Cocktail Recipes, Spirits, and Local Bars

The Best Spirits to Stock Your Home Bar With

The Best Spirits to Stock Your Home Bar With

I am a huge advocate of the "spring cleaning" mentality. Out with the old, in with the new. And while most people would associate spring cleaning with clothes and shoes, it’s important to consider your liquor cabinet in this as well. If you’ve been pouring yourself the same old drinks with the same old ingredients for too long, perhaps it’s time to do a little spring cleaning of your own.

Last year, we gave you a guide on how to update your home bar with new spirits, and as the seasons change, so do the basic necessities. The types of spirits are the same; you should always be in possession of quality vodka, tequila, gin, rum, and some brown spirits as well. But with new brands constantly being released on the market, it’s important to keep up with what basic spirits to have on hand, and what specialty bottles can be kept in house for that frequent mid-week fun cocktail. Did someone say Avion Espresso Liqueur?

Read on for tips on how to update your home bar with new spirits as well as the staples that you shouldn’t live without. Get a head start on your boozy spring cleaning now, and you’ll be sure to have the best bar on the block! Cheers!

Vodka

Having a solid vodka selection at all times is really important for the home bar, especially with the warm weather well on its way into our lives. I’m not of the school of thought that several different types of vodkas are needed; in fact, having any more than two or three bottles is a bit excessive. Since these are your go-to vodkas, you’ll want them to be of the best quality, not only in terms of taste but also value. If spending $40 on a bottle of triple-distilled vodka from France is your idea of the best vodka on the market, then by all means invest, but there have been a multitude of new vodkas released in the last year that are of superior quality for half the cost.

Three to Try: Punzone Vodka, Reyka Vodka, 42 Below

Gin

Gin, to me, is the warm-weather spirit. It’s refreshing, crispy, and incredibly easy to mix with a bubbly soda, some ice cubes, and a few wedges of fresh lemon or lime. In the last several years, gin has seen a renaissance of sorts, with new brands coming out that pay homage to the traditional London Dry style, but bring in some new flavors and styles as well. With gin, your best bet is to have one London Dry and one of these new modern-style expressions.

Two to Try: No.3 London Dry Gin, Junipero Gin

Click here to find more spirit recommendations for building the home bar.

— Sara Kay, The Spir.it


In party planning, the general advice is that guests will drink two drinks the first hour, and one drink per hour after that. These drinks can be cocktails, beer, wine, or nonalcoholic beverages, and many guests will opt for a combination throughout the night.

Developing a cocktail menu is one way to cut your costs because you only need the ingredients for the specific drinks you select. It also offers the opportunity to design the menu around the party theme.

The steps involved make it rather easy:

  1. Decide which cocktails you'll offer.
  2. Estimate the number of guests you expect.
  3. Determine how much of each liquor and mixer needed per drink.
  4. There are 25 ounces or an average of 16 shots in a 750-milliliter bottle Use this to estimate how many bottles of each ingredient you need. For the base spirits (e.g., rum, vodka, whiskey, etc.), add one extra bottle just in case. Place any leftover bottles in your regular bar after the party.

I always tell people to stock their bar with the spirits they love. If you like drinking rum or gin, for example, have several different types on hand. Ultimately, it’s your bar—and there’s no need to have vodka in there if you’re never going to drink it. As long as you’re using the right techniques and ingredients, you will be able to make great cocktails for you and your guests.

(Of course, if you entertain a lot, or you’d like to have a more versatile bar, you’ll want to have a wide variety of spirits and liqueurs, which we’ll get to in a minute.)


5 Essential Rum Bottles Your Home Bar Needs

Rum is experiencing a true Golden Age, with new expressions being released at every turn, cocktail creativity through the roof and greater consideration for provenance and classification. It’s the perfect spirit: Satisfying to sip on its own, easy to top with a straightforward mixer, or the base for a myriad of complex cocktails. Isn’t it time you upped your own rum game?

