Your Home Start-up Bar Essentials

My friends Jordie and Darcy just opened a new cocktail supply shop in Vancouver called Sips Cocktail Emporium. Since they are in the business of supplying you with the wares to stock your home bar, perhaps you are asking yourself “Where would I begin?”

Lucky for you, they wrote a blog post about How to Start Your Home Liquor Cabinet. The thing I liked the most about this post was reading about their recommended home bar supplies separately, as well as why. They had some cross-over, but each added their personal flair to it. Which just goes to show, aside from an assortment of spirits, the liqueurs, aperitifs, bitters and so on are really up to your personal preference.

Start_Your_Home_Bar2_1024x1024There’s a theory that with only 12 bottles of liquor you can start your own home bar well-equipped to make hundreds of cocktails. The theory is put forward by the Solomonsons in their book The 12 Bottle Bar. While these bottles will definitely equip you with a lot of cocktail ammo, we don’t even think you’d need 12. When it comes down to it your bar is what you think is important. We believe that, not only is there room for more personalization, it can take much less to start your own liquor cabinet!Personalization is key and even between the two of us, we created different starter home-bars. Here what we came up with:

Darcy’s starter home-bar:
1. Vodka
2. Gin
3. Bourbon
4. Rye
Even though they seem similar, I like to have specify both bourbon and rye (and not just whisky) since they have unique flavours and there are many cocktails that specify which is needed.
5. Amber Rum
6. Dark Rum
Again, while these two rums may seem similar, they are used for completely different purposes. I like a good amber rum for mixing in cocktails and a dark rum for sipping.
6. Sweet Vermouth
7. Dry Vermouth
8. Campari
9. Lillet Blanc
One of my favourite liqueurs! I would ideally like to have a bottle of each kind: Blanc, Rose and Rouge. However, to simplify, I think the Blanc is more versatile as a cocktail ingredient and a drink on its own.
With this selection of bottles, I can make countless cocktails including: A Negroni, a Vesper Martini and my personal favourite A Little Princess (equal parts amber rum and sweet vermouth).


Jordie’s starter home-bar:
Now before I tell you what I’d include I think that I should talk about my philosophy here. What you want in a home bar is something that if anyone comes over you can make something to suit their tastes, while at the same time showing off your own. It’s a very free-flowing style, well suited to my own flexible personality.
First off I need the basics:
1. Vodka
2. Gin
3. Whisky
Rye or bourbon is what I prefer for mixing cocktails, bourbon is a little sweeter and rye is a little spicier, play it to your tastes. If you are a scotch drinker, I’d recommend getting a bottle of scotch for sipping and another bottle of a cheaper variety of whisky for pouring mixed drinks.
4. Tequila
Good for certain cocktails, but also useful for those people who just want a shot.
5. Rum
Now many people will criticize this (Darcy included), but you can probably just get away with one type of rum. White rum is used for some types of rum cocktails (Daiquiris, Long Island Iced Teas) whereas amber or spiced dark rums are preferred for more rum-centric drinks (Hot Buttered Rum, Rum & Cokes) that known, no reasonable human being is going to spit in your eye if you offer them one for the other. If you in particular are the sort of person who cares, by all means get all three types. (If you, like me, don’t care I’d say just get a nice tasting amber and use it for everything.)
Then I’d want a few things to just make many classic cocktails:
6-7. Sweet & Dry Vermouth
Crucial for classic cocktails like Martinis and Manhattans these vermouths (unlike rums imho) are not suitable for interchangeable use. I like to age my sweet vermouth in a barrel for a couple weeks before use, but this is not at all necessary.
8. Aromatic Bitters
There’s 100s of types of bitters out there, but the only one you absolutely have to have is an aromatic. I like to use Scrappy’s but other brands are fine, and each offers their own subtleties. Once you get started down the bitter’s road you can expand your bars versatility in many directions, but aromatic is all you need to start (and is what is being referred to when any cocktail recipe just calls for “bitters”).
And finally, a place to start experimenting:
9. Your favourite type of liqueur
There’s many types of liqueurs out there, but there’s no need to get all of them. You probably know what flavours you like and what you’ll use the most. I like to always have Campari and an orange liqueur in the house, but that’s because I particularly like experimenting with those flavours in cocktails. If you like Irish Cream, Coffee Liqueur, Amaretto, Fernet Branca, Lillet, Fireball or Peppermint Schnapps, that’s great. Get those. Just get a flavour you like and experiment with making your own cocktails at home with it. Then when you get bored of it, get something else!
So don’t be fooled into thinking you need certain types of liquor to start your home bar. There are great basics to begin with and there is lots of room for personalization. Ultimately, your home bar is for you: to make yourself delicious cocktails that you love and to show off to your friends what tastes you like.
Happy sipping!

