I have gotten to the lowest possible point when it comes to items on the bar cart. There is a bottle of absinth, some Fernet, Cointreau, that Amarelle bourbon I made and an array of bitters. That’s it. So the time has come to give it a proper cleaning and then start to restock. So what should I reasonably have on there? What are the priorities and best options for a small but useful set of bottles to make good cocktails? These are my seven suggestions.
- Good London dry gin. I know some people love their Bombay Sapphire but keep that for your G&T’s if you insist on that blue bottle. For cocktails a simpler, more citrus-y gin is preferable. I suggest a Beefeater,Gilbey’s or Gordon’s. I love Tanqueray which works well too, that it has that tinge of cardamom suits me and my cocktail making just fine.
- Blended whiskey. Scottish or Irish doesn’t matter. Jameson is nothing to scoff at, it works really well in whiskey sours and that sort of thing.
- Light rum for the summer bar, dark rum for the winter bar. Mojitos, or in my case Rosa Cubanas, is a fave with many in summer and there is no reason not to indulge. For winter you might want to get a nice bottle of dark rum and experiment with making an old-fashioned with rum (very good) and other twists on classic cocktails.
- Cointreau. To be sure Cointreau has its flaws. Triple sec might be an option. I famously make my own orange liqueur nowadays. But Cointreau is a bar staple and it’s in so many classic cocktails. With Cointreau you know what you are getting and can adjust accordingly. Triple sec can be both heaven and hell as there are many versions/brands on the market.
- Campari. Because you want to make Negronis. There was no realistic substitute (unless you want the very hard to get Nardini bitter or something similar).
- Single malt whiskey. Using single malt instead of blended whiskey or bourbon in classic drinks is entry level “twist on cocktail” and very often a great one. Also good for sipping and in cooking.
- Angostura Aromatic. The most classic of cocktail bitters, with its iconic bottle that is to small for the label, is a must have. It cannot be replaced. It’s also the case that one bottle will last you a lifetime.
So there is an absence of vermouth on the list and that’s because those should be kept in the fridge. They are based on wine and once you open them they will deteriorate in taste if kept in room temperature. Not overnight but still. For dry vermouth Noilly Prat is great, readily available and affordable. Sweet vermouth is a trickier proposition. Antica Formula is the golden standard but it has a ridiculous price tag in this country so I’ve started to make my own. The important thing is to avoid Martini Rosso like your life depended on it.
A bottle of Maraschino is good to have on hand but not essential; if you invest in proper cocktail cherries (NB: this is not a suggestion. Those bright cherries of cellulose that are sometimes sold are not OK, get the real deal) you can use a bit of the syrup they come in for Hemingway Daqiuries, Aviations and the odd Martinez. The cherries should also be kept in the fridge but as a bonus in emergencies they can be served with ice cream as a dessert.
Then on occasions you will have to stock up on fresh herbs, citrus fruit, a few other fruits and berries for a seasonal touch, tonic and maybe champagne. But those are all complements.
When it comes to kit then a barspoon to stir drinks, a measuring jigger, a nice shaker is pleasant to look at and easy to use but I’ve shaken up cocktails in jars and thermos flasks too. I like stirring glasses as they are often very decorative but you can use any old pitcher. Glasses to drink from obviously; I really like rummaging flea markets and antique shops for old glasses as they used to be a bit smaller with nicer proportions. When it comes to the accessories for the bar cart you can have fun in an inexpensive way with napkins, coasters and straws, feel free to get silly. I predict that cocktails with a little umbrella will be huge again in 2018.