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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Vancouver Tequila Expo 2015 (A Comprehensive Tequila Review)

Getting the chance to go to the Vancouver Tequila Expo was a treat! No tokens required as a trades person, we were able to try as many samples as we wanted. My only complaint was that the many food stations which were free for the general public, since we were not the “general public” and were being kicked out when they were to arrive, the food stations largely had not opened yet, and therefore, I was more drunk that I had cared to be at that time. Which resulted in me texting my partner for some “emergency sushi” (is there any other kind?). ;)

If you don’t know much about tequila, here is some information to serve as a crash course on what you need to know:

  • Good tequila should be made from 100% blue agave. The cheaper tequilas that we over did in our youth were likely only 51% blue agave. If your stomach wretches at the thought of Jose Cuervo or Sauza, there is good reason for that; it’s not pure. Careful when you do your research; some tequila will state it uses “100% agave” which is not the same as “100% blue agave”.
  • Tequila usually comes 3-4 varieties: blanco (white, aged less than 3 months), reposado (pale yellow/beige, aged 3-12 months), anejo (darker yellow, aged at least 12 months), extra anejo (darkest yellow, aged at least 36 months). Stay away from any variety labelled “Gold”; it means that food colouring was added to a blanco to get you to think it’s a reposado/anejo.
  • Since all tequila has to be 100% blue agave, the major variance in flavour is going to come from: where the agave was grown and its terroir, how much of it was produced at a time, and what type of barrels was in aged in. While all tequila is aged in oak barrels, some of them are aged in virgin oak barrels; whereas some acquire used casks which had previously aged wine, rum, Bourbon, or Scotch whisky.
  • Tequila is a type of mezcal, but not the other way around. Tequila is a city in the state of Jalisco in Mexico and is used to denote a particular region (sort of like how Champagne is from Champagne in France). The major difference in flavour is that mezcal is smokier and more complex than tequila and is made by combining agave and maguey plants, not just blue agave. They are also known to include various spices and fruits in the distillation process. Mezcal is produced in the state of Oaxaca, and is also commonly produced in a single village, which can make for some high bottle prices.

And now, onto the tequila (and mezcal) reviews!

Hornitos Black Barrel: I was a little uncertain as to whether I would enjoy thHornitos Black Barrele top shelf of Sauza because Sauza is awful but, the Hornitos Reposado was decent. I gave the Black Barrel a try and was pleasantly surprised. It lends its complexity to aging it in a Scotch barrel.
Definitely had a little bite and smokiness in the finish. While the rep did not disclose which Scotch distillery’s barrel was used, it does mean that the tequila would actually be the third spirit in the barrel, since the Scotch distillery would have obtained it from a rum or Bourbon distillery first. Sauza is a tequila subsidiary owned by Beam Suntory Holdings, the #3 top-selling spirits producer in the world, which means that barrels can go back-and-forth between distilleries; the profit still goes to the same company in the end.

Blue Hour: I triedIMG_20150530_164115 their Reposado and their Anejo, both of which were intensely tasty. They disclosed that they are currently aging their tequila in barrels obtained from the Knob Creek Bourbon distillery. The rep was a little nervous giving me that information, simply because he believed that their barrel source may soon be changing. Blue Hour is owned by the Don Good Tequila Company, a Canadian-owned company operating out of Jalisco, Mexico. The company has only been known to produce tequila.IMG_20150530_164436

Herradura Reposado: This is the top shelf production line of the same company which produces El Jimador. The tequila was nice and smooth; cheap enough to mix and delicious enough to enjoy straight. Herradura is owned by Brown-Forman, a US-based spirits producer which owns Jack Daniels (Tennessee Whisky), Woodford Reserve (Bourbon), and several other big name spirits brands.

Asombroso: IMG_20150530_170739These were definitely unique tequilas. Their reposado is aged in Bordeaux red wine casks for 3 months, and their anejo is aged 5 years in French virgin oak barrels. The reposado definitely carried a fruitier flavour than I would typically attribute to a tequila, and the anejo was robust and caramel-like. Their bottles are quite pretty, especially the reposado with its hand-painted like detail. Asombroso is family owned and operated in the US and only produces tequila. The high label price seems to support this notion.

Dulce Vida: I managed to try the reposado, anejo, and extra anejo. These were all fantastic, especially the extra anejo. This distillery is one of few who claims to producIMG_20150530_171317Organic tequila and that their agave harvesting is sustainable to the environment. All of their tequilas were very smooth and simple. Not very intense and all lightly sweet in flavour. They age their reposado and anejo in Bourbon barrels (cannot remember if it was from Jack Daniels or Jim Beam) and they age their extra anejo in barrels from a Napa Valley winery.

Agave Underground: Definitely gets points for having the coolest bottle toppers. TIMG_20150530_171743ried their reposado and anejo and both were nice and smooth with a nice little bite at the finish.  They age their tequila in Jack Daniels barrels and make this information public on their website. The company is a small batch producer and makes only tequila.

Del Maguey: This company produces several single village mezcals. I tried all three thIMG_20150530_172416ey had at the show; the Vida San Luis del Rio, the Chichicapa, and the Minero – Santa Catarina Minas. The San Luis del Rio is considered their “entry level” mezcal, as it’s priced less than $100.  It had a light body and light smokiness to it. The Chichicapa was far more smokier but still had a light to medium body to it. The Santa Catarina Minas was definitely my favourite; was a little less smoky than the Chichicapa but had a nice full bodied sweetness in the background that made it exquisite to sip.

Clase Azul: Again, some of the most stunning boIMG_20150530_173435ttles I have ever seen. The reposado was definitely memorable, very nice and smooth and not too sweet. They age their tequila in virgin oak barrels. The anejo was also quite good, but I found the reposado more memorable. Casa Tradicion is the Mexico-based company which produces the tequila using organically grown agave, yet they do not label their tequila as being organic.

Alipus Mezcal: This mezcal is also single village origin. At this poinIMG_20150530_175129t, my ethanol to food ratio was too great for me to remember if I liked it. I know I didn’t dislike it! Perhaps I only have fonder memories of Del Maguey because their bottles stood out more. I believe I only tried one, but that detail is hazy!

T1 Tequila Uno: Tried their reposado and anejoIMG_20150530_180212. Both tasted sweet and pleasant, but nothing outstanding. The higher price tag is likely related to the company being family owned and operated, creating small batches of their spirits. Certainly a sipping tequila.

Gran Cava de Oro: Aged in French white oak barrels definitely lent some coIMG_20150530_180734mplexity to the flavour. Both the reposado and anejo were sweet and pleasant to drink. Their reposado is aged for 6 months, and their anejo is aged for 2 years. Their extra anejo is aged 5 years, but I did not get a chance to try it.



Links for further reading:
– Hornitos Tequila
Blue Hour Tequila
Herradura Tequila
Asombroso Tequila
Dulce Vida Organic Tequila
Agave Underground
Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal
Clase Azul Tequila
Lorenz Agave Spirits importer – Alipus Mezcal
T1 Tequila Uno
Gran Cava de Oro
Tequila on Wikipedia
Mezcal on Wikipedia