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Here's a picture of my new bar--aka the ALVE corner workstation from Ikea. Great piece, with built in keyboard/drink-pouring tray.

51696-jakesikeabar.JPG

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So I'd like to stock the bar at home and I'm totally at a loss for precisely what to stock it with. I'm not a major drinker of hard liquors or cocktails other than the occasional margarita on the rocks, but I'd like to be able to offer guests something other than beer or wine if neither of those will wet their whistle. The wife likes the occasional dirty martini (meaning we want to see sea monkeys floating in it). So, other than tequila and gin, what other sorts of liquors should I stock? Any recommendations for brands for any? I figure I'll go with Smirnoff for the vodka due to the NYTimes rec, but everything else is pretty much an unknown. I don't mind shelling out for quality since this stuff really doesn't go bad.

I'm personally going for a barebones selection, but I imagine there are others here who might be in the same situation who might have more grandiose ideas so feel free to suggest a selection of bottles that would make Brian Flanagan cry...

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Vodka--the only one I have on my (100+ bottle) bar is Hanger One. I've taken two shots from it in two years.

Gin--Junipero for high juniper, Boodles for medium juniper level. I think Sapphire and Tanq 10 taste like lemonade, but if that's your thing, I won't stop you.

Rye--needed for cocktails. Get the Sazerac if you can find it (not the 18-yr-old one, the younger one in the old-school bottle). And Rittenhouse bottled-in-bond (available at Ace).

Bourbon--See last month's Washingtonian for six excellent suggestions (three rye-recipe and three wheat-recipe). For cocktails, Old Grand-Dad Bonded is what I suggest.

Rum--For cocktails, Matusalem white and Cruzan dark. For sipping, I like Saint James Hors d'Age.

Scotch--Teacher's or Famous Grouse for cocktails. For sipping, Caol Ila, Highland Park, or Bruichladdich for peated malt. Try to find a Rosebank independent bottling (there are some at Wine Specialist) for a cool unpeated malt.

Cognac--There are some beautiful small-producer ones at Ace. Tesseron, Surenne, a couple others.

Calvados--Dupont. The basic for cocktails/cooking; try to find a vintage bottling for sipping.

Others--Cointreau for orange flavor in cocktails. Campari for bitter. Lillet for sweet, burnished yumminess (and Vespers). Maybe one of the Solera Gran Reserva Spanish brandies (I'm partial to Gran Duque D'Alba).

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One of the advantages of being a "lightweight" is that I find my bottles last a long, long time...as long as I'm the one doing the drinking. For entertaining however, you'll probably want a good baseline of less-than-precious standards, plus a few "interesting" bottles.

  • Rum - check Ed Hamilton's website. He's partial to the pricey rhum agricoles. But I suggest that if you can still find a bottle, treat yourself to a N.O. (New Orleans) rum. It was inexpensive, craft-made, high-quality, and delicious. Tragically, the distillery and aging warehouses were ruined during Katrina and the company's future is uncertain.
  • Good inexpensive (~$9-13) rye whiskey for classic cocktails. Rittenhouse bond, Old Overholt, Pikesville.
  • Bourbon - try to stock both a wheated and a rye-recipe style. Not only are the flavor profiles distinctive, but you may find some guests allergic to one or the other. This article is a great intro.
  • Gin - depends what you're making. If I could only have one, it would be the regular rounded-bottle Tanqueray, but I like my gin on the sweet side, either on the rocks or with tonic and a lot of lime.
  • Cointreau - wait for Montgomery County to put it on sale. Currently $26/750ml through Jan 2.
  • Bitters - Angostura, Peychaud's, Orange (Regan's or Fee Brothers). Start small.
  • Other - depends what your guests want to make or sip. Frangelico and Chambord show up often in sweet frou-frou drinks...or are good drizzled over pancakes. For Gubeen, I keep around Campari and a pastis - either Pernod or Herbsaint. Both of us are addicted to single-malt Islay scotches but keep a few highlands around too, but perhaps the best all-arounder is neither - the intermediate-priced Highland Park 12 ($31 MoCo).

I'd love to see what Chris Cunningham, or the brothers Brown would recommend.

