My notes for this blog, a real head scratcher.
A friend has acquired a beutiful slab of end grain rock maple from my good friend Norbert at John Boos in Effingham, IL and used it to create a basement bar. As it was my advice that brought him to Boos and therefore the focal point of his bar, he naturally asked me my opinion on stocking the beast. Before doing so, I did a quick check on the google and was surprised at the lack of quality advice on the matter, hence, this entry into Amuse-Douche.
The first thing I came across on the interwebs was a blog titled The Art of Manliness, if the other articles are on par with the one on bar stocking, reading this thing will only make you a douche, an unamusing douche. Anyone typing that white rum is better for mixing, excuse me, but what about the Pimento, listing Patron as a preference, or that clear tequila is better for sipping, I’ve got a couple reposados and añejos that would beg to differ, blended single malts, what, Grey Goose, try Tito’s, and suggesting Jim Beam for an Old Fashioned, look, asking for an Old Fashioned and having it made with bourbon is like requesting Radiohead and getting Cold Play, sure, it’s music, and to the unintelligent listener it may sound similar, but Cold Play couldn’t hold Radiohead’s jock, and rye, not bourbon, goes in an Old Fashioned. That being said, the guy makes some okay points. It’s really just his selection of booze that I take umbrage with.
So, what do you need? Let’s start with the mixers and work our way up.
Ginger Beer (Goslings)
That’s really all I offer. I generally don’t consume any carbonated beverages, but have those listed just in case. My tea toting friends seem to enjoy the Ginger Beer. The juices should always be fresh, I like the reemer in a bowl juicer. Also, always double strained. I like having the fresh fruit around for cooking as well. Limes for pico, guacamole, marinades. Lemons for tea or fish or a pie. Oranges and grapefruits for fresh juice or breakfast eating. Some times you look in the refrigerator bin and see you’ve got a little penicillin farm, but you pay the cost to be the boss, and sometimes the cost is tossing moldy citrus into the compost.
Various citrus peals
I also choose to have cinnamon sticks, cloves, and various other baking spices available. In addition, as a home pickler, I have asparagus, okra, and green beans to garnish my savory drinks. I also keep cherries soaked in kirsch, house maraschino cherries, and brandy soaked cherries on hand.
1 inch cubes
2 inch cubes
I also offer two inch ice balls. The balls and larger cubes melt slower and thus, don’t dilute your cocktail. Dilution is necessary in drink preparation, as about a quarter of your drink is water after stirring or shaking, but you don’t want further dilution while sipping. Good quality ice made with clean water is key. Funky ice equals bad drink. Fortunately those of us in St. Louis profit from Anheuser Busch’s early decision to filter the water they use, not at their brewery, but at the source, so all the city could enjoy crisp, clean, water, and good ice.
French (dry) Vermouth
Italian (sweet) Vermouth
I buy half bottles, or splits, of Nolle Prat dry vermouth. I don’t use a lot of it so I’ll have one opened in the fridge and one sealed in the cabinet. This ensures I have some in case the fridge bottle has expired. I keep full bottles of sweet vermouth around in several flavors. I suggest Dolin Rouge for it’s price and approachability. If you want to upgrade, I’d suggest Punt a Mes. Carpano Antica, though exceptional, is not the catch all, do anything, sweet vermouth you need when you’re just beginning. Lilet is a nice apertif and can be served alone or mixed into a cocktail, I enjoy it with four parts gin to one part Lilet. The Cynar is your Italian bitter bottle. It’s not as flashy as Fernet Branca, but it’s, again, a catch all, and that’s what you should be trying to get when starting to build a bar. You don’t want niche bottles sitting around collecting dust when you could have something more useful in that shelf space. Averna would also make a nice addition, but if you get a bottle, as with the Lilet and your vermouths, refrigerate once opening.
Creme de Cassis or Chambord
Canton, The Big O, or Stirrings Ginger
Aperol or Campari, I’d get both
St. Germaine (375)
All of these aren’t necessary. It really depends on how much cocktail making you do. As you taste cocktails at Sanctuaria, Taste,Franco, or Blood & Sand ask what liqueurs are in the ones you particularly enjoy, then purchase those bottles and experiment at home. As you frequent one of the above mentioned establishments, you’ll find that if you ask, they will let you taste any modifier, liqueur, or base. This is very helpful when building a bar.
The list I gave is by no means complete or completely necessary. I’d start with Cointreau, Maraschino, Creme de Cassis and one of the ginger flavored options. Once summer rolls around I’d score a bottle of Pimms for the Pimms Cups. If you’re a Blood & Sand fan, you’ll have to pick up a bottle of Cherry Herring.
I really only have the Chartreuse on the list because I love Last Words. I bought my Maraschino Liqueur for Aviations, but enjoy it in the occasional Manhattan, as the base for my cocktail cherries, and as a dressing for fruit salad, along with the many cocktails I now know it to be an ingredient in. I suggest purchasing 375 ml bottles for the liqueurs where you can. Many are very flavorful or overly sweet, and you’ll only need a quarter ounce or so.
