So I'm working with an idea for a very simple bar, a bar one liquor deep. Essentially the well is, well, all there is. So with that in mind, I want to choose spirits that are both good and versatile. The basic idea is to be able to concoct many drinks from the fewest spirits. Think Swiss Army Bar.
My question then is this: What spirits (gins, ryes, bourbons, light/dark/spiced rums, whisk(e)ys, etc.) would you commend to this end?
As far as liqueurs, what are your thoughts on Cherry Heering vs. other cherry liqueurs? I'm thinking the Heering and Luxardo should cover the appropriate bases for my purposes, but other suggestions are welcome.
Also, as far as a versatile orange liqueur, would using Cointreau as the one paint me into a corner?
Looking forward to feedback.
Without knowing the style, quantity and price point of drinks you're making and whether or not this is a commercial venture, I will simply offer my favourite good value mixing spirits and a select number of modifiers.
Finlandia vodka - Cheap and very neutral so great for making your own flavoured vodka and preserving spirits.
Beefeater gin - Fresh yet still juniper forward. Preferred by many for mixing.
Rittenhouse rye - Mix all your American whisky drinks with this and I'm sure you can't go wrong. Perhaps stock Maker's for contrast.
Johnnie Walker Black - Lots of body and smoke. My preferred mixing Scotch.
Courvoisier VS Cognac - not my favourite for drinking neat but a fine Cognac for mixing.
El Dorado Rums - Great value and large range will have you covered.
El Jimador Tequilas - Amazing value one hundred percent agave.
Cointreau - Neutral orange, essential for a proper Margarita.
Grand Marnier - I haven't really experimented much with orange curaçaos but I love this.
Dolin Vermouths - seem to be getting great reviews.
Benadictine DOM - for herbal notes.
St Germain - elderflower liqueur for fresh twist on summer drinks.
Any Swiss or French style absinthe
The entire Bitter Truth range, or failing that
I realise this is just a list of bottles, not great advice.
To this list I would definitely add Green Chartreuse and Campari; which would both significantly expand the range of possibilities.
Hmmm... I agree a big denominator would be the style of the bar you're wanting to create and general pricepoints you're looking for.
However, from the home-cocktail-enthusiast perspective my mind runs toward the usual suspects (Gin, Brandy, etc.) but since those are obvious I guess you might be asking for brands? If so...
A good Absinthe, maybe Kubler?
Remy VSOP for Brandy
Plymouth or Beefeater Gin
Cointreau or Grand Marnier
I'd opt for a dark rum over silver... so many brands to choose from.
I'm enjoying a bottle of El Jimador on my shelf right now - so that's a vote in the Tequila category.
Templeton or Rittenhouse Rye as it's a bit brighter and sweeter.
Maker's Mark or Knob Creek are very approachable whiskies but Dickle or Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace have good, more complex choices.
Scotch - Maybe a Glenfiddich 12 or The Glenlivet 12 are "safe" choices (and Jameson Crested Ten for the Irish lovers) but for mixers you might consider a Whyte & Mackay or Chivas... again, safe but they play well with others.
You really need both a Sweet and Dry Vermouth so Nolly Prat would be on my list for sure.
What makes a good Vodka? In the US - not a lot, in my uneducated, humble opinion. So, I'd look for something Polish that still retains character and body.
Bitters... Aromatic and Orange are essential.
Luxardo Maraschino, yes.
I guess, looking back - a great deal of agreement with Adam.
[Stranded on an island essential cocktails: Sidecar, 3:1 Dry Martini with 2 olives, my own Neo Old Fashioned.]
I think we are on the same page. Thanks for the feedback so far, gentlemen.
This is for a restaurant, by the way. Essentially I am trying to be able to do classics well with limited space at a reasonable price point. I'm pretty sure with the owners' consent I will be able to stock a pretty able bar. I want to make good cocktails well and make them accessible to people who might not have had or even considered ordering a Sazerac, for example. It is a context in which people can be caught off guard with something done well where they weren't expecting it. Anyway, that is the basic idea.
We are slowly rolling out our bar program. We started with wine and beer and then set our sights on spirits. We put out a pretty limited cocktail offering with ten cocktails developed by a local mixologist. That was step one. Step two is expanding and embellishing on that.
