June 2, 2020

The Well-Stocked Home Bar

Lately there have been more cocktails sampled when out and about – now that I’ve successfully branched out from the classic gin martini – and more cocktail parties thrown at home. Maybe it started with recent hours spent watching Mad Men and having the characters’ excessive cocktail consumption wash over me. Or maybe it was the search for the right bar to buy, finding the appropriate size to hold an ever-expanding collection of liquor and liqueurs. The other day I opened up what serves as my liquor cabinet and started rooting around looking for something or other, and realized that I had an excess of bottles. Too many bottles acquired for a single drink (Frangelico) or recipe (Starbucks liqueur chocolate cake), making for liquor actually stored in three different places at home. So many bottles, too infrequently used, taking up way too much space. And as my cocktail interests broaden, not enough room for the green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and Lillet that I use on a far more frequent basis than you might think.

Thus began a more careful examination of what I was actually using, and the question of what makes a well-stocked bar. Assuming that you want to have on hand the spirits to make a select number of cocktails, what bottles should inhabit your bar? I’m sure that the recent popularity of Mad Men has contributed to the parallel resurgence of the classic cocktail, and I’m all for it. The Manhattan, Sidecar, Gin Gimlet, and perhaps lesser known Corpse Reviver or The Last Word, are all drinks I heartily endorse. I’ve no doubt that this could be the subject of much debate, but after careful consideration and in consultation with a few select cocktail-savvy friends, here is my version of the well-stocked home bar. Notes about brands only where I feel especially wed to one or two:

  • Two gins (I’d recommend Miller’s and Hendrick’s)
  • OK, three gins because I’m such a fan of the Old Tom style right now (Ransom is smooth and lovely)
  • Vodka (mostly because I love Vespers)
  • Whiskey
  • Rye or bourbon
  • Dry vermouth
  • Sweet vermouth
  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Campari
  • Maraschino liqueur
  • Chartreuse
  • Fernet-Branca
  • Cynar
  • Elderflower liqueur (has to be St-Germaine, given my recent taste-off)

Another important question: Do you need a bar book? Of course you can always look up a recipe online, but if you’re going to have the well-stocked bar, how about a book to go with it? One of my go-to cocktail-y friends recommended The Savoy Cocktail Book, and since then I’ve spied it sitting on the shelves of several of the bars around town. Though if the Savoy isn’t your speed and you’d like to explore other options, start with this post by bartender- blogger-tweeter Andrew Bohrer. Then hang around and read more because he’s wickedly funny, but only if you can handle the irreverent. As long as we’re on the topic of books, one more suggestion before I close with a recipe. If you’d be happy finding yourself at the intersection of cocktails, cooking, and history, keep an eye out for Bitters, the soon-to-be released book from Amazon-editor-turned-book-author Brad Thomas Parsons. Apparently chock full of recipes – both of the food and cocktail variety – with history woven throughout. Sounds like just my kind of read!

Last but not least, what would a classic bar be without the cocktail of the house? Given my current love affair with Old Tom Gin (and Ransom in particular), I’ll share the Dover Calais with thanks to the nice people at Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor for graciously providing proportions. And although I’m a fan of mixing this one at home, I must say that it tastes especially good when consumed at Frank’s alongside several goat cheese deviled eggs and an iced flat of oysters…

Dover Calais
2 1/4 oz. Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz. St-Germaine
1/4 oz. Chartreuse

Cheers, and happy cocktailing!


  1. This is a fantastic guide, thanks for putting it together and sharing it with the rest of us. Cheers!