Now that you have the tools for your bar, you can now move on towards the spirits. These are some of the liquid essentials you should have at an arms reach or on your bar cart. If you are going to mainly make cocktails, don’t invest in the top tier spirits, because you won’t be able to fully enjoy the liquor as it is meant to be tasted.
Finding an affordable balance of price and taste is a little tricky when it comes to spirits, but partner and resident cocktologist at Boulton and Watt, Jaime Felber has put together the following diatribe for you to follow when stocking your bar.
Rum – There’s a huge range of rums to go through. From white to the darkest, blackstrap molasses based variants. To pick just one is difficult, but a good gold rum is versatile enough to work in a boozy, stirred cocktail, or a citrus forward drink.
Vodka – A neutral grain spirit that gets a bad rep when paired with soda or tonic. Don’t be fooled by products that proselytize the number of times they are distilled, or that they are filtered through diamond dust. Take away all the congeners from a product, and you’re left with something quite bland.
Bourbon – A category that has completely blown up in recent years. We all know the basic parameters – must be at least 51% corn, aged in New American Oak barrels in the United States, and distilled to no less than 40%. However, everything else is up for exploration. I have a personal affinity for the Angels Envy Bourbon. Finished in port casks, it has a raisiny, plummy, finish that I’m a fan of.
Cognac – When the time calls for it, nothing beats a sidecar. That time is generally when I’m feeling high society and want a product that is steeped in age and refinement. Only the finest of brandies can be called Cognac, as they come from the specific ADC region around the town of Cognac. The Remy Martin VSOP (which stands for Very Special Old Pale) is a beautifully balanced cognac, with prominent notes of vanilla and baked apples. The hints of licorice on the palate balance out the sweetness. Perfect for sidecars and Vieux Carre’s
Gin – I’m English, nothing speaks to my soul more than a well crafted gin martini. Now granted, this list doesn’t leave room for the necessary heavy dash of dry vermouth to make my dreams come true, but it’s a good starting point. A good dry gin – with plenty of citrus notes, and a balanced amount of juniper – like Tanqueray 10, or Martin Millers Westbourne Strength – will do the trick nicely.
Rye – I’m a bourbon drinker myself. Rye is always an option, but substitute the sweet vermouth for a sugar cube and a few orange peels, and you have yourself an old fashioned. Or take that Rye, some simple syrup, and a handful of that mint, and you’ve got yourself nothing short of the finest Mint Julep this side of the Mason Dixon line (poetic license, but it’s all about how you sell yourself).
Mezcal – not just tequila’s angry, smoky brother. Mezcals have shed their wormlike ancestry, and come out the other side with some amazing offerings. Use it where you would tequila for an interesting flavor twist. I’m a big fan of the Ilegal range. Their joven is a brilliantly balanced product, and they’re notorious for working in harmony with the land and the farmers that provide their product.
Whisk(e)y – it’s tough to pick one. It’s a huge category, representing an enormous range of flavours. Personally nothing sings to me like a good single malt. There’s plenty of esoteric stuff out there to pick from, and plenty of whiskey bars in the city that will happily guide you to the right bottle of your choice. Personally I’m a Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie’ 10 year fan. A touch more body than an entry level scotch may be, this Islay product has great brininess, some rich meat fats, and a decent amount of smoke to chew on.