Build A Bar
There are two schools of thought when it comes to building your home bar. And I have spent time at each of those schools. So I thought I would share my thoughts.
I expect Raf to be the first to chime in on this subject, since currently he sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from me. But I can’t blame him, I’ve been there, and its draw is very powerful.
One school is to slowly build a home bar so that you have everything. You become a collector of sorts. Sure, it can be modified to select for only the libations and spirits that you and your friends are likely to consume. No need to stock cream liqueurs if all your friends are lactose intolerant.
The other school is to limit yourself to a few bottles at a time. Your bar is a reflection of the handful of cocktails you enjoy and would like to share with your friends. It is the culmination of your lifetime of experiences, and your well-entrenched preferences. Sure you may try something new, but that’s the reason God invented bartenders.
There are a few problems with trying to build a full bar at home.
1) Space: Bottles take up a lot more room than you imagine.
2) Time: Constant trips to the liquor store to replenish empty bottles.
3) Money: Constant trips to the liquor store to replenish empty bottles.
Plus you will invariably end up with bottles sitting around that never get used. Like the time I simply had to have a bottle of Crème de Banana to properly make a Rum Runner. Even fantastic spirits like Luxardo’s Maraschino, which only get used by the teaspoon, occasionally slip out of rotation and end up getting dusty on the shelf.
Today my entire bar fits in one narrow kitchen cabinet. I am told that may seem large to some people. But to me it feels small.
Here is how I put it to good use.
I drink seasonally. It’s summer, so the bar leans heavier on summer base spirits: tequila, gin and rum. I generally break things down into two quality levels. The first is spirits I mix. The mixing spirits I usually buy in large bottles. I know what I like, so why not buy in volume and save a few dollars.
The second level is spirits for sipping. I keep a small handful of these bottles around for special occasions. There is a fantastic 15-year-old Haitian rum, my father-in-law’s favorite Macallan 12 year old, and a bottle of Booker’s bourbon that will take the enamel off your teeth.
I also buy supplemental bottles of liqueurs needed to make my favorite cocktails. Since these get used by the teaspoon or tablespoon I generally stick with smaller half-bottles. Cointreau allows me to make margaritas and other drinks in the sour family. In summer it is my go-to liqueur. A half-bottle of green chartreuse allows me to make the sublime Alaska cocktail. I also have a bottle of coffee liqueur that is leftover from winter but has found a good home in the Afro-Cuban cocktail.
Finally, I have a library of bitters. Bitters are important for mixing drinks. Even if space is at a premium. I make room for Angostura bitters, Fee’s whiskey barrel aged old-fashioned bitters, two kinds of orange bitters, and Peychaud’s bitters. I also keep a bottle of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth in the cabinet. And I did hoard as much of the old formulation of Noilly Prat dry vermouth as I could.
When fall rolls around, I’ll start transitioning the rum and tequila out for scotch and bourbon, and dust off my bottle of Drambuie. It will be nice to welcome back my Manhattans and Rusty Nails for the season. Gin is really a full-year spirit. Juniper is ever green, you know.
The secret to this approach is to find what you like.
And that is easier said than done. It takes time. It takes trying a lot of different things to know which ones you prefer. It takes having a dedication to that brand in the face of new and interesting versions of spirits coming along every year. It takes the fortitude to stick to your plan.
But ultimately, I think it is rewarding. When you build this kind of bar at home, you no longer have to wonder, “What am I in the mood to drink?” You have already narrowed down your choices to your few favorites of the moment. You just pull down the bottles and the cocktail almost makes itself.
If you need help, let me know.