It's not just a Mad Men fantasy. It can happen to you, too: The home bar that's so well stocked, so neatly curated that cocktail hour becomes casual. After-work drinking (or, if it's truly a Mad Men fantasy, during-work drinking) turns elegant. No plastic bottles crammed in cabinets, no guests stuck with beer from the fridge. But how do you do it without a bank-account-wrecking, bottle-buying binge?
"Nobody wants to go out and drop $1500 on a bar set-up," says Jeffrey Morgenthaler, mixologist at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon. "And if you're trying to go all out, $1500 won't even get you very far. Focus on maximizing a couple hundred bucks through the essentials."
Once you start naming essentials, you'll start a debate, of course, so focus on your own taste, first, and then aim for ingredients that will create a diversity of cocktails that you can offer friends.
The Spirits“Part of the trick is knowing which brands to buy,” says Morgenthaler. “There are things that are really good and really inexpensive.”
You can acquire top-shelf vodka - Grey Goose, Ketel One - for under $30.
“I’m a Beefeater guy. For the price, it’s amazing.”
Because someone will one day ask you for a cosmo! Don't go for cheap triple sec or orange liqueur.
“There are so many favorites, but we love Buffalo Trace; it’s great and well-priced.” Other great values that will get you started: Evan Williams Single Barrel, Old Bardstown Estate.
“You can get really nice aged rum for next to nothing,” says Morgenthaler.
The MixersYou’ll have to top these items off more often than the spirits, but keep them on your regular shopping list, and you'll always have something on hand for a great array of cocktails.
You can make a batch of this whenever you're out. Use it in lieu of dry sugar (which may not dissolve properly in your drinks, leaving a gritty finish.) Combine one cup sugar and one cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and store for up to a month in a jar or other air tight container.
Lemon & Lime Juice
Tonic & Soda
The ToolsThe shaker
To get a uniformly cold, well-incorporated, frothy cocktail, you’ll need a shaker and a sturdy arm. Morgenthaler's suggestion: “Shake the living daylights out of it.”
The bar spoon
“The thing about a stir that’s good, it doesn’t introduce any airbubbles into the drink, and doesn’t break up bits of ice," Morgenthaler says. "So you’re left with a super cold, velvety texture on the drink."
For flawless measuring – one of the keys to nailing the perfect cocktail.
"You don't want any additional ice shards in the drink, I don't like that sort of layer of ice floating on top of a cocktail, so we double strain all of our cocktails," says Morgenthaler.