How to Stock your Home Bar
Now that you’ve started reading different cocktail books, have explored your palette with numerous drinks you would have never ordered at a bar before and have been trying to inform yourself on the different tastes of alcohols and wine, what’s the next step? For one, they say the best way to learn something is from first-hand experience but before you can do that you need the tools and the right stuff in your home (unless you own a bar, in which case we should be friends and you shouldn’t need to read this article).
Class, let’s begin by understanding the different types of alcohol and making sure you purchase the correct bottles.
It is a distilled beverage with a high alcoholic content that is produced by putting a fermented mash (hot water mixed with crushed grains) through a single or multiple distillation process which extracts the ethanol and removes the impurities and most of the created substances accumulated during fermentation.
The mother of all hangovers (if you buy the cheap stuff). This grain mash spirit (corn, barley, rye) is flavoured with juniper berries that render the sweet taste and iconic smell of this very European (mostly British, a little Dutch) favourite. I recommend getting a bottle of Plymouth, as it’s not too aggressive and can be used either in a Gin and Tonic or in a nice Martini.
Vodka, though thought to be a Russian spirit is and can be produced all over the world. Most of the times It is made of potatoes, corn, grapes, grains (wheat or rye) or even molasses. We tend to buy what is trendy and better marketed, but after having lived in Russia, I know that its best to stick with one brand only. All you need Is Russian Standard (if ever you find yourself in Moscow, its pronounced Ruskii Standart). Best sipped chilled in shot glasses accompanied by smoked fish, or cream cheese and caviar.
If you’re drinking this straight, get a job. Rum is made by distilling fermented sugar cane juice (this is then considered Cachaca), molasses, or even cane syrup. What you probably didn’t know is that all rum starts out as white, only the added caramel and oak barrel agings, which act as the colouring agents, will determine how transparent, light or dark the hue of brown is going to be. Have a bottle of light rum, Bacardi Superior, for your cubalibres and easy cocktails, and keep the dark rum, Havana Club 7, for heavier flavoured cocktails (Hurricane, Dairquiri)
This personal favourite, is made by the distillation of malted grain, is aged in oak barrels and comes with many rules and restrictions that make it have so many different names, each with its own characteristics. In your bar, you should carry at least one Single Malt Scotch Whisky to sip (from Scotland, pure grain coming from one distillery), Balvenie is a safe pick; one Bourbon (at least 51% corn and from the USA) for your cocktails, Wild Turkey or Evan Williams. Go ahead, be a man.
First of all, if you buy tequila that is not made in Mexico, beware (I’ve seen local brands that advertise ‘tequila flavoured spirits’ that’s just uncalled for). Predominantly made in Jalisco and with the use of the blue agave plant. You will usually find either Mixto (at least 51% agave) or 100%, always go for the pure one and the anejo or extra-anejo, if you don’t want to end up in jail. When you have good tequila, you will realise that it’s not something you should be scared of. It’s supposed to be sipped at a leisurely pace, so one bottle of Don Julio, should last you for a while.
This is basically made of distilled wine and is best served as a digestif at the end of the meal. It can also be used in some interesting cocktails (Stinger, Singapore Sling). As a rule stick to Cognac, which is just Brandy which comes from that region in France; just like Champagne must come from the Champagne region. Don’t you just love the French?
To be extremely unpretentious about it, liqueurs are spirits that have been flavoured with flavoured with fruit, herbs, nuts, spices, flowers, or cream and sweetened with added sugars; these are the ones I think you should have stocked up as well since they lend well to different cocktail recipes (or to cook with):
The basic fruit liqueur every bar needs is Cointreau, which is a Triple Sec made of the peels of dried oranges.
One on the most popular is Vermouth which is fortified white wine with added herbs, the different styles can be used as an aperitif (sweet: Marti & Rossi brand) or as the perfect cocktail complement (Dry: Stock or Gallo).
It’s good to keep a bottle of Yellow Chartreuse handy, which is a very herbal spirit that has very complex flavours good for mixing (don’t worry its much milder than Jaggermeister).
Probably the most crucial to have if you want to attempt mixology are Bitters (go for Angostura) and Campari.
“The Exotic Stuff”
My rule of thumb is, if you are going to be travelling always try and grab a good bottle at a specialised alcohol shop of whatever the locals like to drink (no not at Duty free or the Gift Shop). They will serve as great mementos and double up as back up conversation starters. (i.e Orgeat, bitters, arack, st.germain …)
Un-distilled Fermented Beverages: always have a good selection of wines, beer and sake (why not – it’s a happy buzz). The most important here is selection and to correctly identify what you want to have in your house, you need to taste it all, write down what you like and ask the sommelier/waiter who supplies them and buy it straight from the source.
Mixers: club soda, tonic, sodas (for the ladies), lemons, limes, simple syrup (look it up), fine sugar, brown sugar.
Tools: speed pourers, jigger, bar blade, hand juicer, strainer, muddlers, wooden mallet, blender, long bar spoon, glass and tin, rods, squeezer
Glasses: highballs, coupe, wine, old fashioned and glass jars.