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Gin--Junipero for high juniper, Boodles for medium juniper level. I think Sapphire and Tanq 10 taste like lemonade, but if that's your thing, I won't stop you.
Before you begin to assemble a bar, you should take sometime to examine what it is that you want to achieve with your bar. Do you want to mix cocktails? Do you simply want to have a stiff drink from time-to-time? If you want to make cocktails, you need to pay gin a closer consideration than "Malt-Head" Jack does. Gin is the king of the cocktail liquors, and what the one(s) that you choose will have a great impact on your cocktails. Currently, I have more types of gin than any other type of liquor in my bar, and unless my father decides to handover the scotch collection that I have amassed for him (he gets three bottles a year from me), it will likely stay this way for a good long time.

For me the one gin I must always have in my bar is Plymouth, it is the quintessential gin. The others that I like to keep around are No. 209 (the best gin I have ever had, but at almost 3 times the price as Plymouth), Bluecoat (an artisanal gin from Philadelphia), Booth's Finest (for a little more citrus), Hendrick's (for an herbal touch), Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength (my latest acquisition, and has to be the finest martini gin I have tasted), Tanqueray (simply because it is my wife's favorite), and the aforementioned Tanqueray 10 (for a great Gin and Tonic, it is rather floral, but stands up very well to the lime, until Diageo pulls it off the market Rangor has supplanted 10 for G&T's).

There are a few gins that I will not stock in my bar, the gin for the vodka drinker, Bombay (it has as much flavor as vodka), and Beefeater (a bad high school memory that included the better part of a whole bottle), and Magellan's (blue gin??? - oh and it tastes like crap as well).

Now if I could only choose one, and price played no consideration it would be No. 209, but if price did come into play it would be Plymouth.

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Consider what you like to drink first. Then I would just ask your friends (or whom you generally plan on having over) what they drink and start from there. As a starter cocktail bar, you could probably get by with just a bottle of vodka, tequila, rum, gin, and whiskey or bourbon. Make sure you keep club soda, tonic water (those mini-bottles are great if you don't drink a lot), orange juice, cranberry juice, rose's lime juice, a sweet & sour mix, olives and a bottle of grenadine on hand. If you know your friends still drink cosmos, get a bottle of triple sec or cointreau. If they're apple martini people, get some sour apple schnapps.

By the way, I can't stand Smirnoff.

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Before you begin to assemble a bar, you should take sometime to examine what it is that you want to achieve with your bar. Do you want to mix cocktails? Do you simply want to have a stiff drink from time-to-time? If you want to make cocktails, you need to pay gin a closer consideration than "Malt-Head" Jack does. Gin is the king of the cocktail liquors, and what the one(s) that you choose will have a great impact on your cocktails. Currently, I have more types of gin than any other type of liquor in my bar, and unless my father decides to handover the scotch collection that I have amassed for him (he gets three bottles a year from me), it will likely stay this way for a good long time.

For me the one gin I must always have in my bar is Plymouth, it is the quintessential gin. The others that I like to keep around are No. 209 (the best gin I have ever had, but at almost 3 times the price as Plymouth), Bluecoat (an artisanal gin from Philadelphia), Booth's Finest (for a little more citrus), Hendrick's (for an herbal touch), Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength (my latest acquisition, and has to be the finest martini gin I have tasted), Tanqueray (simply because it is my wife's favorite), and the aforementioned Tanqueray 10 (for a great Gin and Tonic, it is rather floral, but stands up very well to the lime, until Diageo pulls it off the market Rangor has supplanted 10 for G&T's).

There are a few gins that I will not stock in my bar, the gin for the vodka drinker, Bombay (it has as much flavor as vodka), and Beefeater (a bad high school memory that included the better part of a whole bottle), and Magellan's (blue gin??? - oh and it tastes like crap as well).

Now if I could only choose one, and price played no consideration it would be No. 209, but if price did come into play it would be Plymouth.

Anyone have any thoughts on Citadelle or Old Raj (costly at around $55 a bottle)?