Whether you’re new to the world of rum or looking to make a few overdue upgrades to your personal stash, chances are you could use an expert’s advice. Enter Kenneth McCoy, the chief creative officer of Public House Collective and a founding partner of the group’s New York City bars, including The Rum House and Ward III, where he lords over a rum list 100-bottles deep. That’s probably a bit steep for your purposes, so we asked him to whittle down the list to five.

Get ready for rum nirvana with these essential bottles for your home bar.


5 Essential Bourbon Bottles You Need for Your Home Bar

We’re living in the golden age of spirits. Never before have there been more bottles of booze vying for a parking space on your bar cart. We lean on the pros to help you build a bottle list from scratch.

Fred Minnick knows his way around whiskey shelves. The author of nine books, including “Bourbon Curious,” Minnick is the bourbon curator at Louisville, Ky.’s loaded Bourbon & Beyond festival, as well as one of the sharpest palates in the business. In 2013, he was named bourbon authority for the Kentucky Derby Museum.

As an avid collector and tireless rare-bottle hunter, Bill Thomas is the proprietor of Washington, D.C.’s Jack Rose Dining Saloon, a world-renowned whiskey bar that’s home to 2,700 bottles.

We tapped the two to determine five must-have bourbons for the home bartender. Sticking to that number proved to be a challenge, but Minnick and Thomas were up to the sipping task. Even better, they selected bottles that didn’t cost a fortune and are relatively easy to find. These are the five essential bourbons for your home bar.


These Alcohol Delivery Services Will Help You Stock Your Home Bar

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Finding an alcohol delivery service to rely on will help you indulge in a careful, beautiful practice of making drinks at home. Glittering shards of ice clinking in a glass, a perfumed waft of lemon peel, the muffled fizz of an effervescent beverage these are just a few of the bountiful ASMR stimuli of cocktail making. While we’re looking forward to patronizing our favorite bars again, there’s plenty to enjoy about being your own bartender in the meantime. So let’s talk about your liquor stash—specifically alcohol delivery.

A lot of people are currently looking for ways to order alcohol delivery so that the bottles come directly to their doorstep. But is it even possible? The answer is yes, but a yes with many asterisks. Because while liquor delivery services are definitely out there, whether or not they exist as an option for you depends on the laws of your state (my apologies to readers in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Utah).

Both Drizly and Saucey are big names in the liquor delivery business, and promise a lot of nice perks, like delivery within the hour (in more normal circumstances…) and sourcing from liquor stores in your area. However, both services are only available in certain US cities and states, so check their websites to find out whether you live in an area they cover. ReserveBar is another option for shipping to states that allow it, but the selection is smaller, and more focused on top-shelf liquor and limited edition releases.

Now that we’ve navigated all that red tape, let’s get to the cocktails. Aided by the wisdom of Epi’s resident booze expert Maggie Hoffman, we’ve created a handy buying guide for stocking up your liquor cabinet using alcohol delivery services so that you can make all of your favorite drinks from home. The good news? With just a handful of bottles, you can make a wide variety of cocktails, both boozy and refreshing.

Maggie suggests: Sipsmith Gin. “There are a ton of good gins these days, but this has become one of my favorites for both bright and refreshing and stiffer drinks. It’s juniper-y without reminding you of a tree-shaped air freshener, and floral without reminding you of perfume. It’s polished and slightly fennely and I wish I had a bottle around right now. My dad just wrote me to say he bought two on his last day out and about.” Other faves? Amass, Reisetbauer Blue Gin, Automatic Sea Gin, and Ki No Bi from Kyoto.


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The Nonalcoholic Bar

No one should be punished for passing up a cocktail, but if plain soda and canned juice are the only alternatives, an abstainer is likely to wind up pouting in the corner. Fortunately, there are enough flavorful nonalcoholic beverages to fill an entire bar and bring cheer to the soberest of souls. Mix fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice with a splash of seltzer to make a light cocktail. Also try sweetened, diluted lime and lemon juice served over crushed ice, or whip fresh or frozen berries in a blender with ice and a dash of lime.