As you build your bar, I’d suggest purchasing different types of the various flavored liqueurs. To start either Chambord or Creme de Cassis will do, but eventually you’ll want both so you can have the proper ingredient. I’d also suggest in investing in a variety of citrus liqueurs such as Grand Mariner or Mandarin Napoleon. They will allow you to put your own twist on a “house” drink when the standard recipe calls for Cointreau. If you like bitter, I suggest you get more bitter drinks, if you have a sweet tooth, grab more fruity sugar packed liqueurs. If you’d like to spend a little more money, try these,
but, use them sparingly, as they are full of flavor, but a truely top of the line bar should have oak aged Green Chartreuse, Amaro Nonino, and Carpano Antica.
More than anything, your palet should guide your purchases with modifiers, liqueurs, and most importantly, your bases.
(American; Buffalo Trace, Rittenhouse)
(Global; Glenmorangie, John Powers)
Tequila (Espalón Reposado)
Rum or Rhum (Flor de Cana white)
Eau de Vie (C.C. Pear, Laird’s Bonded)
The bottles listed above would be my suggestion for the basics, for more, read on:
Whiskey, Bourbon, Canadian, Irish, Scotch, Rye, Tennessee, Colorado. What to choose? For the bourbon, go with Elijah Craig 12 year or Buffalo Trace for your mixing bourbon. I’d also stock a nicer bottle, maybe Michter’s. As for Canadian, V.O. Or Seagrum’s Seven will do. I don’t use them much, but stock a bottle for the occasional 7&7 or V.O. press. For the Irish, John Power’s. Scotch, I’d go Glenmorangie for a smooth mixer or sipper and maybe something funky, like Laphroig or Ardbeg 10 year to start. Rye is a must for Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. I love Rittenhouse and at $20 it’s a great bargain, Old Overholt is $11, but not nearly as tasty. Thomas Handy makes a $60 bottling of over-proof rye, and is a nice addition to any bar. As to the Tenn and Colo whiskies, those aren’t really necessary, but Stranahan’s and George Dickel could be added once the other components are present, if American whiskey is your thing.
A few whiskey upgrades, rye, bourbon, Irish, and a Bordeaux finished Scotch.
I like a white dog as well. White dogs are simply unaged whiskies, and are a nice night cap.
The above bottle is unaged Rittenhouse, and is great on the rocks with a cherry. Don’t try to do anything but slide into bed after one.
Tequila, Espalón, Espalón, Espalón. Unaged and the Reposado. Luna Zule makes an affordable Añejo and I suggest it be added to your list. Don’t throw good money after bad tequila, these will all be $25 or less, no reason to spend more.
Rum, Flor de Cana white and the four year are your basics. Goslings Black Seal is a must for hot summer days in a Dark & Stormy. Smith & Cross is my ideal Jamaican rum. El Dorado 12 year is my sipper of choice, and won’t break the bank. For a couple of odd additions, Cachaca for Caipirinhas and Batavia-Arrack for a bit of funk. Three suggestions if you’re going rum heavy,
Pyrat is a Jamiacan with lots of Hugo, Zacapa may be the best rum ever, and the 15 year old Rhum Barbancourt may be the best of the French style rums. If you’re going full tiki, you may also choose to add orgeat and velvet falernum.
Gin, Plymouth and Hayman’s Old Tom are necessary, something a bit more London dry, like Beefeater, can be nice for Gin & Tonics. I’d also add an American craft distiller such as Aviation, Cap Rock, or Pinkney to try with your classic gin cocktails. Nothing beats Aviation in an Aviation.
Vodka, Stolichnaya and Tito’s is all one needs.
Eau de Vie, I stock a pear, a peach, a kirsch, grapa, calvados, cognac, etc. These are nice to close an evening with. I suggest Clear Creek Distillery’s Pear option, it will certainly surprise a dinner guest. Laird’s Bonded is a nice aged apple brandy, and for $22 it deffinately earns a spot. Pass it off as Calvados after dinner, it’s just the New Jersey version. My favorite after dinner Eau de Vies are bellow.
Really, as mentioned, taste, and theme, should drive your purchases. Do you prefer prohibition era cocktails, you may want to offer a greater gin selection. Are you a scotch man, then go with maybe two of each base and a half dozen or so scotches. Running an at home tikki establishment, probably need some 151 along with a few other rums. Margaritaville? Bump up the tequila, add some Mescal, but stick with 100% agave. I have a large selection of American whiskies, be they bourbon, rye, wheat, Tennessee, or originating from another state. I have some low price, high quality options, as well as high end high quality options.
As to the bitters, read my blog “Everyday I’m Bittering.” Please, don’t forget them. Not bitters, but made by Fee Brothers, orange flower water is a necessity when having a Ramos Gin Fizz or Pisco Sour for breakfast.
I keep the bulk of my booze in the basement,
the basics in the kitchen,
and a few nice things to sip on in a barristers book shelf,
this way, no matter where I am in the house, I’m never more than a few feet from a proper drink.
None of these suggestions are in anyway biased by advertising or sponsorship dollars. At the moment, this is a true, no spin zone. That being said, everyone has a price, and if properly incentivized, I can whore like no other. If you’d like your product pushed, shoot me an email at Amuse.Douche11@gmail.com or direct message me on Twitter @AmuseDouche11.