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How to Build a Great Home Bar: Step by Step – part 1

What will your bar look like? We’ll help you build the menu, you bring the style.

Steps:

  1. Cut the bullshit by building a night bar, not a day bar, that makes nightcaps. [If you insist on keeping a day bar I recommend you offer high quality session-able wine and beer and maybe a bottle or tequila or mezcal wouldn’t hurt either along with plenty of water so you can actually graduate to your night bar.] 
  2. Reverse-engineer your bar to make three stone cold classic, stirred cocktails: the Martini [strong & clean], the Negroni [strong & bittersweet] and the Old Fashioned [strong & sweet] — this way you keep a tight little bar without too much clutter junking it up and you can actually drink from it. [Now if you’re a sweet & sour baby and want a margarita or a daiquiri or something like that I respect your high maintenance but that’s day bar shit so patronize a day bar some other day because this is a night bar, remember!] Recipes:
  3. Stock premium booze for all categories from the best liquor stores you have access to and spend right to the top tier of your budget because buying premium booze is an investment in the mercy of the hangover gods!
  4. Stock high quality soda water to cover your long drink basis to the point where you could literally kick someone out of your house for disapproving of your bar’s menu. [Unless they’re a total asshole anyone who craves a buzz will gladly accept a boozy soda.]
  5. Invest $100 or so in bar tools! Yes — these tools costs less than a mid range tab at any craft cocktail bar and they will last forever if you properly wash and dry them after every use. Buy: [1] a Stainless Steel Stirring Tin that’s not glass so you’d have to be next-level “melting steel” on one to destroy it, [2] a 1oz/2oz Banded Jigger so you can measure your drinks and actually know what the fuck you’re doing, [3] a Muddling Bar Spoon to stir and crush sugar and not anything else ever, [4] a 2in Square Ice Cube Trey to fill your freezer up with big ice cubes because of the inevitable, stupid fascination everyone has with a BIG CUUUBE IT’S A BIIIG CUUUUUUBE AHHHH IT’S THE GREATEST THING THAT’S EVER BEEN and finally, [5] a Hawthorne Strainer to strain your diluted lil’ boozy babies. 
  6. Buy a London Dry Gin and keep it at your bar. The juniper-forward London Dry Gin is the standard for martinis with olives [and certainly fine for twists] and there’s plenty of great gins you can buy anywhere that are relatively cheap including Beefeater [94 proof], Bombay Sapphire [94 proof] and Plymouth [82.4 proof from Plymouth because London Dry doesn’t have to be made in London or anywhere else for that matter]. An optional “baller” move: also stock a more premium, specific gin too like the floral Nolet’s [95.2 proof], the hoppy Bimini (94 proof) or my all time favorite overproof Gin: the naughty, saffron botanical Old Raj [110 proof]. 
  7. Buy an Overproof Kentucky Bourbon and keep it at your bar. Because Overproof Kentucky Bourbon makes a better, more textural Old Fashioned and I won’t even hear it if you disagree. I WILL DIE ON THIS HILL! Over 100 proof is where you want to be then it’s really a matter of how much heat you want and your level of financial discipline. [It’s totally unnecessary to use an expensive Bourbon to make a world class Old Fashioned that said if you use an 80-90 proof Bourbon, even an expensive one, your cocktail will be too thin or sweet or worse, both.] On the cheaper end of the spectrum Wild Turkey ‘101’ [101 proof], which routinely blind tests better than much more expensive whiskeys and actually has promised to not distill with GMO corn. The level up from there is Wild Turkey ‘Rare Breed [112.8 proof] or the new-to-market Knob Creek 12yr [100 proof], both of which are insanely good values for the price. [If you want to support a smaller distillery I love the barrel proof products from Willett with my favorite being the 114.3 proof Noah’s Mill.] 
  8. Buy a bottle of Campari [56 proof] aperitivo for your Negronis. Unless artificial coloring isn’t your thing, of which there are many alternatives which use Campari’s former coloring agent, crushed cochineal bugs [yup, bugs]. Pro tip: buy 2-3 more of these aperitivos [such as the 56 proof Gran Classico from Tempus Fugitor the 48 proof Bruto Americano from St. George] and blend them together for greater complexity and texture. 
  9. Buy Dolin Dry [35 proof] vermouth and Dolin Rouge [32 proof] sweet vermouth in 375ml bottles and keep them in your refrigerator. Vermouth is aromatized wine that’s perishable so it needs to be refrigerated, period, hence the small bottles to keep it fresh [once open vermouth will last 1-2 months in your fridge]. Though I strongly feel like blends of vermouth are actually better in viscosity and flavor than using a single brand [like balancing the heavy vanilla of the 33 proof Carpano Antica with the bitter edge of 32 proof Punt e Mes], that’s overkill for a chill bar so just go with the French Classic Dolin for both varieties and call it a night[cap]. 
  10. Buy Angostura [Aromatic] Bitters and Regan’s Orange Bitters No.6, the benchmarks of their categories. Then if you’re up to it I suggest adding a few other bottles like the incredible Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters or Bittermens Elamakule Tiki Bitters for jazzing up your Old Fashioneds with a blend of bitters that hits on more notes.  
  11. Buy sugar cubes for your Old Fashioneds. The idea here is that muddling actual sugar rather than making simple [sugar] syrup is that the tiny lil’ granules of sugar will give a pleasant bit of sweet, textural kick to that last [dopamine spiked] sip and make you want another Old Fashioned. [For what it’s worth I prefer pure cane sugar cubes from La Perruche.]
  12. Get a little dropper bottle and fill it up with 3 parts Water to 1 part Maldon Sea Salt Saline Solution. Sorry, but the major reason food tastes better at restaurants than your home is because restaurants don’t care about your blood pressure and use 20-1000x more salt than you. Trust me, a little dissolved sea salt solution brings out flavors like nothing else — I literally put 2-3 drops of saline in every cocktail I make and I never regret the complexity and texture it adds despite my elevated risk of heart failure [it’s fucking worth it]. 
  13. Have lemons on hand, for twists [and wedges, if needed]. Not to sound like a snob but lemons should already be a staple of your pantry as your fresh, easily attainable acid for cooking. All you need to do here is cut little twists off a lemon with a sharp knife and discard them after you pinch the peel’s oils on your drinks.

