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!

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Sips Cocktail Emporium home page

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