The purpose of Spirited Alchemy is to make cocktails approachable and enjoyable. But I had not thought of the fact that some people out there might need to know about basics before making some of the drinks that I post. So upon the suggestion of a friend, this post will run through some basics on starting a home bar (what to stock, what tools you need, etc.). This topic is very broad so this post will not go through everything and will be a primer only. I plan to separately post on topics that I think require a separate discussion, such as making simple syrup. But feel free to leave a comment regarding any specific item and I will attempt to answer it best as I can.Advice on starting a home bar can be controversial because some people think certain bottles and tools are must haves, while others do not. So before we kick things off, keep one thing in mind: everyone likes different things. So if you hate certain drinks or liquors then do not force it. Stock things you like and you will enjoy home cocktail-making.
With all that in mind, this post will discuss stocking your home bar with key bottles and tools. So I thought the best way to start this off is to see what I have in my home bar. I never really took an inventory. In short, I have a lot. My stock would not rival that of a cocktail bar but, with few exceptions, I have the ingredients to make virtually any drink. So how did I get to be a borderline alcohol hoarder?! I did not purchase these bottles all at once. I started with a few basic bottles and then added to my collection as I realized I wanted to expand my repertoire.
So what bottles are basic? Here are types of liquors that are basic and that you will want to stock:
Vodka Gin (London dry) Tequila (If you are going to pick one then I like blanco, but you can stock reposado if you like it better) Bourbon Rye Rum (light and dark) Scotch whiskey
With these basic liquors, you will have the starting ingredient for most drinks. Remember to purchase bottles which are good enough to drink on their own, but not so good that mixing with them would remove the nuances that justify the higher price. I can easily write pages and pages on each of the liquors listed above. I might end up writing posts on each of these, but if you have any questions on these liquors then drop a comment to this post and I will respond.
Okay, so now you have basic liquors covered. However, many cocktails call for liqueurs and fortified wines. Here are a few basic ones to carry:
Cointreau Sweet vermouth Dry vermouth
Cointreau is a French orange liqueur. There are many orange liqueurs out there, but I think Cointreau is the best. Vermouth is a fortified wine used in many cocktails (notably Martinis and Manhattans). It has a lower alcohol content so consider buying smaller bottles and always refrigerate after opening.
Lastly, you need some bitters. Now there are so many odd bitters out there. You do not need them all! I have 10 or so bitters, but I started with the following:
Angostura bitters Orange bitters (I have Angostura, but a lot of people like Fee Brothers or Regan's) Peychaud's bitters
As you begin to make cocktails you will grow your collection of liquors, liqueurs, and bitters. My advice is to try new things at cocktail bars. You see an ingredient you do not recognize? Ask the bartender for a drink with it. And most serious bartenders will be happy to discuss what certain ingredients are. After buying new items, do some research to see how you can use it. For example, I love Aviations. So I bought Creme de Violette. I do not use it only for Aviations. I looked online and in books to see what other cocktails I could make. This is how I have many bottles in my liquor cabinet.
Alright, so you got the bottles. Now what? Well, before you can make anything, you need tools. Tools range in price, but my advice is to not spend too much money on tools. If you go to a reputable seller, then you will likely get quality tools. So what do you need?
Shaker (cobbler or Boston) Muddler Jigger (I prefer the Oxo mini measuring cup) Bar spoon (for stirring drinks) Ice cub trays Peeler (for citrus peels -- you can use a vegetable peeler if you have one)
Shakers come in two major varieties, cobbler and Boston. Cobbler shakers are the type most people have at home. These shakers have 3 pieces, 2 which split apart to form the shaker, and a cap on top you can remove to pour your drink. I personally do not like these. As you shake a drink with ice, the metal in the shaker gets very cold. As the temperature of metal drops, it contracts, making it very difficult at times to separate the pieces. I prefer a Boston shaker, which is composed of a metal tin and a pint glass. Bartenders generally prefer Boston shakers. You need to get used to how to create and break the seal, but once you get the hang of it, it's a piece of cake. Word of advice, practice with water and ice first so you don't spill expensive ingredients!
Okay, so you got everything? Good! So what drinks should you make? Completely up to you! Look to online resources (like Spirited Alchemy!), books, and bar menus for inspiration. If you find a drink you like then write down the recipe so you can make it again. Pretty soon you will have a complete home bar and will be mixing up a storm! Enjoy!