Now that you’ve got the hardware to mix, time to get into spendin’ money proper.  There is no one right answer to the question of what liquor you should buy to start.  The best way to decide is to ask yourself what kind of drinks you’re likely to be making.  Suggestion:  start by making what you like.

One from Column A…

Cocktails tend to be a mixture of base spirit (gin, bourbon, rum, etc.), sweetness (sugar, syrups, liqueurs, etc.), bitters (like Angostura or Peychaud’s), and sometimes sour / citrus.  Vermouth also adds to the character of a drink.  If you want to get really technical about it, bitters define a cocktail, but we’re all friends, right?  So trust me on this.  It’s a good way of thinking about classes of ingredients you’ll need to stock your bar.

Let’s look at groups of ingredients you’ll want to have based upon the drinks you’d like to make for yourself.  I’m using for price references.  It’s a great place to get your booze if you don’t have an easy way to buy locally.  Your state allows delivery of alcoholic beverages to your home, right?  RIGHT?  (The correct answer is YES THEY DO.  Now go order.)

#1:  I Like Bourbon.  And Rye.  And Rusty Nails.  No, Not the Drink.  Nails.

I like you already.  Here’s your shopping list.  Everything’s in order of priority, and you can see what drinks you can make with everything below the list.

  • Base Spirits
  • Vermouth (don’t forget to refrigerate after opening)
  • Bitters
  • Liqueurs
    • Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao – $26.99  (cheaper than, and better than Cointreau)
    • Campari – $26.99 (if you’re not scared of bitter.  You’re not scared of bitter, are you, little girl?)
    • Amaretto – $22.99 for Luxardo, but get Lazzaroni if possible
    • Fernet Branca – $29.99 (optional, but great for street cred and manly drinks)
  • Citrus (look for fruit with a firm peel)
    • Lemon
    • Orange
  • Other
    • Cherries in Kirsch brandy – $29.99
    • Simple syrup – 2/3 sugar to 1/3 water, shake
    • Sugar (baker’s sugar is best)
    • Fresh mint (if you roll in the Julep direction)
    • Bottle of dry sparkling wine (Cava or Prosecco is fine – don’t spend more than $12)
    • Eggs
    • Club soda

What Can I Make with This Crap?

Oh, lots.  Including…

  • Manhattan:
    • 2 oz rye
    • 1 oz sweet vermouth
    • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
    • Brandied cherry garnish
  • Perfect Manhattan:
    • 2 oz rye
    • .5 oz sweet vermouth
    • .5 oz dry vermouth
    • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
    • Brandied cherry garnish
  • Old Fashioned (my variation):
    • 3 oz bourbon
    • .5 oz simple syrup
    • .25 oz dry curacao
    • 2 dashes Old Fashioned bitters
    • Brandied cherry / orange wedge garnish
  • Sazerac:
    • 3 oz rye
    • 3 sugar cubes or .5 oz simple syrup (to taste)
    • 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
    • Lemon peel garnish
  • Mint Julep
    • 3 oz bourbon
    • 2 tsp sugar
    • Mint
  • Seelbach
    • 1 oz bourbon
    • .5 oz dry curacao
    • 7 dashes Angostura bitters (really.  man up.)
    • 7 dashes Peychaud’s bitters (again.)
    • Sparkling wine to top of champagne flute
    • Orange twist garnish
  • Toronto
    • 3 oz rye
    • 1 oz Fernet Branca
    • .5 oz simple syrup
    • Dash Angostura bitters
    • Orange peel garnish
  • Whiskey Sour
    • 2 oz bourbon
    • 1 oz simple syrup
    • .75 oz lemon juice
    • egg white
  • Amaretto Sour
    • .75 oz bourbon
    • 1.5 oz amaretto
    • 1 oz lemon juice
    • 1 tsp simple syrup
    • egg white
  • Americano
    • 1 oz Campari
    • 1 oz sweet vermouth
    • club soda to taste
    • orange twist
  • Boulevardier
    • 1.5 oz bourbon
    • 1 oz Campari
    • 1 oz sweet vermouth
    • brandied cherry

So that covers a lot of classic cocktails.  If this is your cocktailian wheelhouse, we need to drink together.  But let us not forget our rum, gin, and brandy drinking brothers and sisters.  Up next:  gin.