A while back, Dave and I published a list of what we felt were the essential liquors for a well stocked bar. Since then, several people have asked us where to start, how to build a bar on a budget and what are our favorites. So, we put together the table below. It shows three options:
- Starter Bar – You want to build a relatively complete bar on a budget, but don’t want your friends to know you’re cheap or poor.
- More Options, not Much More Money – You can spend a little more, but want to keep from looking like an alcoholic. Or spending like one.
- Best of the Basics – Money is no object for you, big spender, but you don’t have room for an entire liquor store in your bachelor pad.
A few things to keep in mind about our choices below:
- Brands – There are hundreds of brands of each type of liquor and we haven’t tried most of them. We have developed favorites over time, though, and this is the basis for most of our choices. For some of the budget choices, we asked local bartenders and tried to find the best combination of taste and low price. You may have other favorites. If so, continue to use ’em! In fact, we’d love to know more about them, so please comment. We have no affiliation with any producer of this stuff although, for the huge quantities we’ve bought and consumed over time, we should be major shareholders in the companies.
- Sizes – Where available, we’ve chosen smaller sizes for less frequently used liquors or when small quantities are used in most cocktail preparations. We’ve stuck with the larger sizes for liquors that are generally the main ingredient in cocktails. Feel free, of course, to buy smaller bottles of these as well if it’s better for your budget or usage.
- For cocktails only – Keep in mind that we chose these brands because they work well in cocktails. Most are not high enough quality or unique enough in taste to serve alone, without any mixers.
- Whiskey – American cocktails classically used Rye and that’s why we prefer it in drinks. The proportions of most recipes are set for the taste of Rye. A “straight” rye is aged at least two years (at least 4 years if there is no indication as to the age) and doesn’t contain any coloring or additives. We prefer Straight Rye. Bourbon is the next addition to the bar, followed by Scotch, Canadian Whiskey and Irish Whiskey in whatever order your favorite drinks drive you.
- Gin – There is a very wide range of Gin tastes, mostly based on the amount of juniper used. We keep the strong Gin with the stronger juniper taste for Gin and Tonics and such. Very mild Gins are best for drinks with a lot of Gin. For cocktails, we like something in the middle.
- Tequila – As much as we enjoy tequila, we’re not experts. We know what we like and we tend to stick with it rather than doing much experimentation. As such, the Starter Bar has a $25 bottle of tequila. We’re pretty sure you can find something cheaper – perhaps much cheaper – that suits your taste and has an impact on the total cost of the budget lineup. In general, we prefer reposado (middle-level aging) and 100% agave-based tequila.
- Vodka – It’s pretty hard to go wrong with Vodkas. That’s not to say that tastes don’t vary. In a cocktail, though, whatever taste the Vodka has will likely be dominated by the other ingredients.
- Rum – Again, we choose a gold over a light or dark rum. Sorta middle of the road for multiple uses.
While putting together a home craft cocktail bar isn’t cheap, the $125 Starter bar, above, has enough liquor to last you for a long time. Or, at least, for a really big party or two . . . or three. We think you’ll find that as you start on your mixology journey you’ll discover your own favorites; add a new liquor here and there; and refine the quantities you use over time. We’d love to hear about where your journey takes you so please comment freely.
Dave and I continue to learn and experiment. We’re committed to thrashing our livers so you don’t have to. In the future, we hope to post more about our bars and how we have decided to move beyond the basics.
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