Bar Basics: 12 Bottles Any Bar Should Have

The new year is a time of new beginnings. This year, resolve to start your bar out right with these 12 essentials. I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to make every drink you come across – but you’ll definitely be off to a good start.

Read on for the list, the best brands to buy (even on a budget!), and cocktails you can make with your sweet new stash.

1. Gin
Lots of people think they don’t like gin. Once upon a time, I was one of them. Here is how you get to like gin you start off with something not too gin-heavy, maybe with a little berry flavor, like a bramble, and you drink a few of those and let the gin slowly pull you into its delicious, juniper-y orbit. It’s a good place to be.

Brands to Try: Broker’s ($19), Aviation ($28)
Cocktails to Make:
From the Classics: Tom Collins
From the Kitchn: Cucumber-Rosemary Gin and Tonic

2. Rum (Light)
Essential for mojitos and daiquiris, or just mixing with pineapple juice when you’re feeling lazy.

Brands to Try: Flor de Caña White ($14), 10 Cane ($25)
Cocktails to Make:
From the Classics: the Mojito
From the Kitchn: Blueberry Rum Smash

3. Rum (Dark)
Rich and molasses-y. Tastes like a forgotten night on Bourbon Street. Especially delicious when served hot and buttered.

Brands to Try: Gosling’s ($17), Myers’ ($18)
Cocktails to Make:
From the Classics: Dark n’ Stormy
From the Kitchn: Hot Pumpkin Buttered Rum

4 & 5. Tequila (Silver & Gold)
The good folks at 12 Bottle Bar have based an entire cocktail blog on the idea that a good bar can be complete with only 12 bottles. Tequila, however, was left off the list. Their justification? The only classic cocktail you can make with tequila is a margarita. Right – but where would we be without margaritas? (Look for bottles labeled � percent de agave” – anything else contains ‘fillers’ made from tequila-flavored grain alcohol. Gross.)

Brands to Try: Alteño ($11), El Jimador ($18)
Cocktails to Make:
From the Classics: the Margarita
From the Kitchn: El Diablo

6. Bourbon
Ahh, bourbon, my old friend. I’ve always considered bourbon to be the sweetest and most approachable of the whiskies, and it’s certainly the most quintessentially American. Bonus: if you buy a bottle and decide you don’t like it, you can always bake it into a pie.

Brands to Try: 4 Roses ($19), Bulleit ($24)
Cocktails to Make:
From the Classics: Mint Julep
From the Kitchn: Fig Old-Fashioned

7. Rye Whiskey
Tennessee whiskey’s lesser-known cousin has a long, rich history. Its taste is similar to the American whiskies (like Jack Daniel’s) you’re probably familiar with, but with a bit of a spicy kick. Rye whiskey (sometimes referred to just as ‘rye’) is all over the place in classic cocktails. I also happen to think it’s fantastic with Dr. Pepper.

Brands to Try: Old Overholt ($13), Rittenhouse ($24) (100 proof, so watch yourself.)
Cocktails to Make:
From the Classics: Manhattan
From the Kitchn: The Summer Sage

8 & 9. Vermouth (Sweet & Dry)
Vermouth isn’t exactly a superstar of the cocktail world. It’s more of a supporting player, but this fortified wine, flavored with a combination of herbs, certainly does a lot of supporting. Read through any old-fashioned cocktail book and it crops up positively everywhere. Get both the sweet (Italian) and dry (French) varieties.

Brands to Try: Dry: Noilly Pratt ($7 for 375 mL), Sweet: Martini Rossi ($5 for 375 mL.)
Cocktails to Make:
From the Classics: A gin martini, naturally. (I couldn’t find a recipe I liked, so here is one: 4 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth, stir in a an ice-filled glass for 30 seconds, let sit another 30 seconds, strain into a cocktail glass and drink. You’re welcome.)
From the Kitchn: Income Tax Cocktail

10. Absinthe
Famous mostly for making people hallucinate (although versions available in the States contain no hallucinogenic ingredients), absinthe continues to be popular for its intriguing taste. For the uninitiated, it’s very similar to black licorice. You wouldn’t imagine that would mix well with a host of liquors, but somehow it does.

