Feature – Building the Perfect at Home Bar
By: Mikal Black
Maybe it was always easier to just go out to the bar or pick up a bottle on the way home. Maybe you never had enough room or have never gotten around to it, but with the recent glut of time on your hands you realize you to set up and stock an actual bar at your house. If you are tired of scrounging under the cabinets or around the pantry for whatever left over booze you have and are actually interested in completing a DIY item during this down time that gives you something to look forward to down the road, here is an easy how to guide to stock yourself a decent bar at your humble abode.
Provided is a simple go to that will prepare your living space for actual consumption and provide you with what I would consider a nice variety that should accommodate the needs of most people that you are willing to invite into your home to raise a glass with.
In my opinion, there is no need to give a second thought to the variety of beer and wine you keep on hand. Keep what you drink with enough quantity on hand to endure an impromptu visit, but not enough to worry about it going to go bad prior to being consumed. It has my experience if people are choosy about their choices of beer or wine then they are in the habit of bringing what they wish to consume, otherwise they are happy to imbibe on whatever is available. As far as I am concerned there are only two kinds of beers, Heineken and free; most other beer drinkers I have ever encountered feel the same way, although their brand may differ, their overall assessment usually won’t.
Now for the important part, the guide of essential bottles and variety you need to stock your home to make it easy to accommodate your guests without breaking your bank or filling your storage. Let’s keep it simplistic and go with the easiest choices first.
Tequila, while I gave up the nectar of fermented and distilled agave juice decades ago after a bout that left me unable to consume solid foods for a 72 hour period, many, many people still enjoy this bar stable and there is always the possibility of needing to stir up a pitcher of margaritas to sip on the patio as the sun sets. My advice to is a nice middle of the road selection that of a brand that Shelly West referenced in a country song back during my college days and keep yourself a couple of handles (1.75 liters) of Jose Cuervo Gold.
This should be plenty quality enough for pouring into some premade mix that you can also pick up from the liquor store when you are buying the tequila and will do in a pinch if anybody decides they want to relive their youth and do some shots. Proceed with caution on allowing that, while it is their liver, it is your carpet or hardwood. You can spend way more on tequila if you desire, but unless you are going to sip it, I see no reason to. You can also spend way less, but if you want to remain friends, I see no reason for that either.
Gin, while I have always been of the opinion that gin is what a train wreck would taste like if you were able to pour it into a glass, you will find people that do not share my outlook, so gin is something you will need to have available at your bar. My recommendation here is you only need to worry about keeping one bottle on hand at a time and you shouldn’t have to replenish it very often. If it were me, I would buy a big bottle of Bombay Sapphire, but that is mainly due to my affinity for the Robert Earl Keen classic tune “The Party Never Ends”. If you want to stay a little more basic go with the brand, we all knew when we were coming of age, Tanqueray. If you want to save a couple of bucks pick up Beefeater or Boodles, it really doesn’t matter that much to me because if am forced to imbibe on gin, things have taken a bad turn for the worse. You will also want to keep some tonic water and some Collin’s mixer on hand to splash into the glass on those rare occasions when the gin bottle gets dusted off and cracked open.
Rum, while I prefer my rum to be sipped over ice while smoking a nice cigar, I do not recommend you stock your bar for people such as me. You are more in need to be able to pour the occasional Cuba Libre (a fancy rum and coke) or slap some fruit and ice in a blender and make a daiquiri. So, my suggestion is to buy a handle of Bacardi white, but make sure you don’t pick up the 151 proof unless you are looking to ramp things up a bit. If you prefer something a bit more bold you can go the Captain Morgan Spiced route or even dare to take on the Kraken, but I am not sure how either of those blend into a daiquiri, although my guess is you could substitute vodka and do just fine. When it comes to rum a 1.75 bottle will go a long way, so don’t go crazy.
Vodka, now we are starting to wade into what I consider the deeper end of the pool. A solid go to for a variety of cocktails and something that can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, or dinner; or anytime in-between or after, this crystal-clear gift to us is as versatile to mix as it is to make. Available in all forms from distilled potatoes to grapes and shipped in from across the ocean or down the highway the variety, brands, and price points run the gamut. I have often heard the opinion when it comes to Vodka thrown around that brand and price don’t matter; it all tastes the same. While I understand that viewpoint, it is not one I adhere to.
