8 essential bottles to store your home bar for fall
For those who haven’t joined this summer’s class of newly created home bartenders, there is still plenty of time to hone your craft. In fact, fall is arguably the best time of year to start mixing and sipping cocktails. Spirits are hot from the inside out, and their high alcohol content ensures good value for money – perfect with the holiday season and all its freebies just around the corner.
Assembling a versatile and well-stocked home bar doesn’t have to break the bank, either. Armed with fresh citrus, ingredients for making basic syrups, and a bottle of all-important Angostura bitters, this list of eight bottles makes for over 25 different cocktails. Enough to try two new drinks every week by the end of the year. So what are you waiting for?
Here are eight essential bottles to build your home bar this fall.
1. LONDON DRY GIN
Gin appears in countless classic cocktail recipes and has been a focal point for bartenders for years, especially the London Dry style. G&T may be the most famous gin cocktail, but the Martini is the true calling of the spirit. It’s also a surprisingly natural fit for fall. Unlike a Margarita, the Martini is not a cocktail that you make ahead of time and take to the park – nor can it be fully enjoyed sipping from a plastic cup. This drink needs to be savored over time in fine, well-chilled glassware.
Play with the proportions of gin and dry vermouth (its other component) and observe the change in the profile of the drink significantly. Introduce orange bitters for a spicy citrus seasoning and select a garnish to suit your mood: go for a lemon zest if you’re feeling fresh; an olive or three if you are salty; or add a cocktail onion (maybe homemade?) for a miniature meal in a glass when hunger strikes.
All this talk about Martinis shouldn’t distract from another great fall gin-based cocktail, the Negroni. Like autumn itself, the blend of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth has a foot each in summer and winter. Sweet citrus notes are reminiscent of those warmer months, while decadent baking spices call for a roaring fire (or a night in front of Netflix, at the very least).
Beefeater, Tanqueray, Sipsmith, Highclere Castle
2. SCOTCH PEAT
Not all scotches are smoky. Only the country’s peaty whiskeys, which often come from the Scottish island of Islay, carry the distinctive notes of earth and fire. If you don’t know and don’t like this flavor profile, cocktails are a great way to get to know each other. Opting for a bottle that is not too peated only makes this journey of discovery more accessible (see suggestions below).
Start with classic cocktails that already contain scotch. A slightly smoky Hot grog will keep you warm and can help with those pesky colds. For a less traveled path, try the Penicillin, a “modern classic” cocktail composed of a blend of whiskey, ginger syrup and lemon juice, topped with a peaty Scottish float. Using a lightly peated scotch in place of the blended whiskey simplifies things and eliminates the added floating step.
For long drinks with low ABV content, turn to the Highball whiskey. Mix scotch and soda (with a lemon wedge), scotch and ginger beer (with lime), or even scotch and cola. The latter’s sweet vanilla and caramel notes help tame wild whiskey. Plus, you drink it at home, so no one will judge.
Last but not the least, the Smoky Martini. Once you’ve set your preferred ratio of gin and vermouth, rinse some of the whiskey in an ice cream cup, then throw it away before adding the stirred cocktail. Finish with a plump Castelvetrano olive and enjoy a Martini like no other.
Hot Toddy, Penicillin, Highball Whiskey, Smoky Martini
Talisker 10, BenRiach 10 years Curiositas, Amrut Fusion
Bourbon’s predominantly corn mash bill and aging in new oak barrels create a smooth, mellow profile, easy to sip and ideal for mixing cocktails.
Channel your inner Don Draper (or Ryan gosling) via one of America’s oldest cocktails, the aptly named Old fashioned. Or, make good use of the shaker by whisking a Whiskey Sour, another timeless classic. Repair a Gold Rush for a contemporary twist, shake 2 ounces of bourbon, ounce of fresh lemon juice and ¾ ounce of honey syrup (2 parts honey, 1 part water). Honey syrup increases the richness of alcohol, while lemon juice keeps things alive.
While traditionalists opt only for rye, don’t be afraid to use bourbon in a Manhattan. A bottle with a high rye mashbill (like Old Grand-Dad Bonded or Four Roses Small Batch) allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds of whiskey.
Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, Gold Rush, Manhattan
Old Grand-Dad Bonded, Four Roses Small Batch, Evan Williams Single Barrel, Woodford Reserve
4. AGED RUM
White rum is as refreshing as any liqueur in spring and summer, especially mixed with drinks like Mojito and Daiquiri. But when the leaves start to fall, it’s the warm richness of the dark spirits that we yearn for. The swap in a fine aged rum as the base spirit in these rum cocktails and almost every classic brings sweet baking spices to the party and toasted oak from the cask spirit time. Honestly, Piña Coladas have never tasted so good.
Aged rum also takes us in our first steps of Tiki exploration, via the Grog. Shake 2 ounces of aged rum with ½ ounce of fresh lime juice and simple syrup (2 parts white sugar, 1 part water) and a few drops of Angostura spicy bitters.
For a weekend cocktail project, whip up a simple oleo saccharum with fresh citrus zest and sugar. Citrus syrup is the perfect sweetener for an aged rum Old fashioned, and a few bitter dashes from Angostura will brighten things up again. For a touch of a contemporary classic, arrange an aged rum Gold Rush, swapping fresh lime juice for the original lemon. This riff builds on the richness of the traditional version with added zest and spices.
Daiquiri, Mojito, Piña Colada, Grog, Old Fashioned, Gold Rush
Cruzan Estate Single Barrel Rum, Don Pancho Origenes Reserva 8-Year-Old, Ten to One Dark Rum from the Caribbean
5. BLANCO TEQUILA
With a healthy selection of aged spirits now lining the bar cart, let’s add another white liqueur. Even though it’s below zero outside, there are occasions that call for a lighter, more refreshing cocktail, and tequila is a timeless option. Plus, the herbal spice of the spirit is sure to keep you warm inside.
The most famous of tequila cocktails, the Margarita, is evergreen with endless riffs. While the classic recipe requires the additional purchase of orange liqueur, opt instead for agave syrup and a Tommy’s Marguerite. Instead, mix with grapefruit soda for an even lighter cocktail, the Paloma, or enhance a brunch with a bloody Maria. For an evening sip and something with a little more body, swap tequila for gin in a Negroni. This only adds to the complexity of the cocktail.
Margarita from Tommy, Paloma, Bloody Maria, Negroni
Arette Blanco, Elvelo Blanco, El Tesoro Blanco, Código 1530 Blanco, Fortaleza Blanco
While there are alternatives, Campari is essentially a single-brand category. The bitter red liqueur is synonymous with classic cocktail cousins, the Negroni and Boulevardier, who both make good use of these newly acquired bottles of gin and bourbon whiskey.
the Old buddy, another well worn riff on the formula in equal parts, blend of bourbon (traditionally rye), Campari and dry vermouth. Contrary to Negroni and Boulevardier, this cocktail should be served “up” (without ice cubes) with a lemon zest. To reduce the ABV content of Campari cocktails, omit the base alcohol completely. Mix equal parts Campari and mild vermouth for a classic Milano-Turin, and add a little soda for the lighter American.
Negroni, Boulevardier, Old Pal, Milano-Turin, Americano
7 & 8. DRY AND SOFT VERMOUCHE
Vermouth is an aromatic fortified wine. infused with herbs, roots, bark and flowers, and enhanced with a neutral grape alcohol (think: unaged brandy). Dry or white vermouth is traditionally associated with France, while sweet (red) vermouth originates from Italy.
Essential to many cocktails listed above, there are a few things to note about the dry and sweet vermouth. The first is that one cannot be substituted for the other because their flavor profiles are so drastically different – although some cocktail recipes may require both, including the Bronx, a stirred citrus Martini riff that mixes 2 ounces of gin, ½ ounce of dry sweet vermouth and 1 ounce of freshly squeezed orange juice.
Second, the quality of the vermouth cannot be overstated. Flavored wine is believed to play a supporting role in the primary role of the spirit. Therefore, there is no point in buying a fancy gin or bourbon and pairing it with a low-end vermouth. It doesn’t even require spending a fortune – a few extra dollars makes a big difference in the vermouth department.
Finally, freshness is the key. Unlike spirits, vermouths should be stored in the refrigerator after opening and ideally should be consumed within two months. The good thing is that many liquor stores sell 375 milliliter half-bottles. With careful exploration of cocktails, the vermouth bottle will be empty long before its contents spoil.
Martini, Negroni, Manhattan, Bronx
Dolin (dry and sweet), Carpano Antica (sweet), Cocchi (sweet)