Imagine this. Your loving great-great-grandmother has just given you a crisp, new c-note for your birthday. Or Christmas. Or President’s Day. Or whatever. Her only request? That you stock your home bar with the money. Are you up to the challenge?
LOST Cocktail Democracy, we considered this very task. Readers were also asked to answer three questions, which I’ll recap below:
1) What’s your favorite drink/spirit?
2) Are there any spirits you hate?
3) Will you be making drinks for yourself? Others? Both?
I’ll address these in a bit, but first I want to talk a set of guiding principles that will help you get the most out of your ingredients: classic recipes and substitutions.
As a (nerd alert) mathematician, I see classic recipes as the fundamental laws of cocktail calculus. For example, a Margarita is 2 parts Tequila to 1 part Cointreau to 1 part Lime Juice, or a 2:1:1 ratio of Spirit to Sweet to Sour. This 2:1:1 ratio is the base for many Sours, including the Daiquiri and Whiskey sour. Even more complex drinks, like a French 75, use the 2:1:1 ratio as a base (and then add Champagne for even more fun).
“But how many ounces are in a part?”, you ask. Good question. A part is just a placeholder; you decide how many ounces are in each part of your cocktail. In the Margarita example, you could take each part to be an ounce, which would give you 2oz Tequila to 1oz Cointreau to 1oz Lime Juice. Or each part could be a half-ounce, or two-ounces. The choice is yours.
That being said, a good rule of thumb is to aim for 2-3oz of spirit in your cocktail and to try to keep the entire liquid volume under 4oz or so. Too much spirit and you won’t balance the heat from the alcohol; too much volume and you probably won’t be able to fit the drink in your glass!
“But what about boozy drinks, like the Manhattan? What’s their ratio?” Another good question. In general, you can take 2 parts spirit to 1 part fortified wine (such as Vermouth) and add 2-3 dashes of aromatic bitters. Because of the potent nature of ingredients, it’s harder to balance these kinds of drinks, so don’t be discouraged if your first few attempts are overwhelming.
The wonderful thing about these ratios is that they’re guidelines. Like a stronger drink? Try a 4:1:1 ratio for Sours and a 3:1 ratio for boozy libations. Want something sweeter? Then you might like a 3:2:1 ratio for Sours and a barspoon of liqueur (such as Maraschino, Grand Marnier, etc) added to the base ratio for boozy drinks.
The most important rule is this: if it tastes good to you, or to whoever you’re serving it to, then it’s the perfect drink, ratios be damned.
Before we continue, a big thanks to April Wachtel of Bacardi for sharing some of the above tips about strong/sweet ratios, common boozy drink ratios and the guideline about aiming for 2-3oz of spirit in a cocktail!
Ratios aren’t the only things that are guidelines. The ingredients of a cocktail can also be substituted, if you so desire. Have a Manhattan recipe that calls for Bourbon or Rye Whiskey? Try Scotch instead. Want to make the Gin-based French 75 but only have Vodka? Go for it!
In fact, a lot of classic cocktails are really just substitutions from other classic cocktails. The Vodka-based French 75 above is called the French 76. A Manhattan with Scotch in it is a Rob Roy. And the list of cocktail cousins goes on and on and on.
If there’s a spirit you really like, such as Tequila, then you might consider revisiting a classic Tequila drink (such as the Margarita) and trying different liqueurs in there. Instead of Cointreau, try Grand Marnier. Or be more adventurous and try Cherry Heering, or Chambord or even Canton Ginger.
Another approach to substitution is to take a drink you love — in my case, let’s say the Sidecar which is a mix of Cognac, Cointreau and Lemon Juice — and change the base spirit. A Bourbon Sidecar is amazing, for example.
Cocktails are all about balancing the various flavors within. Because of this, your substitution might seem like a total failure at first taste. Don’t despair. Think about it as an experiment and start playing around with the ratio and with the other ingredients. Going back to our Margarita example, maybe you find that substituting Cointreau for Canton Ginger doesn’t work until you try a 4:1:1 ratio. Or until you also swap the Lime Juice for the Lemon Juice.
