Cheers! This week I’m at MegaCon in Orlando, Florida, and am away from my home bar. 50 Shots of America will resume next week. Until then, I hope you’ll find the following enlightening–it’s long, but for good reason.
The Basic Spirits
To make a wide variety of drinks, a bar stocked with a bottle each of Gin, Vodka, Rum, Whiskey, Tequila and Brandy. You don’t have to go out and buy all of them at once. If you’re still in the process of building up your stock, choose a particular cocktail to serve at each gathering, and use the opportunity to add another basic to your bar. Scotch isn’t used as much in mixing drinks, but it’s another good one to have on hand.
Once you’ve got the basics covered, you might want to add some variety in your vodkas and rums. Vanilla vodka is exceptionally good in sweet drinks and there are plenty of flavored vodkas on the market–the only problem is picking which ones you think you’ll like! Rums come in white, dark, golden and spiced, each with their own applications. Once you’ve managed to get those basics down, you can also moved into the flavored varieties; coconut and pineapple are especially nice.
Liquor is only the beginning of a cocktail. A lot of variety can be achieved with just a few liqueurs to add to a vodka or rum base. Used in smaller quantities, these bottles can last a while (as long as you don’t leave the caps off! Alcohol evaporates, after all, and while speed pour tips may look professional they’ll cost you in the long run with the shrinkage of your stock). Triple Sec (an orange liqueur) is one of the first you’re likely to want, though you should consider the more specific Cointreau if your budget allows as the latter is smoother and less overpowering in a cocktail.
Schnapps can be found in many flavors, with peach and butterscotch being two of the more popular–and tasty–options you should lay in as soon as possible. A good chocolate liqueur is nice to have, along with a coffee liqueur and an Irish Cream (not a schnapp–is there a singular for schnapps?–but it goes best here; just buy some!).
Vermouth, a fortified wine (the others are distilled from liquors) is integral to making a classic martini. It comes in both dry and sweet varieties, the former more common these days.
Bitters, also available in several forms, are misnamed. They do not add an unpleasant taste to a drink, instead they smooth out the other flavors. Angostura and Peychaud are two you should look for. It comes in small bottles with an equally small price tag. Since you only use a few drops per drink they will easily last for ages!
So we’ve covered hard liquor and liqueurs, the last component to most drinks I make is a good dose of a non-alcoholic mixer. I enjoy the flavors that come from the booze, but I don’t want to be knocked over the head by the fumes or have my mouth burn from an imbalanced drink. Know what I mean?
Of course, since most cocktails are small, opening a 2 liter of soda or half gallon of juice for just a couple of ounces can lead to a lot of waste if you don’t drink those things often (we don’t, most nights we drink water that we keep in the fridge–just refill it when empty and move onto the next cold one, lol) or a very crowded fridge if you like to mix up your drink list frequently.
Instead, look around the juice and soda aisles for the tiny bottles and cans they carry, and keep these on the bar or in the pantry for whenever you need just a bit of something or another. Right now we have 12 oz (or so) bottles of apple, cranberry and orange juice along with 6 oz cans of pineapple, pink grapefruit, mango, peach and tomato juice. Again, the trick to not breaking the bank is to stock up gradually and then, as items are used, pick up replacements.
Sodas are also a popular mixer and we usually keep a 12-pack of caffeine free Coke classic and Sprite. Since I don’t drink soda often, these 12-packs last AGES and are tucked away on the bottom of a bookcase we have near the bar to hold just this sort of thing (along with extra glasses, liqueur overflow and bar books). Ginger Ale, Tonic Water and Club Soda can be found in both liter bottles (fairly handy) or cans and small bottles. An excellent invention for the really non-soda-drinkers among us are those wee 6-packs of the mini cans. Perfect for a single hi-ball or the like.
This is one thing I don’t often do at home. For parties? Yes. But usually I don’t worry about garnishes when I’m testing a recipe or just mixing up something for me. Still, having bottles of martini olives, onions and maraschino cherries in the fridge can come in handy when you want to go all out. Lemons and Limes (both for muddling and garnishing) should be chosen for their blemish-free rinds and even color. A small, green-skinned lime is much better than a big lime with brown spots on it, no?
So, to sum up this slightly epic (in length, if nothing else) post:
- Cover your basic spirits
- Add variety and specialty items slowly
- Buy mixers in small, non-perishable forms