What I'm working with so far:
We have Rittenhouse right now and I really like it. Buffalo Trace and Beefeater are both on my list, glad to see these are probably good choices. Pierre Ferrand Ambre for my brandy/congnac.
We are also using Laird's Applejack and I'm excited to use this more extensively.
Tullamore Dew is my Irish, and have been considering Johnny Walker Red or perhaps White Horse for Scotch. I think having a smokier option and a more might be the way to go (I'll play with the Johnny Walker Black).
We've been using Siete Leguas Blanco for my tequila. I like their product and story... will most likely stick with it.
As far as rums, I am still looking for a decent white rum. I'd like to be able to do mojitos and daiquiris come spring and summer. We've been using Sailor Jerry for spiced rum, and Appleton 12 Year, along with Gosling's Black Seal. I'm cool with keeping these three on, but
Tito's is probably the vodka we'll go with. It is out of Austin, and while I'm not a big vodka guy, it isn't bad. For infusions/tinctures, I've been using Crevasse. I know little about it, it is just a cheap vodka.
We have been using Herbsaint in lieu of a true absinthe. I'll definitely look into Kubler.
I love Campari, so that will be on the list for sure. Luxardo, too. Chartreuse makes sense too.
As far as bitters, I'll probably keep quite a few stocked. I have a handful of Bitter Truths in house, and of course the Peychaud's and Angostura.
I have Dolin Dry Vermouth in house and got a bottle of Martini Sweet to make Manhattans with last week. Not had Dolin's sweet vermouth yet, but it might make sense to check that out. Considering having a bottle of Lillet in house just in case.
Adam, The Cherry Marnier, I've never had it. Congnac-based? Could it be used to make a Blood and Sand?
Daniel, if I had to choose either Cointreau or Grand Marnier, should I go Cointreau?
Thanks again, everyone, I appreciate the response.
Cherry Marnier is more heavy on the cherry than Cherry Heering, which to me, tastes more like almond. It contains nuts, so I'm sure that's it. CM is cognac based, I presume given the history. Not tried a Blood and Sand, though I'm afraid. Can't comment.
Cointreau and Grand Marnier are two different beasts in that the former is neutral alcohol and the latter is cognac based. I simply can't do a margarita with GM, but they are both nice digestif liqueurs and stocking both would be nice.
Remy is my preferred choice in Cognac but I was thinking more about cost - I presume Courvoisier VS is a bit cheaper and I'm sure for mixing the difference is negligible. I can assure you both House's VSOPs make great Sidecars, I don't see why the younger expression would be much worse.
Offering single malts and such is a massive rabbit hole, though I'd agree that something smokey and undeniably Scotch like Black Label would be great to mix with and Glenfiddich 12, which is regarded by many as a great, smooth and easy drinking malt as a nice contrast and upsell. If you want cheaper, I believe in Red Label too.
Plymouth and Beefeater would again be a nice contrast. Plymouth and Tanqueray would be even more pronounced.
If you were only going to stock one vodka, my choice would not be Polish, but something more neutral. A Polish potato vodka like Luksusowa would be a lovely contrast. Also, get a big brand name in. People will ask for Goose. Charge them extra as they will pay.
Your idea is good but have you planned everything about it?
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As Daniel says, this is an extremely useful discussion from a home-bartender's point of view.
I love Dolin dry vermouth, but don't think the red is on the same exalted level. I'd go with Carpano Antica for the red, no contest. It's darker and more flavorful, standing eye-to-eye with rye in a Manhattan, for example. (I'd also add in a bianco, if possible, for mixing lower-proof cocktails. My lady friends, in particular, are almost always wowed by the stuff. I haven't tried the Dolin bianco yet, but the Martini & Rossi does the job.)
Rye: I normally go for Rittenhouse, but have been using Bulleit lately with extremely satisfying results. It's slightly lower proof but has a lot more character, so it mixes beautifully.
I agree with Adam that Cointreau is preferable to Grand Marnier in a margarita. but I've been experimenting with subbing in Solerno blood orange liqueur, and my friends have given their vociferous approval. Comparing the two directly, I find that Cointreau tastes mainly sweet, while the Solerno has more citrus bite and an extremely long finish. (The bottle looks way cooler, too.)
