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


Honey Lavender syrup


Some of you might be thinking “What, that putrid stench of women’s bath bombs in a drink, are you daft?!” or some of you might be thinking “If I wanted to taste like I was munching flowers, I would go raid my neighbour’s garden!” But NO! To miss out on lavender is a crime against one of the finest flowers to make itself into the culinary arts.

Fir0002/FlagstaffotosHere’s the trick with enjoying lavender: it’s very very potent. In order to get it to play well with others, you have to use little of it when preparing a syrup and little of the syrup in the drink. Likewise, if you’ve ever had some lavender white chocolates (common combination), the lavender taste is a hint and that does it plenty. A little goes a long way with this happy little purple guy.

So of course, I made my syrup with honey because bees are what help pollinate our purple guy up there and without bees we have NO flowers!!
By TTaylor (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons Here is a picture of a bee because I LOVE BEES! 

First, comes the easy part of making the syrup.

Like the other syrups, I added equal parts water and sugar (honey). 3/4cup of each on low heat. Added a little less than a tablespoon of dried lavender. When the low heat mixture gently bubbles, leave on the heat only another 3 minutes. Cool and then transfer to a 1 cup mason jar.

And now, for the yummy drinks! The thing that’s good about this syrup is the sweetness of the honey lends well to combine with rum, and the floral contribution of the lavender lends well to gin. I did not get around to naming these drinks…!

Drink #1:
2 oz gin
0.5 oz honey lavender syrup
0.25 oz Alize
0.25 oz Grand Marnier
Top with lime club soda

Drink #2:
1 oz rum agricole amber
0.25 oz honey lavender syrup
0.5 oz Alize
125 mL tropical juice
Shaken and strained over ice

Drink #3:
2 oz gin
0.33 oz honey lavender syrup
0.33 oz saffron syrup
Pineapple juice
Splash orange juice
Shaken served on ice

And if you’re having an easy lazy morning at home and don’t feel like drinking, add the syrup to some Earl Grey tea. YUM!!

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