Stocking a Home Bar on a Budget - Base Liquors
In this day and age we are all looking for ways to save money whenever possible. I have cut back by cooking at home more. I've kept it interesting with little effort by trying new and exotic dinner recipes at home. A cocktail or two before dinner can change your whole outlook on the situation as well. I've found that keeping a home bar stocked doesn't have to be expensive. It's possible to do on a budget with a few of these basic tips.
I cringe to write the words "Big Box" but savings are to be found at superstores such as Total Wine and More. They will usually offer a wider selection than independently owned stores. You should definitely shop around and compare prices from store to store. You will begin to notice that one store consistently has a better price for your favorite vodka and another may have the best price for your scotch.
Look For Bargains
Most liquor stores and outlets will offer great sale prices on a featured brand. Don't be afraid to try something new at a sale price. You may end up liking it better than your usual brand. This is how I've come across some of my favorites.
Stock Up Over Time
Stocking a bar all at once can be very expensive. I would avoid it unless you are planning for an imminent party. Buy a bottle or two with every paycheck. Build your collection and selection over time.
There are benefits to using a jigger or counted pours when serving drinks. Making a cocktail without the proper tools is like baking a cake without measuring cups. It just won't turn out right. You will also blow through your booze much quicker and have to make a trip to liquormart that much sooner. The older I get the more I realize that a Rum and Coke is not a glass full of rum with a few ice cubes and a splash of coke for color.
Make Your Own
Please don't build a still. That is illegal. Flavored and specialty liquors can get pretty expensive. Thankfully, you can make them yourself with little effort. It is as easy as filling a jug with liquor and whatever you want it to taste like. You just need enough patience to wait a few weeks. I've made cucumber vodka, which is great for a bloody mary or martini. I've also made vanilla vodka and vanilla brandy with real vanilla beans to great success.
Top Shelf or Bottom Shelf?
Bottom shelf liquor is certainly an easy choice to make on a budget but is probably better left for when you are making a large amount of punch, jello shots or sterilizing medical equipment.
When working with a budget you can probably rule out top shelf liquor in general. Get a special bottle when you receive an unexpected windfall and save it for a special occasion. Chances are the price you paid will thwart you from slugging it down quickly.
The "Mid" Shelf
There are plenty of brands in the "mid" shelf liquor range that are a good compromise between taste and price. You can pick any of these up for an average of $15 if you shop around. Here are some of the more popular brands:
Svedka is imported from Sweden and distilled five times from Swedish winter wheat. The bottle design is sleek and stylish. Appearance is important in maintaing a home bar especially if your goal is to entertain. Unflavored vodka is 80 proof (40% alcohol). Svedka also comes in Citron, cherry, clementine, raspberry and vanilla flavors at 70 proof (35% alcohol).
Bacardi is well known and popular. It has a sleek bottle design. Bacardi Superior (light) and Bacardi Gold (dark) are a great addition to any bar.
Jose Cuervo Especial Tequila Silver
Jose Cuervo Silver is clear, clean and distilled from blue agave. I might sometimes partake of a chilled shoot. It is incredibly smooth and drinkable.
New Amsterdam Gin
New Amsterdam has a great bottle design that gives it a nice top shelf look.
Early Times Kentucky Whisky and Early Times 354 Bourbon
They were one of the few distilleries to remain open during prohibition for "Medicinal Reasons". Currently, Early Times is the official Mint Julep of the Kentucky Derby. It is more economical to buy the 1 litre bottle of early times as opposed to the 750 ml bottle. They have recently released new bourbon called Early Times 354.
Ballantine's Finest Irish Whiskey
The "Finest Blend" is the least expensive brand Ballantine's offers in its line of blended scotch whiskey's.
Soberano Solera Brandy
I was able to get this delicious Spanish brandy for a really good price right down the street. Unfortunately I can't seem to find it anymore. My substitute recently has been Paul Masson Grande Amber Brandy. It is similar enough in taste to the Soberano and even less expensive.
These are just a few of the many economical base liquors available. Experiment for yourself and find what works for you.
Always drink responsibly and NEVER drink and drive.
You can read part two of this this series here:
- Stocking a Home Bar on a Budget - Affordable Liqueurs, Apertifs and Digestifs
Part 2: A guide to liquoring up your budget
- The Art of the Martini
The martini is a distinct, dignified cocktail with a rich history yet many don't even know how to make one. It's much easier than you think.