Starting Your Home Liquor Cabinet original post
Sips Cocktail Emporium home page


How to Make Orange Liqueur

Orange liqueur is a definite cocktailing essential, but it can end up being quite expensive. If you’re like me and you want high quality taste without a high quality price, then the ultimate dilemma is, “How can I justify buying that bottle of Grand Marnier when I only finished it a month ago?” In BC, it runs $38.49 for a 750 ml bottle, and while it leaves behind a neat golden hue, the price does not justify it for me. I wouldn’t be satisfied with a bottle of triple sec, and Cointreau is too similar a price point to the Grand Marnier.  Keep in mind that making it yourself does not save you much money (only a few dollars cheaper), but you end up with leftovers of the ingredients, can customize it further to your palate, and creates less glass waste!

I searched high and low for an orange liqueur that I thought sounded like what I wanted to produce, and this recipe on Serious Eats sounded the best to me. What distinguished this recipe from others I found is that this one uses equal parts vodka and brandy, rather than just vodka. What I love the most about Grand Marnier is that it’s an orange cognac liqueur, so this seemed appropriate. While I would have loved to use cognac in my homemade concoction, if I could afford something like Courvoisier or Remy Martin, I wouldn’t be ruining it with a pile of flavour and sugar! Brandy would have to do.

I made the recipe exactly as given, to see how it would taste. I really don’t have any modifications to suggest. Some people left behind comments on the recipe page that indicated they didn’t like the taste of cloves and omitted it from the recipe, but I did add the cloves and there is certainly no clove taste in my final product. It was added to the final day of steeping, long enough only to round out the flavour.

As for authenticity, since I consumed all of my Grand Marnier, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I tried it in a margarita (1.5 oz reposado tequila, 0.5 oz orange liqueur, 1 oz lime juice, 0.5 oz simple syrup, shake and pour into a salted rim glass), a daiquiri (same as a margarita but with a white rum), and a beautiful (0.5 oz orange liqueur, 0.5 oz cognac), and all of them were quite tasty!

Smirnoff and St-RemyI used cheap spirits, Smirnoff vodka and St-Remy VSOP brandy. I bought the bitter orange peel from a local home-brewing supply shop. The recipe said to use “navel oranges”, and I’m not sure if that’s what I brought home; I used small-ish firm oranges that weren’t mandarins. The major point is to use a combination of sweet and bitter orange peel, like the store-bought orange liqueurs would use. I used a zester on the oranges because if you use a grater, you run the risk of having too much of the white bitter pith (bitter in the bad way, not the good way!) end up in the infusion and make it less palatable.

I’ve included some pictures of progress after the recipe directions, so you have some idea of how it will look along the way. I will absolutely be making this again!

Orange Liqueur Recipe (from Serious Eats)


  • 1/4 cup zest from 3 small naval oranges
  • 1 tablespoon dried bitter orange peel
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water


  1. Combine zest, dried orange peels, brandy, and vodka in a small sealable container. Seal and shake. Let steep for 19 days at room temperature. On day 20, add the cloves, then seal and shake. Let steep for an additional day.

