Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How to Make a Bar

I like liquor, and I like to make drinks at home. A lot. Too much. For people who have been to my house, this is obvious. I have probably around 100 bottles, including far too much whiskey. I also have five or ten rums, all three basic types of tequila (blanco, reposado, and aƱejo), brandy, applejack, pisco, three or four gins, six or seven amari, and so on and so on.

This doesn't include my fancy whiskey on the
top shelf that you aren't fancy enough to see.
Not everyone needs a collection like this (actually, no one does). But if you drink and, in particular, entertain at least intermittently, having a bar is an important part of being a grown-up. It should be the next step after having "your drink," the thing you order whenever you are at a bar and don't know what you want (mine is whiskey neat, by the way, whatever is the best bottom- or mid-shelf bottle I can see - this doesn't really matter any more, of course, because I have a toddler so the only time I'm in a bar is at my house).

When I first set out to put together a bar, I found it very intimidating, basically because I didn't know anything about liquor and had no money. Don't let that last thing be an impediment for you. Do you go to bars? Then you have enough money not to go to one more bar, or order that extra drink a couple times, and pick a bottle of something every month or so. If you don't drink a lot, it will last you more than a year, and it will keep for at least five times that before you notice a difference in taste. See that picture up there? That's six years of doing what I just said and there is absolutely no reason to go these lengths. Once you have 10-15 bottles, all you really need to do is restock every few months and not lose your shit like I did. There's even a blog dedicated to how this is all you need.

So what if you don't know anything about liquor? What do you think I'm doing here? If you know something about liquor, go read something else. For everyone else, there are two schools of thought on this. The first is pretty good, which is to go out, have a drink you like, find out what's in it, and buy the things to make that drink. Then repeat the process and before you know it you've built a speakeasy in your basement where you handcraft your own Moscow Mule mugs. Not bad, right?

The problem with this process is that it's actually kind of a chore. Who wants to go out and try drinks until you find one you want, make sure it has ingredients you don't have but aren't too expensive or difficult to acquire and repeat every few months? You end up spending a lot of money on cocktails out - something you were avoiding in the first place. And if you pick the wrong drink, you might buy an ingredient you find you don't really like in any other drink. Then you end up with a whole bottle of St. Germain when you only need .25 ounces of it for each drink you make, which means you need to make like 200 of those drinks you thought you liked the first 25 times to even tap out the first bottle.

The second school of thought is for people who have a steady flow of just enough cash and the right vision to achieve their goal. I like this for any aspiring adult, because it gets you settled into your life steadily and with minimal fuss. For people who agree, the following is what I think the basic bar should have. Note that I have far more than this, and you probably will too once you find out which liquor you like. But I am silly, and maybe you can control yourself.

For mixing:

Rye (Rittenhouse if you are lucky to find it, Redemption if not)
Gin (Beefeater if you like juniper, Plymouth if not)
Light Rum (Matusalem is a good starting point)
Demarara Rum (El Dorado 12)
Reposado Tequila (Siete Leguas is good, El Jimador is cheap)
ONLY Smirnoff Vodka (if you buy expensive vodka, I will be sad for you)

For sipping:

A nice Bourbon/Rye/Rum depending on your preference
Scotch (maybe one Islay and one Highland or Speyside if you want to be fancy)
An amaro (Nonino is pricey, Ramazzotti is cheap, either is a good place to start)


Vermouth (Sweet and Dry - start with Cinzano sweet and Noilly Prat dry)
Wild Card!


Fee's Orange
Bittermen's Mole

This is all you need ever. Really, ever. Use the wild card in mixers to spice up your life or throw a party. Replace your sippers with nicer or cheaper stuff depending on how you did at bonus time. Don't get fancy with the mixers - you don't want to end up with a whole bottle of a trendy gin it turns out you hate in every drink you used to love. And of course if you don't entertain enough to warrant having a mixer you hate, like say tequila, then by all means skip it - although you should remember this stuff keeps really well, I like a good margarita when the weather's nice, and I'm not afraid to give you a bad review on Yelp.

Buy some glasses that aren't 25 ounces (you really don't even need martini glasses or coupes - just get cheap tumblers), invest in nice ice cube trays, buy some citrus, avoid Guinness posters, and boom. You're done.

Now go forth and be an adult.


  1. Have you tried Sobieski vodka? It's imported from Poland, cheaper than Smirnoff, very smooth and satisfying. $11 for a fifth, $20 for a 1.75L, the best bargain in liquor that I know of.

  2. I have not but I'm not surprised it's good. I'm not a vodka drinker and only have it on hand for infusions and to spike my simple syrup so it doesn't go bad, but I think the bottom shelf has a lot to recommend - especially from Eastern Europe.