In this way, you’re like an Alchemist (an Alco-emist, perhaps?), tinkering around for a way to transmute lead into gold, getting closer and closer with each attempt.
Stocking Your Bar For $100
It’s finally time to revisit our questionnaire, though by now you some idea of where I’m going with all of this. By identifying the spirits you like, the ones you hate and the ones you’d like to serve others, you can cultivate a collection of spirits which you can then use in the classic recipes and the substitutions I mentioned above.
To keep things simple, I’m going to restrict our discussion to five spirits: Gin, Rum, Tequila, Whisk(e)y and Vodka. For each of these spirits, I’m going to provide four recipes, some classic and some more modern takes. You can find these recipes in this document (including whether to shake, stir, etc), with brief summaries below:
- Gimlet: An 8:3:3 (very close to 2:1:1) of Gin, Lime Cordial (e.g. Rose’s) and Lime Juice. Garnished with a Lime Wheel.
- Negroni: A 1:1:1 of Gin, Campari and Sweet Vermouth. Garnished with a twist of Orange.
- Tom Collins: An 8:3:2 (close to 2:1:1 again) of Gin, Lemon Juice and Simple Syrup. Topped with Club Soda and garnished with a Lemon Wedge.
- White Lady: An 8:3:3:1 of Gin, Cointreau, Lemon Juice and Simple Syrup, shaken with Raw Egg White.
- Daiquiri: A 2:1:1 of Light/White Rum, Simple Syrup and Lime Juice, garnished with a Lime Wheel. Note some recipes, like that of the PDT Cocktail Book, prefer a 8:3:3 here.
- Dark and Stormy: This being a highball, the ratios are a little different. 3 parts Ginger Beer to 2 parts Black Rum, garnished with a Lime Wedge. Make sure you squeeze the wedge.
- Mai-Tai: A 4:2:1:1:1 of Dark Rum, Lime Juice, Curacao, Simple Syrup and Orgeat. A bit more ingredient heavy than our other drinks, but its source is the very reputable Michael Neff of Ward III and Rum House.
- Planter’s Punch: A 12:4:3 of Dark Rum, Simple Syrup and Lime Juice, along with 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters.
- Margarita: A 2:1:1 of Tequila, Cointreau and Lime Juice, garnished with a Lime Wedge. Some recipes (such as PDT’s) call for an 8:3:3 ratio with 1 part Agave Syrup.
- Jalapeño Matador: Different from what we’ve introduced so far, this calls for muddled Jalapeno and a 12:6:1 ratio of Pineapple Juice, White/Blanco Tequila and Lime Juice. If you’re using canned Pineapple Juice, you could reduce the amount by a third or so (it’s sweeter).
- Siesta: A 4:1:1:1:1 of Reposado Tequila, Campari, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice and Grapefruit Juice, garnished with a Grapefruit Twist. This could be thought of as a 2:1:1 if you take the Campari & Simple Syrup as your liqueur and the Lime Juice and Grapefruit Juice as your citrus.
- Paloma: Another highball, this time with a 4:4:1 ratio of Reposado Tequila, Ting Grapefruit Soda (or Lemon/Lime Soda with a dash of Grapefruit Juice) and Lime. Salt the rim and garnish with Half a Grapefruit Wheel.
- Manhattan: A 2:1 of Whiskey (Rye or Bourbon will work) to Sweet Vermouth, with 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters. Garnish with a Maraschino or Brandied Cherry.
- Old-fashioned (Fruit-Style): Muddle a Maraschino Cherry, Half an Orange Wheel and a Sugar Cube in a glass, then 3 parts (ounces is fine) Whiskey with 3 dashes Angostura. There are many variations of the Old-fashioned but this is a common modern take.
