Stocking The Bar: Which Bottles Are Essential To You?


[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Over at The Kitchn, Nancy Mitchell suggests 12 essential bottles of booze for making cocktails at home. Here's what makes the cut:

  1. Gin such as Brokers or Aviation
  2. Light rum such as Flor de Caña White or 10 Cane
  3. Dark rum like Goslings or Myers'
  4. Silver tequila
  5. Reposado tequila
  6. Bourbon such as Four Roses or Bulleit
  7. Rye such as Old Overholt or Rittenhouse
  8. Sweet Vermouth such as Martini Rossi
  9. Dry Vermouth such as Noilly Pratt
  10. Absinthe
  11. Vodka such as Tito's or Dripping Springs
  12. Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Now, I have my personal preferences in terms of specific bottles (I'd recommend Dolin for dry vermouth, for example) but what about categories? Do you think the list above covers all the essentials to make a complete, well-edited bar?

It's a question others have discussed before. The folks behind the blog 12 Bottle Bar claim that home bartenders can make tons of classic cocktails based on just twelve bottles—but their list is different. Gin, orange liqueur, absinthe, rye, and sweet and dry vermouth make the cut, but instead of the rest, they suggest that home mixologists should have brandy, genever, gold rum, Irish whiskey, Angostura, and orange bitters. (Including bitters in the allotted bottles is pretty hardcore!) They're not big tequila fans, and they leave out vodka because of a focus on classic pre-Prohibition cocktails. Why choose rye instead of bourbon? Because it's sexier. (Their words, not mine.)

What bottles are the true essentials? For me, a bar without Campari (or better yet, Gran Classico) is no bar at all. And I could probably live without absinthe...though it would be sad to lose the Sazerac.

An Alternate Method

It's nice to have a stocked liquor cabinet so you don't have to run out and get supplies when you read an intriguing cocktail recipe or get a craving for an old classic, but as Cocktail 101 columnist Michael Dietsch wrote last year, it can be expensive to go out and buy one of everything all at once, even if it's just twelve bottles. And if you don't use it, that bottle of brandy may just gather dust in the back of your cupboard.

Instead, it makes sense to do some drink planning—rather than naming essential bottles, pick 3 or 4 cocktails you like to drink, and stock up on supplies to make those. If your four favorite drinks don't call for dry vermouth, then don't buy it until you decide to make something else.

Tell me: what cocktails—and what bottles—are essential to you? Which spirits can you live without? Do you have 12 bottles? More or less?