Stocking a home bar is one of those things that gets easier as you go. The initial start up can be a little daunting, that’s why I urge people to start slow and keep it simple. After a while, you’ll have a handful of bottles in your bar, a nice collection of glasses and tools, and an ever improving idea of what incidentals you should keep on hand (citrus, juices, etc). Before you know it, when you find a new drink you want to try, you might only need 1 bottle, or as you progress, you’ll already have everything you need.
Here is my suggestion: Pick one drink you would like to make, buy everything you need to make that drink properly, and then make it. What drink? That’s entirely up to you. Maybe you already have a favorite cocktail you’d like to start re-creating at home. Perhaps you have a parent, or relative that always has a specific drink. Whatever it is, it should be something you really think you’ll enjoy making, and drinking.
I say one drink because, again, it’s best to start slow, and there are many more ingredients to a great cocktail besides the booze. I will use a Sazerac recipe from Imbibe Magazine as an example.
2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Absinthe or Herbsaint
Tools: mixing glass, barspoon, strainer
Glass: cocktail or rocks
Garnish: lemon twist
Give chilled glass an absinthe or Herbsaint rinse and set aside. Stir other ingredients in a mixing glass, strain into the chilled glass and garnish.
Let’s say this is the drink you want to make at home, and examine each piece. Before we dive in, though, I’d like to talk about where to source your tools and bottles. For tools and glassware, you really can’t beat a restaurant supply store. If that isn’t an option for you, then stores that sell bar tools and glassware like Target or Bed, Bath, and Beyond are good options. Also, you can always go online. My favorite site to buy from is The Boston Shaker. As far as bottles go, find a liquor store within a reasonable distance with a great selection. If not, sites like DrinkUpNY are your friend.
2 oz. rye whiskey – Ok, so you need a bottle of rye. Which bottle? That depends on your budget and taste. Learning about spirits is a slow, expensive, but very rewarding journey. Find a bar that stocks a good selection of what you are interested in, and start trying. Alternatively, when it comes time to replace a bottle, get a brand you haven’t had yet. For starters, just keep it simple and try to get a brand you’ve heard of.
1/2 oz. simple syrup – If you are going to make cocktails at home with any level of seriousness, simple syrup should be in your refrigerator at all times. Put equal parts water and sugar in a pot, boil just until all the sugar is dissolved, put it in a storage container, and keep it in the fridge. I keep mine in this:
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters – Aside from Angostura, this is the most essential bitters bottle you can have in your bar. It might be hard to find locally, but it’s always available online.
Absinthe or Herbsaint – If your liquor store doesn’t stock these 2 items, you might want to find another store. If that’s not an option, again, you can always go online.
Ice cubes – I could write at least one entire post about ice, and probably will at some point. Consideration for ice is really more reserved for serving, rather than for shaking or stirring though, so for now the trays in your freezer will be just fine.
Tools: mixing glass, barspoon, strainer – A Sazerac is a stirred drink. Until you decide to get fancy, you will be doing all of your stirring in a plain old pint glass. There are other options out there, such as mixing pitchers. I actually use a mason jar, but you could live your whole life just stirring in a pint glass and be just fine. You can’t really have a bar without a barspoon. Unlike the spoons in your silverware drawer, it is designed specifically to stir drinks, and you need one. Find one that fits your style. Stirred drinks get strained with a julep strainer, you’ll need one of these as well. These don’t really tend to come in different styles, so price can be your guide here. You’ll also need a jigger to do your measuring. There are lots of different sizes and styles out there. I use this one from OXO and I love it. It has lines for every measurement you’ll need, so you can be accurate with just 1 tool. I have also seen lots of bartenders use this.
Glass: cocktail or rocks – Glassware is another subject I could dedicate at least one post to. The glass a cocktail is served in is an essential part of the drink and deserves a serious amount of thought. While glassware does allow for a certain amount of customization because there are different styles of each type of glass, I also believe there is such a thing as the correct glass for a drink. A cocktail recipe should specify in what glass the drink is intended to be served. This recipe indicates two. I much prefer a rocks or old fashioned glass for this drink, so that’s what I use. Just find a glass you really like the look of and would be proud to serve a drink in. Keep in mind the capacity of a glass as well. Serving a 3oz drink in a 10oz glass looks stupid.
Garnish: lemon twist – Like simple syrup, fresh citrus should always be on hand. How you make your twist is really up to you. Just keep in mind the purpose of a twist is to expel the oil from the skin into the drink, and also look good. I used to use a channel knife to make twists that look like the one on the left. I don’t really like the way those look anymore so I have gotten away from that. Now I just use a small pairing knife to cut peels for my twists. They wind up looking like the one on the right. You can get the same results using a peeler.
Give chilled glass an absinthe or Herbsaint rinse and set aside. Stir other ingredients in a mixing glass, strain into the chilled glass and garnish.- Chilling a glass: If you have room in the freezer, go ahead and keep your glasses in there and they’ll be ready to go. If you’re like me and you don’t have the room, crack a couple of ice cubes into them and fill them with cold water before you start making the drink. By the time you are ready to pour they’ll be nice and cold. Rinsing a glass is simply pouring a small amount of the liquid to be rinsed into the glass, rolling it around the inside of the glass to coat, and pouring out the excess.
That’s basically it. Now you can make and enjoy a proper Sazerac at home. What drink will you choose next? The beauty of this process is you can repeat it as many times as you want. Maybe you want a bar stocked that will allow you to make 5 drinks, or 500. It’s really up to you.