Help with my next bottle of booze
I haven't bothered mixing cocktails much in the past but for whatever reason they have appealed to me recently. Trouble is, I know little about them. I'd like to add things (gradually--not really looking to buy out the liquor dept all at once), but I'd like to add things that will make sense. I hate the idea of buying a bottle of something that is only useful for one drink that I only mix once a year. I'll give a brief run down of what I've got, and I'd appreciate suggestions of what to get next, and why.
Several (different) bottles of Rye
2-3 bottles of Scotch. Dalwhinnie 15 and Dewar's. Maybe something else, not sure.
Sweet and Dry Vermouth
Assorted odds and ends that either came along for random reasons or that have established themselves in other ways:
Creme de menthe
That's off the top of my head. I know that I don't have any Bourbon, or any Tequila. I probably will buy some Bourbon again at some point, but I nearly always like Rye better, so I'm willing to use Rye in recipes that call for Bourbon. As for Tequila, I just haven't ever found a Tequila I really liked. Heck, for that matter, there may still be half a bottle of Tequila that I bought over a decade ago hanging out in the back of the cabinet.
Where do you advise that I go from here?
I suggest you read up on them. Start with the 75th Anniversary edition of the Mr. Boston Bartenders guide and Gary Regan's Joy of Mixology. Then you can work up from there. After those two maybe Dale DeGroff's Craft of the Cocktail or Robert Hess's Essential Bartenders Guide.
It's very hard to recommend something based on the level of information you've given. Bourbon, Rum and Tequila are the most obvious spirits that you haven't listed. If your goal was to round out your bar for entertaining, I'd suggest that you start with one of those but if it's just to make drinks for yourself and you don't like tequila or bourbon, then there might not be a need to own either.
Also, you haven't really told us what your favorite spirit and cocktail is. Do you really like Rye a lot or just more than Bourbon? What brands do you have? How much are you willing to spend on a bottle?
JMF's suggestion of buying some good cocktail books and doing some research is a good one. When I first started expanding my bar from a very basic one to a really good one, my approach was to buy something needed to make one cocktail that I knew I would really like and then look additional ways to use it over time by again buying things that would make it more versatile.
Without knowing more, I'd suggest getting a rum next. Maybe El Dorado or Mt. Gay. A simple diaquiri (rum, sugar, fresh squeezed lime juice, ice) is a great drink and easy to make. If you're more inclined to buy a liquor, I might suggest a Maraschino liquor or an orange curacao.
I do have rum; can't believe I left it off the list.
Thanks for the comments. Part of the reason for the lack of info is not being sure what would be relevant and what would not. (Part is probably slackness)
This would be mostly for myself, very seldom does entertaining involve cocktails. If I get to know them better myself perhaps I'll be more likely to entertain with them. At this point, I think I'm not ready to shop for that eventuality. I do genuinely like rye, not just better than bourbon. Haven't had bourbon in years though, so maybe I should give it another try. I *think* that I'm less interested in buying more base spirits and more interested in the things that combine with my spirits to make cocktails.
I'm not really familiar with maraschino liquor, I'll have to look it up. What's the difference between orange curaçao and triple sec? (I don't have triple sec, but have the idea that these are similar. Interchangeable?)
Triple Sec was originally a type of Curacao. Most curacao/triple sec are interchangeable, but brands differ.
I really recommend you get the two books I mentioned above. The Joy of Mixology goes into all about the types/families of cocktails, besides hundreds of recipes, and tons of useful information. Mr. Boston latest edition, 75th Anniversary also has tons of info on cocktails, and spirits, vermouth, etc. Plus 1500 recipes, all of which have been fine tuned for today's palate by a 100+ of today's top bartenders/mixologists.
After reading them you will have all the info to get started, as well as be able to ask questions that are more relevant to you and your goals.
Based on what you have if you take 3 parts sweet vermouth to 2 parts gin, mix with a squeeze of fresh orange slice, you just approximated Pimms. Now you don't have to buy a bottle of that.
I agree that doing a bit of reading up on cocktails is the best way to make good purchases. When I first started out I found Robert Hess's website http://www.drinkboy.com very useful, since it features a small yet pretty well curated index of cocktails that's easy to browse and search. And many of them have videos attached that explain a lot of the basics of making cocktails in general. Granted, checking out some of the books that have been mentioned would probably be more efficient and thorough. Still, while there are plenty of good resources to choose from, I think you can make the best decisions when you have a clear idea what drinks you'd like to try making with each spirit/liqueur/ingredient you buy before you make the purchase.
What strikes me is that with the spirits you've listed, as well as vermouth, there are plenty of cocktails, you can already make (basic sours, old fashioneds, Manhattans, Martinis, etc.). So if your goal is to learn about cocktails, it might be a good strategy to find cocktails you can already make with what you have, and then branch out from those, gradually adding ingredients. For example, if you enjoy a Martini made with sweet vermouth, then you might enjoy a Martinez, which adds Maraschino and bitters.
I'm going to throw out a bit of a warning, though, which is that a lot of the really good liqueurs that you might want to try if you get tired of sours and vermouth drinks have strong herbal, bitter, or vegetal flavors that can be a bit off-putting on a first try. I think Campari is a great example of that--it can be used in some great cocktails, but because it's so bitter a lot of people hate it when they first try it. (I was actually one of them, but I first tried it after I'd already bought a bottle, so instead of letting it go to waste I kept trying it until I liked it) I'm not saying not to buy them; I'm just saying, keep in mind that some good cocktail ingredients are acquired tastes. So if there are any cocktail bars around you, you might want to try a drink like a Negroni to see what you think before you buy a bottle of Campari.
But yeah, I pretty much agree with the idea of reading up on the basics and experimenting with what you already have to get an idea of what sorts of cocktails you might want to try before heading to the liquor store. I'd say that's the best way to make sure you get the most for your money.