What should I change about my home bar?
I'm just finishing my bar and now I need to stock it. This is the list I have made, what should I change about it that won't change the price very much?
Rum- Bacardi Gold, white and Captain Morgan (I'm thinking I should probably get a decent sipping rum too)
Gin- Tanquaray, Beefeater, and Seagram's
Vodka- Grey Goose (or Chopin) and Smirnoff's (I really don't care for vodka much)
Tequila- Cuervo Gold and silver (I don't care much for tequila either)
Brandy- Hennessy VS, and E&J
Bourbon- Jim Beam Black, Jack Daniel's (I know it's not actually bourbon) and Maker's Mark
Scotch- Johnny Walker Black, Chivas 12, Glenlivet 12, and Macallan 12 (I know these choices could be better but I want to stock both blended and single malt because I have friends who like both)
plus then all the liqueurs and mixers
what should I change about that?
Rum: I agree with everyone who recommended changing your rum choice to Cruzan. It's a very solid choice and surprisingly cheap. Their blackstrap rum is also very good--it was my only option once when Goslings wasn't available, and I thought they were nearly identical (based on memory; I couldn't do a direct taste comparison).
Vodka: As for vodka, I really like Svedka. For some reason I can't stand stand Smirnoff vodka. I guess I'm just really sensitive to it, but I find it terribly harsh and abrasive. Svedka is very smooth and doesn't have any of those harsh qualities. And it's cheap, very cheap actually. Pretty much on par with Smirnoff, if I'm remembering correctly...maybe $1 more than Smirnoff for a 1.75L. Well worth it, in my opinion.
Tequila: I also agree with EvergreenDan's tequila comments. Any 100% agave tequila is worlds better than Cuervo, so if you haven't tried tequila in that form, give it another chance. El Jimador is a very solid brand, and you can get a 1.75L for a really good price.
Bitters: EvergreenDan is right on again with the bitters suggestions. Definitely Angostura bitters, which are available everywhere. Regan's Orange and Peychaud's are nice to have, but can be hard or impossible to find in some areas.
Orange liquor: I like Patron Citronage for a relatively inexpensive choice. It's far cheaper than Cointreau, has a nice, balanced bitter orange flavor, and is miles ahead of the cheapest orange liquors.
How inexpensive do you get it? Here it's cheaper than Cointreau, sure, but it's still $27 which I wouldn't call inexpensive exactly. :-) Cointreau is $35 now though, so it's certainly less than that. I wish I liked the Citronge but I don't. Cointreau goes on sale for $30. Citronge goes on sale for $26 (yes, $1 off, heh). So Citronge at $26 vs Cointreau at $30, I'd still have to get the Cointreau.
But that's me. Wouldn't consider anyone a heathen it if you like Citronge. :-) I wish I could get some of those other options in the Oh Gosh comparison but can't get most of them readily from what I could tell.
If you don't like tequila and vodka don't buy them. If you feel you need them, with tequila don't bother with the mixto's. Just get what you feel is the bottom of what is still drinkable with the vodka. (For most Smirnoff is a great choice, it even wins "taste" tests.)
start small and work up from there, you don't need all of this at once. Pick a cocktail you like, get what makes it and then search what else can be made with the some of those ingredients and branch out, getting everything at once just means you'll end up with a shelf of sad dusty bottles.
I guess I didn't really say this.. but I plan on using the bar mostly for entertaining.. and I'm actually a college student so my friends have a pretty wide variety of tastes. I have some friends who like good liquor straight and some who just like to drink some kind of fun party drinks. So I would like at least an decent vodka for friends who like to sip it neat and then a crappy one for those who don't care and just want a white russian or whatever. The same with tequila, it would probably be used mostly for margaritas.
