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Aug 24, 2012 12:54 PM

starting a liquor cabinet. not sure what all to get

hello everyone. for starters, im a college student who works a couple part time jobs, so i dont have alot of money. but im good at stretching my dollars to occasionally enjoy the finer things in life.

im wanting to start slowly building a liquor cabinet, mostly for me and my good buddies to enjoy our favorite drinks, as well as for entertaining and for dates. (since i dont have much of a budget, [i mean im cheap haha] i tend to bring dates to my house, cook for them, and have drinks there.)

mainly, i enjoy american rye, bourbons, and scotch. i have found a couple afforbable liquors that i tend to get that i really love; bulliet rye and bulliet bourbon, as well as buffalo trace bourbon. i enjoy jameson, and it isnt too expensive. are there any decent bottles of scotch that are somewhat affordable? i guess jonny walker red is ok, but i would rather not keep it around because for a few more bucks i can get a bourbon that i like better.

of course i want to be able to make cocktails. mainly i enjoy Manhattans made with rye, and bourbon old fashions. i dont know anything about vermouth. other than there is sweet and dry. are there different brands? what is a good all around sweet vermouth that is reasonably priced that is good for manhattens? i also know nothing of bitters. again, recommendations for use in Manhattan and old fashioned?

im not a big gin guy, but lots of my friends are. so eventaully i would like to be able to keep a decent bottle around, is something like beefeater good enough? is there anything else that i should try and keep around, whether because you think i would like it, or guests would really like it?

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  1. Obviously you are an over-21 college student, otherwise it would be inappropriate for us to reply.

    For Irish, I recommend Clontarf. The black label is, I believe, blended, and is economical and very, very good. I believe the reserve (white label) is a few dollars more and is a single malt. As I recall, it was a bit more refined, but slightly less interesting to me. I am a bit confused, however, because now I see the brand as "Clontarf 1014". I'm not sure if this is a re-branding and/or if any of the expressions changed.

    Bowmore is a smokey Islay scotch. The Bowmore Legend is around $30, and is very good. You might enjoy it because it is so different from your other whiskeys.

    For sweet vermouth, I like Dolin and Boissiere. You can learn a lot here:
    If you like bitter things, you might try Punt e Mes as your sweet vermouth.

    For a simple liquor cabinet, regular old Angostura is essential and excellent. Eventually you might want Peychaud's (e.g. for a Sazarac) or orange bitters (such a Regans' or Angostura Orange).

    Beefeater, Bombay (regular, not Sapphire), or even Gordon's or Seagrams are all good gins. A bottle of dry vermouth (and maybe some olives or lemon twist) will let you make a Martini. Some Tonic water and lime will let you make a G&T.

    You don't have much in your cabinet to entertain a young woman who might not like whiskey. You might consider an accessible rum (so you can make a Mojito, if you have lime and mint), Rum-and-tonic, or a Daiquiri. Rum is very affordable, with many good selections under $20.

    Tequila is also wonderful, but much more expensive than rum for a comparably good bottle.

    I have collected recommended brands from many sources, including here.

    --- | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

    2 Replies
    1. re: EvergreenDan

      thanks soooo much for the detailed reply. and yes, im actually 25 haha. took time off before starting college.

      that link describing vermouth is great, thank you for that.

      and i actually really enjoy dark rum, i cant beleive i forgot about it. but i imagine a light rum would probably be more useful.

      and, woman who dont like whiskey arent welcome in my apartment. (im kidding of course.)

      i generally always have fresh lemons and limes just because i use them in cooking so much.

      thanks again for you're detailed response.

      1. re: charles_sills

        Hey Charles! Have you read this article?

        May not be for everyone, but I certainly found it useful - although I suspect because I'm going for mixed drinks more than sipping liquor.

