ISJ’s Guide to the 7 Essentials for a Properly Stocked Home Bar

by Craig Packard

It’s a well-known fact that man co-evolved along with alcoholic beverages.  Or maybe we just made that up.  But it sounds true-ish.  The well-traveled amongst us will know that, no matter where you go, you will find a strong tradition of a drinking culture.  Pick a country:  obviously the Irish are known to be a loveably drunken lot.  But what about the Russians and their vodka?  Most of them are drunk right now.  Ever been to Korea?  Good Lord, do they get hammered!  Pretty sure the French and Italians drink wine with breakfast—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Anywhere you look around the world, people have come up with some sort of god-awful fermented concoction out of whatever they had handy in order to get knackered, and built a culture around it.  Pulque in Mexico.  In Mongolia, it’s airag, made from fermented horse milk.  Yum.  Or Mantango, made from palm sap in Cameroon, also known as “toddy” in India.  Ibwatu, chicha, makgeolli, kvass—the list goes on.  Hell, in the Amazon they have something made from spider blood and snake piss.  Okay, that might also be made up.  Or not.  Who knows?  The point is, the world over, people drink.  And sometimes they will drink some really nasty shit just because it gets the job done.  In China they have a wonderful beverage called baijiu that smells and tastes like kerosene and very likely will make you go blind.  It’s probably a much shorter list to come up with a culture that has no drinking tradition:  Tibet, maybe?  No, we’re fairly certain they make something out of yak’s milk and gasoline.  Can’t say for sure, we were pretty fucked up.

In the good old USA, we love all of that, but our drinking culture reached its peak during, and because of, Prohibition.  The idea of a cocktail party came about earlier, and there’s some disagreement about exactly where, why, and from whom, but it certainly had become a thing by the early 20th century.   Cocktail parties, held in private homes took hold in part because it was still not looked on as a nice thing for women to be in bars–unless they were prostitutes, then come on in!–but women weren’t about to miss out on all the fun.  Being private affairs, they became the perfect venue once Prohibition was passed in 1920–Americans weren’t about to let a little thing like a constitutional amendment ruin their fun.  Many of your better known classic cocktails, mixed in a home bar, have their origins in Prohibition: the sidecar, the sazerac, the old fashioned, the gimlet, the Manhattan.

By no means a comprehensive list, here are 7 must-haves for a well-stocked home bar:

  1.  Booze:  Couple browns, couple whites, depending on your preference (Bourbon, Scotch, Rye, Gin, Vodka–for the ladies, Tequila).  Don’t fall for the idea that you absolutely need “top-shelf” everything.  A good single-malt would be wasted in a cocktail.  Choose liquor that you like, regardless of what others say you must use.  Of course you’ll have to try lots, and make loads of mistakes and bad choices along the way, but that’s all part of the fun.
  2.  Tools:  Shaker; strainer; stirring spoon; zester; jigger; a good, sharp paring knife
  3. Bitters:  Angostura and Peychaud’s at a minimum. A minimum.
  4. Basic mixers:  simple syrup, tonic, vermouth (white/dry & red/sweet), seltzer, Rose’s lime juice, grenadine
  5. Liqueurs: triple sec, Chambord, fernet, Campari
  6. Garnishes:  limes & lemons (for rind and juice), Luxardo cherries, olives
  7. Good ice:  Different ice for different applications.  Sipping whisky is best with a single large ball, but a large cube works.  A block of filtered water, frozen inside a small cooler inside the fridge can be multi-purpose.  Serving a drink “up,” you want to use smaller ice, but not crushed, because you want some “melt,” but not too much.  Citrus drinks are shaken, all others stirred.   This avoids the milky appearance from ice crystals–despite what James Bond says.  He’s an English fella, after all.

Now you’re ready to entertain properly.

You may ask, why do I need all this stuff?  Because, dummy, someday God-willing, you may have guests over, or possibly even have a lady.  You don’t want to be offering her vodka and Kool-aid.  Show her some respect, junior.  Make her a proper cocktail.


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