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On a related note, PJASchultz and I were having a conversation the other day about our bar (measily though it is) and the question came up, does liquor go bad? I didn't think that it did but didn't have any conclusive proof. Some of our bottles have been around for a while as we drink mostly wine around the house and most of my liquor drinking is done when out at bars (where you can almost always find Tanqueray for a Gin & Tonic or a Tom Collins or a decent, if not good, tequila for a margarita or tequila sour).

As far as advice goes, I'm a little weak but I don't find that I enjoy Tanqueray for my Gin & Tonics when I make them at home. For that Tanqueray Malacca I thought was quite good, but it's been off the market now for a couple years. I don't drink the brown liquors anymore (after bad bouts with whiskey and spiced rum in college) so can't help there. As for tequila, I personally enjoy a Sauza Commerativo (~$25-$30) for a decently priced tequila and an Herradura Resposado (~$45) for a little pricier bottle.

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Anyone have any thoughts on Citadelle or Old Raj (costly at around $55 a bottle)?
Citadelle is pretty good stuff, but it is near the price point for No. 209 which I believe has a better gin flavor, and will stand-up better to making cocktails. For a nice dry martini you would not miss with Citadelle. On the other hand Old Raj is weird. They take a perfectly good gin and ruin it by steeping saffron in it. I like saffron, in my risotto, but not in my gin.

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The short answer to this is "no" but, unlike some wines, they also don't get any better with age either.

I'm fine with it not getting better as long as it stays approximately the same quality. With wine we're doing well to have a bottle open for 2 hours before it's gone, but some of my liquor bottles are probably approaching having been opened for 3-5 years.

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I'm fine with it not getting better as long as it stays approximately the same quality. With wine we're doing well to have a bottle open for 2 hours before it's gone, but some of my liquor bottles are probably approaching having been opened for 3-5 years.
They should still be OK, so long as you put the corks back in. The most that can happen is that the alcohol could evaporate if you don't close the bottles.

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They should still be OK, so long as you put the corks back in. The most that can happen is that the alcohol could evaporate if you don't close the bottles.
Also capping the bottles eliminates fruit flies which are the real scourge of life of most bottles.

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They should still be OK, so long as you put the corks back in. The most that can happen is that the alcohol could evaporate if you don't close the bottles.
What about cream based liqueurs like Irish Cream? I keep mine in the fridge mostly because I like it cold but also because it can be months between usage.

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What about cream based liqueurs like Irish Cream? I keep mine in the fridge mostly because I like it cold but also because it can be months between usage.

They will go bad, even if refrigerated.

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Bump. Let's talk about stocking the bar, 6 years later. My home bar is a bit unconventional, of opened bottles stored at room temperature, I probably have a 60/40 split between liqueurs and base spirits, respectively. Negronis, daiquiris, old fashioned old fashioneds, and martinis are pretty the house drinks. Or an low alchohol apertif concoction. Besides those, various bottles cycle thru my bar based on some recipe I want to explore, tweak, or re-create at home. I have little brand loyalty except for Plymouth and Beefeater gin, Marie Brizard liqueurs, the usual monk liqueurs, and Haus Alpenz products (especially their apertifs).

In my fridge I will have an opened apertif or sherry of some kind: dry vermouth, red vermouth (trying to phase this out actually), byrrh, or sherry. Along with citrus, this is the most challenging portion of the home program to manage, as you don't to keep an opened bottle around for too long.

Cream liqueurs are out. I did like the peanut Castries and have had Baileys before, but really it's not my thing. Actual cream mixed with a liqueur is fine.

Ice: Tovolo trays: small cube, large cube, some trays with the silicon walls cut out some I can make long sticks of ice for my highballs.

Bitters: I had about 20, and pretty much gave away most of my Fees Brothers recently except for the peach. Really, all you need is Ango, peychauds, and a good orange. I also have a homemade saffron, celery bitters, and Bitterman's "Burlesque" bitters. I will probaly get some more Bittermans or Bitter Truth just to check them out.

I imagine the main difference in the home bar now versus 7 years ago is the amount of digestifs. Cynar, Fernet, various amaros now stand next to Campari.

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We have a fairly small bar compared to many, but it revolves around my preference for the sour with some tiki thrown in, Mr. lperry's love of bourbon and scotch, and weird things that I buy in the duty free shops when I'm not thinking clearly.