Brands to Try: Grande Absenthe ($10 for 100 mL. It’s not much, but a little goes a long way.)
Cocktails to Make:
From the Classics: Monkey Gland
From the Kitchn: Sazerac

11. Vodka
Vodka isn’t my favorite. I like my drinks to have the flavor of the base spirit, and vodka essentially has no flavor at all. Of course, this same quality makes it a tremendously versatile mixer – you can put it in pretty much anything. And as soon as you stop stocking vodka, that’s when one of your friends will come over and loudly demand a screwdriver or vodka martini.

Brands to Try: Tito’s ($18), Dripping Springs ($18) (Because if you must have vodka, make it a Texas vodka.)
Cocktails to Make:
From the Classics: Moscow Mule
From the Kitchn: Rhubarb Basil Cocktail

12. Cointreau
I’ll admit: I’m a cheapskate. For years I mixed drinks with the cheapo orange liqueur, certain that no bottle of liquid could possibly be worth more than 30 dollars. Finally, tired of hearing people talk about how great it was, I sprung for my first bottle of Cointreau as a sort of treat to myself. I haven’t gone back.

Brands to Try: Cointreau ($33), Grand Marnier ($34) Gran Torres ($20)
Cocktails to Make:
From the Classics: White Lady
From the Kitchn: Blood Orange Jalapeño Margarita


The Best Vodka Brands to Stock Your Bar Cart With

From bloody marys to classic martinis and cosmos, these are the best vodkas to stock your bar with.

When it comes to cocktail-making few spirits are as versatile as vodka&mdashin fact, vodka didn't even really take off as a must-have liquor in the US until the mixology craze of the 90s really brought the spirit's low-key flavors to the forefront. Nowadays, vodka is consistently one of the top selling spirits in the US, accounting for 74.1 million cases sold and $6.6 billion in revenue in 2019 according to the Distilled Spirits Council. So whether you're embracing your home bartending skills or going classic with vodka neat, these are the bottles that deserve a place of honor on your bar cart.

While the great debate over who really invented vodka (the Polish or the Russians) rages on, this Polish entry certainly deserves a spot in your freezer. Crafted from Dankowskie Gold rye and quadruple distilled, this ultra-premium vodka is the definition of the word "smooth."

While you may not think of a mainstay brand like Absolut as coming with a locally-sourced pedigree, the brand works to craft everything from the wheat and water that goes into the distillation to the glass bottles it packages in from around its home base in southern Sweden. Their ultra-luxe Elyx range is even sourced from grains from a single estate and manually distilled in a vintage copper still to create an extra-smooth spirit that's perfect for martinis and other vodka-forward cocktail applications.


The 15 Best Alcohol Subscription Boxes for Trying New Things&mdashAnd Stocking Up on Old Favorites

Explore distilleries, wineries, and breweries (many of them independently owned) all through a cardboard box.

There was once a plethora of ways to get alcohol. And we don't use a (maybe-a-little-pretentious) word like "plethora" lightly. There were liquor stores. Grocery stores. Drive-through liquor stores that also sold groceries. Gifts from your boss, gifts because you were the boss, gifts among family, and gifts among friends. There were restaurants and bars, and bars at restaurants. But the alcohol landscape was abruptly disrupted when we plunged into international crisis, and we learned other ways to get a drink. Even as we emerge into a brighter, more vaccinated summer, the hermit-like habits we acquired might stick with us. One entails getting bottles of alcohol delivered to our front doors, whether from neighborhood stores or online liquor shops. Another is what you're looking at right now: alcohol subscription boxes.

