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Building a Bar


jiveturk21
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I have wine storage galore in my house, but I finally got built-ins that will provide plenty of room to build a legit bar in my house. Where do I start?

I am comfortable in saying that I have vodka and gin covered. I could also easily head to the ABC Store and pick out plenty of bourbon, tequila, rum, scotch, etc., but I am looking for some good suggestions from anyone if you have any. I, more importantly, need help with things such as liqueurs, bitters, mixers, etc., these are things that I know little about and could use some good suggestions from all the fellow lushes on this board.

For your information, I have about $1000 budget to do this and I want to do it right. I don't feel that every bottle of liquor that I buy has to be top notch, but I don't want to spend money on any fillers and I want to have a wide enough variety to please anyone that happens to come to my house.

Thanks in advance for the help.

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Well, first tip is, don't buy in Virginia. Prices much better in DC (say, at Ace Beverage) or even the MonCo stores. And some of the stuff below won't be available in VA.

For classic cocktailing, you'll want to cover the main categories of spirits with something cheap enough so you can play around with, without it being useless. My suggestions (for cocktailing spirits)

Rye: Old Overholt

Bourbon: Old Grand-Dad 100pf

Tequila: Jose Cuervo "Tradicional" (don't laugh--it's good, straightforward mixing tequila)

White rum: El Dorado 3-year-old white (Full disclosure: I wholesale it, blah, blah)

Aged rum: Appleton V/X or El Dorado 8-year-old (Full disclosure blah blah balh)

Scotch: Famous Grouse (for mixing) or Black Bottle

Brandy: A decent VS cognac will do for most things, though a few drinks really do demand something nicer.

Liqueurs: Campari, Benedictine, Luxardo maraschino, Green Chartreuse, and an orange liqueur (Cointreau or Combier--full disclosure on Combier) are the core ones. Below that, a nice apricot liqueur (we wholesale Rothman & Winter in DC), Aperol, Cynar, and maybe a good creme de cassis or creme de mure.

Vermouths: Full disclosure again, but Dolin. Dry, blanc (sweet white), and rouge. Keep them in the fridge, and use up within 2-3 weeks of opening, if possible. Great by themselves, with soda and a twist (plus, an optional drizzle of a modifier: Aperol for the dry, Chartreuse for the blanc, and either Cynar, Fernet, or Campari for the rouge).

Bitters: Angostura, Peychaud, and an orange bitter (I recommend either The Bitter Truth or Regan's) are musts. Below that, I like working with the Bittermens Tiki and Boston Bitters and Bitter Truth Grapefruit and "Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters."

Syrups: I would make simple syrup (1:1, add an ounce of vodka per 750mL as a preservative). Also try to keep around Agave Nectar or Petite Canne Martiniquan cane syrup (full disclosure blah blah blah) when you want a richer-mouthfeel syrup.

Tools: A mixing glass (a pint glass will work in a pinch, or go hereand spend as much as you dare. A two-tin shaker ("Boston") is best, but it can be tricky to find the smaller-size ("cheater") tins. I usually just buy them from one of the big kitchen stores in NYC when I go up. A method of measuring is a must. You can buy a set of jiggers, or the ubiquitous OXO 2-ounce graduated measure. That's what most of us serious home keeps use, methinks. A barspoon. A muddler (both of these are usually pretty inexpensive). A Hawthorne ("springed") strainer. A fine strainer (but a tea strainer works fine for this). For stirred drinks a julep strainer is nice, but may also be a mail-order thing.

So that's for basic cocktailing. As for nicer spirits to keep around for posher drinks or solo enjoyment, here are a few recommendations (again, some full disclosure may be necessary):

Genever: Bols Genever (comes in a dark-blue glass bottle)

Rye: Wild Turkey "Russells Reserve"

Bourbon: Wild Turkey "Kentucky Spirit," Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, or our single-barrel Willetts (last three full disclosure blah blah blah)

Tequila: Milagro or Partida Reposado. But really, what you're getting toward now is...

Mezcal: Mezcal Vida or Sombra for mixing. Del Maguey (I like the Minero and San Luis del Rio) for sipping and old-fashioned.

White Rum: Neisson rhum agricole blanc (Full disclosure blah blah blah)

Aged Rum: Appleton 12-year-old, Chairmans Reserve (and the spiced! Trust me.), El Dorado 12 and 15-year-old (blah blah blah)

Scotch: Depends on what styles you like. Of the "mainstream" bottlings, I like the Clynelish 14-year-old. But this is very budget and geekiness level-dependent.

Brandy: Spanish "Solera Gran Reserva" bottlings are the best value.

So there's a start. I'm sure plenty of other folks can chime in.

And eventually, you'll have enough booze to fill an Ikea corner computer workstation!

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well I must say that JParrott has perhaps posted a perfect response in how to craft a great bar inventory (I have made a mental note to add one or two of the suggestions that I am missing).