Base spirits are Barbancourt Blanc and the Five Star, Gosling's 151, Cruzan Blackstrap, one opened bottle of scotch (currently Scapa, I think) and bourbon (Wild Turkey Rare Breed is open now) with others waiting in the sideboard, and Cognac (Courvoisier VS). I've got vodka and gin in there, but brands vary because they are mainly for visitors. We also have some Copper Fox products, but will probably open them when people are over for a tasting. Liqueurs are Cointreau, Grand Marnier, pimento dram, falernum, and amaretto (duty free). At Christmas time I make a cranberry liqueur that goes pretty fast. There's some port in there too, but I don't know what kind.

Bitters: Angostura, angostura orange, Fee Brothers Peach, Lemon, and Grapefruit.

Hakushika Junmai Ginjo sake in the fridge - a nice introductory cold sake. Lillet makes an appearance when a new James Bond film comes out and I make Vespers for the group that goes to the midnight showing.

The only unusual ice trays I have are various shapes in silicone from IKEA. The sticks are nice.

Glassware with stems is Schott Zwiesel, mainly because of the proximity of Sterling Restaurant Supply and their big sales. Wine, champagne, and coupes for cocktails. I have few snifters and old fashioneds as well. No room for more unless I get a kitchen remodel or a new cabinet in the dining room.

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The only unusual ice trays I have are various shapes in silicone from IKEA. The sticks are nice.

Glassware with stems is Schott Zwiesel, mainly becasue of the proximity of Sterling Restaurant Supply and their big sales. Wine, champagne, and coupes for cocktails. I have few snifters and old fashioneds as well. No room for more unless I get a kitchen remodel or a new cabinet in the dining room.

The Tovolo trays fit nicely in those carry-out rectangular sushi/Thai plastic black to-go boxes. Makes it easier to stack without contaminating the ice. Perhaps the IKEA brand will also fit?

I recall Joe H. extoling the virtues of the Schott Zwiesel sales, I really need to go. My glassware is a bit industrial. It would be fun to go antiquing too, but that's always hit or miss, and I'd rather not spend the time and repeated trips.

My home bar has become alot more focused from 7 years ago, when I was willing to try pretty much any recipe at home. Now I know pretty much what I like, and am not so much into mad scientist mode anymore.

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Bitters: Angostura, angostura orange, Fee Brothers Peach, Lemon, and Grapefruit.

Who reliably stocks Angostura orange in the Washington area? I bought a bottle of it at (I think) the Giant at Lee Highway and Spout Run Parkway in Arlington about three years ago, and I haven't seen it anywhere since. I really liked it.

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The Tovolo trays fit nicely in those carry-out rectangular sushi/Thai plastic black to-go boxes. Makes it easier to stack without contaminating the ice. Perhaps the IKEA brand will also fit?

I recall Joe H. extoling the virtues of the Schott Zwiesel sales, I really need to go. My glassware is a bit industrial. It would be fun to go antiquing too, but that's always hit or miss, and I'd rather not spend the time and repeated trips.

Good idea for stacking trays. I'll give it a shot. The SZ glassware is both beautiful and very durable. I bought a dozen Classico all-purpose type wine glasses a couple of years ago, and none has been either scratched or broken despite multiple uses and trips through the dishwasher. If you check out SRS (used to be Fortessa) on their website, you can get notices of the big warehouse sales. They almost always have big box specials on the SZ glassware during those events, and the savings are really unbelievable.

Who reliably stocks Angostura orange in the Washington area? I bought a bottle of it at (I think) the Giant at Lee Highway and Spout Run Parkway in Arlington about three years ago, and I haven't seen it anywhere since. I really liked it.

I ordered mine online because I couldn't find it here, and I think (but can't swear to it) that Joe RIley at Ace Beverage posted shortly afterwards indicating they have it. I don't know why it's so hard to find. It really is a nice product.

I forgot the tequila. There's a bottle of the Cabo Wabo Añejo, and whichever 100% agave white was on sale when I went in. I tend to add a little of the añejo to margaritas because I like the funk.

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Who reliably stocks Angostura orange in the Washington area?

I have bought it at Ace.

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