For those of you who jumped on board when the subscription box craze took off, you won't be shocked to learn that those boxes can come bearing a selection of spirits, wine, and beer, too. It's only smart to sign up for one in addition to the sock subscription, the meal subscription, and the shaving supply subscription you already have coming to your front door. A subscription box can be a more reliable means of stocking up on whatever you want than your usual method, and you're guaranteed a specially curated drinking experience, oftentimes with membership exclusives.

Speaking of curation, the following alcohol subscription boxes cover vast territory, offering premium bottles to fit many preferences, be they vague or idiosyncratic or basic. So decide what you want&mdashhard liquor, wine, or craft beer&mdashand sign up for one of the following. For those who can't keep their home bars stocked with syrups, liqueurs, and garnishes for the life of them, we have three cocktail-making subscription box options, too. Go to a bar when it's safe, but drink with style at home when it's not.

From $25 per month, flaviar.com

Flaviar's model is simple: It sends you samples of rare, unsung spirits, in addition to one full bottle, per quarter. If you enjoy what you try, you can purchase bottles. It's a tool for spirit discovery as much as it is a tool for drinking, and it's for this reason that Flaviar can get away with saying it models itself after a speakeasy. If you can find the speakeasy&mdasha.k.a. get a subscription&mdashthen you're rewarded with an exclusive drinking experience.

From $69 per month, mashandgrape.com

At its core, Mash & Grape is an online liquor store with very deep shelves. You'll stumble on something you've never tried&mdashlet alone heard of&mdashhere, whether that's lemongrass shochu or rare mezcal. But it also offers monthly clubs for six main spirit categories: whiskey in general, scotch, bourbon, tequila, gin, and rum. With a club, each month you'll receive a curated bottle that you'd never discover on your own. (The club is marketed as a gifting option, but don't let that throw you this is a gift for yourself.)

From $147 per quarter, caskers.com

Caskers is for whiskey drinkers. Specifically, for whiskey drinkers who know&mdashknow the up and coming distilleries, know the rarest age statements everyone's hunting, know the innovations from the gimmicks. It offers two whiskey subscriptions, one that sticks to American whiskey and the other that focuses on world whiskey, and both of which send out two bottles per shipment plus grant access to member exclusives. Drink where the wind takes you.

From $59 per month, tastersclub.com

Taster's Club is ideal for anyone who's only a bourbon guy. Or only a tequila guy. Or only a rum guy. It offers 11 different club options, each specializing in a different spirit, and each giving you background information like distillery history and tasting notes with every bottle. You'll learn a lot about the stuff you love to drink. There's also a Stock the Bar club, which gets you a monthly mix of everything.

$90 per shipment, firstleaf.com

If you can't pass up a personality quiz, you'll like First Leaf. It susses out your wine tastes through a series of questions and then sends you a curated selection of six bottles from vineyards around the world, many of them award winners. After each box, you rate the wines, which ensures the next box will be even more suited to your tastes.

Prices vary, nakedwines.com

You've invested in mutual funds. You've got your Robinhood account attuned to the hottest stocks. With Naked Wines, you can pour money into independent winemakers, too&mdashfor a healthy, diversified portfolio, of course. Naked's goal is to connect wine drinkers directly with winemakers, getting you good prices on exceptional varietals for wine box shipments and ensuring your money acts like that on an angel investor for the indie brands making a go of it.

From $39 per month, winc.com

Winc wines are all about the packaging. The bottles you select from its catalog&mdashyou can get three or more per month in every box&mdashfeature new-age, art-heavy, trendy labels. That doesn't mean they're bad you get what you pay for, and here you're paying less. It just means your wine collection is going to look hip as hell.

From $79 per quarter, getvinebox.com

VineBox is another alcohol subscription that values taste testing. Its wines are shipped to you in single-serve vials there are nine samples in each shipment, along with literature on each. You'll also get credits towards purchasing full bottles. VineBox stays away from the biggest wineries to focus on the so-called little guys, and it curates each box for the season, almost like a sommelier urging you to expand your palate.