Finally, on the subject of Cherry Heering (which I keep on hand primarily for Remember the Maine's): I stopped by an Italian wine shop yesterday and picked up a bottle of Luxardo Cherry Sangue Morlacco liqueur. Beautiful stuff. It's made with dark cherries, so in both color and flavor, it's a lot richer than Cherry Heering.
"Cherry Heering, which to me, tastes more like almond. It contains nuts"
...probably a good point to consider with regard to any ingredient that might contribute to severe allergic reactions. I hadn't even thought of it in terms of spirits!
I also agree Cointreau and GM are different facets on the orange liqueur/TS diamond. This is one of those slippery slopes that causes my home bar to have gone from 20 bottles to 45 and still feel lacking - there can be such wonderfully diverse flavor profiles even within the same category that it's hard to imagine certain, select drinks made without that one special ingredient. However, if pressed, I'd say Cointreau is my desert island choice because of compatibility. If you want the GM I think one could cheat a bit with Brandy and Cointreau (a little like getting B&B instead of just straight Benedictine and including, when necessary, for that Brandy accent).
On the subject of slippery slopes... Scotch, yes. It's hard because I'm in a self-interested purchasing vacuum. I don't need to consider stocking "popular" choices like a sensible bar might. The "big names" probably appeal to more people even if whisky enthusiasts are pained to know there's so much more out there that's waiting to be discovered beyond the marketing machines. Even I would probably default to the usual suspects if I had to stock a bar knowing I must be able to say "Yes, we have that!"
I bow to the wisdom of the pros and those who have a superior selection to chose from - my modest home bar and lack of truly unique options make me want to hang out at Andrew's or Adam's that's for sure!
Bah, I'm no Pro! I've just got opinions.
My bar at work houses all the usual suspects with no real surprises and my home bar only thirty or so bottles (including seven gins, and running very low on Whisky, rum and tequila. I do have a 15 year old bottle of Rioja I'm saving for a rainy day and 15 different bitters, though!)
Im actually quite refreshed by this one bottle bar, however. If I didn't like gin so much, it'd be all I did at home. "We only stock one of each spirit, but they're all bloody good and we can still make you any drink under the sun.". Similar to the Simon Difford, 14 Key Ingredients that he lists in his books.
Great comments, guys! I'll respond to the individual posts below.
I'm going to look into the Cherry Marnier, that might be a bit more versatile than the Heering.
The Cognac we currently have in stock is a VSOP (Pierre Ferrand), and I think I'll probably stick with that.
The Scotch is a tricky one, of course. Ideally I'd like one blended and one single malt, but the question is what kind of single malt. I personally prefer peaty Isla Scotches, but that might not appeal to most of our guests. The Glenfiddich 12 recommendation might the more diplomatic choice. I will definitely consider that.
Not planned everything but I'm trying. This will definitely be a learning process, which i what is most exciting to me.
Good to know about the Dolin Rouge. Leaning Martini and Rosso for my sweet at the moment.
Really like Bulleit's Rye too.
I haven't had Solerno. Will put that on my list.
I saw that Luxardo you speak of the other day and wondered. I might invest in some of that for home use.
Yeah, nut allergies, which seem to be more and more common, might lead me to go with the Cherry Marnier over the Heering. Definitely something to consider.
Yeah, with Scotch it seems like a losing battle at times when you are going for this "bar of one" idea. I don't really look to be particularly Scotch-centric. I'd like to make the occasional Rob Roy and Blood and Sand, but beyond that I don't envision having much beyond one or at most two Scotches.
Yeah, I am refreshed about the "bar of one" too. You basically summed up the idea with that phrase: ""We only stock one...any drink under the sun." That is it.
I don't think that Cherry Heering contains nuts; rather I suspect that the almond-like flavor comes from some cherry pits being included in the maceration, much like Maraschino....
Whilst that is certainly true of many stone fruit liqueurs, you don't have to take my word for it; it's written that it Contains Nuts on the rear label of the bottle.
That'll teach me to mouth off before reading my own damned bottle of the stuff: "contains almonds" sure enough!
No problem, mate.
I wouldn't have said anything at all in this thread if I hadn't picked up the bottle and tried the contents for the first time the other day. I thought I'd raise my observations of its almond heavy flavour because if Benj here is stocking the minimal possible number of bottles, CH might not be the right cherry liqueur for his applications.