Stocking a home bar can be a challenge on several fronts. In this post, I will demystify the home bar stock needed to do just about anything. A well-stocked home bar will allow you the flexibility to entertain at home or on the go. With a go-to bar selection anyone can impress a date, host a colleague or boss for happy hour, or just make a neighbor's day.
Before we get started, there are a couple rules that you should keep in mind when planning how to stock your bar. This is extremely important to keep the bar setup on or under budget and complete enough to enjoy without a headache.
Selecting spirits to have on-hand does not have to be a challenge, but you've got to follow the rules if you plan to have a functional bar setup at home that doesn't break the bank.
Gin: Gin is a favorite of mine. Unlike many of the other base spirits (mentioned above), gin is rarely ever served on the rocks and is a go-to favorite for a mixed drink. The history of gin traces back to the days of medicinal alcohol where doctors would often use spirits (like gin) to solve medical concerns. There are even references to gin in old Egyptian papyrus citing its medicinal qualities. Gin's botanical aspects shine brightly when combined with other spirits.
Suggestions: We love Hendricks Gin as a mid-priced bottle to add to the home bar. The flavor is light enough to be flexible in its application, and the elements of rose and cucumber help the spirit to blend with just about any preparation. Another option is to go with Beefeater, which is another budget friendly and flexible choice.
Vodka: Well, this one is a gimme. Of course, you are going to want a vodka up in the mix. While Russia claims to have invented the spirit; growing evidence points to vodka being born in Poland. Vodka actually doesn't really become popular in the United States until the years after prohibition. A great article on the vodka distillery process can be found here, but today the USA essentially defines a vodka as a "tasteless, colorless, and odorless spirit."
Suggestions: Vodka is everywhere, but when stocking a home bar consider sticking to the basics. Don't fall for the type of all the flavored vodkas for a home bar (for one cocktail or a party -- no problem.) Instead, buy a bottle that won't break the bank -- the larger size the better. For simple, I typically go with SKYY or ABSOLUT. Grey Goose is another great option in the middle price category.
Scotch Whiskey and Bourbon Whiskey: The popularity of whiskey cannot be understated. This is a must have for the home bar setup. I recommend both a scotch whiskey and a bourbon whiskey for the home bar. This will allow you to really maximize the options when it comes to concocting the perfect cocktail. Scotch whiskey is blended and produced in Scotland -- most recipes are going to call for a blended scotch whiskey. Bourbon whiskey is uniquely American. To truly be called a bourbon you should see the state of Kentucky somewhere on that label.
Suggestions: For scotch whiskey, I'd go with Aberfeldy 12 if I was on a budget. Scotch can get quite pricey, but Aberfeldy 12 is really clean tasting and will be a workhorse in your home bar setup. As for bourbon whiskey there are a TON of amazing options out there. I am going to give you a low, mid, and high price point suggestion. If you're budget conscious on your bourbon (which I don't necessarily recommended) I'd go with Evan Williams Black Label. This selection is about 5 years old and weighs in at an 86 proof point -- all that for around $20 or less a bottle. For a middle price point, I would go with either Four Roses Small Batch or Buffalo Trace. On the higher-end -- if I wanted to splurge I'd have to go with Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (which just won Whiskey Advocate's "Whiskey of the Year" award) -- it's high-proof and delicious.
Tequila: Over the years I have had a love affair with tequila and sometimes cursed the tequila gods for it the next day. Tequila is made in the small town of Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Although the first commercial distilleries are still operating in the town of Tequila, archeological evidence points to the small mountain town of Amatitán near the modern day town of Tequila. For any home bar don't consider anything that isn't 100% blue agave based.
Suggestions: For a great tequila to stock your bar with I would go with Tequila Herradura, which can be found at a mid price point at just about any liquor store. It's everything you want in a home bar tequila. For something a little more inventive check out my friend Sean Conley's Mama’s Boy Infusions®. This tequila is pineapple, mango, and chili infused and really punches up the tequila experience.
Rum: Rum is essentially a byproduct of sugar production. Unlike most other spirits, the color of the rum will tell you little about its age. While rum production continues to rise, the producers have recently begun transitioning away from flavored rums and back into the historic roots of rum production -- focusing on on lowering the added sugars and increasing production standards.
Suggestions: Eater provides a great list of suggestions for buying rum that I recommend reading. Most people prefer a blanco rum (clear) as opposed to the golden varieties. In my personal bar I stock a bottle of both types just to make sure I am always ready.
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About Chef Marlon Alexander