Making spirits right

How to stock your home bar without going broke

How to stock your home bar without going broke

February 04, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Some spirits are to cocktail-making like flour, sugar and eggs are to cookie-making. If you have them in the cupboard, you can accommodate most recipes.

And it won't cost you an arm and a leg.

So say area restaurateurs, bartenders and retailers The Herald-Mail tapped for tips on what to buy and what to leave on the liquor store shelf. Their consensus: The art of stocking the home bar is one part covering the basics, one part going with what you like, plus a dash of creativity.

And you can still be a recessionista.

"For home, you don't need a fully stocked bar like you'd see at a pub or restaurant," says Michael Folk, owner of Long Meadow Wine & Liquors in Hagerstown.

Lately, stocking the home bar has been top-of-mind for some. People are hosting game parties as sporting seasons come to a close.


It's also award season, which really means it's award-party season. The 51st Grammy Awards will be televised Sunday, Feb. 8, on CBS. The 81st annual Academy Awards will be televised Sunday, Feb. 22.

Some party hosts might find themselves mulling over how to accommodate their guests without going broke.

The right liquor

If you're planning to restock your bar, Folk suggests starting with spirits.

He suggests going with liquors commonly found in most drink recipes, like vodka, tequila and rum - some of the most common purchases at his store.

While gin is a common cocktail ingredient, he says it's not as popular among his customers.

"With gin, you either love it or you hate it," Folk says. "I'm not a gin person myself."

Brown liquors - bourbon, scotch, brandy or cognac - round things out, Folk says.

The right mixers

For mixers, "try to keep it simple," says Pete Lyon, general manager and head bartender of 3 Onions Lounge in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Pick mixers like orange juice, Sprite or sour mix, "things that go with nearly anything," Lyon says. Folk recommended cola and cranberry juice.

Just resist the urge to buy every flavored mixer possible.

"To stock your bar completely would cost you a couple thousand dollars," Lyon says.

The devil is in the details

Instead of worrying so much about what to buy, pay attention to how the drink is made, Lyon says.

"It doesn't matter what you put in it," Lyon says. "If there's too much vodka in it, if you make the drink too strong, it's going to taste terrible."

This is even true for the process, Lyon said, using martini making as an example. Stale ice can kill a drink. It also pays to shake them.

"Shake it like you want the truth, like you want answers," Lyon says.

Use fresh ingredients

More and more, local lounges are using fresh ingredients and homemade flavored liquors on their cocktail menus.

Lyon says 3 Onions Lounge makes its own chai tea-infused vodka with fresh tea leaves.

LJ's & the Kat Lounge in Hagerstown also uses fresh, homemade ingredients for its drinks, says general manager Alexander Tiches. This is something people can do easily at home.

"Imagine, fuzzy navels made from fresh peach juice," Tiches says.

He also recommends playing around with ingredients. "Some of the greatest creations have been done by mistake," Tiches says.

Glass matters

Some believe that like wine, the glass used for your cocktails makes a difference.

Folk, the liquor store owner, says he's not very picky about the kind of glasses he uses.

But he says typically, beyond the "putting martinis in martini glasses" rule, high-ball glasses are generally used for mixed drinks. Rocks glasses are generally used for brown liquors and drinks served straight.

Darryl Sword, owner of The Corner Pub in Hagerstown, says using the right glass is as much about enhancing the cocktail's flavor as it is about preserving other matters of taste.

"You don't want to put a fancy cocktail in a beer glass," Sword says.

Cocktail cheat sheet

Common cocktail spirits

The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau regulates how alcohol are defined. Here's where four common spirits stand:

o Vodka -- A neutral spirit distilled in such a way that it has no distinctive taste, smell or color

o Tequila -- Derived principally from the Agave Tequilana Weber plant and is a distinctive product of Mexico, where it is made

o Rum -- Must be made from the fermented juice of sugar cane or some other by-product of sugar cane

o Gin -- Must get its main flavor from juniper berries

The skinny on brown liquors

Which brown liquors you choose depends on which ones (if any) you like to drink. Here's how the feds define brown liquors. Pick your favorite:

o Bourbon -- U.S.-produced whiskey made from grain mash with of least 51 percent rye

o Whisky -- Distilled from a fermented grain mash

o Scotch -- Unblended whisky manufactured in Scotland

o Brandy -- Distilled from the fermented juice, mash or wine of fruit

o Cognac -- A form of grape brandy distilled in the Cognac region of France

'Official' cocktails

A few drinks labeled as "recognized cocktails" by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau:

o Bloody Mary -- Vodka and tomato juice

o Daiquiri -- Rum and lime juice

o Manhattan -- Whisky and vermouth

o Margarita -- Tequila, triple sec and lime or lemon juice

o Martini -- Gin and vermouth

o Vodka martini -- Vodka and vermouth

o Whisky sour -- Whisky and lemon juice

Sound like a pro

Here's a bit of bar lingo, courtesy of Darryl Sword, owner of The Corner Pub in Hagerstown

o Neat -- Means you want the drink with no ice.

o On the rocks -- Means you want the drink with ice.

o On the rocks with a back -- It means you want a drink with ice and a separate glass of a nonalcoholic beverage, like soda or a chaser.

o Straight up or up -- The drink was chilled, but it doesn't have any ice

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