Bottles We Can’t Live Without (you shouldnt either)

Posted on Aug 28, 2015

I’m guessing you have a bottle or two of somewhat obscure liquor in your cabinet. Stephanie, for example, when she was packing up her kitchen to move, discovered that she was the owner of a bottle of banana liqueur. Personally, I’ll never forget creme de cacao. I can’t; we’ve had a bottle of creme de cacao in our bar from the very beginning. To be clear, it’s the very same bottle, and it’s almost full.

ca. 1897 --- Little Girl Hugging Bottle --- Image by © CORBIS

When we were first building a bar, we had no idea what we really needed; so I consulted one of those ‘Essentials of a Home Bar’ lists. There were about twenty-five bottles–including that bottle of Creme de Cacao–on the list. I dutifully purchased them all, only to discover to my dismay that I still didn’t quite know what to make with them. A fairly high percentage of those first bottles languished on our shelves for quite some time. Eventually we were able to figure out some use for most of them, but we didn’t really feel the need to replace them when they were gone. And we’ve just never found a use for that poor, old bottle of creme de cacao that still sits there in the bar.

There’s another set of bottles that are always on our shelves. With these ones, it’s because we can’t do without them. If we were to go back in time, we’d tell our younger mixologist selves to start with these:

Bar Essentials

  1. A Decent, Mass-produced Gin, like Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire
  2. An Affordable Single Barrel Bourbon
  3. A Dry Vermouth (white vermouth)
  4. A Sweet Vermouth (red vermouth)
  5. A Decent Vodka
  6. A Silver Tequila
  7. An Orange Liqueur–triple sec, curacao, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Campari, or Aperol
  8. (An Anise-based Liqueur…assuming you like anise)
  9. Cocchi Americano or your personal favorite liqueur.

With these nine bottles (not 25!), a shaker, some citrus, some sugar, soda, tonic, and maybe some olives and cherries, you can make the most standard of standard cocktails and numerous others, satisfying a broad spectrum of cocktail tastes. All told, they cost about $200, which isn’t a small investment, but also isn’t an exorbitant price to pay to assure you have on hand what you would need to make yourself a quite decent nightcap or to offer your guests an impressively expert pre-dinner drink. And, in the end, it’s about 100 cocktails for the price of 15 out at a bar. So, not bad.

Best of all, you don’t have to even shell out for all nine bottles at once. Just the first four will get you off to a pretty solid start.

Bar Essentials theme page

What’s stopping you from having the home bar you’d like?

What full (and old) liquor bottles are hiding in your cabinet?

Do you have a home bar staple?



  1. My staple would have to be St. Germain!

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