"Some home improvements are costly. Building a starter home bar, however, is not.
In fact, blowing a lot of dough on all of the fancy bottles is a rookie move, since the real pros start with relatively affordable basics. Think of them as pantry staples — only way more fun. Once you have the essentials, start sprucing up your home bar with state-of-the-art gear and rare whiskies.
Those who love one-stop shopping, rejoice: All of the hardware can all be found at BYOB Cocktail Emporium, 972 Queen St. W. The liquor comes from the LCBO, of course.
James Bond was wrong. Most common classic cocktails — Manhattans, martinis and negronis — are stirred, not shaken. Do that with a mixing glass and strainer ($34.95) and cocktail spoon ($12). Add a stainless steel double-sided jigger ($7) and you have all the tools necessary to make all basic stirred cocktails.
All rules contain exceptions, however. To make an old fashioned for example before you can stir, you need to smash up a bitters-soaked sugar cube with a natural wood muddler ($9.99), essentially a wooden stick similar to a pestle. This can be done in the glass if you have a sturdy, yet still elegant glass that is suitable for muddling, such as a Yarai etched tumbler ($12 each).
Unlike straight spirit cocktails, if a recipe calls for fruit juice, egg or cream, it generally needs to be shaken. Bartenders typically use Boston shakers, but a cobbler shaker ($25) is a lot easier to handle. For handy how-to make a cocktail techniques, pick up The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler ($37).
Since more classic cocktails are made with gin than any other spirit, the gin aisle is the obvious first section to hit at the LCBO. Although botanical-rich gins are fun to play with in dry martinis, almost every other gin cocktail works best with a London Dry, such as Broker’s ($27.95; 605162). For pina coladas, mojitos and, best of all, daiquiris, get a bottle of El Dorado 3-year-old rum ($25.90; 402859).
While we’re on white spirits, you’ll be needing a vodka for Moscow mules and Bloody Caesars and a good choice here is Canadian-made Iceberg vodka ($26.35; 400754). On the tequila front, it’s totally worth the upgrade to Espolon Blanco ($42.40; 324848) — a significant improvement over common brands from your misspent youth.
For brown liquor, pick a spicy rye, such as Lot No. 40 ($39.95; 382861), since it makes for delicious old fashioneds and Manhattans, not to mention a host of other cocktails that call for whisky. Brandy is a slightly less common ingredient but, when you need it, you really need it so, best pick up a bottle of Marquis de Villard ($25.45; 14944).
Campari ($26.95; 277954) is mandatory, since, without it, there are no negronis and no boulevardiers — a world barely worth living in. Both of these tasty drinks also involve sweet vermouth, such as Dolin Rouge ($14.40; 370841). It’s sibling, Dolin Dry ($14.25; 370858), is a good buy, too, although we wish both came in smaller bottles, since, even when kept in the refrigerator (where it should be), it will go bad before it’s finished — unless you make a lot of martinis.
The last bottle, without which you cannot make a proper old fashioned, is Angostura bitters ($11.99). You won’t find that at the LCBO, but it is at BYOB and, while you’re there, splurge on a jar of Luxardo maraschino cherries ($14.99), so you can toss out those scary dayglow cherries in the fridge.
Shopping List — BYOB
Final Touch traditional Yarai mixing glass (comes with Hawthorne strainer) ($34.95)
Final Touch spoon ($12)
Natural wood muddler ($9.99)
Angostura bitters ($11.99)
Luxardo maraschino cherries ($14.99)
Large Yarai etched tumblers (2 @ $12 apiece for $24)
Subtotal $196.41 (tax included)
Shopping List — LCBO
Broker’s gin ($27.95; 605162)
El Dorado 3-year-old rum ($25.90; 402859)
Iceberg vodka ($26.35; 400754)
Espolon Blanco tequila ($42.40; 324848)
Lot No. 40 rye whisky ($39.95; 382861)
Marquis de Villard brandy ($25.45; 14944)
Campari ($26.95; 277954)
Dolin Rouge vermouth ($14.40; 370841)
Dolin Dry vermouth ($14.25; 370858)
Subtotal $243.60 (tax included)
GRAND TOTAL $440.01
A lot of novices might look to flavoured vodkas, since they seem like a shortcut to good cocktails. Truth is, most of them have a lot of added sugar and taste artificial. Plus, it’s dead simple to make your own — infusing any spirit is usually just a matter of letting the spirit soak up the goodness of the added ingredient, then straining it out. For example, for ginger vodka, add 5 ounces of peeled and chopped ginger to 500 mL of vodka and let sit for 4 to 5 days. Strain.