Making The Best Home Bar With A Small Space
August 6, 2013 4:15 PM   Subscribe

For the first time ever I have a space in my house just for cocktail preparation. Awesome. I have some great old glass bottles to go on top of this bar. Also Awesome. What do I put in these bottles to become the envy of cocktail-makers-and-consumers everywhere? How do I best use this space (close up) both in terms of keeping stuff on hand and visual appeal, base liquors, mixers, tools, garnishes, etc. Assume we'll drink anything, but the fussier and old fashioned, the better.

Description of space: Silver tray atop a wine steward with 4 glass bottles of various size on it and huge huge, cork-less glass bottle next to it. Steward is empty and holds about 16 normal sized wine bottles. Very little room in the other side for things (it holds our fancy party table stuff). Would prefer to have things in interesting containers than just in the jar they came in as I am slightly allergic to labels.
posted by The Whelk to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I think it would be nice to have home-made bitters or liqueurs in the glass bottles. I don't know much about bitters, but things like limoncello are easy enough to make at home.

As far as the rest, I think it depends what you typically drink. My home bar typically has a bottle or two of red wine, some good bourbon, bitters and vermouth for turning said bourbon into a Manhattan as needed, and maybe a gin. For a while I was kind of into port so I'd have a bottle of that around. For a while I had some home-brewed Slovenian slivovitz. There was also the Campari and Aperol phase. Sometimes in the summer I'll get a bottle of pernod. But this should really be geared to the types of things that you like to drink.
posted by Sara C. at 4:28 PM on August 6, 2013

Response by poster: Brown-liquor based drinks,vodka infusions, fussy old-fashioned cocktails and lots of wine. Very little Gin/Campari/Pernod. Occasional exotic liquor but nothing too sweet or grandmother-y (Creme De Menthe, Frangelico, etc) and I tend to like mixers that don't fizz or require refrigeration.
posted by The Whelk at 4:36 PM on August 6, 2013

I love this Ask!

Okay, first: you need to make your own bitters. It's easy: get a bottle of everclear, a bunch of spices that you like, and some plastic containers with lids you can poke holes in. Pour the everclear into the plastic containers, put whatever spices you like in each one, close the lid-with-poked-holes, and let that sit in a dark place for a couple of weeks. Boom! You'll probably want smaller bottles of this than what is pictured; think one of those tiny bottles that sometimes hold oil or vinegar for salad, with the little cone-shaped metal tip (for easy shaking).

Second: infusions. You like brown liquor: ever tried a fig manhattan? Cut some fresh figs in half, put them in a plastic container, pour the bourbon over them and leave that container closed for 24-48 hours, depending on your desired level of fig-y-ness. Strain and put your fig bourbon in one of those lovely bottles. Repeat as desired, with various liquors, fruits, and spices.

Third: simple syrups. To give any cocktail that contains sugar a twist, you can make and infuse your own syrups as well. One part sugar to one part water, heat until dissolved, plus any spices you want (that should then be strained out before bottling). Don't limit yourself to white sugar, either; brown sugar simple is great for mojitos, raw cane sugar is great for a classic daiquiri (the martini kind, not the frozen one). Warning - simples will go bad, so they should be refrigerated in between bringing them out for parties.

And one more thing: if you like old fashioneds, make your own cocktail cherries!

posted by sevensnowflakes at 4:51 PM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Given that space & those bottles, I would probably fill them with different colored spirits I use reasonably regularly. In my case, probably bourbon, a dark rum, gin, and Campari.

Seconding the homemade cocktail cherries.

For homemade simple syrups, it's hard to go wrong with ginger or mint.
posted by EvaDestruction at 5:39 PM on August 6, 2013

If that's where you're going to be mixing the drinks, you're going to want to find another place to put that clock, and probably the lamp, too. Get yourself a nice ice bucket with tongs to put there.

Keep the drawers full of bar-wipes. Lose the short rectangular box, too, and keep lemons and limes in a shallow dish.
posted by trip and a half at 6:04 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, you'll want a cutting board and small knife, too, for garnishes. You can stack the dish of citrus on top of that when not in use.
posted by trip and a half at 6:08 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am a big fan of this syrup from the Cubed Old Fashioned, though I use it in regular old fashioneds and haven't actually tried the cocktail on that same page. It makes old fashioneds pretty dang easy to make, and it has a beautiful deep red color, so looks nice in a bottle. Its shelf-life is limited by its tendency to crystallize, but if you put some gum arabic in it, that'll stabilize it (as well as making your drink kind of velvety thick).
posted by aubilenon at 6:11 PM on August 6, 2013

Homemade coffee liqueur has made one particular cabinet in our house a favorite of friends on many a cold evening. Ever since we made it once, we've always had some on hand.

1 part cold brew coffee
1 part (or less really) of symbols syrup
1 part high proof vodka
Throw a vanilla bean in the bottle with it.

Yeah, you need vodka and cream, to make the cocktail, but White Russians were the Dude's choice for a reason; they're fucking delicious.

This is also a weird one but you can make a Root clone really easy; there are several root beer liqueur recipes out there, and they all pair very well with both vodka and bourbons.

