At last Don Draper has returned to the airwaves, reminding us that there’s never a bad time to have a good stiff drink. For would-be mad men and amateur mix masters, here are a few pointers on how to stock your home bar.
Start with the boozy basics
While there are certainly a handful of staples most bars should have, the exact definition of “basics” will depend on two factors: 1) How often do you entertain? and 2) What do you (and your friends of legal drinking age) like to drink? If the answer to the first question is almost never, then achieving the perfectly stocked bar is simply a matter of writing down your favourite few tipples, and buying whatever is in them. Be honest, and buy for the drinker you are, not the drinker you wish you were – the idea of unwinding over an old-fashioned has a certain Draper-esque cool factor, but if you prefer grasshoppers, then be a wo/man and buy that crème de menthe with pride.
If you do plan to host the occasional shindig, you’ll want to extend your shopping list. Kristen Voisey, owner of the alcohol apparel store BYOB in Toronto suggests starting with rum (white if you’re only getting one), vodka, gin and bourbon, as well as an orange liqueur (Grand Marnier or triple sec add oomph to fruity concoctions), red and white vermouth and an aperitif like Campari or St. Germain. “I guess you could also have tequila,” Ms. Voisey concedes, “but I wouldn’t have tequila at my home bar. I can’t stand it.”
Know when to splash out
As far as saving and splurging goes, as a general rule Ms. Voisey recommends splashing out for darker boozes like rye, bourbon and Irish whisky or a nice Scotch, all of which tend to be drunk with minimal adornment. Many drinks made with gin, vodka and rum involve mixer, which can mask a so-so brand. That said, it’s always a good idea to keep a good bottle of gin and vodka on reserve, just in case James Bond drops by.
You can’t be all things to all drinkers
When prepping for a party, it’s easy to go overboard anticipating the requests of the crowd (Will Liz want a Bloody Mary instead of a Caesar? Is Jason going to insist on one of those pretentious Belgian micro brews?). Accept that you are entertaining friends, not opening a nightclub, and if you aren’t able to accommodate every request, that’s okay. (A polite guest will always start with “What are you serving?”)
Ms. Voisey recommends creating your own drink menu with three or four special offerings. Aim for variety (some drinkers prefer light and fruity to stiff and boozy), and feel free to get creative as long as you test all concoctions in advance. Then take the time to make a (nice-looking) printout of the menu (original cocktail names are a fun touch) and displaying it by the bar. This will make guests feel that you’ve put a lot of effort into the evening and even better, it will let them know that the drinks listed are what’s on the menu. Period.
Have the tools and know how to use them
Thanks to the aforementioned 007, most of us are under the mistaken impression that shaken vs. stirred is a matter of preference. As Ms. Voisey explains: “You don’t want to shake any drink that is just booze – you should never shake a Manhattan or a martini.” These drinks should be prepared using a mixing glass, ice, a stirring spoon and a strainer. This is not to say that a shaker won’t come in handy, especially if you like fruity drinks or anything with cream, where shaking it up (and then straining it) is a must. Besides these basic accessories, Ms. Voisey suggests a citrus peeler to make a twist, a handheld citrus squeezer, an ice bucket and cocktail picks if you plan to use garnish – nobody wants your mitts on their maraschinos.
The basic idea of bitters (which come in small bottles in flavours ranging from cherry to celery to chocolate) is that they intensify and add depth to existing flavours. “Bitters are to drinks what salt and pepper is to food,” says Ms. Voisey. Start with the industry standard (Angostura aromatic bitters), a fruity, spicy blend that goes in anything from a Manhattan to a mojito. When expanding your collection, the laws of common sense apply – ie. celery bitters will taste good in a Caesar and gross in a Cosmo and so on.
And don’t do this: Buy the big vermouth. Since it is wine-based, vermouth is the only bar staple with an expiration date.
Special to the Globe and Mail
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