You can stock your home bar a few bottles at a time. Deb Lindsey Deb Lindsey/The Washington Post
You can stock your home bar a few bottles at a time. Deb Lindsey Deb Lindsey/The Washington Post

Food & Drink

Good cocktails aren’t cheap. Here’s a plan to get you started

By M. Carrie Allan

The Washington Post

October 05, 2017 04:10 PM

Maybe you want to be a good host, ready for any drink request. Or maybe there's just a particular cocktail that you wouldn't mind having at home from time to time.

We can help. Starting up a home bar doesn't have to be overwhelming. You don't have to become a temple of mixology, creating your own syrups, infusing your own bitters, sending out drinks that would fit in on a Paris runway. You don't need a graduate degree in potions or enough money to afford a booze collection that requires its own wing. Just take it step by step.

That's how Paul Clarke, author of "The Cocktail Chronicles" and executive editor of Imbibe magazine, did it when he first got into cocktails around 2003, via a dinner party where everyone was laying claim to making a dish. Clarke figured he could either make a cocktail or wash dishes. He found a punch recipe, and everyone at the party liked it. Clarke was hooked, and he started to expand his collection.

These days, even his broom closet is filled with bottles. "The only places I have not stored it in my house are in the bathroom - that's gross - and the kids' rooms. Though I did think about that when they were littler and I was like, 'Hmm, maybe on the top shelf . . .?' "

But if Clarke were to start over, he would reclaim his broom closet. I heard the same from several passionate cocktailers who went down the rabbit hole in the early days, acquired hundreds of bottles, then realized they didn't really need them. Some have kept collecting, but they are more disciplined in curating what they acquire. Others have downsized.

You don't need 50 bottles of booze, and you don't need hundreds of bitters, says Brian Robinson, a financial adviser who serves as the review editor for the Wormwood Society, a nonprofit group that provides education about absinthe. Robinson is a serious collector of spirits, but, he says, "you can build out a nice, versatile bar with 15 or 20 bottles." In his bar area, he keeps a his go-to mixing spirits, and he can access a mini-fridge for perishables such as vermouth.

Here's a recommended course to grow your home cocktailing collection in a way that each round of purchasing will enable you to make new drinks. This list doesn't include such items as sugar/simple syrup and fresh citrus fruits, which you'll want to keep on hand. It's also smart to keep a decent bottle of Brut-style sparkling wine chilled for whenever you need it. By the end, you'll have a versatile, guest-friendly and manageable collection - and hopefully, a good sense of whether you want to expand it further.


You need: A cocktail shaker (which can double as a mixing glass), a measuring jigger, a long spoon, a julep strainer

Optional: A mixing glass, a muddler, a fine-mesh strainer.

Glasses: A Collins glass, a rocks glass and a coupe. (I'd advise against V-shaped "martini" glasses, which seem to be designed to spill drinks.)

Round 1:

A good mid-price rye (such as Dickel or Redemption) or bourbon (such as Buffalo Trace or Maker's Mark); Angostura bitters; club soda

Budget: $50

You can now make: Whiskey & Soda, Old-Fashioned

Round 2:

A good dry gin (such as Beefeater or Plymouth); sweet and dry vermouth (Dolin Dry, Cocchi vermouth di Torino for the sweet); tonic water (Fever Tree is good); orange bitters

Budget: $65

You can now make: Manhattan, Martini, Gin and Tonic, gimlet, Tom Collins, Gin Rickey, French 75 (assuming you have sparkling wine)

Round 3:

A good white rum (such as Banks 5 Island or Havana Club)

Budget: $30

You can now make: Daiquiri

Round 4:

Campari (if you like it); a good silver or reposado tequila (such as Siembra, Ocho or El Tesoro)

Budget: $60-$70

You can now make: Negroni, Americano, Margarita

Round 5:

Orange curacao (such as Pierre Ferrand); maraschino liqueur (such as Luxardo), grenadine

Budget: $60-$75

You can now make: El Presidente, Hemingway daiquiri, Martinez (usually made with sweeter Old Tom gin, but works with dry gin)

Round 6:

A good rye or bourbon (whichever you didn't get in Round 1), absinthe, Peychaud's bitters

Budget: $80 (good absinthe is expensive; a small bottle will last a long time)

You can now make: Sazerac


Adapted from

4 dashes Angostura bitters

1 teaspoon sugar

1 slice orange

1 maraschino cherry

Splash of club soda or sparkling water

2 ounces bourbon

Place the bitters, sugar, orange slice and cherry in a rocks glass. Muddle gently with a wooden muddler or the back of a spoon. Add the bourbon and fill with ice. Top with a splash of soda.

Yield: 1 serving.



2 1/2 ounces gin

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup

Garnish: 1 lime wheel

Add the gin, lime juice and simple syrup to a shaker, add ice and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with the lime wheel

Yield: 1 serving.



2 1/2 ounces rye

1 sugar cube

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

1 dash Angostura bitters


Lemon peel

Place a sugar cube in a rocks glass with a few drops of sugar and stir or muddle. Add several small cubes of ice, the rye and both kinds of bitters. Stir well.

Using a second rocks glass, add a few drops of absinthe and roll the glass around to coat the inside. Strain the rye and bitters mixture into the glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Yield: 1 serving.