Friday, April 29, 2011

The Home Stash

One thing I appreciate about being a liquor aficionado is that getting there costs less than being a wine aficionado*. You’re not committed to an entire bottle; you can always try something by the glass; and you don’t need company if you want to try a bunch of different stuff. For most of us, our education comes from trying many different liquors at bars – the bar tender recommends something, a label or name catches the eye, a friend pushes something, or you just work your way through every liquor systematically. On the rare occasion, we may come from families with a great booze culture and exposure to all kinds of deliciousness. But the main thing is the experience comes from, well...experience. There’s really no way around it, you have to taste many different liquors before you find what you like; and then you keep tasting because you never know when you’re going to find something else you’re going to like. But once you’ve found your favourite drinks, you might notice that you have particular preferences for different occasions.

For example, I’m a big whisky drinker – it’s my drink of choice. My bartenders consider my essential trait as a customer to be, whisky, neat; water, back. But I’d be a pretty sad booze lover if that’s all I did. On a nice sunny day, I really enjoy a vodka and soda, with a splash of bitters. If I need to relax when I’ve been travelling, or I’ve had a tough day and I need to feel civilised, a Martini with a nice chunky olive is just the thing. Hot summer days yell out for a cold, cold beer, or a crisp Prosecco. If I’m lounging around or if I’m writing, tequila or mezcal is the way to go. Quiet nights at the bar or parties can call for cocktails. And any time is a good time for saké.

This is all very well if you’re surrounded by a variety of bars and you’ve got some spending money. But eventually there’s going to come a time when you don’t want to go to a bar (or you don’t have an easily accessible one – it happens when you don’t live in NYC), or you’re having folks over, or you just can’t afford to drink out all the time. So what do you do? You keep a stash at home, that’s what you do.

The way I started building my tiny little bar at home was by buying a nice bottle of a really good but not extravagant whisky when I had some money to spare, and slowly building on it. If you’re serious about building your home collection, make sure you get the good stuff – you never want to feel like there isn’t a haven of civilisation in your home. This way when you get home after work or you’re staying in of a weekend, you don’t feel like you’re missing out. I think there’s a sense of relaxation that comes with knowing you don’t actually have to be in a bar to get a top notch buzz going. And having a really good tipple at home also means if you ever have a friend or two over – even for pizza and movies – you always have something meaningful with which to cap the time spent together. And your friends will appreciate it. So when you get your next pay cheque, go buy a bottle of something you enjoy, but you don’t normally drink at the bar because you don’t want to pay too much money. Then, the next time you have some cash to spare, go buy a different liquor. If you already have whisky, go for vodka. If you already have vodka, go for tequila. Every couple of months, buy something new. Unless you’re drinking like a fiend at home, you’ll find that within half a year you have a pretty decent bar.

Once you have a nice little stash at home, think about having friends over. Give them a treat, share your good stuff with them. Learn one or two good cocktail recipes and show off. Let everyone know what you like to drink. This is another way to add to your collection: be vocal about your tastes. That way if you have good taste, your friends can learn something from you, and if you have bad taste your friends can set you straight. And if you have genuinely, implacably horrible taste, your friends never have to spend good money on the classy stuff that you’re never going to drink thereby saving everyone concerned a whole lot of pain.

Throw a party with food, and tell your friends to bring some booze. This may seem odd (Why am I asking other people to bring stuff?), extravagant (You mean I have to pay for food?), or inconvenient (All that cleaning afterward!) to you, but if your friends know you’re having a booze-happy party they’ll contribute. What you’ll probably get is a lot of beer and dubious wine, but there’s always going to be someone who brings a little something else like a bottle of whiskey or a bottle of vodka. It’s rare for whole bottles of liquor to get polished off in a single party. There’ll always be something left. This is good – now you’ve got some filler for the future.

The other thing to remember while building your collection at home is that, like in a bar, you’re allowed to have a top shelf and a bottom shelf selection. Not only is this economical, it’s also nice to have a sense of occasion. So, when you do break out the good shit, not only the others but also you can feel special about it. But don’t be an utterly cheap bastard just to economise. If you’ve really been spending your time thinking about booze and sampling stuff, you might notice that your taste and the bottle’s price point aren’t always in congruence. There are plenty of expensive liquors out there that I wouldn’t use to poison you while there are others that are overlooked because of cheapness**. For example, when it comes to cheap but acceptable bourbon, I’ll take Old Grandad over Jack Daniel’s any day, because I cannot conceive of drinking Jack as anything but a last resort. Another more upscale example is Johnnie Walker – the Blue Label retails from anywhere to $190 to $230 a bottle. But I think the Green Label is a comparable product and retails for only $49 to $58 a bottle. And when you contrast the difference in price, there’s a hugely greater value for money.

Letting people know what and how you drink is one of the better ways to collect gifts of alcohol. This may sound self serving, but come birthday and Christmas time, most folks don’t really have a lot of time or energy trying to figure out just what it is you want. If you’re a boozer, folks know what to get you and it only adds to your general awesomeness because, if you’re the kind of person who reads this blog, you’re only going to end up sharing.

Good Scotch, good bourbon (rye whiskey, if you like spicy), one good gin, a decent neutral alcohol, angostura bitters and a decent orange liqueur is all you’ll ever need for a respectable home bar. And unless you’re mixing flamboyant drinks that need a whole lot of colours and crazy flavours, you’ll be well covered for cocktails with these basic things. And unless you’re a complete idiot you’ll already have some other essentials in your home, like lemons and their peels; sugar; and eggs for the more adventurous cocktails. Now if you do want to go crazy all you’ll need are juices and fizzy drinks which are easily found in your bodega or can be brought to your party by your guests.

* Though the eventual costs are just as insane.

** Somebody remind me that I have to do an entire post about this sometime.

Photographs © A. Das


  1. I was considering writing a "stock your home bar" post for this, but I see you've outdone me before I even started!

  2. Did we actually finish that bottle of Buffalo Trace when I brought it over?

    This is a question that vexes me.

    Excellent piece, and well-put. I'm such a bourbon fiend that teachers I've never really talked to know what to get me if they draw my name in some ghoulish yuletide lottery.

  3. I'm gonna start writing up my Bourbon piece this weekend.

  4. Excellent piece, Das, though one notes that some of this doesn't work if your friends have exceptionally poor listening skills. *grumble grumble*

  5. Mr. Rice said...

    Did we actually finish that bottle of Buffalo Trace when I brought it over?

    This is a question that vexes me.

    Yeah, we did. We killed it dead.

    Brad Millette said...

    I was considering writing a "stock your home bar" post for this, but I see you've outdone me before I even started!

    Oops! Well, apparently it's some sort of zeitgeist.

    Jason, as for your friends: I shake my head.

  6. I don't want to come off as pedantic, but Jack Daniel's is not a disgusting bourbon. It is a disgusting Tennessee whiskey.

    I am a man who can't fly sober. I always ask for bourbon and diet from stewardesses, and they always hand me Jack Daniel's. As a Kentuckian, I feel obliged on these occasions to defend the honor of my ancestral homeland, and I point out, each time, that what I am being given is not that for which I asked. This is why I am no longer allowed to fly, sober or otherwise.