Honestly, how did I get all of this booze? I don't know.
August 9, 2010 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm drinking my way through my (overstuffed) liquor cabinet, and I turn to you, drunks on the internet, for advice on what how to restock it--with an emphasis on top shelf liquors for classic cocktails.

I like to keep a full bar for classic cocktails and, generally, European aperitifs / digestifs. I tend to have a Toronto every night; I've also been messing around with something approximating an Aviation, using creme de cassis rather than creme de violette. Occasionally, I make mojitos. I love Pernod and other anise drinks; I also love the Cap Corse, which is sort of like Campari but less bitter. For whisky, I drink Oban.

Last night, I pretty much polished off an ancient bottle of Bacardi white rum in an improvised cocktail with Cointreau and some limes I needed to get rid of. I have a full bottle of Appleton rum in the cabinet, but rum is not something I drink frequently, and I'm not sure whether I should be buying a replacement white rum to have in addition to the Appleton.

The crux of my question: I want to streamline my liquor cabinet with sort of a dream team of top shelf liquors for making simple classic cocktails. I don't mind duplicating types of liquors to get this just right (i.e., dark rum and light rum, or different gins). There are some liquors I don't tend to drink, but would like to stock anyway, and these I don't have any perspective on, and need your help.

Current roster:
Gin--Hendricks, which I love (is it worth supplementing with a standard London gin? Plymouth, maybe?)
Vodka--Stoli (maybe Smirnoff? don't use it much), with a couple of citrus-infused Boru vodkas
Rye--Old Overholt (worth upgrading to Old Portrero? Can't find it locally, but would seek it out)
Rum--Bacardi (white), Appleton
Brandy--(can't actually remember which, don't drink it much)
Tequila--Patron (don't drink, but there's not much left)
Bourbon--Wild Turkey
Patron / coffee flavor (don't ask)

Some god awful Godiva chocolate liqueur
Espiritu del Ecuador--horrible sweet death liquor
Damiana Liqueur--ditto


Other stuff:
Absinthe-Francois Guy (needs replacing)
Amaretto--Di Saronno
Lillet Blanc (needs replacing; worth getting Lillet Rouge aussi?)
St. Germain (needs replacing)
Grand Marnier
Hiram Walker Triple Sec (ugh)
Creme de Cassis

I'm probably forgetting some, as well.

Please hope me rationalize this ridiculous collection. I have multiple liqueurs I doubt will ever be drunk, but I have NO vermouth (and no idea which to get).

posted by Admiral Haddock to Food & Drink (49 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, use that Stoli to make some screwdrivers or whatever. But when you run out, buy some Ketel One. Keep it in the freezer, which is where vodka lives. You don't need fancy vermouth: just some Martini & Rossi will do. That goes in the refrigerator, next to your cocktail olives.

Here is a recipe for a perfect vodka martini:

1. Buy some Poland Springs bottled water. Pour into a clean ice tray. Freeze.
2. Put some spring water ice into a shaker.
3. Add one and a half jiggers of Ketel One vodka.
4. Add a single raindrop of vermouth.
5. Shake.
6. Pour into martini glass.
7. Add two cocktail olives as garnish.
8. Enjoy!
posted by brina at 10:31 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Angostura Bitters. Creme de Menthe. Grenadine.

I wouldn't use Smirnoff. I'd go with something like Danzka. Or if not, then something much better quality than Smirnoff.

Plymouth is a great cocktail gin.

I can't see any vermouth on your list. Noilly Prat? Martini?

If you want to go elsewhere for Scotch, then this map will be useful. Your Oban is a good everyman.

Also, fun fact: you can make a boozy Dr Pepper (pint) with half lager, half club soda and a shot of amaretto.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:31 AM on August 9, 2010

You need to have a vermouth. If you want to entertain and have guests envy your liquor cabinet, you can't very well not be able to make a martini.

I recommend Martini & Rossi dry. It's classy and comes in a nice looking bottle. Other people will tell you Noilly Pratt is better, but it tastes the same to me.

