Don’t buy one of everything. These building blocks will help you get the most out of your liquor cabinet.
I write about drinking, and a lot of the questions I get can be boiled down to seven words: “How do I build a home bar?”
Readers want to know what to buy to get started. How to get the most bang for their buck for the tequila and bourbon in their pantries. What to serve at parties.
The best way to get started is simple. Buy the liquor you drink most often and build from there. You got a bottle of whiskey? You will likely enjoy an Old Fashioned (simple syrup and bitters). Or for something less boozy, a Whiskey Sour (simple syrup and lemon juice; egg white optional).
Add a bottle of sweet vermouth and you can make the popular Manhattan (whiskey, vermouth and bitters).
Buy a bottle of Campari and you can make the Boulevardier (bourbon, sweet vermouth and Campari), a trendy drink to impress your boss. Swap bourbon for gin and you have one of the best aperitifs ever invented, the Negroni (gin, sweet vermouth and Campari).
Continue to build on those ingredients, focusing on additions that can be used in multiple recipes. That’s the most efficient and cost-effective way to build a home bar, especially since Washington state has one of the highest alcohol taxes in North America.
I invited cocktail author Paul Clarke over to my house to mix drinks and discuss that very concept of building your cocktail repertoire. His book, “The Cocktail Chronicles,” is a great how-to guide for newbies and a good source for cocktail geeks. Some of his recipes are included here.
Love margaritas? Try the Paloma recipe. It’s the best one of the handful I tested. For an interesting gin drink, try the Jasmine.
If you want to up your game, two diverse liqueurs will add dozens of drinks to your repertoire: Green Chartreuse and Cointreau. The latter is a fancy orange liqueur that’s the secret to making great margaritas and Cosmos, if all those late-night “Sex and the City” reruns inspire you. The herbaceous Green Chartreuse adds nuance and complexity to drinks.
Finally, a word on bar tools and glassware. You can save hundreds of dollars by hitting thrift shops. Cocktail shakers are like tea kettles and Crock-Pots; you can find them at Goodwill for the cost of a latte.
Cocktail, rocks and highball glasses can be had for a song at those secondhand stores, as well. In fact, the antique glasses that most fancy cocktail dens serve $14 drinks out of come from Value Village or Goodwill on Capitol Hill, which is why you should look outside the Hill for a wider selection.
I get tiki, antique and crystal stemware at the Goodwill off Rainier Avenue South for about 50 cents to $2 each.