Note: This piece is the drink Essential in Paste Quarterly #1, which you can purchase here, along with its accompanying vinyl Paste sampler.
No home is complete without a well-stocked bar. Fortunately, building that bar doesn’t have to be complicated; there’s no need for bottles of Blue Curacao and neon lights. Here, we outline the necessary components, from essential spirits to the tools you need to make a proper drink at home.
You want a rye, not a bourbon, as the base for most of your whiskey cocktails because rye’s spice stands up to the other flavors in the drink. Sazerac Rye was the foundation of one of America’s first cocktails, the Sazerac, and still sets the standard today, with its crisp bite and notes of vanilla and pepper. Bulleit Rye is also a great, widely available budget choice for cocktail applications, with a telltale dill note and flavors of green apple and assertive rye spice. Try them neat as well, or with a cube or two of ice—it’s a fallacy to think of rye as only whiskey for cocktails or mixing.
While traditional London Dry gins hit the juniper hard, American gins are often more complex, offering a variety of herbal and botanical notes. St. George Terroir Gin delivers hints of pine and sage, giving a simple Gin and Tonic a new world of flavor.
You’re not going to sip Appleton Estate Signature Blend neat, but it’s complex enough to go beyond the Rum and Coke. Citrusy and sweet, which is what you want from a mixing rum, Appleton carries just enough notes of molasses and oak to keep things interesting.
Dive into the American vodka revolution with this potato vodka out of Colorado. Woody Creek has a subtle, creamy sweetness to it that makes it easy to sip on its own. It does a fine job in a Martini, too.
Vermouth is as essential to any bar as whiskey, and you’ll need two bottles, a sweet and a dry. Carpano Antica Formula is the original sweet vermouth; it goes into Manhattans and Negronis. Martini and Rossi is the classic dry vermouth; You’ll add this to martinis.
Bitters are basically super-intense flavor extracts. A dash or two turns a glass of whiskey into a cocktail. Angostura is the standard aromatic bitter. Every bar should have a bottle. Start exploring different flavors with Regans’ Orange, a citrus bitter, and branch out from there.
You’re going to make an Old-Fashioned or two. Class up the process with Hella Bitters Cocktail Sugar Cubes.
Luxardo cherries are the grown-up version of the pink, candied cherries that adorn Shirley Temples. Perfect for muddling or garnishing.
The three-piece cobbler is easier to handle than Boston shakers, thanks to the strainer built into the lid. OXO SteeL is a press-and-pour cobbler that’s spill-proof.
The OXO SteeL Angled Jigger has measurements inside the jigger, eliminating the guesswork, and an angled spout for easy pouring.
Mixing Glass and Spoon
Some cocktails need to be stirred, not shaken, like a martini. Enter the Yarai Mixing Glass and Teardrop Bar Spoon, both of which add a bit of style to the operation.
To keep ice out of the glasses when pouring those stirred cocktails, fit the OXO SteeL Cocktail Strainer over the lid of the mixing glass.
There will be muddling. A natural wood muddler is simple and effective, and lends your bar an earthy element.
Every home bar needs five glasses, an Old-Fashioned, a coupe, a martini, a snifter, and a Tom Collins. Know which cocktail belongs in which glass and never stray.
The Craft of the Cocktail, by Dale DeGroff, has all of the recipes a home bartender needs, but goes beyond simple ingredients by diving into the history and personalities behind the cocktails.
The Bar Cart
You can use a vacant sideboard or corner of your kitchen island as your bar, but the West Elm Terrace Bar Cart displays sophistication while being under-stated enough to let your spirits and tools steal the show.