As for rum, there isn't a drink out there that is better with white rum than dark. If you want to get a second bottle of rum, I recommend getting one that's darker than the Appleton. My personal standard is Gosling Black Seal, but it's more middle shelf than high. If you want to go classier, I'd go with Mount Gay Extra Old (or Havana Club Añejo 15 Años if you're not in the US).
posted by 256 at 10:32 AM on August 9, 2010

For rye, get some Wild Turkey or Rittenhouse to upgrade from Old Overcoat. Potrero isn't necessary.

Vermouth, I hear good things about Noilly Prat, both sweet and dry. And you need Punt e Mes and some sort of picon for a proper Brooklyn.
posted by The Michael The at 10:33 AM on August 9, 2010

I gave up drinking so this is a fun comment for me to write!

Goslings Black Seal rum is great for Dark and Stormy's, or on the rocks by itself.

Seconding a good vodka to keep in the freezer (I preferred Stoli or Grey Goose, but it's really a personal preference). Another idea is to keep a big jug of Smirnoff, Skyy or lower priced vodka for mixing large quantities like frozen drinks, or bloody mary's. Keep the good stuff for those who appreciate the good stuff - you'll save money when you're entertaining.

Keep small bottles of soda/mixers (and don't forget birch beer for the D&S!)

We had a bottle of Limoncello in the freezer as well. It was perfect for hot days.
posted by sundrop at 10:44 AM on August 9, 2010

It would be helpful to know where you live, as that can often limit your selection and whether you can buy liquor online.
posted by marylucycraft at 10:47 AM on August 9, 2010

Smirnoff did quite well in a blind tasting with premium vodkas. If you have vodka on hand mostly for mixing and don't hang out with a lot of vodka aficionados, Smirnoff is really fine (although one of the experts in the testing did say Ketel One was a nice mixing vodka, too). For higher-end vodkas, I think Belvedere is a good choice.

Limoncello. YES.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:50 AM on August 9, 2010

I'd second the call on the rum - the Mount Gay is an excellent choice.

As a Tanqueray drinker, I'd like to see that in your list. It's a distinctive flavor not easily substituted for another gin.

Some of those liquers sound just dreadful. When I moved into a smaller place, I actually tossed everything except the essentials. Then, whenever someone asked for something I didn't have or drink myself, I'd use it as an opportunity to get a recommendation for a brand and pick it up before their next visit. My bar grew to match my friends' tastes. You're certainly stocked well enough that your guests will find agreeable alternatives...

One last suggestion: I always have a couple of bottles of decent champagne in my fridge. I buy the Vueve Cliquot that's usually forty-something a bottle, not too expensive, but absolutely enjoyable. It turns any excuse into a really great time. I guarantee your friends will love it.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:56 AM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far--very helpful. Yes, I have Angostura bitters (any views out there on other specialty bitters? I had a great German very medicinal bitters in a cocktail a while back...). I tend to keep a full selection of mixers, but that comes and goes as the fridge fills up with other things.

Strong recommendations for Goslings Black Seal--that may be a likely candidate for The Cabinet.

Vodkas: Yes, they live in the freezer (though they're in the metaphorical cabinet). Whatever is in the freezer is a legacy of a party, and now we just use it for Bloody Marys. I used to love the Goose, but I don't drink vodka drinks to have much of a preference anymore. We've got one vote each for Ketel One and Belvedere, and votes for Stoli and Grey Goose. Any other voices clamoring to be heard?

I live in downtown Boston. Probably everything is available within a 20-minute walk, but the closest two liquor stores don't have a great selection. For the right bottle, I'll definitely make a trip.

Monkey's Uncle--you mention Tanqueray, which I sometimes get when I'm out. I love Hendricks, and used to have Bombay Sapphire, but why Tanqueray vs. Plymouth (or something else)? That is, what's the distinctive flavor you like?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:03 AM on August 9, 2010

I have found that the whiskey Knob Creek to be delicious.
posted by zzazazz at 11:05 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry about my grammar.
posted by zzazazz at 11:07 AM on August 9, 2010

Rye - I'd go with Sazerac.

