Article by Jason Rogers
If you are anything like me there is nothing you enjoy more than a nice cocktail after a long day. If you are also like me you can’t always be bothered or afford to go to a quality bar to get said cocktail. Enter the Homebar, the cause and solution to all of life’s problems. Any fans of my articles or of my cocktail classes are probably itching to set up their own speakeasy in their living room. Well, never fear, I’ll tell you everything you need to know to be a home bartender. This guide will help you build the most important (and delicious) part of your home bar: the booze. And it’s just in time for the holidays for those looking for gifts or deals (you’re welcome).
The liquor starter kit
When starting your Homebar you may be tempted to buy 3 bottles of expensive single-malt scotch and a bottle of cheap vodka. Fight that urge. FIGHT IT! You need to build a foundation that will allow your bar to grow along with you. The main culprits for a Homebar can easily be summed up by a single famous drink: the Long Island Iced Tea. I know it seems crazy that this could lead to craft cocktails, but the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. This drink contains 5 different liquors which you should buy; vodka, gin, tequila, rum/whiskey, and triple sec (orange liqueur, not the same as liquor).
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge fan of vodka but it’s the most versatile spirit in your collection, as the flavor blends into many things. Like most of the things I’ll recommend, you’ll want to go with something mid tier; not too cheap because you deserve better, but not too expensive because we aren’t made of money. My recommendation is something like Stoli, a well-known Russian vodka made from a blend of wheat and rye for a smooth taste that won’t break the bank.
Drinks to try: Vodka soda/cranberry, Vodka Martini (dry or dirty)
If I had a dime for every time someone told me how tequila, “just doesn’t agree with them” I would be a wealthy man. I hate to break it to you but your issue isn’t with tequila itself, but with the quality and the way you drink it. First and foremost, tequila got a bad rep as a party spirit due to bad marketing in the US. In reality, it’s a sophisticated liquor that is meant to be sipped with a small amount of ice. Second, most of the tequila people drink is of a cheaper quality called “Mixto” which is a mix of actual agave tequila and other additives. True tequila should always say on the bottle 100% agave or 100% blue weber agave. When you have good tequila, then you can have a great time. I recommend Olmeca. This brand is easy enough to find in China or on Taobao and I think it provides a cleaner taste than some of the competitors.
Drinks to try: Paloma, Margarita (no blender needed)
Gin seems to have a lot of fans and haters, but one thing you need to understand about gin is you give gin its respect. This spirit has a beautiful and crazy history and many drinks use it to shine. For your bar gin I recommend Bombay Sapphire or Beefeater. Sapphire is a little pricier but gives you a more delicate flavor, Beefeater is cheaper and has a bolder taste, good for drinks with a lot of juices.
Drinks to try: Gin and Tonic, Gimlet
Let me explain the (e), there are several styles of the brown stuff from all around the world and in the North American region the (e) is used to describe ours, this includes bourbon, rye and corn whiskey. Now we can move on without starting a long talk about spelling. Whiskey (don’t start complaining) is beloved by many and in your home bar it can suit a lot of functions. Mainly you might need a sipping whiskey or a cocktail whiskey. If you like your whiskey sweet and in cocktails I recommend Jack Daniels, an American classic. For a less sweet but fuller flavor when making drinks go for Jim Beam, bold flavor but smoother than some high proof Bourbons. Finally if you want something to drink with a cube of ice, go for a nice Blended Scotch such as Johnnie Walker Black.
Drinks to try: Jack and Coke, Whiskey Sour
I love rum—there I said it. But for good reason, rum is an untapped cocktail market full of variety, passion and creativity. Rum drinks always make any situation better. There are a lot of different styles of rum out there from flavor to region, even age. Its best to keep things simple with one of these brands: Bacardi Blanca, one of the largest liquor brands in the word, this rum is on the dry side (less sweet) and goes great in simple cocktails with few ingredients. For something with a richer flavor try Havana Club 3-year—it’s similar but has more aging on it to give off more sweet notes and stands up to lots of juices.
Drinks to try: Rum and Pineapple, Daiquiri (please put the blender down
A liqueur is a liquor that is sweeter and pours like a syrup (think Malibu). A good orange liqueur like Triple Sec opens up a whole new world of drinks, many popular cocktails only feature this and two other ingredients. My recommendation is not to get a super cheap one, if you can help it. I like Cointreau. It’s not the cheapest but you get a really high quality for the price.
Drinks to try: Cointreau and Soda, Margarita, Cosmopolitan, Kamikaze
This guide will help you start building your Homebar one bottle at a time, start with simple drinks (the first drink recommendations) and see what you like. At the end of the day, it’s your personal bar so feel free to go off-script, but with these you can make something nice for yourself or your friends. Also these bottles make great gifts and with 11/11 and Christmas coming you can get a good head start on a boozy holiday.
Jason Rogers is a mixologist extraordinaire living in Xi’an.