Cocktail 101: Stocking a Specialized Home Bar

Cocktail 101

All the basics of the bar.


[Photograph: Jennifer Hess]

Last week, I looked at one way not to stock a home bar—namely, buying one bottle of every type of spirit available. And we looked at one way to stock a home bar—planning a shopping list based on one or two cocktails you love and want to start perfecting at home.

This week, I have a confession to make. My cocktail repertoire has shrunk rather dramatically over the course of this year, especially since my wife became pregnant and I only have my own palate to think of. I've started focusing in on just a few drinks that I never really get tired of:

  • Old Fashioned
  • Daiquiri
  • Martini
  • Gin and Tonic
  • Negroni

That's not to say I don't sometimes still mix Aviations, Jasmines, Sazeracs, Mai Tais, or Pink Ladies (shut up, it's a great drink!); I just mean to say I don't strive to have variety in my evening cocktail every night. So with that in mind, I've started to reconsider how I stock my home bar. I'm no longer aiming to provide a variety of spirits, mixable into a panoply of cocktails. Instead, I've narrowed my focus on my very favorite drinks, but at the same time, I don't want the same version of those drinks every time.

The advice I'm about to cover works equally well whether you're an aficionado of a particular category of spirit—say, a scotch lover or a rum geek—or whether you, like me, are focusing on just a few classics.

So, let's look at just one of these cocktails, the Old Fashioned, think about ways to build a bar around it, and consider how those strategies might apply to the whiskey lover who wants to start his or her own home whiskey bar.


Wall of whiskey, at Bottles Fine Wine, Spirits, and Craft Beer, Providence, RI. [Photograph: Michael Dietsch]

First step, we'll define what it is I mean by an Old Fashioned. I'm old school with my Old Fashioneds: I prefer a hit of simple syrup, a couple dashes of bitters, a nice glug of whiskey (or rum), and a twist of orange or lemon peel. Sometimes, when I'm using sugar instead of simple syrup, I'll muddle the peel with the sugar, so the crystals abrade the oils from the peel.

But it doesn't matter how you build your OF. If you like slices of orange and muddled-up cherries in yours, I'll ask you not to make one for me, but that won't affect the discussion here, except insofar as that I won't be referring to those orange slices and cherries any further.

So. If you're a whiskey drinker already, you probably know that different whiskeys taste, well, different. And they each taste different in an Old Fashioned, too. Rittenhouse bonded rye provides spicy notes, nuttiness, and a powerful punch. For a softer, creamier Old Fashioned, I really like a wheated bourbon, such as Old Fitzgerald or Maker's Mark.

So I've recently started stocking my home bar by gathering what I need for a variety of Old Fashioneds. A couple of ryes here, a couple of bourbons there, and suddenly you have the start of a decent whiskey bar.

And then you can start to have fun. You want something a little different? Try an Old Fashioned made from a funky rum like Smith & Cross. (But be careful. At 114 proof, S&C will kick your shins out from under you. You might mix this OF at 2 ounces instead of 3 or 4.) Once you branch out your OF bar to include funky rums or smooth, rich cognacs, then you have a well-stocked but still specialized bar.

About the Author: Michael Dietsch writes A Dash of Bitters. He is a father-to-be, boozologist, and cocktail curmudgeon. He lives with a spirited female and crazy felines in Providence.