Now that you’ve decided to build your own bar at home, you need to start off on the right foot with these 10 essentials. Now remember, in the beginning you won’t be able to make every drink you come across – but you’ll definitely be off to a good start.
Bourbon, my old friend (and personal favorite) — for no bar can even be considered “a bar” without this golden liquid in its inventory. Probably the most quintessential American of the whiskies — it’s the sweetest, most flavorful, and definitely the most kind. (Bonus: you can always bake it into a bread pudding if you buy a bottle and end up hating it.)
Brand’s to Try: Four Roses ($29), Blanton’s Original ($47)
Cocktails to Make: Mint Julep, Kentucky Cousin, Gentleman Johnson
2. Rye Whiskey
Rye Whiskey, bourbon’s sweeter counterpart, has a long, rich history in America. Sometimes referred to just as rye, it’s all over the place in classic cocktails. (Believe it or not, is fantastic with Root Beer).
Brand’s to Try: George Dickel Rye ($29), Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Straight Rye ($64)
Cocktails to Make: Manhattan, Old Fashion, Brooklyn
Gin can be fickle — some people like it, others do not. Want to know how to learn to like gin? Start with a drink that’s not too gin heavy … maybe with a little fruity flavor. Have a few of those and let the gin slowly pull you into its delicious, juniper-infused orbit. What a good place to be!
Brand’s to Try: Tanqueray No. TEN ($32), The Botanist ($40)
Cocktails to Make: Tom Collins, Southside, Cucumber Gimlet
I know … it’s hard to take vodka too serious. I like my drinks to have some flavor at its core, and vodka essentially has no flavor at all. But it’s a much needed staple in any bar’s inventory, for there will always be someone who want a Cosmopolitan.
Brand’s to Try: Tito’s ($20), Belvedere Intense Vodka ($43), Silver Tree American Small Batch Vodka ($40)
Cocktails to Make: Vodka Martini, Moscow Mule, Black Russian, Bloody Mary
5. Rum (Light)
While rum has long been overlooked by alcohol enthusiast, it’s a key ingredient for many cocktail connoisseurs. From rum runners to daiquiris to mojitos — it has always been a popular additive in mixed drinks.
Brand’s to Try: 10 Cane ($25)
Cocktails to Make: Mojito, Mai Tai, Rum Runner
6. Rum (Dark)
Rich, dark, and full of molasses, it tastes like a forgotten night St. Lucia. Can be sipped or even served hot and buttered (when used in baking).
Brand’s to Try: Gosling’s ($17), Sailor Jerry’s ($30)
Cocktails to Make: Planter’s Punch, Dark and Stormy, Hurricane
Far from its reputation as a cheap drink for college kids, tequila is truly an international spirit that means much more to the cocktail world outside of the classic margarita. It, too, can be best enjoyed sipped and savored.
Brand’s to Try: El Jimador ($18), Gran Dovejo Reposado ($50)
Cocktails to Make: Margarita, Tropical Storm
8. Vermouth (Sweet and Dry)
Vermouth is an aromatized, fortified wine that can be finicky to understand. While it doesn’t exactly play a leading role in most bartenders eyes, if you read any cocktail book form the 1950s its reviews are quite positive in establishing its supporting roles. My advice? Have a combination of both the sweet (Italian) and dry (French) varieties and determine your opinion for yourself.
Brand’s to Try: Dry: Noilly Pratt ($7), Sweet: Martini Rossi ($5)
Cocktails to Make: The Gin Martini, The Derby
Most people don’t want to spend the money on an orange liquer that’s more than $30. But trust me, once you spring for your first bottle of Cointreau, you won’t go back to the cheap stuff.
Brand’s to Try: Cointreau ($33), Grand Marnier ($34)
Cocktails to Make: Singapore Sling, Sidecar, White Lady
While this may be a stretch for this list, absinthe is mostly famous in Europe for making people hallucinate (though absinthe sold in the US contains no hallucinogenic ingredients); undeterred, its popularity continues to rise for its intriguing black-licorice similarities.
Brand’s to Try: Grande Absenthe ($10)
Cocktails to Make: Death in the Afternoon, Monkey Gland
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