STOCK THE BASICS
Both experts agree that it’s unrealistic (and expensive) to try to stock every bottle in the book. Instead, start with some base spirits to make a few of your favourite cocktails and build from there.
Of course, opinions abound over what constitutes “base” spirits – even our experts don’t agree. But there are five staple spirits every well-rounded bar should stock: 1) gin for the martini or Negroni; 2) rye whisky or bourbon for the Manhattan, old fashioned or whiskey sour; 3) rum for the mojito or daiquiri; 4) vodka for the Moscow mule or Caesar; and 5) tequila for the margarita or paloma. From there, you can add scotch, brandy, calvados or absinthe.
You should also stock two kinds of vermouth: sweet vermouth for drinks like the Manhattan, Martinez and Negroni and dry vermouth for the classic martini.
Our pros also recommend stocking liqueurs like orange and cherry. Darnes recommends Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao and Cherry Heering. Other liqueurs to consider: apricot, pear, cassis, elderflower and Chartreuse. For apéritifs, start with Campari, a necessary ingredient for the Negroni. From there, add Aperol or Amaro.
Stock the Basics
JD’S PRO TIP
Try making your own cocktail syrups at home. Look for recipes for Orgeat, Grenadine or Falernum.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
There are six must-have tools you’ll need to start your home bar: 1) a cocktail shaker; 2) a mixing glass (for stirred drinks); 3) a jigger; 4) a Hawthorne strainer; 5) a bar spoon; and 6) a muddler. From here you can add specialty ice-molds, a serrated zester, a paring knife, a fine-mesh strainer…or, for the truly advanced, a smoking kit.
Tools of the Trade
When serving a crowd, consider “prebatching” your cocktails. Pre-mix your drinks in large batches before your guests arrive. Don’t forget, however, to aerate each cocktail by shaking over ice. Or use an immersion blender to aerate the whole batch!
Want your cocktails to look like the pros? Invest in these three types of glassware: 1) Double-rocks glass; 2) a champagne coupe (the new “martini” glass); and 3) a tall Collins glass.
Glassware for making cocktails
Non-alcoholic mixers: ice, tonic, soda, lemon and lime juice.
Bitters. Start with the “big three,” says Willis, “Orange, Angostura and Peychaud’s.” Or try Black Cloud’s sampler pack.
Sweetener. Simple syrup is must-have for a number of cocktails. And it’s called simple for a reason. Dissolve one cup of sugar with one cup of water over heat. Store in the fridge for up to four weeks. Look for other recipes for Grenadine, Orgeat and Falernum.
Garnishes. Stock fresh mint, oranges, lemons, limes, olives and bourbon-soaked cherries.
JD’S TOP TEN LIST
I asked JD Darnes one simple question: if you were stranded on a desert island and were only allowed 10 bottles, which would you choose? Here’s his Desert Island top ten picks for versatile yet high quality spirits.
- Gin: Ampersand
- Rum: Appleton Rare Blend 12yr
- Bourbon: Wellers 12yr
- Scotch: Bowmore 15yr
- Brandy: Camus VSOP
- Calvados: Calvados Boulard Pay D’Auge
- Tequila: Tierra Noble Reposado
- Cherry Liqueur: Cherry Heering
- Apricot Liqueur: Merlet Lune d’Abricot
- Vermouth: Gonzalez Byass la Copa