- Oriental Cocktail: A 6:3:3:2 of Whiskey (again, Rye or Bourbon works well), Triple Sec (Cointreau is fine), Sweet Vermouth and Lime Juice. Don’t take offense to the name.
- Whiskey Smash: Muddle 3 Lemon Wedges and 6 Mint Leaves, with a 8:3 of Whiskey to Simple Syrup. Garnish with a Mint Leaf.
- Martini: The classic 5:1 of Vodka to Dry Vermouth, with an olive or lemon. Martini drinkers are very particular about their recipes so yours will almost certainly vary.
- Astor Martini: While a Martini in name, this is much closer to a Sour with a 4:2:1 of Vodka, Grapefruit Juice and Campari.
- Cosmopolitan: A 3:2:1 of Citrus Vodka, Triple Sec and Lime Juice, with a splash of Cranberry Juice and garnished with a Lime Wedge. Girly by reputation, strong by taste.
- Moscow Mule: A 6:4:3 (though a 2:1:1 is fine too) of Vodka, Simple Syrup and Lime Juice, topped with Ginger Beer and garnished with both a piece of Candied Ginger and a Lime Wheel.
(Skittish about your technique for making any of the above? Revisit our Technique post.)
The first gives you sample prices for each of the spiritous ingredients used in our recipes, along with volumes and sources. You can use these along with your own preferences, the recipes above and the ‘Grid’ section to see what it will cost you to get which ingredients and what those ingredients will make for you.
Here are some example packages for you to model your own purchases after:
- Spirits: Gin, Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, Dry Vermouth, Cointreau, Angostura Bitters.
- Drinks Available: Gimlet, Manhattan, Oriental Cocktail, Tom Collins, Old-Fashioned, Whiskey Smash, White Lady (note: if you substitute Gin for Vodka, you can make a Martini among others, too)
- Liquor Cost: $74
- Spirits: Blanco Tequila, Cointreau, Gin, Light Rum,
- Drinks Available: Daiquiri, Gimlet, Margarita, Jalapeno Matador, Tom Collins, White Lady
- Liquor Cost: $70
Boozy & Classic
- Spirits: Bourbon (add $4 for Rye), Campari, Dry Vermouth, Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Vodka, Angostura Bitters
- Drinks Available: Astor Martini, Gimlet, Manhattan, Martini, Moscow Mule, Negroni, Tom Collins, Old-Fashioned, Whiskey Smash
- Total Cost: $101/$105 but if you substitute Gin for Vodka, you can reduce the cost to $83/$87
Some tips as you try your hand it:
- While Bourbon and Rye are hardly interchangeable, they each have their own charm in Whisk(e)y drinks. Rye is spicier and lighter, whereas Bourbon is a fuller-bodied and is sweeter. Many of the recipes in this document call for one of these specifically.
- Gin and Vodka are a bit more interchangeable, with Vodka being the “neater” spirit (by definition). If you like Gin though, you’ll find it easy to swap in for Vodka.
- Another common substitution is between Cointreau, Triple Sec and, to a lesser extent Curacao. These are all orange-flavored liqueurs and while each has their own aspect, you an get away with swapping in one for the other. In general, Cointreau is a bit sweeter whereas Cointreau is a higher-end more neutral flavor.
- A less orthodox substitution is Black Rum for Dark Rum and will definitely result in a sweeter drink. When I was first experimenting I used just this swap and found some of my favoriate Rum variations as a result.
- You don’t need to buy Citrus Vodka if you’re willing to experiment. You can infuse your own Vodka with citrus peel in a mason jar and, if you’re willing to put in a little time to experiment, you’ll likely wind up with a tastier product than what you’d otherwise buy.
Next time, we’ll take off the training wheels and talk about a few example stocking packages for the $250 price point. Our discussion will expand to include deeper discussion on items like: Bitters, Brandies, Amari, (more) Liqueurs, high-end Fortified Wines, stocking multiple brands of a Spirit, making your own Syrups and more about Infusions.
See you then!