Cocktail bars such as the Ostrich or the Blue Heron along with the global shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic have created a generation of stay-at-home mixologists. If you’re interested in crafting cocktails at home, you might ask yourself, “where in the world do I even start and how do I stock my home bar?” As the Beverage Director, I am here to guide you using my many years of experience curating cocktail and spirits lists.
Many at home mixologists start with a versatile base that includes vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey. These spirits form the backbone of countless classic cocktails. Heading to the store you will find that a nice bottle of hooch in each category can set you back quite a bit. I recommend starting small with the intent of creating your favorite cocktails. Today we are going to start with three base spirits and a few modifiers and build from there.
Vodka is the most popular spirit in the world and easily the most versatile. The different nuances between vodka brands are minimal so I suggest Tito’s as everyone knows the brand and the price is fair. A great cocktail to make using vodka is an Espresso Martini. This simple at home recipe is very approachable and easy to make. It calls for:
1 ounce of Tito’s Vodka
1 ounce of Kahlua Coffee Liqueur
1 ounce of cold brew concentrate
Shake all the ingredients with ice. Strain into a martini glass, or any vessel you may have at the moment. We went with the cold brew concentrate because it is consistent and easily found at most major grocery stores. Pulling perfect espresso is a skill and not many of us have espresso machines at home.
Not everyone knows the difference between whiskies. Bourbon is America’s pride and joy, distilled from mostly corn, then aged in new American oak barrels. I recommend getting your hands on a bottle of Old Grand Dad Bonded. Bonded whiskey comes in at 100 proof with a little bit of a bite. The grand daddy of all cocktails using whiskey has to be the Old Fashioned. Here’s how to make one:
2 ounces of Old Grand Dad Bonded whiskey
¼ ounce of maple syrup
3 dashes of Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Stir all the ingredients with ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange peel. We used maple syrup in this recipe in lieu of simple syrup because it is readily available and gives a wonderful mouthfeel.
Sadly your freshman year of college ruined this spirit for everyone but agave spirits have seen a boom over the last ten years. Quality has only increased with the demand. My go-to sipping, shot, cocktail tequila is El Tesoro Blanco. This will be one of your more expensive purchases but you are paying for quality. Tequila should be in the realm of $40-$60 per bottle. When shopping, look for a bottle made with a 100% blue agave and additive free tequila. The most popular tequila cocktail in the states is without a doubt, the Margarita. That recipe is:
2 ounces of El Tesoro Blanco tequila
½ ounce of Naranja Orange Liqueur
½ ounce of Tres Agaves Organic Nectar
1 ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice
Shake all the ingredients with ice. Pour over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wheel and salt rim. This version of the Margarita has roots in the tradition of the original but is approachable to the masses.
We are living in the golden age of spirits. The only reason we have cocktails at all is because spirits back in the day weren’t very good. Now that we have top-tier spirits to play with means our cocktails can only be better. When starting to build your home bar, think about which cocktail you want to make and buy those ingredients frist.
There’s nothing better than laughing, creating memories and sipping a delicious cocktail with the people you care about most.
Author: Gabe Zamora is beverage director at the Blue Heron Cocktail Lounge. The Blue Heron is a neighborhood craft cocktail lounge that’s locally owned and operated. It’s located within the Crust Simply Italian restaurant and acts as a speakeasy serving classic cocktails and new unique twists.