Stocking Your Home Bar
Whether you are entertaining guests for the evening or bringing a few friends back for one last cocktail after one of Sarasota’s many fundraising events or galas, a functional and well-stocked bar makes a great impression. Where do you start? It’s best to start with versatile base spirits that you know you like! Vodka and bourbon are two of the more popular mixing liquors, while rum seems to pair very well with our sub-tropical weather.
Vodkas have quite a range in price and quality. Tito’s is the most popular vodka in the United States the last few years, so it should please most guests. If you’d rather go the local craft route, St. Petersburg Distillery produces Banyan vodka that draws comparisons to Tito’s. Vodka is the easiest base spirit to work with because the mixer will generally provide the flavor, making it highly versatile. I recommend staying away from flavored vodka as it limits the ways you can use it. No one wants whipped cream vodka in their Bloody Mary.
Bourbons have taken back their place as the American spirit as many bars and restaurants have really refocused on their bar program. Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve are great bourbons for beginners and veterans alike. Their high wheat content make them nice and mellow, while people who enjoy spicier flavors can enjoy bourbons with a higher rye content. Basil Hayden and Bulleit fit the bill and add more character to a classic Manhattan or Old Fashioned. Make sure you have a bottle of Angostura Bitters and the best sweet vermouth you can buy. For my money, that’s Carpano Antica Formula. Vermouths are wine based, so they should be refrigerated for best preservation after last call at your home bar.
Rums are often broken up into silvers for easy mixers and dark rums for punches, but I find Flor de Caña’s 7-year can just about do it all! My favorite easy drink to make is a Cuba Libre using a lime wedge off my own tree in my backyard. It has enough character to hold up to fresh fruit juices in a punch or tiki cocktail. Get yourself some tiki glasses that your guests will envy while they’re enjoying the Mai Tai you just crafted. When you master that, have Chris Nalefski at State Street show you how to “fire up” your tiki cocktail!
You’ll want to have gin, tequila, and possibly scotch offerings also. Just be careful not to get too many “one trick pony” specialty liqueurs as they don’t always play well with others and can tend to sit around on the home bar. An orange liqueur like Grand Marnier or Cointreau is a nice addition and useful for Margaritas, Cosmos, and several other libations.
A good home bartender will also have the tools of the trade. Kits are available that commonly have a Boston shaker, muddler, strainer and more, or find some vintage pieces on eBay or at your local thrift shop. Sarasota’s Goodwill stores can be a gold mine for barware that has withstood the test of time.