So that's kind of where I'm coming from with this bar.. i just want to have a well rounded bar with a bit of everything for entertaining my friends who usually don't have strong preferences in taste. (I'm probably the snobbiest of my friends when it comes to liquor and beer.
rum wise: scratch all those rums you have currently
like everyone else said go with Cruzan for a white rum (same price as bacardi and twice as good) - since you are on a budget and need to only have a few different types of rum - gold rum go with appleton V/X or Ron Barillo 3 star - for dark rum go with Appleton Extra 12 year - and for sipping rum Barbancourt 5 star will make a mean mojito and can be sipped with a few ice cubes - and its only about 20 per fifth - if you want to expand for a few nicer rums go with lemon hart (probably only avaliable by mail unless your lucky) and agricole like Rhum Clement VSOP
alot of the tiki rum drinks take about 3 types of rum...they are a pain but in a good way, totally worth it
might try any of the beachbum books about making some pretty awesome rum drinks and there are quite a few good gin drinks in there as well
Gin: i would recommend Nolet's and/or Hendricks - although for a more traditional gin i always found beefeaters to be a solid inexpensive alternative, but i normally drink hendricks but i just found out about Nolet, and it is money - but expensive so you might want to go with hendricks and a london dry gin to start with
i would agree with the other posters smirnoff is a good choice for college vodka and it goes with everything - if you want more bank for your buck get the blue bottle it is 100 proof
get the good stuff for what you like to drink, and have an ok selection of what everything else
whiskey: i like jameson but dont drink much whiskey
as you can tell i am mainly rum / gin :) I have tequilla and vodka but it doesnt get much action heh
I think the best advice I could give you is to get a good book on cocktails like Robert Hess' Essential Bartender's Guide, or the new Mr Boston Guide edited by Jim Meehan. It should give you a lot of ideas about making real cocktails vs. Cuervo plus Cuervo margarita mix = margarita, which was basically what everyone thought when I was in college.
Also, you will realize that it is impossible without about a hundred bottles to make every drink out there. Since you seem to be interested in taste rather than just quantity, I would recommend turning your friends on to drinks like Dark & Stormy's and Tom Collins. These drinks are easy to make and way outclass things like Captain and Coke, or vodka and cranberry. Then you can keep the ingredients on hand to make a core handful of drinks that you and your friends like.
I think you can do quite a bit better. Here's a guide: www.kindredcocktails.com/info/recommended-brands. (Note: this direct link is allowed by Chowhound because the material is a table which is impossible to post here as plain text.)
Some specific suggestions:
- Consider the cocktails that you and your guests like and focus your budget and bottles on them. No sense in having bottles for cocktails that you don't like, or be missing a bottle for something that you do like.
- Rum is a very broad area. Those Bacardi bottles may not be the best values. I might try the Cruzan or Brugal white, plus one darker rum, such as Goslings Black Seal. Barbancourt 5 star is an agricole (distilled from cane juice rather than molasses) that is nice enough to sip but not too expensive to mix with. I'd skip the spiced rum unless you can't live without it in some cocktail.
Gin - Unless you are crazy for gins, I'd pick one that is good enough for a Martini (where it's flavor stands proud) and for other mixing. The gins you listed are all good. Gordons is a good value, too. I use a lot of gin, so I factor in the economy of a 1.75ml bottle in picking a brand.
Vodka - Skip the Grey Goose until you have a friend who simply won't drink anything else. I use almost no vodka, and I could live without it at all. Few craft cocktails use vodka, and some that do could possibly use gin as a substitute. If, OTOH, you make lots of Cape Codders and Screwdrivers, then Smirnoff perhaps?
Tequila. Stick to a 100% agave, if at all possible. El Jimador and Sauza Hornitos are pretty widely available. If you don't care for tequila, perhaps you haven't had good ones? If you really don't like the stuff, then don't buy it, or stick to one silver bottle. A well balanced Margarita is a thing to savor.
Bourbon: Sounds like you have preferences. There are lots of options. I mix with Jim Beam (again, 1.75L economy) and rotate through different premium bourbons. You didn't mention rye, so you might consider Bulleit bourbon, which has a heavy rye content and could be used in recipes that call for rye.
Brandy - There are many reasonable mixing brandies. If you don't sip it neat, I'd stick to one bottle. If you do, buy something you like for after dinner.
