limes on the background.
  9. Sidecar: A bright and zesty cocktail made with cognac, Cointreau (or triple sec), and lemon juice.A side shot of a Sidecar cocktail in a cocktail glass on a wooden board placed on a white marmol table with a red cloth, four sugar cubes, two lemons, a jigger, and a shaker around.
  10. Whiskey Sour: A balanced whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar blend. Some versions include a dash of egg white for a creamy froth on top.
    A side shot of a Whiskey Sour cocktail in a Old Fashioned glass with some oranges in the background
  11. Mai Tai: A tropical drink with light and dark rums, lime juice, orange liqueur, and orgeat syrup.A side shot of a Mai Tai cocktail in a rocks glass on a wooden coaster placed on a brown placemat on a white table with a cinnamon stick and a lime wheel on a side.
  12. Zombie: A tiki classic with light and dark rums, falernum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, grenadine, and bitters.A side shot of a Zombie cocktail in a tall glass on a blue cloth surrounded by oranges, pineapple, limes, a jigger and a shaker, placed on a blue table in front of a green wall.

Take a look at our page about the best mixed drinks for more inspiration.

Dark liquor vs light (clear) liquor

White and dark liquors offer distinct experiences for the palate, mainly influenced by their aging process and ingredients. White liquors, like vodka, gin, white rum, and blanco tequila, are clear, often because they’re either not aged or are filtered after aging. Their flavors are lighter and crisper, making them popular choices for simple cocktails. On the other hand, dark liquors owe their rich hues and flavors to the time they spend aging in wooden barrels. Think of whiskey, bourbon, dark rum, and aged tequilas — they have complex caramel, vanilla, and oak notes. These spirits are not just for mixing; many are enjoyed neat or on the rocks, letting their layered tastes shine.

A shot with two transparent bottles, one with lear light liquorand the other with brown dark liquor on a grey background color.

Mixing dark and light liquors

Mixing light liquors and dark liquors is often a key to memorable flavor profiles. For example, tropical drinks like the Mai Tai, Zombie, blend light and dark rum. This blending creates a depth of taste neither could achieve alone.

Balance is key when mixing light and dark liquors in a cocktail. Be sure that the flavors complement each other, and that one doesn’t overpower the other unless that’s the intended effect. And always opt for quality over quantity. Better-quality liquors, whether light or dark, tend to have fewer impurities and additives, which can contribute to the severity of hangovers.

Where to buy dark liquor online? (cheap, mid-range, and premiums)

There are several standout online retailers to consider. Total Wine & More is one of the U.S.’s biggest wine and spirits retailers, offering everything from common brands to rare finds. For those wanting their bottle delivered quickly, Drizly partners with local stores to get your choice to your door, often within an hour. If you’re after international or craft spirits, Master of Malt and Caskers has extensive collections that might have that unique bottle you’re seeking. Meanwhile, Wine.com, although primarily a wine vendor, has a solid range of dark spirits. And for the whisky enthusiasts, The Whisky Exchange is a treasure trove of options.

How much does it cost?

Costs can shift based on brand prestige, aging, production techniques, and origin. We made a quick snapshot for you:

  • Whiskeys range from budget-friendly options at $15-$30 to rare collectibles soaring over $500.
  • Bourbons can start at $15 and reach up to and beyond $500 for limited editions.
  • Dark Rums are available from a modest $10, with premium versions priced upwards of $200.
  • Brandies and Cognacs start at about $20, but rare cognacs can command prices over $1000.
  • Añejo Tequilas begin around $20, with ultra-aged variants exceeding $500.
  • Armagnacs have entry points at $30, with vintage selections topping $500.

Cheap bottles

We’ve selected below some more affordable dark liquors with price indications and descriptions:

  • Evan Williams Black Label: Around $15-$20. This bourbon stands out with its rich, full flavor and smooth finish, making it a popular choice for those on a budget but still seeking quality.
  • Old Forester: Ranges from $20-$25. Known as the first bottled bourbon, it offers a classic taste with hints of chocolate, spice, and dried fruits.
  • Clan MacGregor: Typically between $15-$20. This blended Scotch whisky is light and mellow with fruit, spice, and oak notes.
  • Wild Turkey 101: Usually between $20-$25. A bold and high-proof bourbon, it has a full-bodied flavor profile with hints of sweet vanilla, caramel, and spice.
  • Jim Beam White Label: Commonly priced at $15-$20. It’s one of the best-selling bourbons in the world and offers a balanced flavor of sweet vanilla and robust oak.
  • Cruzan Dark Rum: Often found at $10-$15. This rum is aged two to four years in oak barrels and has a smooth, medium-bodied taste with hints of vanilla and nutmeg.
  • Bacardi Black: Typically around $15-$20. This rich and bold dark rum carries notes of dried fruits, plums, and bananas with a smoky finish.

FAQs

  1. Do dark liquors have more calories than clear liquors? Not necessarily. The calorie content mainly comes from alcohol and added sugars, not the color.
  2. Is there a difference in hangover severity between dark and clear liquors? Some people believe dark liquors can lead to more severe hangovers due to congeners, but individual reactions vary.
  3. What are congeners in dark liquors? Congeners are chemical byproducts from fermentation and aging, often believed to intensify hangovers.
  4. Which is the oldest known dark liquor? Brandy is one of the oldest, with its roots tracing thousands of years. 
  5. Do dark liquors improve with age after bottling? Unlike wine, most don’t age or improve once bottled.
  6. How should I serve dark liquors? While it’s up to personal preference, many are best enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or with a splash of water. 
  7. Why is there sediment in some bottles of dark liquor? Sediment can be remnants of the production process or from aging and is usually harmless.
  8. How long does an opened bottle of dark liquor last? While they don’t spoil, they might lose some flavor and character after a year or two.

 

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