Having said that....I will add my 2 cents on just a few things:

Stay away from Montgomery County as well.......stick to good liquor stores in DC (no full disclosure required as I live in Bethesda).

I would consider adding Ameretto, Limoncello, and Baily's. I don't drink Baily's, but I get asked for it by guests quite often.

I have 5 or 6 bourbon's on hand...but Eagle Rare is my (current) favorite amongst them.

I also have a nice sherry and LBV port within my bar as well.

Good luck and have fun!

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Cruzan or Flor de Caña Extra Dry white rums make great daiquiris and/or mojitos (Cruzan is more molasses, FDC more dry and delicate), and throw in a bottle of Gosling's Black Seal for Dark and Stormys. I really wouldn't go with an agricole as a base mixer unless you or someone who frequents your home has a taste for it (sorry, jparrot). I'd go with Cointreau for the Orange liqueur because it works in so many cocktails - the Sidecar, the Margarita, and I even like it in a Mai Tai.

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After reading Jake's post, I think I need a drink.

The only thing I would add is that I buy most of my hardware from Bar Products, I particularly like the weighted shakers (I just feel as though the extra weight helps with a hard shake) - I don't know why, but I never use my Oxo measuring cup, I just find the various size jiggers to be faster to use. If you want to get really anal, I would also suggest a fine strainer to help keep bits of ice out of the cocktails.

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I really wouldn't go with an agricole as a base mixer unless you or someone who frequents your home has a taste for it (sorry, jparrot).

True enough, which is why I put it in the second echelon. ED or FDC white fills pretty much every normal white rum need for me. (Though Banks is nice too).

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True enough, which is why I put it in the second echelon. ED or FDC white fills pretty much every normal white rum need for me. (Though Banks is nice too).

If you get a chance, try Barbancourt Blanc. It has the grassy aromas and tastes of fresh cane, but the smoothness of molasses. It's my favorite, fighting for the #1 spot with Ron Cañita Cura'o (fresh cane and soft molasses), both of which I can only seem to find if I or a friend heads to Haiti or PR. Flor de Caña is in my cabinet right now.

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Just to add: I asked Derek Brown what Bourbon to use in a Coopers Brothers cocktail and he told me that he preferred "Old Weller Antique 107" for such mixed cocktails. My very local liquor store sells Elderflower liqueur and Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur cheaper than I have found anywhere else. So, this is the bourbon I use to make cocktails. I don't think Derek is wrong.

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Stay away from Montgomery County as well.......stick to good liquor stores in DC (no full disclosure required as I live in Bethesda).

MoCo stores have periodic sales, and that is the time to stock up. When I know that Woodford Reserve is on sale, I will make a special trip, and save $10 or more on a bottle.

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Thanks to everyone, especially Jake, for their great suggestions! My wife and I headed up to Ace Beverage this morning and bought quite a bit from the list compiled within this topic, $633 worth to be exact. We got at least one bottle from every category, but were in information overload when it came to liqueurs, and a bit cranky due to lack of food, so I may have to revisit that at some point. We got some of that stuff, but with two cases of bottles sitting on a counter in front of us, I just picked a few of them and went on our merry way. Even though I may not have the perfect bar at this point, I am guessing that I have a pretty damn good start.

By the way, I know that I am pointing out the obvious, but Ace Beverage is pretty awesome. I could get lost in there for hours just looking through the variety of items that they have on their shelves, especially the rums, which I rarely very drink, or the bitters, which boggle my mind how many different kinds they carry.

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Looks like you have booze covered. I would look into tools and books for your remaining budget. It doesn't sound like you've built your bar yet, you might want to check out Dale DeGroff's suggestions for building one in this collection of essays. There are plenty of cocktail books out there. Imbibe is a good magazine. And Food & Wine has an annual cocktail publication that lists different recipes from around the nation. And if you want to minimize your library, the Joy of Cooking has a cocktail section that is better than many other dedicated books on the market.

As far as tools, if you went all Rosle it would be hard to go wrong. Sur la Table used to carry everything but now I don't see it stocked there. Of course you can slum/snazz it up from Rosle. I do use the oXo measuring jiggers, and they are fine, although Cheryl Charming has pointed out that they are not made/pour uniformly. Julep strainers and many tin shakers can be found at local restaurant supply stores (I hit up one in the Florida Market), as well as churchkeys and generic barspoons. Thrift stores make for fun glassware adventures.

Finally, as you build your bar, I suggest that you have a clear vision for sourcing your ice. A small Kool-Draft machine would be ideal, although high-end. An installed freezer is probably the best value choice, where you can store big ice cube trays (as well as glassware and some bottles). Most conventional built-in ice-makers are ok, but strictly speaking generate wimpy ice cubes. And if your ice solution is transporting said wimpy ice cubes in a bucket from your upstairs kitchen, then you'll quickly tire of the sport. It goes without saying you'll need a sink as well.

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