    2. Scotch is kind of hard to swing on a student budget if you want something good. For a basic blend you can try something like Teacher's, White Horse, or Famous Grouse. If you like the taste of peat smoke, try Black Bottle. For single malts, there's not too much under $40 a bottle, but Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, and Glenlivet have bottles that can be found for closer to $30 and are not a bad place to start. You can also look for the Gordon & Macphail 8 year old bottling of Highland Park.

      Angostura is the go-to bitters. For sweet vermouth, of the under $10 bottles, I like Cinzano. Dolin can be twice the price, but is different and good.

      A bottle of rum is definitely worth having around. A light rum is good for mixing and you can pick up something like Flor de Cana extra dry for $14 or so.

      8 Replies
      1. re: nickls

        hey thanks for that reply. that really helps alot. i will be on the look out for Cinzano.

        1. re: nickls

          In some parts of the country, there are quite a few good single malts for less than $40.

          Looking at Hitime's list (So Cal)

          Isle of Jura 10 yr $30
          Aberlour 12 yr $33
          Glenfiddich 15 yr $34
          Jura Superstition $36
          laphroaig 10 yr $36
          Bowmore 12 yr $38
          Cardhu 12 yr $38
          Glenlivet 15 yr Fr oak $38
          Aberfeldy 12 yr $39

          I also have seen Highland Park 12 yr in the $36-38 in several places, though it is $42 at Hitime.

          There are several more that I am not familiar with, such as Ancnoc and Tomatin, and some cheap but decent single malts such as Tamdhu, Bowmore legend and Lismore,

            1. re: ncyankee101

              If you're near a Trader Joe's (and in a state where they can sell booze), they carry Lismore and Finlaggan, two inexpensive but good Islay single-malts, for under $20. I like to keep some blended around to have on the rocks with water or soda, and got a liter of Famous Grouse at TJ's for $10.

              My "gettin' fancy" gin is Hendrick's, which TJ sells for about $27. My favorite everyday is Gilbey's, about $12, which I keep in the freezer (along with several glasses) for Instant Martinis. Purists tell me they hate that, but no visitors have refused one …

              1. re: Will Owen

                Will - I like Lismore quite a bit for a cheap single malt, I find it very similar to Glenlivet 12 and Hitime has the 750 for $16 and the 1.75 ltr for $30. Quite smooth finish and a lot of green apple on the nose and palate. Usually the best you can hope for with under-$20 single malts is no offensive tastes, this one is actually interesting.

                They also had a very nice gift set a couple yrs back with a free genuine Glencairn crystal glass.

                1. re: ncyankee101

                  Yes, and don't I wish I'd gotten TWO of those!

                  The Finlaggan, for a dollar more, is pretty good too. I love it for the name, sounds so much like some Scots expression: "What th' bluidy finlaggan wairrrre ye thinkin, lad?"

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    I've never been anywhere that had TJs with liquor, so have not had Finlaggan - but have heard great things about it.

                    My favorite low-priced Islay single malt is Bowmore Legend. I have gotten a couple bottles in the low $20s, but most areas have it around $30. Hitime in Cali has it for $23.

                    McClelland's islay (supposedly 5 yr old Bowmore) is an inexpensive single malt that has very split opinions, I have seen it called "ghastly" but I (and many others) think it's quite decent for the money. I think they might have quality control issues based on the extreme opposing opinions people seem to have.

                    I did get two of the Lismore sets with the free Glencairn glasses :-)

                    1. re: ncyankee101

                      Put me in the ghastly camp on McClellands

          1. No mention yet of vodka. Don't fall for the fancy stuff; Gordons or Smirnoff will do.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Veggo

              yep. smirnoff is about as much money as i would ever spend on vodka. im not much of a vodka drinker, after all, whats the point in something that is supposed to be odorless and flavorless? i save vodka use for punches and other things where i dont necessarily want to taste any alcohol.

              1. re: charles_sills

                Smart lad! Unless you go for the old-style vodkas or the flavored ones, modern vodkas are tasteless - and you go for the cheapest available. You can always stick it in a Ketel One bottle to impress your dates!

