As we continue our exploration of cocktails, we are often asked “how do you get started at home and what should we buy”? We certainly have our opinions and we will share them, but there are no perfect answers (opinions, comments, disagreements and even outrage are welcome, feel free to share your thoughts!). But here is how we would get started:
Here is the “short and sweet” version: Get a bottle of dry gin, a bottle of light rum and a bottle of whiskey (we like rye, but bourbon or Canadian whiskey are good). Get some Angostura and Regan’s Orange bitters, sweet and dry vermouth (nothing fancy) and fresh citrus. Make a few basic syrups with sugar and honey. Get that old cocktail shaker off the shelf (we bet you have one somewhere) and start making drinks. And what can you make? Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Sours and Daiquiris along with dozens of other “classic” cocktails. Go to Cocktail DB to get more ideas based on ingredients in your fridge. You are off and running for about $100 bucks, and if you assume you will get at least 50 cocktails from these three bottles, the average cost per drink is about $2. Not too shabby (to borrow from Adam Sandler).
But what if you want to take it up a notch? For about $250 you can stock a home bar that allows you to build literally hundreds of cocktails and with “professional” results. A few more spirits and bitters, a liqueur or two and a bit of extra gear and you have a “pro” bar at home. So here is the breakdown, with a focus on readily (and nationally) available ingredients:
- Dry Gin: All sorts of good options here, but stalwarts like Tanqueray, Brokers, Gordon’s and Beefeater are all under $20. If you are a gin fan, there are dozens of good artisan gins to try, usually around $30. And if you just can’t stand juniper, “new world” gins like Hendrick’s (cucumber) and Nolet (floral) focus on other flavors and are good options. Martinis, Rickeys, Gimlets, Sours and Collins’ are all based on gin. Try classics like the Pegu Club or Aviation.
- Whiskey: We like rye whiskey and suggest Rittenhouse 80 proof for about $20. If you like bourbon, Bulleit at $25 is a good choice, but there are good options around $15. Good for Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Sours. Try the Daisy Black for a twist on a Whiskey Sour.
- Light Rum: We suggest El Dorado Light Demerara rum at $15. Great rum at a good price (their Gold rum is also excellent). Bacardi and Brugal are also solid choices. Good for classics like Daiquiris and Cuba Libre, also a component of many tiki drinks.
- Aged / Dark Rum: We suggest Barbancourt 4 or 8-year-old and/or Appleton aged rums, about $25 – $30. While very different, both offer the deep, funky sugar and vanilla flavors that make tiki / tropical drinks sing. Great for tiki drinks and for deeper versions of Daiquiris.
- Tequila: Plenty of good blanco tequilas under $20, just be sure it is 100% agave. We like to use richer-flavored reposado tequila in most drinks and prefer Cazadores, it works in just about everything and is about $25. For most, tequila is still all about Margaritas, but let’s face it, Margaritas still rock. If you are looking to branch-out, try the Ernesto or Chica Facil.
- Brandy: This is a tough one. Good brandy isn’t cheap and some brands are not widely available. You will need help at your liquor store. VS Cognac is ok, but XO or VSOP will be better but cost over $30. We like Armagnac, and you can get a very good bottle for $30- $35. National brands like Hennessy have VS Cognacs for under $30, domestic brandies will often be less expensive. If you want to make a good Sidecar, you need good brandy. Also, a key ingredient in classic punches, like Chatham Artillery Punch.
- Vodka: While not a favorite of many cocktail enthusiasts, a lot of people like vodka, and you probably have a bottle somewhere in the house already. Plenty of good options under $20. Cosmopolitans and Lemondrops are good reasons to have some vodka in your bar.
- Extras: If you want to add-on, blended Scotch, Irish whiskey, Genever (gin in a richer, maltier style), Laird’s Bonded Applejack (apple brandy), Cachaca (Brazilian sugar cane spirit) and Rhum Agricole are all worthy additions to your bar. Continue reading