Bourbon - Buffalo Trace or Knob Creek.

Scotch - Seems like a waste to use single malt for mixed drinks; I'd save the Oban for drinking neat or with water, and get a decent blended like Johnnie Walker Black for making cocktails with.

A fun specialty bitters if you can get your hands on any is Unicum - the national spirit of Hungary!
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:08 AM on August 9, 2010

Maraschino (Used as a second liquor in lots of classics)
Creme de Violette (if you like aviations)

A container to hold simple syrup

birch beer for the D&S eh I hope this is a typo. please tell me it is a typo. Ginger Beer.

As for rum, there isn't a drink out there that is better with white rum than dark.
Come on now - there are drinks for light rum and drinks for dark rum. A good daiquiri with fresh squeezed lime juice, a good rhum agricole, and a touch of simple is heavenly and would only be weighted down by a dark rum.
posted by JPD at 11:08 AM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: Heaven forfend--the Oban is drunk neat and not in a cocktail. MuffinMan--that map is great.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:13 AM on August 9, 2010

Not that you need more gin suggestions, but if you're a fan of Hendrick's I'd also recommend giving Leopold's a try for something different.

Also seconding zzazazz's suggestion of Knob Creek. It makes for a cheaper whiskey that is still delicious, and is easier to justify in mixed drinks.
posted by moshimosh at 11:20 AM on August 9, 2010

I will respectfully opine that the vermouths mentioned above, while serviceable, take a definitive back seat to Carpano Antica vermouth. It's the only vermouth I've ever tasted that I'd be willing--eager, even--to have alone.

As to gin, I too love Hendrick's, but lately it's been superseded for my palate by Martin Miller. Give it a shot.
posted by Skot at 11:23 AM on August 9, 2010

Rye - I'd go with Sazerac.

Sazerac is a great sipping rye, but it's 80-proof. The stronger (101-proof), sharper flavors of WT or Rittenhouse are better mixed, I've found (IMO, of course).

Re: bitters, you of course need Peychaud's in addition to Angostura. You can't make a Sazerac without them!
posted by The Michael The at 11:29 AM on August 9, 2010

1. n-thing agnostura bitters. and old fashioned is sublime.
2. bourbon: 2 bottles - Makers Mark (great for cocktails for all, sipping for some) and elijah craig 18yo single barrell.
3. for vodka, try to find zubrowka bison vodka. keep it in the freezer.

posted by chasles at 11:36 AM on August 9, 2010

any views out there on other specialty bitters?

Regan's No. 5 Orange Bitters, Fee's Old-Fashioned Bitters.

Carpano is fantastic vermouth. On the dry side, Vya + Martin Miller's Westbourne = astonishing martini. You want a more junipery gin, and Tanq (or Tanq 10) does that well. As a cocktail scotch, JW Black is fine, though J&B would do the job too.

Get a bottle of Pimms while it's still summery. Get a bottle of calvados (or one of the new US applejacks) for when it stops being summery.
posted by holgate at 11:37 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I second the recommendations for better bourbon - including Knob Creek as mentioned, though around here we like Maker's Mark or Woodford Reserve very much for "every day" and our best, most wonderful and celebratory bourbon: Weller's Centennial, which we always keep an eye out for, since it's hard to find - and very much worth the price. It's a WOW.
posted by peagood at 11:38 AM on August 9, 2010

Bourbon--Wild Turkey

Ugh, not unless you want to put your head in a microwave or something. Virginia Gentleman is pricey but worth a taste.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 11:39 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would say that bitters are absolutely essential to a good liquor cabinet. It's great that you have regular Angostura - they're used for the Manhattan, Income Tax Cocktail, Old Fashioned, Pink Gin, etc, but have you experimented with putting them in cocktails that don't call for them, just to see what flavor they give? I would definitely recommend getting orange bitters. I have three: Fee Brothers' is a bit bitter, Stirrings Blood Orange is weak, but Angostura Orange is wonderful. Putting a drop or two in a gin martini makes a world of difference. There are a lot of other bitters out there, but the ones I use the most are Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic, which taste cinnamon-y, and Peychaud's, for the Sazerac.

