There comes a moment in every gentleman’s life when he realises it’s time to drink like a man. The days of Jäger bombs and spirits surreptitiously sipped from paper bags are over, replaced by upscale imbibing the Mad Men would be proud of. When that time comes, you’ll need to invest in a liquor cabinet and begin the process of building your own home bar.
Whether you’re planning a chic soirée, hoping to impress a date, or just want to be prepared when friends stop by for post-work drinks, this checklist has everything you need to become an expert at-home mixologist.
The heart and soul of your liquor cabinet is…the liquor, of course. There are a few essential alcohols that are musts for your home bar, because they form the foundations of most mixed drinks. You can probably name them off the top of your head: vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, tequila. You may also want to add cognac or brandy for a really well-rounded basic booze selection.
A special note about whiskey: one bottle will not be enough. And not just because you’ll drink so much of it. Each whiskey has its own unique character that’s better suited to some beverages than others. There’s also personal preference to take into account. Your options include bourbon, rye and Scotch, and a number of different countries of origin. It never hurts to max out the alternatives available, but if you lack the space or the finances to buy one of everything, choose what you personally prefer to drink. It is your home, after all.
And while we’re on the subject of cost, exactly how much should you drop in pursuit of the perfect liquor cabinet? Should you aim for quantity but sacrifice the quality of each individual bottle? Should you decide credit card debt isn’t really so bad and go all top shelf? Should you pour bargain booze into pricey bottles and pray no one notices?
It all comes down to your personal tastes. Your bar stock should be designed for the drinks you enjoy drinking (and serving) most. Splurge on the high calibre spirits in any of the categories that fit that description.
You may be perfectly happy with a simple whiskey served neat, but at some point a guest will want something a little more creative. Enter the liqueurs, which act as flavouring agents when mixed with the base spirits listed above. The great thing about liqueurs is that a bottle can last a significant amount of time, so you can build your collection slowly as you see fit.
Amongst the most common liqueurs are Irish cream (e.g. Bailey’s), amaretto (e.g. Disaronno), coffee (e.g. Kahlua), and orange (e.g. Cointreau). And don’t forget the vermouth, as there’s bound to be at least one moment when you’ll want to shake up a martini and pretend you’re a dashing British Secret Service agent.
With the basics covered, you’re free to get fancy with your liqueurs. Your options are limited only by your imagination and the amount of effort you’re willing to put into mixing crazy cocktails. Try St. Germain, Benedictine, Drambuie, Frangelico, crème de Menthe or Chambord.
With the proper spirits in place, it’s time to consider mixers. Below is a list of the basic ingredients you’ll need to make a variety of popular drinks.
- Tonic water
- Soda water
- Simple syrup
- Sour mix
- Juices: orange, cranberry, pineapple, lime, tomato
- Sodas: cola, lemon-lime, ginger ale
- Bloody Mary mix and margarita mix, if you don’t want to make the drinks from scratch
As with the alcohol itself, start with what you’re most likely to use. You can always add more later, but it’s a waste of time and money to purchase everything up-front only to find you barely need most of it.
Garnishes are the finishing touch that add visual appeal and a splash of flavour to your cocktail creations. In other words, they’re the je ne sais quoi that will impress your guests and make you a master bartender.
Fruits are non-negotiable. Your drinks will be naked without lemons, limes, and maraschino cherries. Oranges are a nice addition, but not a requirement. Outside of the fruit salad, you’ll want to consider stocking the following:
- Cocktail onions
- Worcestershire sauce
- Tabasco sauce
- Whipped Cream
Two notes on garnishes. First, many of them need to be refrigerated, so store them in the kitchen if your bar area doesn’t have a fridge of its own. Second, take timing into account. It’s best to buy garnish fruits the day before use, and even packaged garnishes like olives and maraschino cherries won’t last forever.
And don’t forget the ice!
Last but not least, your bar won’t be complete without something to serve in (no, swigging straight from the bottle is not acceptable). Every kind of drink calls for a different kind of glass, so be prepared. Equip your liquor cabinet with martini glasses, rocks glasses, red and white wine glasses, highball glasses, and pint glasses or mugs for beer.
On the non-glass front, you’ll want a martini shaker and strainer, toothpicks for garnishes, and as many bar tools as you’re willing to experiment with. Depending on how advanced you want to get, that list could include a julep strainer, jigger, bar spoon or muddler. You can even get high tech with a blender or juicer.