Recipes!

MARTINI

– Build in Stirring Pitcher

– Add 2.50oz Gin [or if you insist, Vodka] 

– Add 0.50oz Dry Vermouth [don’t skip this!]

– Add 2-3 dashes Orange Bitters

– [Add 1-2 drops 3:1 Maldon Saline Solution if desired]

Chill in stirring pitcher by cracking 2 big cubes per Martini [max 2 Martinis at a time] and stirring for 20 seconds then Hawthorne strain them into [preferably chilled] coupes then garnish with the oils from a lemon twist [fine, Olives are ok too — for a “Dirty” Martini replace the Dry Vermouth with Olive Brine] 

NEGRONI

– Build in Stirring Pitcher

– 1.25oz Gin [or Tequila, Mezcal or Bourbon]

– 1.00oz Campari 

– 0.75oz Sweet Vermouth

– 2-3 dashes orange bitters

– [Add 1-2 drops 3:1 Maldon Saline Solution if desired]

Chill in stirring pitcher by cracking 2 big cubes per Negroni and stirring for 20 seconds then Hawthorne strain into [preferably chilled] coupes, or if you prefer in a double old fashioned on a big rock, garnish with the oils of a lemon twist

How do you like my big ice cubes!?

OLD FASHIONED

– Build in a Double Old Fashioned glass

– Start with your Sugar Cube 

– Add 4-5 dashes Angostura Bitters

– Add 2-3 dashes Orange Bitters

– [Add 1-2 drops 3:1 Maldon Saline Solution if desired]

– Add 1 cap full of Soda Water

– Muddle with the back of your bar spoon until you’ve got a grainy paste

– Add 1.0oz Bourbon

– Add your Big Rock

– Stir in the glass for 20 seconds 

– Add another 1.0oz Bourbon [so it’s hot & cold and won’t over-dilute quickly]

– Stir in the glass for 1 second

  • Squeeze a Lemon Twist into the glass and rub on the rim and discard

Contributing writer: Adam Ohler is the Beverage Director & Chief Sommelier of the Proper Hotel DTLA. He lives in Los Angeles with his best friend [& wife], an old Pug and young Pomeranian. 

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