Alright everyone, now you know how to measure and you have all of your tools, so what’s left? BOOZE!
The fun begins now, people. Get on the train, because we are officially leaving the station.
What is the most important element to making a good mixed drink? Measurement is pretty important, is it that? Nope. Well, you definitely need the right tools, is it that? Nope. Well what is it then, Kelly?
IT’S HAVING THE RIGHT LIQUOR, YOU GUYS! Come on.
At this point, my home bar consists of about 100 bottles of this and that, but you don’t need all that just to get started. What you do need, however, are a few staples. Without these, you are dead in the water when it comes to most drinks. Never again will you make me spiral into a deep depression when I enter your home and find out that you have one bottle of gin, a bottle of whiskey, and some wine. I don’t like depression guys, so please save me from that, okay?
Below you will find all you need to get on your way. Let’s do this!
First and foremost, you need at least one bottle of each of the most commonly used hard liquors. That means rum, tequila, whiskey, vodka, gin, and — go with me on this — pisco. Brandy, Scotch, Cognac et al are great, but used far less when it comes to drink-making, so you can skip those for now.
Let’s start with rum, shall we?
Ah rum, how I love thee. Distilled from sugarcane and straight into my heart. You are just the best. And yet, so misunderstood in the world!
Do you generally think of rum as Light and Dark? STOP RIGHT NOW! Allow me to educate the masses on this for a moment. There are three basic types of rum: light, blended, and traditional. NOTHING about these distinctions has anything to do with the color of the rum! The rum you have probably thought of as “dark” for lord knows how long could be light, blended, or traditional — the color comes from the oak barrels in which it was aged, and nothing else. Traditional Rum (my favorites are Mount Gay and Myers, seen above) is made using the traditional distillation method, utilizing a pot still. These rums are slightly lower in alcohol content than most Light Rum, and have a stronger flavor leftover from the sugarcane. Light Rum is made using a newer process and continuous still, which makes them slightly higher proof and have less of a distinctive taste (everyone’s old pal Bacardi would be a “good” example). Blended Rum is, if you haven’t guessed, rum that is a blend of light and traditional, usually higher proof than traditional, but with a stronger taste than light (Wray & Nephew, pictured above, is a great one).
I for one am no fan of Light Rum, because I enjoy having that stronger sugarcane taste. The traditional and blended rums seen above are my favorites.
On we move to the wonderful world of whiskey!
The whiskey family is vast (obviously nobody taught these kids about condoms), but my favorites are the good ol’ American Bourbon and Rye. And when it comes to bourbon and rye that is still really good without making you cry at the BevMo checkout, the only option is Bulleit.
I was introduced to this divine creation about 4 years ago, and I have never turned back. If you can’t tell by the liquid line on these bottles, I am quite the fan of this stuff.
South we go to our good friend tequila!
We need to take a moment here to discuss. See, I have known several people in my time who have completely sworn off tequila because of a particularly bad experience, generally taking place right around age 21, most often at a college house party. It is my firm belief that the reason this group refuses to go back to tequila is because the only tequila they have ever had has been drunk out of a massive plastic handle that was purchased from the bottom shelf of a liquor store isle by a Frat Bro who had no idea what he was doing. Tequila is GREAT, but this is one of those times that money really talks.
My two go-to’s are Jose Cuervo Tradicional (NOT to be confused with its red headed bastard brother regular Jose Cuervo), which is a really great and not super expensive Reposado tequila, and Avion Silver. I’ll be real with you, Avion is not cheap. Don’t buy this if you are having a big party and are going to be serving people who are not worthy. It’s good shit. Buy it and savor it.
(additional note: if you are only going to get one type of tequila, get Reposado. It works better in margaritas and other tequila punches.)
Gin! Gin! Gin!
I am a more recent convert to the gin game, and boy has it changed my life. My best buds are Hendrick’s and Plymouth, but Bombay Sapphire is an acceptable alternative. I recommend going for the Plymouth first, it is cheaper than Hendricks but still really good. That said, it can be frustratingly hard to find.
Na zdorovye! Vodka!
Did you know that the word vodka actually means “little water?” Well, it does — but I wouldn’t go drinking it like water unless you want to end up face down in a Soviet ditch.
A solid basic vodka brand is Stoli. This is traditional vodka made from fermented grain. There is also another form of vodka distilled from potatoes, and in my humble opinion it is a better choice. Chopin is my favorite potato vodka brand. That said, vodka itself has very little taste outside of your basic notes of alcohol, so this is a place where you can cut some corners if need be.
I also highly suggest getting some Stoli Vanil (vanilla vodka). I know, I know, this sounds girly and sorority-ish but guess what? I AM A GIRL AND THIS STUFF MAKES A LOT OF GOOD DRINKS! So get over yourself. Go get it.
And last, but certainly not least, in the land of basic liquors is the splendidly magical pisco!
Pisco is actually a form of Brandy originally from South America. Back in the 1800s Brandy was THE go-to fancy liquor in America, but all of that traditional stuff came from Europe into the East Coast, making it extremely expensive to transport over land to the intrepid people in the Western territories. So what did we ingenious West Coasters do? Loaded pisco onto ships in South America and sent it straight on up to our ports. For a long time pisco was the alcohol of choice in San Fransisco, and MAN does it make some great drinks. Trust me on this, do not leave pisco off your list the next time you hit the liquor store. This stuff really is magical. My favorite brand is Campo Di Encanto (pictured above).
Now that you have the basics when it comes to traditional hard liquors, lets look at the Accents, Bitters, and Garnish that you need to get your bar started.
In my book, “accents” are liquors and liqueurs that you use to, you guessed it, accent the drinks you are making. These are not liquors that you would use as the base in a cocktail, but adding a little will bring your drink to a new level! I could go on for days about different accent liquors, but to get started I recommend only two:
Grand Marnier and Falernum!
Grand Marnier you have probably heard of — it is a liqueur distilled from cognac and flavored with orange. This serves as a great accent in a huge list of drinks, and is essential when it comes to your margarita game.
I would venture that Falernum is not one you have ever seen or tasted. I hadn’t either until about a year ago, but ever since that first sip my life has been changed. It is a sweet, herbal liqueur with notes of cinnamon and licorice (but don’t let that scare you off!). I have introduced all of my family and friends to it, and I have yet to find someone who doesn’t love it. I use this in a lot of the drinks I make, because it has the ability to add depth to anything and everything. Man oh man is it great.
Bitters are a bartenders spice rack, and can prove positively essential in many different drinks. There are what are known as petite and grand bitters, and they come in every flavor imaginable, but to get started you really just need the old faithful: Angostura Aromatic Bitters.
Before we wrap this up, lets take a minute to talk about garnish. Garnish is important for two reasons: 1) it looks fancy, and makes you seem fancy by association, and 2) it often adds a final pop of flavor to the drink. An orange wedge, lemon peel, or sprinkle of nutmeg can all be great, but the garnish everyone here is most familiar with is undoubtedly the maraschino cherry.
The only problem with that is that those neon red balls masquerading as maraschino cherries are not, in fact, maraschino cherries. I doubt that they are actually even cherries. These are maraschino cherries:
These puppies are a dark red/purple color, and have a taste that will blow your mind! Plus, they haven’t been cooked in formaldehyde, and you KNOW those neon things definitely have.
So there you have it! The last of the Basics lessons! You are now officially ready to graduate on to making drinks! Cheers everyone, and I’ll see you at the bar.