Aside from booze blogs, web comics, regular comics, and as many books as we can get our hands on, we (specifically Matt) like to read certain menswear blogs. In particular we recommend An Affordable Wardrobe and Put This On, which inspired our video segments. One of the common questions addressed on menswear blogs is how to build a wardrobe and not surprisingly, the process is very similar to stocking your bar.
This is our collection a year ago. Much like a child, it has only gotten larger and more expensive since then.
In both cases you want to start with the essentials. For your bar this means a handful of base spirits like gin, vodka, whiskey (potentially several varieties), brandy, light rum, and depending on preference and season, tequila. Then you’ll want a few common liqueurs and mixers such as triple sec, dry and sweet vermouth, grenadine, and bitters. Non-alcoholic essentials include fresh lemons and limes, simple syrup, olives, maraschino cherries, club soda and tonic water. With these basics you should be able to mix most classic cocktails.
But hold on, that’s a lot of stuff. If you went out today and bought everything on that list, you could easily spend over $200 (a princely sum for many, your humble boozehounds included). You don’t need everything on this list all at once though. Start by finding two or three drink recipes that you want to make, and go get the ingredients for them. Then, in a couple weeks, try a couple new recipes. So long as you consistently try new and more complex drinks, you’ll find your collection of bottles grows on its own.
In all honesty though, drinking well can potentially turn into an incredibly expensive hobby, but it doesn’t have to be. Especially when you’re starting out, there is a whole range of excellent spirits that can be had for less than $20 per bottle. Once you get your feet wet you may find that it’s worth spending $40 or $50 on a really good bottle of scotch, cognac, or calvados. But until you’ve developed a real appreciation for spirits, you’re probably not going to get any extra enjoyment out of a glass of Johnny Walker Blue Label that you couldn’t get from The Famous Grouse.
Once you explore a bit you’ll find your own go-to brands and favorites for keeping your bar stocked, but we’re often asked what we drink. If you’re not making something in particular, and looking in the mid-to-low-shelf area, here are some solid choices:
- Gin: New Amsterdam – It’s light on the juniper, but still flavorful enough to make a good Martini.
- Vodka : We don’t usually pay more than $13 for a basic vodka, and actually don’t have a favorite as vodkas are ideally tasteless.
- Vermouth: If you can find Dolin, that’s the vermouth you want. If your liquor store doesn’t carry it, Noilly-Prat is the international standard. Fun fact: if you’re stuck with a bottle of crummy dry you can use it to create a very effective fruit fly trap.
- Kina Lillet Blanc: Similar to vermouth, but not the same.
- Bourbon: Old Grand-Dad is a decent mixing bourbon that shouldn’t cost you more than $15 for a 750mL bottle.
- Irish Whiskey: Feckin’ Irish Whiskey is a newer, perfectly decent cheap brand. But if you have a few bucks to spend, Bushmills and Jameson are not outrageous, and worth the extra dough.
- Rye Whiskey: Wigle Whiskey‘s unaged white rye is a bit more expensive (just under $35 with tax) but worth every penny both for taste and supporting a local Pittsburgh distiller
- Dark Rum: Kraken
- White Rum: Cruzan Aged Light Rum is aged only slightly and then filtered to remove coloring, but the process takes the edge off the alcohol and makes Cruzan superior to other rums at this price point.
- Spiced Rum: Sailor Jerry is the big name in this category, but I think that Cruzan 9 is a surprisingly complex contender that’ll save you a few bucks as well.
- Tequila: Both Espolón Blanco and Reposado (“white” and “rested,” respectively) are very tasty tequilas that may just change your mind about this often maligned spirit. Even the Blanco is pleasantly sippable neat.
- Brandy: Like whiskey, there are whole worlds to explore when it comes to brandy. But to get you started, E&J VSOP is an inexpensive bottle to practice mixing Sidecars with.
Liqueurs we can’t live without:
- St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur
- Rothman & Winter Creme de Violette
- Grenadine (homemade)
- Triple Sec: Montezuma is the best brand that PA liquor stores stock, but we’re looking forward to trying Hiram Walker 30 proof triple sec via special order
- Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
In reality, stocking and maintaining a respectable home bar is an inevitable side effect of cocktail exploration. If you’ve set out to try new and interesting drinks, eventually you’ll find a need for rye whiskey and maraschino liqueur. Sure, you can stock a vanity bar with Grey Goose and Johnny Walker to show off for guests, but nothing beats the eclecticism of a bar stocked through compulsive exploration. The guy or gal who owns that bar is the person you want mixing your drink.