Scotch. Sounds like you like scotch. I would probably stick to one nice blended scotch. Your two single malts could be more distinct for more variety. Maybe an Islay if you're open to peaty/smokey, such as the excellent and affordable Bowmore Legend. Also, an excellent and affordable Irish Whiskey is Clontarf (regular black label).
Some other things:
- Bitters. I'd start with Angostura, Regan's Orange, and Peychaud's. This covers a lot of drinks.
- Vermouth. Unless you don't like it, I'd start with nice vermouthes that you can sip and mix with. Dolin is available in 375ml bottles (in some areas) to help keep it fresh. Get both dry and sweet if you think you'll use them. All about vermouth: http://vermouth101.com/ Cheap vermouth makes disappointing drinks. Spoiled vermouth makes disgusting drinks. Refrigerate and evacuate with vac-u-vin or similar.
- It's a bit specialized, but Caipirinhas and Betidas are popular at my house, so an inexpensive industrial cachaca like 51 or a premium one like Leblon would be welcome.
- Orange liqueur. Cointreau or Luxardo Triplum are both excellent. A great survey is on Oh Gosh: http://ohgo.sh/category/cocktails/orange-liqueur-showdown/
- Others. Depending upon the cocktails you want to make, you'll start accumulating liqueurs. I'd probably wait until the need arises before buying them. Some ideas:
--- Maraschino is a funky taste, but is used in a lot of older recipes.
--- Absinthe is also used in small amounts in older recipes. You could substitute a Pastis such as Pernod or Ricard as real Absinthe is quite expensive.
--- I love bitter things, and if you do too then add at least Campari.
--- If you like herbal / medicinal flavors, then perhaps a 375ml bottle of Green Chartreuse?
Sounds like fun.
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Wow. Thanks for all the info!
I think you're definitely right about the scotch.. rather than get two speysides I should pick an Islay or something else.. I tend to go through scotch fairly quickly just by myself so I'm sure I'll end up having both the Macallan and the Glenlivet as part of the bar eventually anyway.
I wouldn't say Macallan and Glenlivet are similar enough in flavor profile to be redundant, though they are both Speysides. Glenlivet 12 is very mellow and fruity, and easy to sip neat - probably not enough flavor to hold up to mixing, especially since water will kill the nose and most of the flavor. Macallan 12 is a much richer and more sherried Scotch - I've never mixed it (though I've had quite a bit neat) but I would imagine it would hold up better in a cocktail.
No need to discourage mixing Scotch. It's a new frontier for the brave. Not to say that I don't like it neat, too. Lots of innovative cocktails use, for example, a small amount of an Islay for smoke and depth. Or for the really brave, I created the Bernet Frankenstein: Laphroaig, Punt e Mes, Fernet Branca, served neat. That said, I would have hated it at your age.
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Everything's a matter of taste of course, but I would certainly switch up the rums. For whites, Flor de Cana, Brugal, and Cruzan are ones I have liked and still inexpensive. Appleton V/X is a great mixer with a lot of flavor, but if you like Bacardi I have heard the Bacardi 8 is good, or you could get Cruzan dark for a cheap option. I wouldn't get a spiced rum unless that's your thing, I think a dark rum like Coruba, Myer's, or Gosling's would be more useful.
I wouldn't bother getting an expensive vodka if you don't like it, Smirnoff's has always worked for me.
For tequila, there are some inexpensive options that are way better than Cuervo these days. Lunazul is good, Agavales is not bad for being extremely cheap, and you might be able to find good prices on others like Milagro or El Charro. Personally, I wouldn't bother with non-100% agave tequilas.
It's not clear you need so many types of gin, scotch, and bourbon. Also tasting before you buy a bottle is the best way to make sure you get something you like. A lot depends on what types of drinks you plan to make, but I would start with a lot less bottles and build up as you see what you use and like. If it was me, I would definitely get a bottle of rye as well, Rittenhouse 100, Wild Turkey Rye, or Old Overholt would work.