Anyone who has visited my home knows that I have a pretty extensive home bar. The world of cocktails is a big hobby of mine these days, and I’ve been slowly filling out my bar over of the last year. Luckily, I have a wife who supports my hobby, and so we have dedicated a fair amount of shelving space to the cause. That said, we do live in an apartment, and at the end of the day we only have so much space to spare. My home bar is now well beyond the simple list of a basic bar that you can find all over the web. I’ve gotten to the point that I really need to think hard about what I’m going to stock. Here is my current bar, and my thinking on the stock list I’d like to contain myself within. I’m curious if others with “substantial” home bars have any advice here.
Camilla and I are both big whisk(e)y fans. Our bar is heavy in this department, and honestly, we’ve just got to pare it down some in order to make some room for other new things I’d like. Currently we have five bourbons, two ryes, five Scotches, two Irish, and three “other” (white whiskey, Japanese, and Colorado). That’s 17 whiskies. For some people that is all they’d have in a home bar in total. For us, it’s roughly 30% of our bar. That’s just too much space. My goal is to get the whiskies down to ten: three bourbon (one sipping plus two mixers), one rye, three Scotch (blended, Islay single (mine), Highlands single (Camilla)), one Irish, and two “other”.
Gin and Genever
I got into drinking gin by starting with genever, and then working on anything but London dry gin. I now have a greater appreciation for all gins, but I have strong roots in the less common variants. Hence, my bar has four in stock: a genever, an old tom/English, a London dry for mixing, and then a really nice one that can be sipped. I don’t see how I can reduce this list. If I liked London dry more, maybe I could use the same one for general mixing, and regular drinking, but I don’t, and I can’t bring myself to use a delightful and expensive gin like Hendricks for every single cocktail.
Tequila and Mezcal
I never had the horrible college years with tequila that turns so many people off of this wonderful liquor. I love the stuff. This is an area I’ve actually been expanding, and part of why I feel the need to reduce in other areas, so that I can add more here. I’ve finally settled on four in this group: one each of silver, reposado, and añejo for tequila, and one mezcal. If I let myself get carried away, I’d end up with three mezcals as well, but I recognize that I need to restrain myself for the sake of space. Maybe at some point I will end up with two tequilas and two mezcals. Actually, I can totally see that happening. Either way, I need to stick to four total for this group, and I could see getting down to three (two tequila and one mezcal) if the space really demands it.
Rum is crazy, awesome space. I could have easily have at least ten rums and not have any overlap at all. It’s a lot like the world of whisk(e)y in that regard. For now I’m trying to contain it to three. We’ll see how that pans out. For the time being I can’t see getting by without a light, a gold, and a dark. One of my biggest problems with such a small pool is that, like whisk(e)y, this is a liquor that I like enough to just drink straight on a regular basis, which means I go through this stuff fast. I allow myself 10 whiskies, you know? I would say that if any space opens up in the bar, I’ll probably fill it with a new rum. I would like to be able to get it up to six eventually.
I also have a rhum agricole right now, but I’m honestly not the biggest fan, and don’t use it very often. In the same vein I don’t have any cachaça. These two kinds of “rum” are very different, and I don’t consider them rum due to the different production (nor do the governing bodies that regulate them), and they just aren’t as appealing to me for whatever reason.
I live in Scandinavia. This is the land of aquavit. It’s the historical liquor for this region, like whisk(e)y is for Scotland and Ireland. I almost always have Linie in the bar, but I also have at least one other in the freezer, or we just wouldn’t be a proper Danish household. I have a solid list of favorites, but generally I only have two in the house at any given time, and as a rule I use Linie in cocktails, with the others for good ole regular snaps drinking. If we hosted more traditional Danish meals in our house I’d probably jack that up pretty quickly.
As a note, in Denmark these are referred to as snaps. Yes, that is related to the German schnaps. No, it is nothing like American schnapps, which is some crazy, sweet liqueur bastardization of the European word.
The Rest of the Base Liquors
One of each for these others feels fine to me: cognac, pisco, and vodka.
This is a huge slippery slope. Liqueurs are so varied and endless that you can always find an excuse for just one more. Right now, this group makes up the largest percentage of the bar (around 35%) and I don’t really see myself down-sizing it. Keep in mind that most of my liqueurs are used for cocktail mixing, and not for straight sipping. I try to stick to replenishing the ones I use regularly, and not adding ones that I’ll only use for one drink. The top ones that I go through relatively quickly are triple sec (orange), amaretto (almond), St. Germain (elderflower), Galliano (vanilla), maraschino (it’s own wonderful thing), Chartreuse (herbal blend), and Cherry Heering. There are definitely some that I like having on hand, but I will probably not replace them when I’m done because I just don’t use them often enough to warrant the space. Things like créme de cassis and limoncello fall here. At the end of the day I use these for sipping liqueur, and we just really don’t do that very often.
The first thing to understand is that you have potable bitters, which you can drink as is, and cocktail bitters, which are for adding a dash to your cocktails.
In the potable bitters section I currently have Campari and Aperol, which feels like a lot of flexibility in two bottles. I myself don’t drink bitters straight up. I use them in cocktails, so I feel like I have what I need here. If I was actually drinking these straight up on a regular basis, I’d probably feel the need to have a broader range. You can also argue that things like absinthe, Jagermeister, and Becherovka are potable bitters as well. That was the original intent of those, but they vary quite a bit in the bitterness factor, and I honestly use them more as a liqueur than a bitter.
With cocktail bitters, I’ve been remarkably restrained, by some definitions. I have Angostura and Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6 as my only two purchased bitters. That said, I have made about 20 tinctures of my own, which I also play with in my cocktails and use for blending my own bitters. I often get tempted to buy more bitters, and I may break down and get a set of samplers at some point, but I don’t feel like I’m missing something essential at this point.
I started out with the classic sweet and dry vermouth, and considered myself done. These two cocktail bar standards obviously must remain, but I’ve also added in a port and some Lillet. I know the port could use one each of tawny and ruby, but I don’t use port enough to go through it quickly enough, and that feels like a waste of good port to me. The Lillet is great to have, but both this and the vermouths live in the fridge, and in the name of space, the Lillet will not be replaced once I’ve gone through it.
I should also mention that in addition to the homemade tinctures I use for bitters, I also have a number of homemade bottles that take up space in the bar. These are things like homemade snaps, sloe gin, and even my first attempt at a potable bitter (based on artichokes, like Cynar). Luckily I tend to go through this in phases, and I think curbing my homemade blends is reasonable. That said, I’ll probably always have at least three bottles of something homemade on hand.
To round things out, and account for everything, I also have a lot of things that complete my bar. This is where I have grenadine, simple syrup, orgeat, falernum, and honey syrup. I make all of these myself, but they still take up space in the fridge. (Homemade grenadine is out of this world better than that stuff you buy at the store.) I also have bought things in stock like orange flower water (I’m a sucker for Ramos gin fizzes), rose water, maple syrup, and soda and tonic water. For the waters I buy little bottles of each and keep them in a cupboard until I need them for the bar.
None of this, of course, gets into wine and beer, but that’s a whole other discussion, people.