HOME > Chowhound > Spirits >


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?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Do you like Negronis? Since you have the gin and sweet vermouth, all you need is Campari.
    You could also make boulevardiers with rye, instead of bourbon. Maybe there is a real name for that drink. Others would know.

    1 Reply
    1. re: TroyTempest

      I don't know; never had one. Thanks for the suggestion though--with two possible options though, it will at least go on the list.

    2. 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.



      1. 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.

        2 Replies
        1. re: bg90027

          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 curaƧao and triple sec? (I don't have triple sec, but have the idea that these are similar. Interchangeable?)

          1. re: harrism

            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.

        2. 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.

          1. 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.

            1. I agree with the advice to either read up or pick out some specific cocktails. Since you like rye, start with some of the all-time classics like an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, and a Whiskey Sour. Then based on what you like, you can get something that will allow you to make variations.

              Old Fashioned -> Sazerac, buy Peychaud's Bitter and Absinthe (or Absinthe substitute)
              Manhattan -> Redhook, buy Luxardo Maraschino and Punt e Mes
              Whiskey Sour -> Scofflaw or Ward 8, buy or make some grenadine

              Those are just some examples, obviously you can go in any direction you want. In general for classic cocktails, Maraschino and Orange Liqueurs will be the most called for. For Orange Liqueur you can't go wrong with Cointreau, although it is expensive.

              7 Replies
              1. re: nickls

                On the orange liqueur front, I'd also recommend Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao. It's not the same as Cointreau, but I think it has more depth of flavor, and you can use it in most drinks that call for orange liqueur.

                1. re: A_Gonzalez

                  I have to agree about Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, but it is pricey. For less I really like the Giffard three citrus triple sec a lot. For even less Marie Brizard, or even less, Bols dry curacao. Both work very well.

                  1. re: JMF

                    Hey, thanks for the recs regarding Orange Liqueurs. I'd heard Cointreau, but it was a bit pricey. It is good to get names of some that will mix well and be gentler on the budget.

                2. re: nickls

                  Nickls, thanks. This looks like an interesting approach. Those three are actually drinks I have made occasionally. Just to be clear, since I seem to like a Manhattan better than an Old Fashioned, you're saying I'm more likely to enjoy a Redhook than a Sazerac? (I probably haven't given the OF a fair chance, but I'd just as soon drink Rye on the rocks, and that is so much less trouble.)
                  I guess this is the kind of "if you like then you should try" that I'd get if I read the books (which I will, I will) but it is really helpful, so thanks. I'll probably try one of those later this week.

                  1. re: harrism

                    Right, a Redhook is related to a Manhattan. Of course there are tons of Manhattan variations. Another way to go would be to vary the base spirit. If you can find Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy you can make a Marconi Wireless for example.

                  2. re: nickls

                    Luxardo Maraschino is a great addition to a bar with the base spirits the OP has listed. With the rye, he can make a Fancy Free. With rum, the Hemingway cocktail. Add a small bottle of chartreuse to the mix and the Last Word becomes an indispensable cocktail.

                    1. re: JungMann

                      +1. Rye/lemon version by Phil Ward: Last Ward. Also great.

                      Core liqueurs:
                      Orange of some sort (essential)
                      Maraschino (funky, but worth learning to like)
                      Green Chartreuse (herbal, but worth learning to like. Expensive)
                      Absinthe/Pastis (if you like anise things)
                      Campari (if you like bitter things)

                      www.kindredcocktails.com | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

                  3. Hello,

                    I have been an amateur cocktail maker myself for a few years and I might have a few tips.

                    I see two main strategies to approach your problem:

                    1) Try to have a short but versatile bar that can lead you to a large combination of cocktails
                    2) Explore your own preference and dig around what you already like

                    Approach #1

                    In my opinion, if you want to have the most bang for your buck, you should go look for the following Alcohol:

                    Rum (white works to start)
                    Curacao (you can also replace with triple sec, its basically the same familly)
                    One type of whisky (Rye/Bourbon/Scotch... one of either works initially)

                    Don't buy the cheap stuff but stay away from the premium versions (i.e.: you might want to start mixing with a blended whisky and not with your Dalwhinnie 15)

                    In my opinion, those 6 bottles will give you a very good versatile base to work from and will produce enough variety of long/short drinks to get a good turnover.

                    2- Second approach: explore what you like

                    Some terminology to start (just to make sure I don't loose you):

                    Mixer: A mix of different juice or soda that makes the largest portion of long drinks (I use 12.5oz of "liquid" [that's mixer and ice] for 1.5 oz of liquor in a standard 14oz collin glass)

                    Long drink: A drink where the majority of the liquid is mixer.

                    Short drink: A drink without mixer, only alcohol and flavoring (can be a combination of acids[ie: lemon], sugar and flavorings)

                    There are some questions you might want to ask yourself :

                    *Do I like the flavor of alcohol?
                    *What type of alcohol do I enjoy the most?
                    *What type of flavors do I enjoy the most?

                    If you find yourself saying "This doesn't even taste the alcohol!" in wonder, you might want to start with a selection of long drinks. There are short drinks that will hide the alcohols (the various "sours" is an exemple of this) but "booze camouflage" is where the long drinks excel.

                    If, on the contrary, you enjoy a glass of whiskey, gin, vodka or other 40% drinks on the rocks or straight you might find more pleasure in the short drinks. This drink classification has a long history and used to be a staple of bars but long drinks got ahead of them somewhere in the middle of the 20th century (I blame the prohibition and the cheap booze for this but that's just me).

                    Regardless if you start with short or long drinks you'll want to determine what base alcohol you want to start with. Once you found your poison, you can have fun experimenting different brands for the same recipe or different variants of the same familly.

                    The second approach will probably help you more finding what you like than the first approach but you'll more likely find yourselves with specialised liquors you don't use much.

                    As a reference, I can give you Chris McMillan's youtube videos. They gave me the inspiration to start mixing cocktails and I still enjoy them years later.


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: CaptCrunch

                      I will ponder these things, for you have said much.

                      And don't worry. The Dalwhinnie gets mixed with nothing other than ice or a small splash of water. It doesn't even get offered to people who I think would ask for more than that!

                    2. Do you live by a major city that has a good cocktail bar? Perhaps going there a few times and just running down their cocktail list and trying drinks would be a good way to start

                      Get a few friends to go with you and you can try more drinks for less $$ to see

                      Then post what cocktails you did like / didnt like and you can go from there

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Dapuma

                        I live in a midsized, not major city: Milwaukee. We are, however, blessed with Bryant's, which is supposed to be an outstanding cocktail lounge. Unfortunately with two young kids we don't go out as much as we'd like, and have never been. I really need to fix that situation!

                      2. So since this thread went dormant I've added Cointreau and also Campari. I haven't yet played around with the Cointreau all that much, but I've used the Campari for Negronis and for Boulevardiers. I like both well enough, but prefer the Boulevardier. Might have to do with the gin. That bottle is getting a bit low, so I'll probably pick up some Beefeater or something else soon.