Speaking of Rye, I have both the Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond and Sazerac, but my first Rye was Old Overholt. The first two are superior to Old Overholt, but my husband and I agreed after a blind taste test that the Rittenhouse was sweeter, spicier, and... purer?
(on preview, I agree with The Michael The and holgate!)

The recommendations on here for gin already are great, but I would suggest you pick up some Plymouth. It's a must for Pink Gin (plymouth + lots of angostura), which is much more interesting than you might think.
posted by marylucycraft at 11:40 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, I really like Vieux Carre as an absinthe. It wasn't too expensive and is very good. More recommendations can be found here.
posted by marylucycraft at 11:42 AM on August 9, 2010

I'm a fan of classic cocktails too and I have converted many people to Citadelle gin. I like it better than Hendricks, even. A herd of frenchmen in suits and ties in the liquor store cornered me, insisting I was making a grave mistake if I didn't buy it. They were right. Also, yes, you need Peychaud's and Angostura bitters.
posted by *s at 11:47 AM on August 9, 2010

Buckfast, Special Brew, Stella, Lidl cider.
posted by the cuban at 11:48 AM on August 9, 2010

There's much discussion of vermouth in this thread, especially valuable if you really mean "classic" cocktails. I usually use Vya because it goes really well with Martin Miller's gin (mentioned above). It doesn't combine as well with Hendrick's, though. Skot and I apparently share similar taste in gins... To my palate, what Hendrick's does with cucumber, Miller's does, somewhat more subtly, with anise. And I'd also recommend No. 209, which does it with sage.
posted by nickmark at 11:53 AM on August 9, 2010

If you're open to getting classic cocktail books, there are two that I love and use all the time. The first is The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan. This book takes a lot of time to teach you the science behind cocktails, and has a wide range of carefully selected new and older cocktails. For a truly fascinating look at the classic cocktails, Ted Haigh has written (and updated, I believe) Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Both books provide interesting commentary and loads of information.

There are some great blogs for learning about this stuff, with liquor recommendations and recipes. My favorites are those by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Darcey O'Neil, and Robert Hess.
posted by marylucycraft at 11:56 AM on August 9, 2010

The Michael The is absolutely right: go for Wild Turkey Rye 101 and Rittenhouse Rye. Those two are the best easily-affordable ryes on the market. Third choice is Sazerac but it lacks a lot of the character of the other two.

- Gin: Aviation or Death's Door (out of Wisconsin)
- Vodka: Bombay Sapphire (a ha ha ha ha I kill me)
- Whiskey: cheap sippin' whiskey? George Dickel from Tennessee.

- Look for Gran Classico to replace your Campari. It's an order of magnitude better and should only be a few dollars more expensive.
- Absolutely without a doubt make sure you get some Angostura bitters.
- Try a bottle of amaro - the Luxardo Amaro Abano is a good starting point to find out if it's something you want to drink more of.
- Couldn't hurt to pick up a bottle of green Chartreuse - you want to be able to make a Last Word, right? Oh, guess you'll need the Luxardo maraschino liqueur for that too.
posted by komara at 12:14 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're inclined towards the astringent end with Campari and Fernet, then you could always branch out a bit with Italian amaro: Ramazotti has a kind of cola taste, Averna a herbal orangey thing. Not really cocktail material though.