                Now if you want to try Cognac - Landy does a pretty nice VSOP ($30) or VS ($23) - it's made by the Ferrand folks and they save money by using grapes from Borderies instead of Grande or Petite Champagne.

                And if you like Cognac, you ought to try Armagnac. My go to Armagnac these days is Marie Duffau for $34. Many folks who overpay for vodkas, scotches and cognacs have never tried a good armagnac like Marie Duffau.

                1. re: kagemusha49

                  ive always thought that maybe replacing vermouth with cognac in a manhattan would be good. of course, ive never tried it.

                  1. re: charles_sills

                    Never tried it. When I was a callow youth, I did love brandy champagne cocktails - 1 part cognac 3 parts champagne and a dash of bitters. For the girls, add a little sugar and a cherry.

                    1. re: charles_sills

                      You could try, but I don't think that would be such a good idea. The vermouth mellows the high-proof spirit, making for a smooth sipping experience. It also adds a nice sweetness. Subbing cognac would decrease the sweetness and keep the abv really high, making ice from the stirring the only dilution. It would be a very strong and aggressive drink, which is, IMO, a marked change in character from a Manhattan. I also think a lot of the charm of the cognac would be lost to the strength of the whiskey.

                      Now... There is a drink called The Derby which is basically an Old Fashioned that uses Benedictine in place of simple syrup. Benedictine is brandy based, but it also quite sweet and herbally. I prefer an Old Fashioned, but it's a good cocktail when you want a bit of a change-up from your normal Old Fashioned.

                      Also, just to chip in on the main theme. If you're building a home bar and want to play around with classic cocktails, splurge for a bottle of cointreau. Cointreau is premium triple sec. It is used in countless cocktails. Grand Marnier is NOT the same and is not a substitute.

                      Plymouth gin is my go-to, and is the gin that got me into gin. However, in terms of traditional London Dry gins, Beefeater is, IMO, perfectly acceptable. In fact, it's my go to for a London Dry.

                      Brandy/cognac comes up a lot in old recipes and would be a spirit that a bourbon and Scotch drinker could easily appreciate, IMO. Like someone else mentioned, Landy VS is (at least around here) a pretty good option, coming in at around $20 a bottle.

                      Finally, I think orange bitters are pretty indispensable. I think Angostura Orange Bitters are now widely available.

                      Also, as others have pointed out in other threads, the best way to do this is to find some recipes you like, find some that look somewhat similar and pick up what you need for those, and go on like that. Rather than just buying bottles, by ingredients and gradually the bar will materialize.

                      1. re: The Big Crunch

                        what an excellent and detailed response. thank you so much.

                      2. re: charles_sills

                        I think the drink you're looking for would be:

                        Vieux Carré
                        by Walter Bergeron Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans

                        1 oz Rye
                        1 oz Cognac
                        1 oz Sweet vermouth
                        1 t Bénédictine
                        2 ds Peychaud's Bitters
                        2 ds Bitters, Angostura

                        Stir, strain, rocks, low-ball.

                        Great with Punt e Mes, too!

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                  2. re: Veggo

                    Or Sobieski, it is about the same price as Smirnoff here in NC and has a very mild but pleasant taste. I actually don't mind drinking it neat once in a while.

                    1. re: ncyankee101

                      NC here too, I've found Crown Russe cheap and to me not harsh.

                  3. Black Bottle (mentioned here) is available for $16/bottle. A very nice blended Islay scotch. It has become my go to Scotch (since I have fallen on hard times). Among blended scotches - many folks like the Famous Grouse but I like the smoke is Black Bottle

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: kagemusha49

                      Learned about Black Bottle from scotch guru Ralfy, who praised it on a segment devoted to excellent cheap blends. He commented to the effect that Black Bottle is such a good representation of a smoky Islay scotch that you could probably fool a good number of Scotch connoisseurs if you just poured it into a glass and told them it was a single malt. I think Laphroiag is the major scotch in the blend. It's particularly wonderful to have around when making cocktails that call or a smoky Islay dram.