What Are Top Shelf Liquors – And Does It Matter?

What Is Top-Shelf Liquor?

Maybe you went to your regular bar to get your usual shot, but you heard the bartender conversing with someone about how a drink is top-shelf.

You couldn’t bring yourself to ask what top-shelf means, so you left the bar, and now you’re here, still trying to find out what top-shelf means and whether you should order one on your next visit to the bar. Well, look no further because I’ve got you covered.

So what is top-shelf liquor?

The bottles on the highest shelves behind a bar are referred to as the top shelf. They’re said to be the most expensive and high-quality bottles in a bar, although this varies for different bars.

Read on to learn about the top, mid, and bottom shelves in a bar, and I’ll also tell you if it’s worth ordering top-shelf liquor. 

Liquor Arrangement in a Bar

Liquor Arrangement In A Bar

Here are some terms you may want to know before your next visit to the bar.

Well Liquor or Bottom Shelf

Well liquor, also known as ‘rail’ and ‘house,’ is the everyday drink you see at a bar. They’re often served in shot glasses, and they’re not high quality. In fact, they’re the cheapest liquors you’ll find in a bar, hence the name ‘bottom shelf.’

Although, sometimes, the bottom-shelf liquor at a bar may be high quality. If this is the case, it’s only the bottom shelf because that’s what people order the most at that particular bar.

Now, the reason why they’re so cheap is that they’re mass-produced, they’re popular, and they have a short shelf life. These liquors last about 3 months on a shelf before they start losing their taste, so bars try to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

They’re often situated within the bartender’s reach, and when the bartender pours from one of the well liquors bottles, it’s called a ‘well drink.’

Well liquors are often used in mixers, but sometimes they’re drunk on their own. Some popular bottom-shelf liquors include Gordon’s, Barton’s, Jim Beam, and Ron Castillo.

Call Liquor or Mid Shelf

Call liquors are of higher quality than well liquors. The main difference is that in call liquor, you specify the brand of liquor you would like to be used in your drink.

The most common call drinks are Jack and Coke and seven and seven. Call liquors are more expensive than well liquors, but they’re well worth it.

Premium Liquor

Premium in bartending used to mean distilled spirits like vodka and whiskey, but now they just mean higher quality liquors that last longer. Unlike well and call liquors, premium liquors can sit on the shelf for years without losing their essence.

These liquors are often used in cocktails and mixed drinks. Some of them include Jack Daniels, Bacardi, Absolut, and Johnnie Walker.

Super Premium Liquor or Top-Shelf

In most bars, they don’t separate premium and super premium liquors. But top-shelf or super premium liquors are often the most superior quality liquors in a bar.

Because of how expensive top-shelf liquors are, they’re not used in mixing but will be available upon request. Some top-shelf liquors include Grey Goose Vodka, Hennessy V.S Cognac, and Equiano Rum.

Should You Order Top-Shelf Liquor at a Bar?

Should You Order Top-Shelf Liquor At A Bar?

Are you celebrating something special? If not, then you might want to skip the top-shelf liquor at a bar. These drinks are made with ingredients of the highest quality and contain spirits that should be savored.

If you’re ordering a top-shelf liquor as a shot you can take in one gulp, think again. The purpose of shots is to take it quickly, so you’re not really enjoying the drink.

Also, try not to mix top-shelf liquors with other drinks. They won’t shine, and you’ll barely be able to taste them. So if you want to enjoy your top-shelf liquor, drink it neat or with ice. 

So What Should You Drink and When?

So What Should You Drink And When?

Don’t let all this talk about shelves confuse you. It’s not that complicated. So, as a rule of thumb:

  • Well drinks: Order well drinks if you’re out with friends and socializing. You won’t get too drunk because of the low alcohol in the drinks.
  • Call drinks: If you’re looking for the cheapest way to get drunk, order call drinks.
  • Top-shelf: Save premium or top-shelf liquor for special occasions. If you’re celebrating a big event with friends or family, this is the right time to break the bank on the highest-quality liquor of your choice because you’ll all remember that day for years to come.

Some Top-Shelf Liquors You Should Try

Some Top-Shelf Liquors You Should Try

Below are some popular top-shelf liquors and what makes them so ‘top-shelf.’

Hennessy V.S. Cognac

This is the perfect liquor for you if you’re a cognac enthusiast. The spirit is produced from a blend of aged eau-de-vie, and it has added cinnamon, fruit, and cloves.

Since its introduction in 1765 in France, this liquor has been seen as a symbol of exquisiteness. A bottle of this beauty may just be all you need to kick your celebration up a notch.

Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Bourbon

This brownish-red bourbon is rich with caramel, vanilla, and toasted sugar. It not only gets a 10/10 in taste, but it’ll also give a bar an expensive look that’s sure to increase sales.

Grey Goose Vodka

Even though Grey Goose Vodka isn’t as old as other liquors on this list, it’s one of the most popular. This exquisite vodka took the liquor world by storm with its refined taste and texture.

It’s made from French wheat and water from the underground Chateau de la Martinière vineyard making it one of the best liquors on the top shelf.

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Its slim bottle gives off an almost golden glint. This liquor is made by a reputable scotch whisky distillery, and you can either enjoy it neat or mixed in cocktails.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, top-shelf liquors are supposed to get you tipsy and take your money. But their flavor and quality are superior to other liquors. If you like anything on the top shelf and can afford it, go for it.

But if you can’t, get a recommendation from the bartender to find the best liquor for your budget.