Dubonnet red? The Queen Mother was a fan of Dubonnet and gin, and it kept her going into triple-figures. Just soda and a slice of orange, though, will do for the summer. (The versions sold in the US are made in Kentucky and tailored for the America market, but they'll do.)
posted by holgate at 12:47 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

This collection of bitters is probably over the top, but I kind of want the set.
For Rye, I like High West.
I also think some swanky cherries, perhaps that have been marinating in booze, are nice to have.
posted by pointystick at 1:03 PM on August 9, 2010

Cognac. You've heard of the Brandy Alexander, but there are a good many cognac/brandy-based cocktails to explore if you'd like to use that brandy more often and maybe upgrade a bit on the next bottle. Here are a few ideas. Recently the industry got together and came up with the Cognac Summit (included in the linked list) as either the ultimate cognac cocktail or simply as a marketing vehicle. Not sure.

If you're interested in some different tonics to mix with (not necessarily with cognac), give Fever Tree a try or two.

If you'd like to expand out of Angostura territory, try one or two of the Fee Brothers lineup of bitters. I've seen those around more often than some of the others.

I can't get enough of cognac these days. Drunk neat, I think it's the ultimate digestif. But that's the nicer grades. For cocktails I'd aim for VSOP level. Some people say using anything above VS is wasting money and adulterating a fine product, but the VS cognacs I've tried, albeit only from the major makers, are tired and defeated and seem like a waste of time to use in anything. In terms of brands, I'd avoid Courviosier and Hennessy at VSOP level or below. They can be found anywhere, but in my opinion pale in comparison to VSOPs by Martell and Remy Martin, which are just as available, and to Hine, which is somewhat less available. I've never tried Kelt or Meukow at level but they're not so uncommon. Supposedly the major maker VSOPs can't touch those made by non-major makers, but good luck finding any of those.

Martell VSOP has something approaching cinnamon happening in it, which I haven't tasted in any other cognac, and I really enjoy it. Remy Martin VSOP is hard to describe - there seems to be a lot happening but it's so well balanced that you can't pick one thing out. It's effervescent and delicious. Hine VSOP is like velvet on the tongue and is thicker and sweeter than others I've had. Germain-Robin out of California makes a decent VSOP equivalent, though it can't technically be called cognac. "Fine Alambic Brandy" they call it.

If you happen to want one really nice cognac for serving neat as a digestif instead of in cocktails, I humbly suggest Delamain Pale & Dry XO. Ethereal is the best way to describe it. It's so well done and evaporates right off the tongue. Chemists should study it. Make that alchemists. The other I'd suggest is Tesseron Lot No. 76 XO. It actually made me say wow. Spicy and wild give way to calmer smoothness with fruit and spice. "Generous on the attack" is how either the maker or a pro taster described its initial presence, which is right about what I thought. It's so interesting. Serve either of those and people will say damn. And both of these are reasonably priced compared to other XOs. These two ought to cost about $50 more based on comparative quality to major label XOs.
posted by Askr at 1:18 PM on August 9, 2010

with an emphasis on top shelf liquors for classic cocktails.

You really don't want top shelf/super-expensive spirits for your entire liquor cabinet. Some spirits are meant to be sipped neat and not in cocktails. What you really want is mid-range that are good enough to be ingredients that really shine when mixed but not a waste of money! The key is balancing quality with cost. And some spirits are always going to be more expensive than others due to ingredient cost and/or if they're aged.

For gin, there are a variety of gin styles: London dry, Holland (Dutch), Old Tom, Plymouth (Plymouth are the only ones making ("Plymouth-style"), and the more nouveau gins that are dialing back the juniper a lot. If you're not a cocktail nerd, you're probably only familiar with London dry, Plymouth, and some of the nouveau styles (Hendrick's et al).

Not all gins perform equally well in all cocktails, particularly those that are looking for a juniper-forward mix of botanicals. Bombay Sapphire is of the London dry style but doesn't have the oomph that Tanqueray or regular Bombay has, so it isn't as good for mixing. Taste them side by side with some still water, and then make a drink with them side by side. The Bombary Sapphire will fade into the background.

Hendrick's is its own style. While it's a nice gin, it won't work always in cocktails that are looking for the London dry style for that big hit of juniper. Same for something like Aviation Gin or Death's Door. The flavor profile is different enough for these that they end up being a poor substitute for a London dry gin at times, and they don't play nice with everybody like Plymouth gin does.

