Hopefully, you’ve graduated from shelving bottles of UV Vodka and Captain Morgan on the top of your kitchen cabinets and have acquired a taste for cocktails that don’t taste like Sunny D with a hint of carpet cleaner – or if you’re lucky, you missed this phase altogether. So, now what? First of all, congrats – now that you have a taste for the finer things in life, you’re probably realizing that going out for cocktails comes at a cost. And this is why happy hour is a very happy time, indeed! But even happy hours can get spendy, especially if the apps are full price … which is why you’ll eventually conclude having your very own liquor cabinet or bar cart makes a whole lot of sense.
Starting your elevated liquor stash from scratch can seem expensive. We say elevated because, when you are making your own drinks, you can afford to be a little bougie! Sure, a $20 bottle of liquor might not seem like a bargain, but didn’t you just spend that on two craft cocktails last weekend? Having a fully stocked bar cart that your friends ooo and ahh over doesn’t happen overnight, so let’s break it down. In this first article, we will recommend initial investments to create the base for your collection. Once you have the basics, you can gradually begin to add liqueurs (sweetened spirits); we’ll touch on those in future articles! First things first: the base will consist of the liquor you need to replace most often, so it’s important to find budget friendly booze that still has a quality taste … and appearance.
Vodka or Light Rum, take your pick (or both). Vodka is the more neutral of the duo, whereas rum is sweeter. It’s easier to get away with a cheaper vodka than most other spirits, since the appeal of vodka is its lack of taste. In other words, don’t be a victim of marketing and overpay for a pretty bottle of vodka! Vodka or rum is the start to any good fridge-remnants mixer – having one on standby is a must.
Luksusowa Vodka $21.99 for a 1.75L ; Sobieski Vodka $13.99 for a 1.75L; Cruzan Light Rum $16.99 for a 1.75L; Don Q Cristal Rum $19.99 for a 1.75L
To Gin or not to Gin? That is the question.
Do you like gin? If yes, get it. If not, maybe still get it. Gin profiles are diverse, and there’s a chance that there’s still a gin out there for you. Unlike vodka, you usually get what you pay for in a bottle of gin. Plus, the Gin & Tonic is a crowd-pleaser…more elevated than a vodka soda, but still so simple! Most have sampled a juniper forward gin – these are the gins that taste like Christmas trees, or so they say. If it wasn’t your favorite, give Hendrick’s (floral and cucumber notes) or Bombay East (light on the juniper + lemongrass/pepper) a try.
Beefeater $22.99 for a 1.75L; Tanqueray No. Ten $26.99 for a 750ml; Hendrick’s $22.99 for a 750ml; Bombay East $19.99 for a 750ml
A few good reasons to have a bottle of Whiskey stocked:
You enjoy Old Fashioneds, are ready to give whiskey another chance after that one night in college, and/or make casual business deals, when you’re drinking. Scotch, bourbon and rye all fall under the umbrella that is whiskey. We’ll leave diving into the depths of whiskey tasting notes for another time. The majority of our picks below are bourbons, with the exception of Bulleit Rye. A bourbon is going to be sweeter and less dry than a rye, since its main grain is corn. Any of our recommendations will do for a cocktail requiring whiskey; we suggest Buffalo Trace or Four Roses for neat drinking, aka ‘on the rocks.’
Bulleit Rye $18.99 for a 750ml; Wild Turkey 101 $18.49 for a 750ml; Buffalo Trace $24.99 for a 750 ml; Four Roses Small Batch $27.99 for a 750 ml
^ That was an attempted pirate joke. A really bad one. Dark Rum can be a good staple, if you like a Rum & Coke every now and again. Otherwise, I usually don’t have this spirit around unless it’s summer, aka Tiki time. But I should note: most Tiki beverages sample a variety of rums. If you want to experience the world of Mai Tais and other tropical concoctions by next summer, start your rum collection now!
Appleton Estate $15.99 for a 750ml; Gosling’s Black Seal Rum $16.99 for a 750 ml
Some only crave tequila when the sun is shining, but tequila can warm your soul in the cooler months, too. Even better to have on hand, when you have that one friend that does stupid shit after tequila shots! (Oh wait, that’s me) Reposado and Anejo tequilas have longer aging periods and thus will have a gold appearance, as well as a woody taste. A Blanco tequila is your best bet, if you’re trying to create a classic marg.
Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila $19.99 for a 750ml; Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila (more aged than the Plata) $20.99 for a 750ml; Gran Centenario Plata Tequila $29.99 for a 750 ml
If you’ve made it this far, we’re assuming you actually have some interest in cocktails. And if that statement is true, you probably already have a liquor or two of choice. Regardless of the advice we gave you in this article, stay true to your own personal preferences. If you despise the taste of gin because you think it tastes like Christmas trees, a bottle of gin probably doesn’t belong on your list of basics that you initially acquire. However, down the road, you may want a more inclusive collection that caters to your gin loving friends; ideally, they will teach you how to correctly love gin, too. Decide on the first few bottles that makes sense for you and go from there!
Once you purchase a bottle of liquor that costs more than $20 dollars, you’re going to want to show it off. No more on top of (or in) the cabinet storing! And keep your plastic bottles of Fireball far, far away! A tray, like the one above, will make your small stash seem more established, if you only have a few bottles on display. All costs noted are based on a local liquor store’s prices, here, in the Twin Cities. Depending on your location, you may or may not be able to find these suggestions at these prices. You’ll likely be able to find something equivalent, if you do a little research + you’ll become that much more knowledgeable about your liquor display!
Here are some classic recipes to keep you busy, until next time; cheers!
Gin & Tonic
- 2 oz. gin
- 3-4 oz. tonic water
- A lime for garnish
- A lowball glass is perfect, unless you have one of those Gin & Tonic goblets
- Fill glass with ice
- Pour gin in and top with tonic water
- Place a lime wedge or wheel on the rim
Spice it up!
- Star anise or brûléed citrus are the garnishes you’re looking for, if you want to elevate your Gin & Tonic. If you’re interested in setting oranges on fire, check out our other article, here
- Yes, Fever-Tree tonic water is worth every penny
- 2 oz. vodka
- ½ oz. lime juice
- 6 oz. ginger beer
- No, you don’t need that fancy copper cup – unless you want one! A highball glass will do
- Squeeze half a lime into glass and drop in the remains
- Add ice, so your glass is nearly filled to the brim
- Pour vodka in and top with ginger beer
- Give it a stir! A lime wheel or wedge is all the garnish you need!
- 3 oz. bourbon or rye whiskey
- 1 sugar cube or bar spoon of sugar
- 3-5 dashes Angostura bitters
- Orange slice
- A cherry, if you must!
- A lowball glass
- Add sugar, bitters and a dash of water to a lowball glass. Dissolve the sugar into a paste
- Fill ¾ of the glass with ice
- Pour in whiskey, then stir until the outside of the glass gets cold
- Add a few additional cubes of ice and top with an orange slice + cherry
- Some cocktail enthusiasts may disagree with this version of the Old Fashioned because of rigid rules on ice cube proportions and orange peeling garnish. However, this version is approachable, while still being true to form! Judge us, if you must.