With the craft cocktail scene starting to explode, people everywhere are getting curious. They are rushing to their favorite craft cocktail establishments and craft distilleries to taste the latest and greatest cocktails. But what if you have guests coming over, and you’ve told them about all about the cocktails you’ve been trying? Maybe your guests really enjoy good cocktails, or maybe it’s just one of those nights that you want to stay home and kick back in the living room without standing in crowds of people to wait for the next cocktail.
It’s time to stock your home bar! You’d like to get what you need to make some great cocktails, impress your guests (or yourself), or want to play around with some flavor profiles to make up your own!
First, start with the basics and build from there. Make sure you include all the ingredients to make your top 2 or 3 favorite drinks!
Then add the standard base spirits. Of course, I would recommend good craft independent distiller’s versions of each. This provides the initial level of craft and detail that will create the character that really makes a cocktail unique. With each of the base spirits, pick something that will mix well, would taste great by itself, but won’t overpower a cocktail.
Pick up a bottle of Rye. Some of my favorites are 45th Parallel and Koval. 45th Parallel’s New Richmond Rye has a nice grain profile, perfectly oaked, and plenty of flavor, and mixes well. Koval Rye has a more delicate flavor profile and also mixes well in any Rye cocktail. Bourbon is also a staple, and arguably can be semi-interchangeable with Rye in many cocktails, although may impart more of those vanilla and caramel notes frequently associated with Bourbon. Quite a few other distillers make some great bourbons! Too many to list, and subject to personal preferences.
You’ll need a nice bottle of white rum. Go with something that has some character for this. Please don’t choose something that tastes like lighter fluid. So many local and independent distillers around the world are making some great white rums. Check out your local selection. Other cocktails will require Dark Rum. There are so many different flavor profiles, with aged and white rum, that you should try a few different brands and choose your favorites. My most recent favorite aged rum is 11 Wells Boiler Room Bourbon Barrel Aged Black Strap Molasses Rum. Some other rums will have a very earthy and dry character that will change the profile of the cocktail significantly, but may be what you’re looking for.
Next on the list should be a nice Vodka and Gin. For Vodka, I highly recommend 45th Parallel. I’ve had several great Vodkas, but this one stands among the top to me! For a great Gin, FEW Spirits and Vikre each make a variety of great gins. They even have barrel aged gins that go well in place of whiskey in some cocktails for a nice twist. Another great gin distiller is Sip Smith. There are so many new and great gins out there right now, the UK is booming with new great gin’s every day! I even had a fantastic gin from Antwerp a while back. I’d highly recommend trying as many different gins as you can, to decide what you like best. Gin is highly dependent on the neutral spirit used and the blend of botanicals. They are all different and mix differently. This is another topic altogether!
Tequila is a must. But use the good stuff! It makes a difference. A good tequila doesn’t have to break the bank. You can find great tequila for under $30/bottle. Blanco, Silver, Platinum, etc. seem to be the most universal, but Reposado, Anejo, and extra Anejo have additional character that is sometimes required for some cocktails and adds to other cocktails very nicely. Not to mention Mezcal (One of my top favorite base spirits!) I would recommend starting with the clear versions and later adding aged and Mezcal to your inventory. If you like a smoky flavor, for many tequila drinks, you can substitute the right Mezcal for a smoky version!
A decent blended Scotch for mixing, and a reasonable Islay single malt for adding a smoke character are also a great add. Ardbeg and Laphroaig are both great options for the smoke additions. A decent VSOP Cognac is also a great addition to expand your cocktail possibilities!
Now, to add some liqueurs and vermouth. A dry curacao, Amaro, Sweet red vermouth and dry vermouth, Absinthe, cherry liqueur, Ginger Liqueur, coffee liqueur, etc. The bare minimum would be a Sweet Red Vermouth. Carpano Antica Formula is one of my favorite big names. Dolin makes great sweet, dry, and blanc vermouths as well. Campari and Aperol are pretty standard Amaris, or bitter liqueurs, that mix well in many different cocktails. Many of the new craft independent distillers are creating their own versions of Amari and liqueurs. Check out your local selection. If you are within their distribution areas, Koval also has a line of great liqueurs!
Bitters are a must to truly make cocktails! There are thousands of different flavors and brands. It is a great idea to pick up a new kind of bitters whenever you feel like trying something new. However, I would recommend starting with a couple basics that go well across the spectrum of cocktails. Angostura and Peychaud’s have different flavor profiles. I like to always have both on hand, since they are called out specifically in many classic cocktail recipes, but can always be changed to add your own new twist on the classic.
Once you are done at the liquor store, the rest can be found around your kitchen or local grocer. Make your own simple syrup. I like to use Demerara or raw sugar. Just mix equal parts sugar and boiling water and stir until clear, then refrigerate. Honey is also good, mixed 2 parts honey to 1 part hot water, for adding sweetness. Lemons, Limes, Oranges, and Grapefruit are great for squeezing fresh juice and zest for garnishing. Coffee or Espresso also makes a great addition to many cocktails. Other garnishes include olives, maraschino cherries, basil, rosemary, thyme, Mint, and almost anything you can think of. To top off those high-balls and other sparkling cocktails, add some tonic, seltzer water, champagne, or Prosecco.
To recap, following the guidelines above, here is a quick shopping list to get you started:
– Rye and/or Bourbon
– White rum
– Aged Rum
– White Tequila (later add aged and Mezcal)
– Sweet and dry vermouth
– Dry or bitter liqueur/Amaro (like Campari, Cynar, or Aperol)
– Dry Curacao
– Cherry Liqueur
– Optional adds; Blended Scotch, Islay Single Malt Scotch, Cognac, Absinthe, other Flavored Liqueurs, etc.
– Fresh fruit, sugar, garnishes
– Tonic, Seltzer, Champagne, Prosecco, etc.
With an initial investment of 11 bottles, some bitters, fruit, and some bubbles, you can make an impressive number of different cocktails. Some examples of great classics are the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Daiquiri, Negroni, Margarita, Martinez, Martini, Boulevardier, Mimosa, French 75, Mojito, and almost endless other cocktails. Add the Cognac, the blended Scotch, Islay Single Malt Scotch, and a few extra liqueurs and that number expands limitlessly!
– The Cocktail Engineer