You don't necessarily have to go all out for your home bar if you're not a huge gin fan, but in addition to the Hendrick's, I'd make sure to have some of the more traditional styles around. At the very least pick up a good London dry or two (Beefeater, regular Bombay, Tanqueray are all just fine) and a bottle of Plymouth (good all purpose sort of gin).

For rum, it really depends what you're doing: sipping, making daiquiris, making tiki drinks? Bacardi is OK and necessary in the Bacardi cocktail, but there are tons of rums out there, from many origins; I've taken the advice of Beachbum Berry to substitute a Virgin Islands rum (like a Cruzan one) whenever I see a Puerto Rican one specified. If you're not making mai tais or other tiki drinks, you probably only need a few workhorse rums of various ages. Flor de Cana will do you fine in this regards and/or Mount Gay as others have mentioned. You can do a lot with a good white and a good gold. Goslings Black Seal rum is great for Dark and Stormy's but I'm not sure I'd mix it with anything else as it's so dark. Appleton is good but it depends which one you're using and for what purpose. I find the Gold and V/X to be a bit rough around the edges whereas the 12 Year is buttery and delicious.

For tequila, don't buy anything that is less than 100% agave. El Jimador and Herradura are just fine for mixing. You'll probably some blanco and some reposado unless you plan to start sipping your tequilas (certain ones I've had have more delicate flavors that would probably be obliterated in a mixed cocktail).

Definitely agree with others that you'll want Wild Turkey / Rittenhouse rye, maraschino liqueur (Luxardo is a good starting point but damn that bottle is just too tall), and green chartreuse, sweet vermouth/dry vermouth (buy the 375 mL bottles, refrigerate after opening, and throw away when it starts to smell off), and I'd add on a cognac (for your Sidecars), some champagne (for French 75's), and applejack (can't make a Jack Rose without it, get Laird's bonded, it'll say "bottled in bond" on the bottle). I'd also do Creme Yvette over Creme de Violette. And I wouldn't get rid of the Campari completely, especially if you're entertaining and someone just wants an Americano or Negroni.

For grenadine, you don't have to buy it: make it yourself combining 1 c. sugar, and 1 c. POM until the sugar dissolves. Same for simple syrup: 1 c. sugar to 1 c. water, agitate until fully dissolved. Done!

For bitters, in addition to the Angostura and Peychaud's, the other must-have is some orange bitters. NB: get a bitters bottles to house the standard "NYC bar mix" of 50-50 Regan's and Fee Brothers orange bitters. Most bars here don't use Regan's or Fee Brother's orange bitters straight, preferred to mix them. You can experiment more after you build up your cabinet but Angostura, Peychaud's and some form of orange bitters is the absolute minimum I'd recommend. You can always build up later and bitters last a while.

Have fun and get to know the work of Dale DeGroff, Gary Regan, Dave Wondrich. Lots more tips in this other thread.
posted by kathryn at 2:15 PM on August 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


Aside from that, you've got some really solid advice there.

even including the bit about gin
posted by komara at 2:31 PM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: OK, so I just ran to the shops before they closed and bought Martin Miller's, Luxardo maraschino, Peychauds, creme de violette (almost bought the creme de Yvette, but it was pricey), a bottle of Cocchi Americano (as an alternative to the defunct Kina Lillet). I fully plan on having cocktails for dinner and breakfast, and calling in sick tomorrow.

Any more ideas to get me and my liver into trouble? Everyone has been great so far. Still need vermouth.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:00 PM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: That is, I still need to buy vermouth; there have been vermouth suggestions.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:00 PM on August 9, 2010

Any more ideas to get me and my liver into trouble?

Get yourself one of the books mentioned above (like The Joy of Mixology or Essential Cocktails) and just start working your way through it! You'll start to notice what appeals to you and what doesn't, and eventually run back to the liquor store to pick up that one bottle you're missing because you'd love to try recipe X.