  2. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat stirring to dissolve. Let this simple syrup cool. Strain the contents of the jar through a fine mesh strainer and then through a coffee filter. Discard the solids. Combine the strained mixture with the simple syrup in a jar or bottle. Shake and let it rest for a minimum of one day before use. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for up to one year (it’s best within three months). I didn’t have a 1L bottle, so I used two leftover 750 ml bottles.

Here are the pictures of progress:

How it looks a day after adding the ingredients.

How it looks a day after adding the ingredients.

I made sure to add 4 whole cloves (like the one on the left), as I felt the one on the right was missing the little head!

I made sure to add 4 whole cloves (like the one on the left), as I felt the one on the right was missing the little head!

Double filtered. First time through a mesh strainer, second time through a coffee filter. Definitely necessary.

Double filtered. First time through a mesh strainer, second time through a coffee filter. Definitely necessary.

After adding the orange mixture to the simple syrup.

After adding the orange mixture to the simple syrup.

After shaking and letting it sit for a day, now it's yummy and homogeneous.

After shaking and letting it sit for a day, now it’s yummy and homogeneous.

The (BC) Campari Controversy

If you’re looking to purchase Campari in BC, you won’t be able to find it anywhere in the lower mainland or most of Vancouver Island. The BC Liquor Stores don’t do transfers from other locations, either. CampariWhich is horrible news when you’re craving a Negroni and you suspect that no one in McBride or Gold River even knows what Campari is!

Good news: when I went into the BCLS on Friday afternoon, a store manager at a downtown location said that Campari would be arriving sometime in the next week. At this point, we still have no idea what the source of the shortage was. According to the president of Gruppo Campari Canada, the slowdown affected BC simply due to “distribution issues”. These issues did not affect any of the other provinces, only BC.

So why is this particular liqueur so coveted, anyway? It’s not so much that its flavour is spectacular, it’s that its flavour is unique. In a cocktail, it can be replaced with Cynar (another herbal aperitif/digestif), or Aperol (similar blend as Campari but with half the alcohol content). Except that calling them all the same is like suggesting that all pinot noir wines are the same simply because they come from the same grape.  These are the most suitable substitutions available, but that doesn’t mean you’ll end up with the same cocktail.

NegroniCampari is an essential ingredient in a cocktail called a Negroni, which is simply equal parts of Campari, red/sweet Vermouth, and gin. I like to use 0.5 oz for each.

As mentioned above, Campari is considered to be an aperitif/digestif, which means that the best time to have this cocktail is before or after a meal. This is believed to be because the herbs used in the production of an aperitif/digestif are used to aid in digestion. Whether you believe in that or not (I would suggest trying it first!), a Negroni is not a sweet cocktail. It’s quite bitter and is not exactly the best choice for “a night out”. It’s not bitter in an easy way to describe; it’s not bitter like hops in beer or bitter like an orange rind, it has its own special kind of bitterness. I certainly think it takes some getting used to, even if you like bitter drinks.

Tempo Renovo GinI enjoy drinking them now, and obviously, the choice of gin is also going to be of the utmost importance. A Dutch gin like Genever will have too delicate of a profile to stand out in a Negroni, which will push the Vermouth and Campari forward. If you want it to kick, use a gin that kicks like Tanqueray. If you want a smooth gin where the gin flavour is still noticeable, you could opt to get some Hendrick’s but that carries a high price for something that is going to be mixed.

If you are living in Vancouver, lucky you! There are 3 local distillers producing gin that I would recommend: G& W Distilleries Tempo Renovo Gin (Delta, BC), Odd Society Spirits Wallflower Gin (East Vancouver, BC), and Long Table Distillery London Dry Gin (Downtown Vancouver, BC). Odd Society and Long Table have a tasting room where you can try everything they produce. I have yet to pay G&W a visit, but their bottle was a modest price, enough for me to gamble on it. I was happy I did!

Futher reading:
Campari cocktail recipes direct from Campari
5 Essential Campari Cocktails from Serious Eats

The Mai Tai

This cocktail took a lot of research and a lot of planning to make. It was definitely worth it though! We went out of our way to use good quality alcohol, though I wouldn’t necessarily say that lower quality alcohol wouldn’t fare well, since a lot of sugar does get added.

