Spirits and Supplies for Your Bar
The how to’s of stocking a home bar
With the holiday season behind us, there’s a good chance your home bar took a hit, or maybe you realized you never had a good one to begin with and are ready to make a change for the new year. Setting up a home bar might not be cheap, but it is relatively easy to lay a good foundation. We have the ultimate checklist for you. Beer and wine are non-negotiable staples. In fact, these quintessential items are all that many home bars contain; they rarely let you down or go out of style. A simple rule for wine: always have red, white and bubbles. Certain spirits are universally popular and provide a solid base for a menagerie of cocktails: vodka, tequila, gin, rum and bourbon. Vodka is like a blank canvas for the home mixologist because its flavors tend to be more neutral than other spirits. With a mindboggling selection, bartender Jay McAuley from Cru in Fort Myers suggests, “Begin with something midrange like Stoli. It works with mixed drinks and martinis.” Tequila is best known for its starring role in margaritas, but you can also make martini-like cocktails with this sprit that has a distinct smell and flavor. With a hierarchy of categories, start your collection with respected Herradura Silver. This quality spirit gets its spice from white oak and is just smooth enough to sip over ice. Gin also has a distinct flavor, predominantly from juniper berries; however, distillers often add other botanicals, making it popular with mixologists who want to create herbal cocktails. From Italy, Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin is beautifully fresh and floral with citrus and cucumber flavors. Quite pleasing. Rum is especially good for sweet concoctions, as its sugar cane base is friendly with juice and sodas. Typically, clear rum is sweeter and lighter for mixing. Kirk and Sweeney is dark, aged in oak for 12 months and with its warm toasty flavors of vanilla and caramel, it is a beautiful sipper rather than mixer. It also looks nice on the shelf. Bourbon is, hands down, the hottest spirit on the market, and once again there is no shortage of choices. Bourbon must be made from at least 51 percent corn, making it a bit sweet. Bib and Tucker Small Batch is then aged in charred oak barrels for nutty spice. Smooth yet complex, this bourbon is enjoyable and goes down easy.
Bitters are like a spice rack for your bar. They’re essential items that Dawn Blauvelt keeps at home and behind her bar at The Standard in downtown Fort Myers. She says, “They are a great way to add a twist to a regular cocktail like an Old Fashioned.” She suggests keeping orange, chocolate and aromatic bitters on hand.
Mixers can make or break your home setup. Almost all mixers come in small serving sizes, so they don’t have to go flat or take up a lot of space. Club soda and tonic are priorities.
Keep a selection of fruit juice to add a splash of sweetness, acidity and layers of flavor; think orange, cranberry, grapefruit and tropical nectars. There’s nothing like fresh citrus, but as a backup, the juice in those squeezable plastic lemons and limes will do.
Small cans of cola, lemon-lime and ginger sodas should be in the stockpile, not just for mixing but also for visitors wanting a virgin drink. Another small can to consider is tomato juice to doctor up for a Bloody Mary.
Barware is extremely important. Styrofoam and plastic just won’t do— ever. Glass is a must. A basic set of tall highball and short rocks glasses can accommodate most all cocktails. Michelle Kosteno Principato from Blue Coyote Supper Club on Sanibel also sugg ests stemless wine glasses. She explains, “They can be used universally, from wine to a Moscow Mule, or really anything.” Gadgets make life fun and easier. Essentials for your bar begin with a quality shaker set and a professional wine key that can tackle both corks and caps. For that extra touch, get ice trays in the shapes of large spheres or squares, a zester for citrus and an olive stuffer. Cru’s McAuley says about the stuffer, “They’re really cool and work great,” adding, “They’re not just for bleu cheese and martinis, but you can get creative and stuff olives with almost anything.” Now that you’re stocked and ready perhaps to try your hand at creative cocktails, get the book Shrubs: An OldFashioned Drink for Modern Times, by Michael Dietsch. It provides unique twists on traditional drinks, as well as new ones to wow your guests. On a budget and have a birthday coming up? Consider making the celebration a “stock the bar” party for an entertaining and easy way to give your home setup a boost. Cheers. Gina Birch is a regular contributor, a lover of good food and drink, and a well-known media personality in Southwest Florida.
Dawn Blauvelt runs the bar at The Standard, where she enjoys coming up with new craft cocktails. Many can be re- created in a well- stocked home bar.