The Home Bar: Research and Design
Updated: Feb 14, 2019
The home bar begins with one bottle. Making that one bottle something you would enjoy will go further in spurring the momentum to continue creating your home bar than choosing something you're unfamiliar with or only drink occasionally. Although the idea of collecting spirits can be an alluring one it's best to focus on building your bar before building your collection.
A good way to envision your home bar is to start with a solid base. Determine what are your staple spirits. I started my home bar by focusing on spirits I'm inclined to drink when I go out. It doesn't matter if you prefer clear spirits, brown spirits, or something in between. Keep asking yourself, "Is this something I will drink?" If you have to think about it, or don’t like it; you won’t drink it.
Remember you're the architect. This is your spotlight to showcase your cocktail making skills. Don't be afraid to experiment with the flavors you're tasting in your preferred spirit. This is where cocktail books and your favorite local bar can help expand your horizons. I have learned quite a bit due to conversations with bartenders/mixologists. In turn, it has made me a better bar patron and helped me understand my palate.
Once I had a better understanding of my palate it assisted me in articulating what kinds of cocktails I might like to a bartender. Example, I’m a fan of sweet, floral, and fruity. I also focus on the dark brown spirits and branch out from there. However, my happy place is highly peated whisky. Go figure?
Since my home bar started out with peated whisky, my evolution into the world of cocktails wasn't as swift. It was after knowing Dustin Haarstad for a few months, and sitting in front of him at Canon quite a few times did I start to think in terms of cocktails. He also introduced me to a better understanding of other category spirits. Once I started to think in terms of cocktails I also started to consider what spirits, modifiers, equipment, and bar-ware I would need to set-up a home bar.
Over the years I’ve read various home bar set-up guides. The bare-bones home bar set-up in some of these guides was anywhere from 10-52 bottles. As someone just starting out, this can be overwhelming, and give a skewed view on the type of investment needed to start a home bar. Now I have a better understanding of cocktails and spirits. I would say a bare-bones home bar could start with 1-2 bottles of spirits depending on how you drink your spirits or the cocktails you make. The method I embrace at home is, "Keep It Simple (KIS)". I have limited space, resources, and money. Another philosophy I adopt is if I have a specific brand expression at home I'm not buying it while I'm out. I go out to try something new. This mantra forces me to broaden horizons. I try new brands, flavors, and styles of cocktails.
Before diving in and buying a bunch of equipment, and spirits you may or may not use again do a little homework. Zero in on what category of spirits you'd like to start with, and which one will be the easiest for you to experiment with among friends. Once you've picked a spirit category now is the time to do a little flavor research. You can start either at a tasting event or by visiting a local specialty bar.
Most of the better selection bars in the Seattle area offer spirits flights. If you're going to go to the bar visit during a slow time. When the bar is slow is the best time to ask questions, and learn about the spirits in the flight. It's also a great way to start an open dialogue with the bartender. While most of the bartenders/mixologists I've met over the years are open to conversation and enjoy talking about spirits don't assume everyone will. Try to be social and learn about what their interests are and if they're not engaging don't take it personally. It's not a lost cause. Take notes on what you liked about the drams, and what you didn't like so you can share your notes with the next bartender/mixologist. It will be a starting point on what flavors to explore in your next flight or what you want to avoid.
Next time I'll talk about modifiers.