Categories
Ingredients Mixology Spirits

Stocking a Home Bar: Spirits

Properly stocking a home bar can be an expensive proposition. There are many different products you likely will want to buy, and a lot of them aren't cheap. The good news is, you probably won't be going through the bottles that quickly, and most alcohol stays good for a very long time.*

Liquor
GIN
There are three different major styles of gin: London Dry, Old Tom and Genever. (You could also throw Plymouth Gin into the mix.) The good news is you only need to buy one bottle to start: London Dry. Tanqueray has long been my favorite, but Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater are excellent as well. Buy whichever one is cheapest.

VODKA
It's easy to spend more money on vodka then you need to, especially if you reach for the Grey Goose because you "heard it's the best." By all means, pick up an expensive bottle if you're feeling flush. My favorite, which is medium-priced, is Stolichnaya. But you'll get by very well with some Sobieski.

RUM
Rum is a little more challenging, because rums vary a lot depending on what country they're from, what color they are (light/white vs. gold/dark), how long they're aged, etc. I would recommend starting out with two bottles, one of white rum and one of gold rum. Cruzan (from the U.S. Virgin Islands) is recommended — both cheaper and better than the ubiquitous Bacardi. But if you can find Flor de Caña (from Nicaragua) it only costs a little more and is excellent. If you don't drink much rum and only want to buy one bottle, I suggest you get some Appleton V/X, a very versatile and tasty rum.

TEQUILA
Tequila has grown enormously in popularity over the past several years, which means there are now a lot of great choices on the shelves, in all kinds of prices. If your goal is to make Margaritas and other similar drinks, you'll want a silver tequila. I recommend either Camarena or Milagro. They're both affordable and easy to find.

WHISKEY
This is a tough one, because there are so many types and so many choices. Do you go with a Scotch, Canadian or Irish? Bourbon, rye or Tennessee? If I were buying just one type, I would probably go with bourbon, and would probably get Maker's Mark. Maker's isn't the favorite whiskey of a lot of people, but it's a very good one and it's something that almost any whiskey drinker will drink without complaining. If you want to branch out and add a Scotch, I'd go with Johnnie Walker Black. Again, not always a favorite, but a crowd pleaser.

BRANDY
Cognac (which is brandy made according to certain rules in a particular area of France) was hot a decade or so back when the hip hop community discovered it, and brands like Hennessy and Remy Martin were name-checked in rap songs. It's cooled off since then, so there are plenty of good bargains to be found. (And also plenty of bottles that will cost you as much as a nice vacation.) If you want a simple brandy, I find Raynal to be quite good. It works fine in a lot of cocktails and won't set you back much at all. If you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, go for one of the cognacs made by Pierre Ferrand. (Their Ambre is very good and only costs around $40.)

ORANGE LIQUEUR
If you're going to make any kind of cocktails, you're going to need some modifiers, with the most common being an orange liqueur. It might be triple sec or Curacao, but in order to make a Margarita or a Sidecar or Mai Tai, you're going to need something. There are many different types of orange liqueur, ranging from cheap to expensive. Unfortunately, the cheap stuff is usually not very good. On the upside, a bottle will last a long time, so it doesn't hurt as much to splurge. If you want a dryer liqueur, go with Cointreau. If you want a sweeter one, go with Grand Marnier. Yes, they're expensive. But they're so good that you'll be glad you spent the extra money.

VERMOUTH
If you're planning to make Martinis or Manhattans, you'll need to get some vermouth. Sweet (red) vermouth goes in a Manhattan and dry (white) vermouth goes in a Martini. There are some high-end brands that are delicious. But on the affordable end of things Martini (sweet) and Noilly Pratt (dry) work very well. 

You're not going to get this done without spending a couple hundred bucks. But once you do, you'll be able to make a lot of drinks — and save yourself a ton of dough over what you'd spend in a bar. Plus, with a little practice, you'll be able to whip up some great cocktails that will quickly make you the envy of all your friends and neighbors.

*Except for vermouth. Vermouth is only good for a couple of months once you open it. And only if you keep it in the refrigerator. And yes, I know vermouth isn't a spirit. Neither is orange liqueur.

Categories
Liqueurs Mixology

A Guide to Orange Liqueurs

CointreauI'm fascinated with orange liqueurs. Whether it's triple sec or curaçao, dry or sweet, orange or blue, I love the stuff. Not to drink on its own — I've never really cared for that — but for use in cocktails. Orange liqueur is one of the most important cocktail ingredients, adding depth and flavor to so many great drinks. (Two of my favorites are the Mai Tai and the Margarita.)

I've been meaning for some time to do a comprehensive write-up of orange liqueurs, but there's a lot of work involved and I haven't gotten around to it yet. In the meantime, though, Michael Dietsch at Serious Eats has put together a very useful primer on the subject.

Dietsch does a good job of defining the different types of orange liqueur, although in practice the terms are so misused that it's often hard to tell what is what. In short:

  • Orange liqueur is any sweetened distilled spirit with orange flavoring added. This includes curaçao, triple sec and other varieties.
  • Curaçao is a liqueur made with a base of brandy that is sweetened and flavored with orange. It was originally a liqueur produced on the island of Curaçao, made from brandy and flavored with the dried peels of Curaçao (Laraha) oranges. There is still one company, Senior, that produces curaçao in this fashion.
  • Triple sec is a liqueur made with a base of neutral spirit (essentially vodka) that is sweetened and flavored with orange. The "sec" in this case is the French word for "dry," since originally triple sec was less sweet than curaçao.

Grand_marnierDietsch includes a lot more detail and history, which is definitely worth reading. And yes, the subject gets confusing, especially as there are no regulations on the use of the different terms. So distillers can call their product "triple sec" or "curaçao" without regard to how it's actually produced or what it contains.

The bulk of the article is a look at several different brands of orange liqueurs, with brief critiques of each. I agree with most of what he wrote, and it's something you'll want to review before making your next trip to the liquor store.

The two most important names in orange liqueurs are the two that most people already know: Cointreau and Grand Marnier. These are two of the most expensive liqueurs you're likely to buy, but in this case you really get what you pay for. Their quality may not be unmatched, but it's certainly unsurpassed. (However, if you're like me and hate paying for the good stuff, Dietsch suggests some alternatives.)

As for the answer to the question that is so often asked: Grand Marnier is curaçao and Cointreau is triple sec.

Now go make a Mai Tai. Or Margarita. Or Cosmo. Or Sidecar. Or Kamikaze. Or White Lady. Or Pegu Club. Or Derby. Or…

Categories
Drink Recipes Tequila

Recipe: Frozen Watermelon Margarita

My wife brought a giant watermelon home from the store. Naturally, my first thought was, "Make a drink out of it!" The challenge was that, to my mind, the flavor of watermelon doesn't naturally lend itself to a lot of different combinations. So I decided to stick with something simple and make a Margarita out of it. Plus, I was hot and wanted to make something that would help me cool down.

 

Margarita

 

Frozen Watermelon Margarita

Mix in a blender:

1 cup Watermelon, cut in cubes
4 oz Tequila
2 oz Triple Sec
2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz Simple Syrup (optional)
1 cup Ice

Makes 2 drinks.

Ordinarily I don't think you'd need to add the simple syrup. Even with the dilution caused by the ice and the watermelon, the Triple Sec and the melon itself should provide enough sweetness. However, with this being an end-of-season watermelon, it didn't have as much flavor as you'd get from a better piece of produce, so I needed to balance out the sourness of the lime.

Still, a refreshing drink for a hot day. Now bring on some football! (This drink has left me feeling just a bit less than masculine.)