Now that we have our bar tools and bitters, we need to set our initial spirit & liqueur budget. Based on this budget (and your personal taste) we will prioritize which bottles to purchase. Once we have the list we can make the trip to the local liquor warehouse with confidence. I feel that $150 is a good budget for “The Essentials” below. The four additional “Bonus Bottles” would require around an extra $100 or so.
*Note – The suggested brands I have listed are simply that, my suggestions. I’ll support any brand that your taste buds enjoy. Also, the prices listed below will vary by market and are meant for budgeting purposes.
1. Gin – When it comes to making craft cocktails, Gin will probably be your #1 spirit by quantity imbibed (depending upon your taste and the season). The most common type and the one to initially stock your home bar with is “London Dry” style. Personally, I enjoy Bombay Sapphire, however there are plenty of brands on the market. I would recommend Gordon’s, Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray.Hendrick’sis a wonderful sipping Gin (if you believe in that sort of thing. Most tell me its hog-wash) I do not personally utilize Hendricks in many cocktails; however, I know many people that swear by Hendricks for both cocktails and neat sipping.
If you are just getting started on this journey and you are not a huge fan of London Dry style Gin I do have a couple of suggestions for you.
Look up Hayman’sOld Tom Gin, as this is less botanical (more mild) and may be a bit easier to get on with.
I would also recommend tryingBols Genever (“Genever” is the original style of Gin primarily from Amsterdam). It’s very light botanically and it has an excellent flavor profile. However, it is a bit pricey and we’re trying to get the most for our buck/quid here.
If you distaste all Gin, (I’m sorry about that) you could certainly stock vodka in its place.
Fun Fact: Gin is basically vodka distilled with natural herbs and botanicals.
2. Rye Whiskey or Bourbon Whiskey – Starting out I would choose one. I love Rittenhouse; it’s somewhat of a benchmark for ryes and it won’t break the bank. Old Overholt is another great option for the money. That being said, if you struggle (as I once did) with Ryes give Templeton Rye or Bulleit Rye a try. They offer a lower proof and a somewhat more mild profile. If you prefer Bourbon, feel free to pick one up instead. There are many great Bourbons out there. I am a huge fan of 1792 Bourbon; however, Elijah Craig 12yr &Russell’s Reserve 10yrare both excellent for the money.
3. Rum – So. Many. Choices. Personally I would start with either a gold/amber style (Mount Gay, Bacardi 8, Plantation 5) or a white (Flor de Cana White or 10 Cane). We will certainly have a rum dedicated post later on to go over the plethora of different types, styles and production methods.
4. Orange Liqueur – Also referred to as Triple Sec, Orange Curacao or simply Curacao. When starting out I don’t feel the need to get too complicated here. I would recommend the Brandy based Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao or Cointreau. They are very similar in price and both excellent products. For the beginner home bartender I would suggest the Cointreau because it’s clear and mixes well with lighter cocktails. However, the flavor profile of the Dry Curacao is amazing. I would not fault you for picking up either one. However, it would be superfluous to pick up both (at least that’s what the Mrs. advised me when we got started…)
5. Sweet Vermouth – One thing to note with Vermouths: They are “Fortified wines” and are only good in the bottle after opening for roughly 6 months or so. That being said, I would start with a 375ml bottle and I would look for Dolin as it is a great all around sweet. If you are unable to find Dolin in 375ml, I would pick up Martini & Rossi or Noilly Prat in a 375ml bottle as you may not be sure you even like vermouth. When I first bought Vermouth I was not a huge fan, if I’m honest. However, if you know you like Vermouths, feel free to pick a bottle that you enjoy in the size you prefer.
“3 great sweet Vermouths for down the road are Carpano Antica Formula, Punt e Mes & Cocchi di Torrino; but that’s another post isn’t it… “
6. Dry Vermouth – As stated above, the 6 month lifespan also applies here. And unless you’re making Chrysanthemums and Dry Martinis daily, I don’t know that you will go through a 750ml bottle that quickly. For starters I would look for a 375ml bottle of Dolin Dry, Martini & Rossi or Noilly Prat (Just make sure the Noilly isn’t “Extra Dry”…I had a bad experience.)
