Home Bar 101

© Gary AllardStocking Your Star Bar

Much like your kitchen pantry, your home bar has some basic requirements. We get a lot of questions about what we stock and how we use it, so we thought we’d do a recap of just that. Note that this is a condensed version of a much longer and comprehensive post you can find here.

Basic Liquors

First off, you need some basic liquors. With a few exceptions, 90% of our recipes will start with something from this list (appearing in order of popularity):

  • Gin: A good sturdy London dry style. Go for something that has a slightly higher proof (around 90) so it stands up to your mixers.
  • Bourbon or Rye Whiskey: I know these are not necessarily interchangeable but if you’re tight on space (and budget), either will work in most cases. Not sure on brands? Check my notes here.
  • Tequila: In the warm months, nothing beats a well-crafted margarita. Choose either silver (plato or blanco) or reposado (“rested”) style. Make sure it’s 100% agave.
  • Rum: There are so many varieties and regions for rum, choosing one can be daunting. I always avoid spiced rums because it seems like they are hiding something. Our usual choice is Meyers Dark Rum because its quite smooth and very versatile. For daiquiris, you’ll want the silver version, too.
  • Scotch: If you are already a seasoned scotch drinker, skip to the next section. If not, finding the “right” bottle to stock is impossible. Scotch enthusiasts are picky. That said, you can please most scotchphiles with a decent blended version. I like Dewars 12 Year because it drinks like a single malt but is priced right.
  • Vodka: Actually, we don’t buy vodka. Gin is far more interesting. Chances are if you really like vodka, you already have a favorite. Use that.

Apertifs and Liqueurs

For apertifs and liqueurs, you just need to stock a few important things. Fortunately they are cheap and easy to find and usually last a while. Also, upgrading to the higher end version generally means only a couple extra bucks.

  • Sweet Vermouth (a.k.a Red, Rosso, or Italian Vermouth) Martini & Rossi Rosso is my favorite for its bitter sweetness. Cinzano is also a solid choice.
  • Dry Vermouth (a.k.a. white, or French Vermouth) Crisp and dry, it adds complexity to a martini when used sparingly and also comes in handy in the kitchen, where I use it like dry sherry. Noilly Prat and Martini & Rossi work well.
  • Triple Sec or Curaçao A ubiquitous ingredient and home bar staple. There are many options out there with varying degrees of quality and price. We make our own but if you’re feeling fancy go for Grand Marnier or Cointreau, otherwise DeKuyper will work just fine.
  • Specialty Liqueurs This is where you can show your creativity. I like to have a couple amaro or bitter liqueurs like Campari of Fernet Branca as well as something sweet and floral like elderflower or pomegranate liqueur.
  • Bitters I love a dash of bitters in almost everything I drink these days, alcoholic or not. The two most widely used are Angostura and Peychaud’s aromatic varieties. Stock both as they have very different flavors.

Mixers and Fresh Produce

Now that your bar is stocked with lots of great stuff, you’ll need some mixers and fresh produce. These are the non-bar things we always have on hand:

  • Citrus Lemons and limes specifically with oranges and grapefruits following close by. We tend to get what’s in season and adjust the cocktail recipes accordingly.
  • Sodas and Tonic Water Standard Scwhepps or Canada Dry will do here.  We also keep a strong ginger beer on hand as well. Bundaberg or Fever Tree are good bets.
  • Simple Syrup You can make your own. It’s simple. Like the name.

Cocktail Science

So now you have everything it takes to mix about a hundred really tasty cocktails. At this point you will need to know a little mixing science. It comes down to ratios. I’ve experimented enough with all the above ingredients to confidently suggest this simple formula:

  • 2 oz. liquor of choiceHow to mix a good drink: Pie Chart
  • 1/2 oz. sweet or dry vermouth
  • 1/2 oz. triple sec
  • 1/2 oz. lemon or lime juice
  • splash of specialty liqueur of choice
  • Shake or stir over ice and strain into a chilled glass.

Sounds vague and delicious at the same time, right? To put some bar jargon into the mix use these classic terms:

  • Rickey: 2 parts liquor, 1/2 oz. lime juice, top with soda water. Served on the rocks.
  • Collins: 2 parts liquor, 1/2 oz. lemon or lime juice, soda water, served on the rocks.
  • Highball: 2 oz liquor, ginger ale (or) soda water, lemon peel. Served in, that’s right, a highball glass full of ice.

Want even more ideas? Here’s my list of our top 5 drinks we make at home:

The Gimlet: A classic that never goes out of style. Shake 2 oz. of gin with 1/2 oz. lime juice and 1/2 oz. simple syrup, strain and serve “up.”

The Pegu Club: Simple, yet complex, and very easy to make drink. In a mixing glass add 2 oz. gin, juice of 1/2 a lime, 1/2 oz. triple sec, 2-3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters and stir well. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

The Bourbon Mule: A twist on the original vodka version. In a double rocks or old fashioned glass, add 2 oz. bourbon or rye whiskey, juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 dashes angostura bitters. Stir with ice and top with ginger beer. Bonus points if you serve it in a copper mug.

The Journalist: This leverages all the great classic ingredients in an unexpected combination. In a shaker full of ice add: 2 oz. gin, 1 tsp. sweet vermouth, 1 tsp. dry vermouth, 1 tsp. triple sec, juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1/2 oz.) and 2 dashes Angostura bitter. Shake or stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The French 75: Another great classic that’s always a hit with Champagne fans. In a mixing glass full of ice combine 1 oz. gin, 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1 tsp. simple syrup and stir to chill. Strain into a Champagne or cocktail glass and top with Champagne or dry sparkling white wine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Master these drinks and you’re on your way to creating a hundred variations or more. Cheers, and have fun!

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All photos © Gary Allard / garyallard.com


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