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Setting up a home bar

I have seen some older threads on home bars, and I was wondering if I could start a new one. I recently refinished the basement in my home and it has a wet bar. Well I am not a seasoned drinker (Whisky sours are about my knowledge level...), but the bar needs stocked. I started buying stuff with absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was wondering if you experts could take a look and let me know what I am missing. I am not looking to make everything in the world, but I would love to have a good enough selection to mix about anything...

Here is what I have (most just picked off shelves at a duty free shop in Mexico):

Seagram's VO
Seagram's Seven
Southern Comfort
M&R Dry Vermouth
Stoli Red Label
Beefeaters Gin
Bombay Sapphire Gin
Hennesey VS
Bacardi Superior
Malibu Rum Passion Fruit
Grand Marnier
Old bottle of Amaretto (cheap stuff)
Several old Bottles of Jose Cuervo Gold

Thanks in Advance!!

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  1. Hi - I found that my bar ingredients go with who's coming over. For the older folks, I have Dewars and VO as good ones. When younger folks are over, it's more about fun flavors (Cosmos, Moat Sauce (google it), etc.). My wife and I really got into tiki drinks for a while, so now we have about 20 different bottles of unusual liqueurs (creme de noyeaux !?!), all about 7/8ths full.
    It sounds like you're off to a good start. I'm a big fan of Grey Goose plain vodka (non-flavored), ya just can't get hung over from that stuff no matter how hard you try.

    Just pick up a bottle of something that sounds interesting every week or so, then experiment.

    Use the Beefeaters to strip paint (keep the Bombay)
    I also prefer Parrot Bay coconut rum to Malibu. I was a skeptic on a switch from Malibu, but I think the Parrot Bay has a better flavor.

    Good Luck!

    2 Replies
    1. re: MonkaD

      Tastings.com gave Beefeater 94/Best Buy.

      Just cause its cheap doesn't mean its bad...

      1. re: ac106

        I'll take Beefeater over Bombay any day!

    2. You have no Scotch, Bourbon or Irish Whiskey. For Scotch I would add something palatable on the rocks but not too expensive, Johnny Black would work. For Bourbon, maybe Makers Mark, for the same reasons. For Irish, probably Powers. If you want to get mroe expensive from these, the sky is the limit.

      When you finish the Barcardi Superior, try Ron El Barrellito.

      1. A Coffee Liqueur might be good, Kahlua seems the standard. Probably a sweet vermouth as well.

        Other stuff that may be fun:
        A Coconut Rum-Malibu perhaps?
        Something chocolatey, Creme de cacao, chocolate liqueur

        Captain is also right that you want some more whisk(e)ys.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Xaga

          Thanks for all the responses... I guess I need to get some other Whiskeys. It seems there are so many different types. I need to do some research to determine what is used where.

          1. re: skywalkr2

            Most whiskey drinkers are pretty simple, whiskey and ice or water or a simple mixer like soda. And sometimes NOTHING at all but the whiskey.

            1. re: skywalkr2

              For general bar drinks you are probably good with one blended Scotch and one Bourbon. For the Scotch, I would go with Famous Grouse. For the Bourbon, Maker's Mark or Woodford Reserve.

              If you think you'll make a lot of Manhattans or other mixed drinks you could also pick up a rye, Rittenhouse is a good, affordable one.

              You may want an Irish too if you think you'll be doing Irish Coffees.

          2. I'd add a creme de menthe, a creme de cacao, a coffee liqueur (Kahluah?), and an annisette type (I prefer Pernod, but it's an individual thing). Also a grenadine of some sort, syrup or liqueur.

            I think the best idea might be to draw up a list of drinks you and your friends like, then go through the recipes for them and check out what you don't have. Have fun!

            1. you need mixers - bitters, grenadine, etc. you might look into making some of your own (grenadine = pomegranate juice and sugar) but mixers will help expand your cocktail repertoire. i'd also suggest a bottle of rye - old overholt is cheap and good - for manhattans, ward 8's, sazerac's, etc., and some good tequila - cazedores is great for the price, don julio beats patron in my book if you want to spend more - that tequila, plus fresh lime juice and grand marnier and you have and awesome margarita.

              chow's got lots of good stuff on drinks, but the "drinks database" over at esquire magazine's website is also worth poking around in.

              4 Replies
              1. re: andytee

                I guess i just don't know what I am doign re: mixers. I went looking for "bitters" and no one seems to have any idea what these are. Any ideas where to look? Our supermarket seems to have ever alcohol ever made... but I just must not be looking in the right place.

                1. re: skywalkr2

                  I buy my Angostura Bitters in a liquor store.

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Yes - finally found the bitters. I have finally also added:

                    - Old Overholt Rye
                    - Maker's Mark Bourbon
                    - Dewar's White Label Scotch

                    Don't have the irish yet, it's next on my list.

                    1. re: skywalkr2

                      get a bottle of jameson's. redbreast is nice too if you want something more expensive, but jameson's is my favorite everyday irish whiskey.

              2. btw, a good way to get into this is to let the cocktail be your guide - pick a drink recipe that looks good, buy the ingredients, and go with it for a while. once you feel competent making it without consulting notes, move on to something new. this is a great way to build a bar. start with the basics, like a martini or manhattan, and get what you need, and drink nothing else for a few weeks.

                also, you didn't mention equipment, but i hope you have a cocktail shaker. a citrus juicer and zester would come in handy as well.