Or, you could go to a known cocktail bar in your town like Eastern Standard and order a Monkey Gland, Widow's Kiss, Corpse Reviver #2, etc. just to see if you like it, without having to invest as much money.

And don't forget to stay hydrated. And do eat something! BTW. some bartenders I know swear by coconut water.

komara, I have Death's Door and Aviation in my liquor cabinet, alongside the Tanqueray, Bombay, Beefeater, Plymouth, and Miller's! They are good gins but if you're truly making classic cocktails, they won't be quite right. However, for recipes specifically designed for them, they really shine. My current favorite right now is Aviation gin with shiso leaf, red bell pepper, lemon, grapefruit, and a bit of cane syrup.

Shiso Delicious (James Meehan / Kevin Diedrich, PDT, Summer 2010)
1.75 oz. Aviation Gin
.75 oz. Lemon Juice
.5 oz. Grapefruit Juice
.25 oz. Martinique Cane Syrup (you could probably sub in 1:1 simple)
2 Shiso Leaves
1 long slice of red bell pepper

Muddle the shiso, red bell pepper and cane syrup. Add the rest of the ingredients and ice. Shake and fine strain into a chilled coupe. No garnish.
posted by kathryn at 4:39 PM on August 9, 2010

Esquire magazine takes their drinking seriously. They have an online database here. The magazine itself frequently has articles (here) about different types of boozes, and some good (especially high-end) suggestions.
posted by Simon Barclay at 5:41 PM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: I had two Aviations, an Abbey and a Sunray last night with my new purchases, and they were all delicious.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:15 AM on August 10, 2010

agreeing with the bourbon folk that an upgrade is needed. your friends will probably recognize knob creek which is stocked by most bars as a 'good' bourbon... as mentioned, the 18 year elijah craig is amazing (don't bother with the 12 year). elmer t. lee and henry mckenna both make excellent single barrel bourbons in the $20-$25 range that have become my everyday pour.
posted by noloveforned at 11:35 AM on August 10, 2010

Simon, a lot of those Esquire articles are by David Wondrich, who is one of the top cocktail writers out there and really entertaining. I'd pick up his book if you enjoy his Esquire work. Imbibe! is a great read and he's also got a punch book coming out this fall.
posted by kathryn at 11:35 AM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, no pride in ownership of the Wild Turkey--it was bought for a party. I've kept Knob Creek and Maker's Mark in the past, but bourbon is not something I generally drink, so I've not paid too much attention to it. I'll keep the Jug O' Hooch for the shindigs and then keep a little somethin' somethin' for myself.

Do people get much out of reading cocktail books? I have several recipe books, but I really don't find reading about cocktails to be something I want to do.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:55 PM on August 10, 2010

We all learn in different ways - cocktail books bore me, but I enjoy discussing the drinks with my bartenders. However, I don't remember nearly as much that way (and not just because I'm drinking as I do it).

I'd also like to add that Wild Turkey Bourbon is kind of nasty stuff, in my opinion, and that's why I was reluctant to get in to Wild Turkey Rye 101 but damn, what a tasty rye that is.
posted by komara at 3:02 PM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: I'm with you, komara--I love talking with my bartenders. There's a guy here in Boston named Nede ("Ned" with an extra "e" for some reason) who tends at the Hungry Mother and is phenomenal.

I'll look for the WT 101 Rye. For some reason, there is very limited rye selection at the liquor stores I frequent.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:45 PM on August 10, 2010

An intermediate amateur home bartender can make almost any classic or modern cocktail with the ingredients listed below (not including fruit and juices). Though most are premium brands, I think they offer good value for money. There is obviously a huge variety within each of these broad categories to be explored, but these are the ones that get the job done in almost any scenario.

Vodka: for mixing, Smirnoff or Tito’s. For martinis, Ketel One.

Gin: For mixing, Plymouth, Beefeater,or Tanqueray. For martinis, Old Raj if you want a huge wallop of taste and aroma, Hendricks if you prefer a gentler style.

