Bar Basics

assorted wine bottles
Just some of the things your basic bar should have on its shelves.
Photo by Chris F.

Life used to be so simple. We were young. We had a bar at home. It was called the refrigerator. A perfectly handy device used to store beer and left-over pizza. When friends visited, we’d offer them a drink. Pop the cap. And hand over the bottle. Glasses were what you borrowed from your neighbour when your mother visited.

But now that we are men of the world, we are required to exhibit a certain worldliness when it comes to the libations we offer our equally worldly guests. And no, two brands of beer doesn’t cut it. The average man is now required to field an above average bar.

Just as with a wardrobe there are certain basics, in terms of colours, that you must have when it comes to spirits. White. Brown. that’s it. Everything else is an accessory. The whites are vodka, gin and rum. No, don’t turn up your nose at gin. In the first place, it’s made a huge comeback. The smart set, of which you are desperately hoping to be a part, are discovering the delights of a martini made the way it used to be before Mr. Bond came along. And in the second place, when the retired army colonel who fathered that woman whose bed you share comes a calling, you’ll give yourself brownie points and avoid the business end of a shotgun if you can offer him a G&T for lunch.

Vodka is a given. Keep it straight. Flavoured vodkas are for fashion models and for the men who hang out with them. You are not one of them. Nor is one going to drop by your place for a drink, no matter how much you beg. But keep a couple of variations by all means. Like maybe one grain, one potato vodka. Always good for conversation, particularly if you can, with a straight face, lie about the little village in which you found it. Women like that.

Rum, well white rum is for mixing. Keep a bottle handy and learn how to use it. Make daiquiris. Make mojitos. And at a pinch, offer it with diet cola. Some women think you care if keep diet cola in the house.

Browns.  A generic  term for all dark spirits. Let’s begin with the obvious one. Whisky. Go the whole hog here. You need to carry one basic blend at least. Choose one you like but don’t go overboard. This is what you’ll offer the whisky and soda crowd. Stock one good blend, a 12 year old and up. You’ll need this when the boss drops by. Remember to tell him it was a gift otherwise he’ll think he pays you too much.

If you’re only going to have one single malt in your bar, make it a Speyside. Light, approachable, it’s the best starter malt there is. If you’re inclined to do more, an Islay should be next. And in between, if you have the room, an Orkney or a Skye so you can show off your sophistication.

Across the water, there’s Irish whiskey. And from further across the ocean, you can build a bar with the variants America offers. Bourbon, Rye, Sourmash. The latter is what you find in a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Don’t ever call that a bourbon. You’ll just air your ignorance.

There should be one dark rum in your cabinet. Everyone has a college buddy who still drinks rum. Keep a bottle and he’ll keep away from your single malt.

Brandies. Absolutely, positively, a Cognac. A VSOP at the very least. An XO if you can go the extra mile. Well worth it. And ideal for moments of quiet contemplation with a cigar. Or by the bucketload when the woman of your dreams dumps you. Apart from Cognac, an Armagnac or a marc. Grappa is nice to have, although that technically belongs back in the whites category.

And speaking of colours. No. No colours. No self-respecting man keeps bottles in shades of green or pink or yellow in his bar. Unless you have a girlfriend who gets seriously kinky when she’s been at the crème de menthe or limoncello. In which case, bring it on. Although a touch of red through a Campari is always a nice touch on a Sunday afternoon. That’s allowed.

Brands to buy? That’s simple. Buy the best you can afford. Cheap booze is just that. Cheap booze. It’ll give you no pleasure, just a wretched hangover once the night’s out. Don’t take out a bank loan to stock your bar, but don’t skimp on the basics either.

And Jagerbombs? Did you just ask that out loud? What are you? Twelve?

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