For many, having a well-stocked home bar is a badge of honor. The liquor you serve can say a lot about you. And sure, some may call it a frivolous affectation. But for those who care, a perfect home bar is something to be strived for – something in which to relish. And so, since we believe a bar can make a house a home, here is our take on the perfect home bar.
I asked our bar manager here at 7th Settlement Brewery, “Jeff, name me the top ten must-stock bottles in a home bar.” Jeff thought for a moment and said, “Well my taste won’t be perfect for everyone.” Jeff is so thoughtful. But I reassured him, “Jeff,” I said again, “you’ve been at this a long while now. You’ve got excellent taste in liquor, just have at it!” And so Jeff thought another moment, blushed a little, and offered something more or less, exactly like this:
1 – Bulliet Rye
Let’s start with the old reliable – whiskey. A good rye whiskey can be mixed with just about anything to create an excellent cocktail. Come to think of it, the right rye is perfect on the rocks or neat. Overall, rye whiskey should be smooth but have a little bitterness. My personal favorite is Bulliet Rye with a dash of Angostura Bitters and a dash of Orange Bitters, on the rocks. Or you can mix Bulliet Rye like we do at 7th Settlement Brewery…continue reading for our Perfect Rye Manhattan recipe.
2 – Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Next up, bourbon. Everyone knows that bourbon is necessary for a good Manhattan or Old Fashioned. However, bourbon is also the key ingredient in the modern day Side Car, the Mint Julep and countless other concoctions. For me, Buffalo Trace is the best bang for your buck and definitely worth always keeping a bottle on hand.
3 – Carpano Antica Formula (Sweet Vermouth)
Don’t forget the vermouth! There seems to be a trend in many bars that vermouth can be done cheaply. Please don’t buy into this. There are incredibly well-crafted vermouths out there and they can make or break a cocktail. Carpano Antica Formula makes my personal favorite Manhattan: 2 parts Buffalo Trace Bourbon, 1 part Carpano, 1 dash Angostura Bitters, served chilled in a coupe or cocktail glass with an orange zest as a garnish zest. How about that, you get an extra drink recipe for free – enjoy that!
4 – Dolin Dry Vermouth
You can’t get away with just sweet vermouth. Dry vermouth is just as important – a staple, in fact, of your home bar. Dry vermouth is key not only for making great Martinis but for the Perfect Rye Manhattan I keep going on about. Keep reading for the recipe! Dolin Dry Vermouth also mixes well with blackberry liqueurs or with crème de cassis, a black currant liqueur.
5 – Flag Hill Karner Blue Gin
Everyone needs a bottle of gin. But a clean, sharp and herbal gin can be a difficult thing to come by. We in New Hampshire are exceptionally fortunate to have Flag Hill so close by (Lee, NH). A good gin can be mixed with almost anything. And a great gin can be sipped on the rocks. Karner Blue fits both bills. There are fewer beautiful combinations in the spirit world as Gin and Dry Vermouth, but a little St Germain does incredible things to Karner Blue Gin. Karner Blue also makes a great Bloody Mary.
5.5 – St Germain
OK, so I cheated a little with the decimals…but gin just gets lonely without its partner in crime, St Germain. I’ll keep this one brief: St Germain is a great flavor to add to martinis, margaritas or whatever you create. There. Onto number six.
6 – MaCallan 12 Year Single Malt Scotch
This is probably the hardest bottle to suggest. I lost a lot of sleep trying to make a decision and almost left it out entirely. But eventually, my sense of duty took over. You’ve read this far and you deserve a suggestion. See, Scotch taste is all over the map depending on how smokey or peaty you like it. So, in the end, you may have to try a few before you find the right scotch. In my opinion, the best entry level crowd pleaser is MaCallan 12 Year Single Malt Scotch.
7 – Don Julio Blanco Tequila
Tequila can be a daunting decision to the home bartender. Get it right and you’re a hero. Get it wrong and you’re back in college. Fear not, you can’t go wrong with Don Julio Blanco. Don Julio is a great addition to any home bar. It makes a nice, clean margarita (only fresh squeezed lime juice, of course) and a refreshing paloma. Margaritas are also a great way to try out some infused simple syrups or to use your favorite cordials with.
8 – Cointreau
Gin is to St Germain as tequila is to Cointreau, kindred spirits if you will. Cointreau is an orange flavored liqueur that is perfect for many cocktails and a necessity for any margarita or sidecar.
9 – Titos Vodka
It’s tough to make a good Bloody Mary without a good vodka but Titos is also a crowd pleaser for Vodka Tonics and makes a nice vodka martini.
10 – Tall Ship Spiced Rum
You’ll want to keep a good spiced rum available for your rum and cokes but this New Hampshire-local gem works great with root beer or egg nog for the holidays.
And now, the moment you’ve all been reading for. Jeff’s super secret recipe for The Perfect Rye Manhattan:
2 oz Bulleit Rye Whiskey
½ oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
½ oz Carpano Antica Formula
Dash Angostura Bitters
Serve ‘up’ in a cocktail glass or on the rocks. Never shake a Manhattan, but stir it for a good 30 seconds to 1 minute to add appropriate amounts of ice cold water to your cocktail. A good Manhattan should be ice cold and go down smooth.
There you have it, folks. The 10 (and a half) essential bottles for your home bar. Here’s to many fine drink and even more impressed guests.
And remember, don’t buy beer from strangers.