Bourbon: Buffalo Trace is an excellent all-around bourbon. If you want a lighter, sweeter wheated bourbon, try Old Weller 107 proof, and if you want a heavier, spicier rye-flavored bourbon try Old Forrester 100 proof.

Rye: Rittenhouse 100 proof or Wild Turkey.

Scotch: for mixing or casual drinking, Teacher’s or Famous Grouse (both blends). For your single malt snob friends, Lagavulin 16, Talisker 10 or Ardbeg 10.

Brandy: Remy Martin VSOP or Hine VSOP. I’ve tried and failed to find less expensive alternatives, but unlike most liquors which have a smooth price/quality curve, cognac brandy seems to have a precipitous drop-off at about the $40 point. If you want to add apple brandy, Laird's 100 proof.

Tequila: Herradura silver (not blanco) or Cazadores reposado.

Rum: Flor de Cana or 10 Cane (white); Mount Gay or Barcardi 8 (gold); Gosling’s (dark). If you need an overproof, Lemon Hart Demerara.

Vermouth: Dolin or Noilly Prat (dry); Carpano Antica or Punt e Mes (sweet).

Liqueurs: Cointreau, Luxardo Maraschino, Green Chartreuse, Cherry Heering, DOM Benedictine, Amaretto, Kahlua, Crème de Violette/Yvette.

Bitters: Angostura, Peychauds, Fee Bros Orange.

Garnishes: Santa Barbara Olive Company olives and cocktail onions; Luxardo maraschino cherries.

Other: Fever Tree tonic water, Stirrings grenadine, and pretty much any brand of club soda. If you like tiki drinks, add Trader Tiki’s orgeat, Velvet Falernum, and Trader Tiki’s Don’s mix.
posted by Mendl at 3:48 PM on August 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

make your own orgeat.
posted by JPD at 4:11 PM on August 10, 2010

JPD, have you tried Trader Tiki brand orgeat?

Admiral Haddock, I believe that Boston Shaker has cocktail classes now and again, so that might be something to look into if cocktail books aren't your thing.
posted by kathryn at 4:17 PM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, they do--but the classes section of their page seems to be out of date these days. Hope to get up there in person soon!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:53 PM on August 10, 2010

There are recipe books, and then there are books that deal with the history and evolution of cocktails like Wondrich's Imbibe!, which are fun just as a record of social history. A lot of the revivalist blogs provide good material, using those books as their cue, challenging myths, investigating old ingredients from old books, charting the drying out of the martini, où sont les boissons d'antan, etc. It's that mixture of story and research project which makes booze geekery work on the internets.
posted by holgate at 9:40 PM on August 10, 2010

This is an ancient thread, and I have only barely skimmed the answers, but as I am also a fan of the classics, I'll ad my (quite possibly redundant at this point) two cents. Obtain the following:

dry vermouths
- Perucchi
- Dolin blanc
- Noilly Pratt

sweet vermouths
- Vya sweet
- Dolin rouge

- Regan's orange bitters
- Peychaud's bitters
- Angosutura bitters

gin (gin is very variable, it is well worth your while to have a variety)
- a good basic London Dry (I use Beefeater for this)
- an Old Tom
- a Genever
- perhaps a good, juniper-centric modern gin such as Junipero or Aviator

- a decent, mixable cognac
- superfine sugar
- Cointreau
- Heering
- yellow Chartreuse
- Luxardo Maraschino
- orange flower water (get from Mediterranean market)
- a decent absinthe for mixing. I use Vieux Carre for this.

Also, regarding variety of vermouths... so worth it to have a few. And keep your vermouth in the fridge after opening. You'll likely find that, for example, you might prefer Vya sweet in a negroni, while you prefer Dolin rouge in your Manhattan.

Also also: If you don't want to make your own cocktail cherries (I did, after a previous cocktail post here, and they came out WONDERFUL!!), then spring for some Luxardo cherries. Your mouth will thank you.
posted by kaseijin at 2:26 PM on September 9, 2010

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