$45 per shipment, craftbeerclub.com

The Craft Beer Club isn't stingy. Each month, it will send you 12 new craft beers from around the county. Emphasis is put on variety (i.e. styles of beer you've never been able to order at the bar) and quality (i.e. breweries that use innovative brewing practices). Each shipment of 12 will include either four varieties of beer with three bottles of each from two distilleries, so you can pass 'em around.

From $39 per month, beerdrop.com

Fill your fridge with art from Beer Drop. And by art, we mean the ridiculous creativity employed to package craft beer cans these days. Beer Drop sources from independent American breweries&mdashthe list on its website goes on for days&mdashto ship you two cans of five different beers a month. There's a level of customization as well, as you can preselect your preferred styles (hoppy, Belgian, malty, etc.) or simply stick with the cans with the highest ratings.

From $21 per month, cratejoy.com

First Sip's take on the beer subscription box mimics a brewery tour: Each month, it features a different brewery's story with gear from that brewery (but no beer). You'll get goodies, like T-shirts and drinkware, that you'd normally pick up in that brewery's gift shop. Upgrade to an even bigger box, and you'll get food in addition to all that beer and swag.

From $32 per month, beermonthclub.com

Not only does the Beer of the Month Club cull through thousands of microbrews to find the best, but it also lets you tailor your subscription. A hops-only kind of drinker? Then get the Hop-Heads Beer Club. Looking to drink beyond the 50 states? Sign up for the International Beer Club. There are also clubs for American microbrews, a mix of American and international beers, and rare beers.

From $33 per month, cratejoy.com

Every month, American Cocktail Club sends you a box with all the ingredients you'll need to craft four servings of a featured cocktail&mdashwith or without the alcohol, depending on if you want it. Whether you choose to make one drink per week, really perfecting the build over time, or down all four with your partner on a Friday night is up to you. Just know you won't be stuck drinking tequila with flat club soda and a squirt of months-old lemon juice.

From $40 per month, cratejoy.com

Each of Shaker & Spoon's cocktail boxes centers on a theme: Negronis, for example, or vermouth. Then, you're sent all the cocktail ingredients (except booze) you'll need to make four cocktails from three recipes&mdash12 drinks total. You'll familiarize yourself with ingredients through the variety, and get comfortable with all those bar tools your rarely touch now.

From $29 per month, curiouselixirs.com

Ending on a paradoxical note, we're suggesting a subscription to Curious Elixirs, which makes non-alcoholic cocktails. Not exactly what you were looking for, but you'd be forgiven for being intrigued. The elixirs come in four bottled flavors inspired by classic cocktails&mdashyou'll get a variety in each shipment&mdashand are all exceedingly delicious (Curious No. 2, a cross between a pineapple margarita and Dark 'n Stormy, in particular). And if you happened to add a little alcohol to yours, well, no one's the wiser.


Simple Recipes to Get Started

2 oz. whiskey (bourbon or rye)

Combine ingredients over ice, and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a glass and top it with the cherry as garnish. Ideally, you’d use a coupe glass (similar to a martini glass, with sloped sides), but anything will do in a pinch. As a twist, use Scotch whisky instead, and you’ve got a Rob Roy.

3 oz. prosecco (or champagne, or even ginger ale, if that’s what you’ve got)

2 oz. bitter liqueur (can be Aperol, Campari, Cynar, whatever)

Combine over ice, stir lightly. It’s that easy — and even easier to play around with.

TOMMY MARGARITA

2 oz. tequila (or split it evenly with mezcal)

½ oz. agave nectar (but you can make simple syrup at home in a pinch)

Combine ingredients in a shaker, over ice. Give it several good shakes, then strain into a chilled glass over a single large ice cube. To make it complete, before adding the spirits, wet the rim of the glass and press it into a pile of salt. Garnish with a lime wedge.