Building a Bar Part 1: the Martini, the Manhattan, & more

Building a Bar Part 1: the Martini, the Manhattan, & more

Building a Bar Part 1: the Martini, the Manhattan, and more


What you need

  1. A Decent, Mass-produced Gin
  2. An Affordable Single Barrel Bourbon
  3. A Dry Vermouth
  4. A Sweet Vermouth

(Our top 4 of 9 from our essential’s post on friday)

With just these four bottles, you have on hand what you need to make two of the most famous of cocktails, and several other things as well. It’s just enough to be able to offer something quite respectable, and to hit the spot for a range of cocktail tastes.

The Gin

We’re gin people; so, truth be told, we almost always have three bottles of gin, suitable for different purposes: a cheap mixing gin, a small-batch gin, and a bottle of mass-produced premium gin like Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire. We’ll talk about the other two some other time. For now, though, it’s enough to know that even being the gin lovers we are, that third bottle is the only one that we always, absolutely make sure we have. If we have that, we can do anything that requires gin, and satisfy anyone who likes gin. It’s not so expensive that we feel bad mixing it in a Negroni, and it’s interesting and pleasant enough to use in a Martini. We tend toward Tanqueray, because it’s usually a couple of dollars cheaper than Bombay Sapphire, and because its well-rounded flavor makes it especially adaptable for any purpose.

The Bourbon

Of course, all whiskeys have their distinctives. Scotches, ryes, and bourbons all have their advantages; and even different brands, blends, and ages have quite different things to offer. That’s why some bars feature dozens or hundreds of whiskeys. That being said, we find that we can pretty be satisfied if we make sure that we always have one bottle of good, mid-priced, single barrel bourbon in the house. Once again, it does a good job with most anything you’d want from a whiskey, from sipping it, to a Whiskey and Soda, to an Old-fashioned, to a Manhattan. We like Eagle Rare, but you’ll probably have your own favorite.

Dry Vermouth

Of all our bottles of liquor, vermouth is what we use most. Not only do we never go without; we usually have a spare bottle on hand. More than anything else, a lack of vermouth cripples a bar. For the dry, or white, vermouths, be careful of the low end; they can taste like a pinot grigio gone bad. Pick up a bottle of Boissiere or Noilly-Prat, and if you want to know more, check out our Battle of the Vermouths tournament.

Sweet Vermouth

The quality for red, or sweet, vermouths is more consistent. A cheap red vermouth still does it’s job quite well. Nonetheless, we gravitate toward the mid-range Boissiere or Dolin, finding that they do excellently whatever we want a vermouth to do; and a mid-range vermouth is still only about $10. Sweet vermouths vary quite a bit in taste, from the strong vanilla flavor of Cinzano to the bitter Punt e Mes. So, you may want to try different ones over time to find what you like. And once again, we have plenty more to say at the Battle of the Vermouths.

What else

Add an orange, a lemon, a lime, maybe some soda and tonic and olives–and maybe some Angustura bitters for a bit of a flourish and that extra little something, but it’s not entirely necessary. You have what you need for Martinis, Manhattans, Old-fashioned, Whiskeys and soda, and Gins and Tonic. For your friends who say that cocktails are ‘too strong,’ reverse your Manhattans or Martinis (swap the usual proportion of spirit to vermouth), or, better yet, make this simple Vermouth-based cocktail. They’ll be delighted and impressed.


Vermouth Cocktail*

1.5 oz dry vermouth

1.5 oz sweet vermouth

Pour into a an ice-filled old-fashioned glass, stir, garnish with a lemon peel. Maybe shake in a few drops of bitters or some cherry liqueur or both, if you have them. It’s a great cocktail for people who say they don’t like cocktails, and a great brunch cocktail for people who say they do.


*There doesn’t seem to be a standard name for this drink, or a standard recipe to go with the name ‘Vermouth Cocktail,’ but we’ll call this the Vermouth Cocktail–seems descriptive enough.






Roberts & June