First things first, the Mai Tai recipe, for which I have Beachbum Berry to thank. I will post his recipe first before I discuss the modifications we made.

Beachbum Berry’s Mai Tai:
– 1 oz. Rhum Clément VSOP Martinique rum
– 1 oz. Appleton Estate Extra dark Jamaican rum
– 0.5 oz. orange Curacao
– 1 oz. fresh lime juice
– 0.25 oz orgeat syrup
– 0.25 oz simple syrup
Add at least 2 cups of crushed ice, then shake well for around 10 seconds. Pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass. Sink your spent lime shell in the drink, and garnish with a mint sprig.

How I made the drink:
– I did not use the Rhum Clément VSOP Martinique rum, but instead used Saint James Royal Saint James Rhum AgricoleAmbre Martinique rum. You can choose to dial up/down the quality/price of this rum however you prefer; the most important thing about this rum is that it is a “rhum agricole”. How does rhum agricole differ from traditional rum? Traditional rum is distilled from molasses, which is sugarcane juice by-product. This tends to produce a sweet bold taste. Rhum agricole is distilled from the sugarcane juice directly. This tends to be more expensive and while still sweet, has a slightly different flavour. The variation in the English versus French nomenclature is dependent on the country of origin. Traditional rums are commonly produced in Jamaica (an English-speaking country), and les rhums agricoles are commonly produced in Martinique (a French-speaking country).

  • I did use the Appleton Estate Extra dark Jamaican rum because I was able to find it in my Appleton Estate Extra Darklocal liquor store. I was also stoked to try it out because I had been a long-time fan of the regular Appleton’s rum and figured I would love it. I did enjoy it but if rhum agricole is a sipping-on-the-beach flavour, then the extra dark Appleton’s was like a falling-off-a-surfboard flavour. It was good and I would buy it again, but if I were to make another Mai Tai, I would swap this out with a cheaper dark rum like Havana Club (about $10 cheaper for a 750mL bottle)

  • I did not use orange curacao because I could not afford it and didn’t want to spend a pretty penny on something I was using only 0.5 oz of. I used triple sec. If you happen to have orange curacao lying around, by all means, go for it! Hell, if you have Cointreau or Grand Marnier lying around, try those too! Just whatever you do, do NOT use BLUE curacao. That is the stuff that makes the drink look dirt brown when combined with the orgeat syrup. I stopped drinking Blue Hawaiians when I was 20. :P

  • It’s winter where I am and limes are 2 for $1. I was making the Mai Tais for a house party, and anticipated making 25 Mai Tais. I did not want to spend $13 on limes, so I bought some Reallime. It is really from limes but if you are sensitive to sulfates, don’t use it because they put it in there as a preservative. Since it is a concentrate, we also halved it and used 0.5 oz in each drink.

  • Orgeat syrup is one of the yummiest things ever if you like almonds!! I made it at home using this recipe right here! The person who wrote the recipe also wrote an outstanding article on why the muscle in boiling, mashing, straining fresh almonds is not only a giant pain in the arse but actually will yield the exact same product as what you get from store-bought almond milk. I used Natura unsweetened almond milk because it had the least amount of sodium in it per serving (the article discusses that as well).
    You will also need to procure some orange blossom water which is actually easier to find than you would think. Hit up a Mediterranean market or section in a regular grocery store or any other grocer that sells speciality/gourmet ingredients. It’s not “gourmet”-priced either. It was $2 for a 300 mL bottle.

  • Simple syrup is dead easy to make. It’s equal parts water and granulated sugar. Boil the water add the sugar til dissolved, BOOM!

One more note on the choice of rum: personally, I would not choose a very cheap rum because even with the sugar, I still don’t think it would taste good. I would however experiment with a spiced rum like Sailor Jerry in place of the extra dark rum. I would not recommend using Kraken because though it’s dark and yummy, it’s dark because of food colouring, not because of any sophisticated distillation process.