                1 Reply
                1. re: andytee

                  a mixing spoon, a muddler, some sugar cubes, bitters(go for orange bitters), Rose's Lime Juice, a strainer, some sweet vermouth to round out the equipment and mixers.

                2. I agree with the advice to go where the drinks take you. I have an extensive bar and generally can make whatever my guests want.. but I have no scotch, whiskey or bourbon. Thats because no one I know drinks it!

                  You should try to have the "basics" ..but after that I would start searching out cocktail recipes and see what appeals. The one thing I would be wary of is lots of the flavored vodkas. I found myself with four bottles of Vodka in the house, and had to go out to buy some because everything I had was flavored.

                  1. If you are going to do 'mixed' drinks, you will need a few more basics:
                    -insulated ice bucket with ice tongs
                    -sake (you can imitate your favorite fusion restaurant with a really bad sake cocktail)
                    -worchestershire sauce and tomato juice
                    -simple syrup (50-50 mix of sugar and water)
                    -angostura bitters
                    -fruit juices (orange, lemon, peach, mango, tezuzu berry, etc.)
                    -food colors
                    -freezer with several trays of ice
                    -blender and strainer
                    -what is your address, and what time is cocktail hour?

                    1. You need triple sec. It's an integral ingredient in a great many cocktails. Don't knock yourself out with Cointreau, it's not all that orange-y. If you can get Marie Brizard liqueurs in your area, go with them, they're superior to the other liqueur makers.

                      Let's see... rum, gin, vodka, tequila, whiskeys... if you want to complete basics, you would do well to pick up some kind of bourbon (I go with Makers' Mark). The vermouth may be old by now... it only lasts a few months in the fridge once opened. Always just get the small bottle.

                      The mixers you keep are important too. I have bottles of Mexican Coca-Cola from my local Costco; check yours to see if they have them. Beyond that I do the small glass bottles of 7-Up and Diet Coke, and the Schweppes trio of club soda, tonic, and ginger ale. A bit more advanced are the Schweppes Bitter Lemon, and Cock & Bull ginger beer. Grenadine is something to have as well. I use Torani pomegranate syrup, but you can easily make your own by mixing equal amounts pomegranate juice (available even at Walmart thanks to the Pom Wonderful people) and sugar, then heating until the sugar dissolves. Definitely a bottle of Angostura bitters too. Once you get these, the best thing to do is find new cocktails you want to try and just buy what you need for that. It's better than just buying things at random.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                        I would have to disagree with the Cosmic Jester on one (and only one) point. Cointreau, as I like to say, is the secret weapon (ok, along with bitters) in the mixologist's arsenal. Particularly because it's not too orange-y. That said, his recommendation, instead, of Marie Brizard certainly isn'y going to damage the tasty-ness of your drinks one dang bit! Marie Brizard is a great name for liqueurs and well worth the extra $.

                        Particularly good advice on the smaller bottle of Vermouth (try Noilly Pratt sometime) and always, once opened, Keep. It. Refrigerated.

                        And very much the sound advice that once you've gotten a selection to cover what you already like to drink and the most prominent cocktails your friends dig, build from there recipe by recipe. Unless, of course, you can afford to empty the shelves of your local liquor store- in that case invite us all over!

                        1. re: Scortch

                          So I gotta ask... if Cointreau isn't too orange-y and it *is* a triple sec, couldn't one simulate using Cointreau by adding a bit less of some other triple sec and a splash of simple syrup? I've got to pick up one of the micro-bottles and make some margaritas at home.

                          1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                            i like cointreau in margaritas instead of triple-sec, but sometimes will blend the 2 for a different flavor, or to economize on the expensive booze when making pitchers for a crowd.

                            get a bottle of each (and grand marnier for good measure if you really want to be scientific) and taste them straight, side by side. you could probably buy a couple cheap triple-sec brands to sample. the flavors are all a little different - at least between grand marnier, cointreau, and triple-sec, i haven't done a lot of side-by-side triple sec tasting - and each has their own virtues.

                            1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                              My personal take on Cointreau is that it is far more complex than just an orange liqeuer. Truthfully it is the original triple sec and all others are merely imitators. I know that Gary Regan considers only the Van Gogh triple sec reasonably close in quality (but at a much, much more affordable price point, so I am to understand) but I have yet to be able to make a comparison. It's easy to point to a less orange taste than some others, or perhaps a bit more sweetness, or whatever, but the rest of the profile is so rich in diversity that, I have to say, it can be substituted, but not at a cost. It just tastes so much better in so many drinks to me. Grand Marnier is what so many people like use to hold up to the light in comparison, but I can't say that I see any real comparison for taste and quality.

                              Of course, if you dig a cheaper triple sec just fine, then please, do buy that and enjoy the extra buck (or 20) in your wallet and go buy something els fun and yummy that I've had to skip ... Just share the details!

                        2. btw, if you really want to get serious about a home bar setup, buy the book "imbibe" and set to pulling some of those recipes off. some are fairly simple but some will have you hunting (an not at the local grocer) for genever gin and absinthe. a great book, anyhow, check it out.