It's been nonstop root-beer mint juleps around these parts for weeks now.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:39 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get a big bottle of your favorite bourbon, rye, scotch, gin, rum, vodka, and tequila each.

Make sure you have some sort of bitters stocked.

Buy apertifs and liqueurs as needed.

Don't use white sugar for simple syrups.

If you don't already have a mint plant a'growin', change that.

Put a lot of thought into how you will make things cold and carbonated.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:43 PM on August 6, 2013

Also, get some nice highballs for presentation. And a spoon just for stirring.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:45 PM on August 6, 2013

If the wine steward is the type that holds bottles horizontally I will advise against storing liquor in them. Liquor bottles are meant to be stored upright, unlike wine bottles. The higher alcohol content will slowly destroy corks when left in constant contact.

Speaking as a guy with a well-stocked liquor cabinet full of both daily drinker spirits and esoterica: the only thing you could put in those bottles that would make me envious is something delicious that I've never had before and can't get my hands on otherwise. Since you're not made of magic and you can't arrange that for every person that comes over, I'd concentrate on some solid choices able to be consumed neat, or on the rocks - the kind of thing you can just pour and go.

I would personally avoid matching bottles to their previous contents. For example, the leftmost bottle looks like the one used by Comb for their gin and vodka, so if I saw a clear liquid in there I'd think it was Comb gin or vodka and you were just ashamed of it so you stripped the label. The squat one in front looks like a whiskey bottle so [see above]. My choice would be, from left to right:
1.) a nice sipping whiskey like Four Roses Single Barrel
2.) a gin that's not too junipery, like Hendrick's or Citadelle
3.) a smooth sipping rum like Angostura 7 Year or if you got the dough, Ron Zacapa 23
4.) mid-shelf Cognac
all things that can go in a glass with minimal accompaniment and won't necessarily match the preconceptions about the original bottle's contents based on shape, and any of which I'd be glad to drink at the drop of a hat.

But that's just me.
posted by komara at 9:25 PM on August 6, 2013

[I feel I should clarify that I'm speaking from the position of being the kind of guy who does a lot of bottle recycling liquor stuff, including glass etching labels and descriptions as well as filling various bottles with drips and drabs (if you can ignore the subject of that photo) so hey, I may not have the best taste or ideas and / or my tastes and ideas might not line up with yours.]
posted by komara at 9:36 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have a great sense of the space from your photos. But as others have said, you need to clear that clock, lamp and cloth away. Get yourself a small cutting board and paring knife for garnish prep. Some bar towels. An insulated ice bucket with lid. A Boston shaker—cobblers may look nice, but they're for mugs. Steel-on-steel is a nice look, one 28oz tin, one 16oz.

I know that you don't care for fizz, but a shot of seltzer can enliven, and 'tis the season for long drinks. Unfortunately, all those cool vintage chrome and Czech glass soda siphons have gaskets that have succumbed to the ravages of time. Eschew them, unless you have an in with an o-ring manufacturer. The only real game in town is iSi. Consider it.

Decant your everyday bitters into crystal dashers.

Trawl the odd ebay auction or antique shoppe for etched glass lab beakers of various sizes for measuring. The larger ones (a, 16oz) will be excellent for storing your twisted, long-handled bar spoons, muddlers, julep strainer, and pickle fork. You'll want a reamer for your citrus... I fancy something like this one—that inner ring of nubs catches (most of) the pips.

Other items for your increasingly cluttered countertop: match storage, for flaming things; sugar cube storage, or at least tongs; a double-action corkscrew (the hinge makes all the difference); straw storage, if long drinks are much in play.

If you wanted to make me envious, you'd fill those bottles with Forbidden Fruit, Capertif, Batavia Arak and Swedish Punsch, but I think that instead you should focus on what floats your own boat. A bourbon, a rye, a Scotch, and one of your vodka infusions I reckon.You need stemware, too, but hopefully there's room nearby, and not on your work surface.
posted by mumkin at 11:54 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Plus a pitcher for mixing and serving Manhattans when everyone's having what you're having. That particularly large etched pharmacy beaker could do double duty, though something with a handle would stay colder longer (and you wouldn't have to dump out all your spoons and such).

And something to put waste in—your spent lemon shells and failed horses necks, burnt matchsticks, bottle foil, champagne wire cages, synthetic corks, damp cocktail napkins and the like. A small silver bowl will do until you can ferry it to the kitchen bin.
posted by mumkin at 1:04 AM on August 7, 2013

I just wanted to tell you that that clock is f-ing AWESOME.
posted by kuanes at 4:32 AM on August 7, 2013

It also occurred to me that, depending on how much you care about the finish of your wine steward and how much prep work you want to do right there, you might want to get a glass top for it. Even if you're careful, spills happen and citrus juice and oil has a knack for getting everywhere, and being more concerned about cleaning up than being a sparkling host gets to be a drag.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:42 AM on August 8, 2013

Gah. I need a longer edit window -- feeling like you *need* to be more concerned with cleaning up than being a sparkling host, etc.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:06 AM on August 8, 2013

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