My philosophy on Vodka pricing has always been you don’t pay for today; you pay for tomorrow. If you choose you can go high-end, and I used to as I was very brand loyal at different times to Grey Goose, or Belvadere, or Ciroc. I have settled into Ketel One as my go to, and I am happy with my choice, but if you like to support the great state of Texas then you can’t go wrong with Tito’s although I would lean to Deep Eddy if I was going to keep it domestic. Once you settle on brand you are happy with, I would keep no less than three handles on hand at all times and would consider purchasing it by the case. (six bottles of 1.75 that you can get for around $200 all-in).
While vodka comes in many brands, it also comes in many flavors, although I am a traditionalist, so I prefer my vodka to be vodka flavored. One thing to note, many brands of flavored vodka are 70 proof instead of the standard 80, so factor that in when you are deciding. After all, you can always add more flavor, so make sure you are getting enough bang for your buck. As for mixers, it doesn’t really matter, vodka goes with any kind of juice, lemon-lime soda, Gatorade, iced tea, and even water or club soda. Plus, it mixes nicely with just a few ice cubes and a lime wedge.
Whisky, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in the deep end of the pool, and we are forced to work to keep our heads above water. Much like vodka, this category can be overwhelming if you allow it to be, but we will try to break it down for you nicely, so you don’t become overwhelmed. Also, like vodka, there has become a trend recently to introduce some flavor into the product, but I prefer my whisky to be whiskey flavored, so I will not be making a recommendation concerning anything other. (If you noticed the two different spellings, it is not a typo, all my research tells me that either one is acceptable and while I have heard that the spelling is dependent on where the product is produced, I have not found that to be the case).
Let’s start with a staple everyone needs for their home bar in my opinion. Crown Royal blended Canadian whisky. My advice would be to always have two handles in stock. One in process and one at the ready. There are many options available under this branding, but for public consumption, I would only keep this displayed. It mixes nicely and is smooth enough to enjoy over ice. At a gathering, given the option, there will almost always be someone that sees a higher end label under the Crown Royal umbrella and ask to have Coke or Sprite added to it. Don’t take that chance, keep those options available for personal consumption only. The base model will be just fine for you to keep stocked.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is also something I consider a must stock item. After all, it was good enough for Frank Sinatra, so it should be good enough for everyone. (Although admittedly it was a different product back then). Once again, my recommended quantity is two handles in stock (which we referred to as traveling bottles when I was in high school). One in process and one at the ready. For people that prefer a little bite to their drink Jack will nicely provide that over the smoothness of Crown, and both will mix nicely and allow your guests to leave happy.
Many people will ask for a bourbon and coke and not bat an eye when you reach for the Jack or the Crown, so that is what makes it, in my mind, the best choice for your home set up. While neither meets the criteria for bourbon, both have a wide range of acceptance and most people are comfortable with that being the basis for their drink of choice.
No bar would be complete without an option from across the pond in my humble opinion, but for the sake of keeping the cost reasonable I would recommend what I consider to be very generic choices to complete your inventory. Scotch comes in so many different levels of taste that is would be cost prohibitive to please all so your goal should be that of a catered dinner that serves a medium cooked steak, offend no one and please no one. One handle of Dewar’s or Johnny Walker Black whatever you prefer. I have found Dewar’s to be a little more agreeable to those whose palate I do not consider as sophisticated as others so I listed it first, but I have always thought the “Walking Man” to be among the best logos around, so I would lean to it.
As for the island of Ireland, keep it simple. While there are plenty of interesting selections you can go with when it comes to Irish whisky, the general public probably isn’t interested in a sampling of Irish single malts so just buy a handle of Jameson and keep it on hand for those who might have a hankering or want a bit of pep poured into their coffee. That will be your easiest and best choice.
In all honesty, the whisky/whiskey discussion could go on for days as far as I am concerned but it has been my experience in life that these things are best discovered by experiencing them as opposed to reading about them. There are ample and varied tasty selections available from as close as Lewisville and as far away as Japan and I suspect there is a taste to tickle just about anyone’s fancy. Don’t be afraid to venture out and add to the shelfing underneath your bar, hidden away from those that don’t know any better and saved for you and a select few to enjoy as you discover it. As for the great unwashed, I think you can’t go wrong with these solid selections that should keep your home bar a solid choice for those you choose to serve there.