Note: There are several different styles and types of Vermouth & Apertif Wines depending on region, ingredients, etc…We will get into these in a future post.
7. Vodka – Before I start, let me say that I do not care for Vodka in cocktails, at all. However, I keep a bottle in the bar for a few reasons.
The Mrs. enjoys a Moscow Mule, a Cosmo and a well-made Lemon Drop Martini on occasion.
It is a useful preservative in large-batched syrups and is useful in many other homemade bar creations.
When you have company, a party, or a barn-raising, odds are you will encounter a few folks that “prefer not to taste their liquor” and will specifically ask for a Vodka cocktail. I don’t mind it, I’m simply glad they came (esp. in the case of the barn-raising…).
All that to say, feel free to keep a bottle of decent Vodka in the home bar, whether that’s to satisfy your preference vs. Gin, your spouses’ taste, or simply for entertainment purposes. I would recommend Tito’s, Ketel One or Belvedere.
Note: As you can probably tell, I am not a fan of cheap Vodka (let us say that the past experience most people have with tequila is the experience I had with vodka. I’m back on the horse but it’s not my prize stallion…).
Some examples of potential “Bonus Bottles”
At this point if you still have room in that budget you could either grab a second type of Rum, or you could purchase one or more of the next few bottles.
1. VSOP Cognac or similar style Brandy – Cognac, (like Champagne vs Prosecco/Cava) is a variety of Brandy named after the town/region of Cognac, France. Brandy is a fruit- based spirit (normally grape) that is distilled to over 35% ABV. This is certainly a bottle to keep in stock once purchased, however I believe one can get off to a great start sans Cognac. We will get into the plethora of different varieties of Brandy in a later post. There are some amazing ones out there…
“I feel that falling for Campari is like falling in love. It happens slowly, then all at once.”
2. Campari – The tip of an enormous category of delicious liqueurs named “Amaro” or “Amari” (We’ll get into all that later on…). Often I encounter people very polarized on this liqueur. Personally, I love it; however, I will say there was a time in my life when I did not love it or the beloved Negroni for that matter. I feel that falling for Campari is like falling in love. It happens slowly, then all at once. Love it or hate it, this liqueur has a place in the home bar and there are many a classic cocktail that have Campari to thank for their unique relevance to the cannon of cocktail-dom. I would start out with an Americano and see where that takes you (That’s Campari & Soda with an orange wedge btw…) However, if you simply cannot stomach Campari, its lighter more-agreeable cousin, Aperol (produced by the same company) is a great alternative.
3. Luxardo Marschino Liqueur – This bottle was one of my first “bonus bottle” purchases. That may seem a bit odd because it’s always listed in such small amounts within recipes, however this is a very versatile liqueur and it will serve you well. Give an “Improved” or “Fancy” Old-Fashioned a try and tell me I’m crazy (however, there are those who simply do not fully appreciate this liqueur, the Mrs. for example…). That being said, I would order a cocktail like an “Improved Old-Fashioned”, “The Last Word” or “Aviation” at a local cocktail bar before you take the plunge on a bottle.
“This spirit is not evil; it doesn’t want to take your clothes off or make you sick for days…”
4. Tequila – If you told me I could only have one spirit in my bar it would be Tequila (or perhaps Mezcal)… However, the majority of people do not feel the same; hence it is on the “bonus” list. From the Margarita to the Paloma, to the Anejo-Sazerac and back to the Lawn Dart, this spirit has unique qualities that lend themselves well in the right setting. Unfortunately, the most common setting we see is “The Shot” with lime and salt accoutrements… This spirit is not evil; it doesn’t want to take your clothes off or make you sick for days. It just wants to be given a chance (or in most cases a second chance). That said, I would suggest Milagro blanco & Cazadores reposado as excellent starter options. Once settled in, if you would like to try my standard for Tequila, pick up a bottle of Don Julio (Blanco, Reposado, Anejo…well anything really). There will be a post dedicated to myths surrounding this spirit in the future. Just, steer clear of the shots, for all our sakes…
As stated above, feel free to mix and match this list and even pickup a couple bottles that aren’t on it if you like. This is your home bar and only you know what you (and your ‘regulars’) enjoy, so go with it!