You might also be thinking “Well now that I have all this orgeat, what the f— else am I supposed to make with it?” Personally, I would stick with sweet liquors like rum, bourbon, cognac. I wouldn’t expect it to work well with a gin because that’s too herbal tasting and you could mix it with vodka if you are adding many other strongly-flavoured components which may not go well with a more distinctly flavoured spirit.

Further reading:
Wikipedia Rum page
Havana Club rum
Natura Almond Milk

Pear Syrup & A Warm Fall Favourite

I love Bartlett pears. A lot. I am pretty convinced that all imitation pear flavouring emulates the flavour of Bartlett pears. I love them so much that I actually can’t understand why other varieties of pear exist; they all taste like wet cardboard to me.

There are many pear liqueurs out there but knowing that they were likely made with the inferior non-Bartlett pears and were on the pricier side, I chose to go the simple route and make simple syrup in a Bartlett pear flavour.
(NB: this recipe will work for any variety of pear, you just have to promise me that whichever pears you choose, that you absolutely adore them. Don’t just grab any pears off the shelf!)

I sauntered down to the grocery store nearest my place and I bought 3 Bartlett pears. I left them out on top of the kitchen table to ripen. Just like using over-ripe bananas to make banana bread, I let these pears ripen far past their “yummy-to-eat” date, until their bottoms looked a little brown and soft. There were also an alarming amount of fruit flies trying to stake claim on my precious pears!

Once the pears were over-ripe, I rinsed them and chopped them in half and scooped out the soft brown bits. I did not peel the pears as I knew the skins would just get filtered out later anyway. While I chopped them up into little cubes, I prepared a water-sugar mixture on the stove. Here’s the exact recipe I used:

3 Bartlett pears (over-ripe)
1/2 cup of water (125 mL)
3/4 cup of white sugar (~180 mL)

Put the pear and the water and the sugar all into a small pot and put it on the stove on low-medium heat. meshstrainerStir it frequently for 15 minutes, being careful not to let it boil. Then, turn up the heat a little higher to about medium heat until the mixture bubbles ever so slightly for 3 minutes or so. Remove from the heat and filter the mixture through a mesh sieve and push all the pear goo with a spoon in the sieve to make sure all the syrup comes out. I did this over top a mason jar.
NB: my finished product did have some tiny little fibrous pear bits in it that did pass through the sieve, so I would recommend doing another filtration through some doubled-over cheesecloth.

Put the finished product in the fridge to cool before using. It should keep in the fridge for about a month. The final yield for this recipe was a little over a cup of syrup.

leftoverpeargoo I also kept my leftover pear goo in the fridge. Could be used for many things, such as filling tart shells or put it in an omelette with brie and blue cheese!

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, what kind of a drink uses pear syrup?

Since the weather is getting colder, the season of warm drinks is upon us and I decided to do a variation of the classic Hot Toddy. It’s a lovely cocktail that tastes more like tea than alcohol and feels oh-so-soothing when you have a cold! Neo Citran, eat (drink!) your heart out with this one:

Pear Hot Toddy

2 oz bourbon (or Tennessee whiskey or a blended Scotch of your choice)
2 oz pear syrup
Fill up with boiling water
Add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg
(Garnish with a cinnamon stick if desired)

The bourbon/Tennessee whiskey/blended Scotch choice is up to personal taste. I recommend bourbon/Tennessee whiskey over a blended Scotch simply because I find they are thicker and more syrupy than a blended Scotch. You could opt to use a peaty Single Malt Scotch however, I think that’s a waste of an expensive Scotch that is best served alone. The sugar in the syrup is going to change the flavour of the Scotch too, so best to use something that is not too expensive and complements the sweetness of the pear and spices nicely.

If you happen to have pure maple syrup on hand, I also recommend using 1.5 oz pear syrup and 0.5 oz of maple syrup instead. That’s just my Canadian showing. ;)