Building a Bar Part 3: Making your bar distinctive

Building a Bar Part 3: Making your bar distinctive

Building a Bar Phase 3: Making your Bar Distinctive

We’re on part 3 of 3 in our introduction to Building a Bar. Here we gave you an overview of our 9 essential bottles, in part 1 we talked about bottles #1-4 (gin, bourbon, red vermouth, white vermouth); part 2 focused on bottles #5-7 (tequila, vodka, and orange liqueurs), and today we conclude with bottles #8 and #9. (And yes, we are going to quiz you on what all these bottles are in a bit).

  • Bottle #8: An anise-based liqueur–optional
  • Bottle #9: Your personal favorite

With the first two phases of bar-building, we were gathering the absolute essentials. In phase three, we start to give the bar some character. Neither one of the two bottles we feature here is ever entirely crucial, but their presence goes a long way toward bringing both some breadth and some depth to what you can offer. If you don’t go with our two recommendations, choose a couple of favorites of your own. The keys are that they have flavors you really like, that can be added to a number of recipes, and that are of fairly high quality. Avoid DeKuyper, Hiram Walker, Leroux, and the like which offer endless series of very cheap bottles of schnapps and liqueurs (unless you’re making a pitcher of margaritas or sangria or some sort of punch for a party); instead aim for brands that specialize in the flavors you enjoy.

pastiscollage aniseed-dessert-liqueur
Bottle #8: Anise Liqueur (optional)

Anise is the orange peel’s main rival in the contest for most inexplicably popular ingredient in a liqueur. From all across the Mediterranean, from Spain to Palestine, come a wide array of anise-flavored liqueurs: absenthe, anisette, arak, ouzo, pastis, sambucca, and more. Between the two of them, anise and orange peels completely dominate the liqueur aisle at my favorite liquor store. Who would have guessed?


Based on its massive popularity and the sheer diversity of variations, anise liqueur bears consideration for the 9-bottle list. That being said, anise flavor tends to provoke strong reactions. If your reaction is one of strong distaste, you can skip it without irreparably weakening the strength of your bar. I will say, though, that even if you dislike the similarly-flavored black licorice, you may want to give an anise liqueur a chance; it seems to go down better in alcohol form than candy form. Anise liqueur is most typically taken straight or with ice and water, but it’s also a key ingredient in the Sazerac; or you can swish a little bit around in an empty glass before pouring in the rest of a cocktail, if you want to add just a hint of its flavor. Perhaps my favorite use of all is to float it on top of a cocktail; if you pour it carefully enough it forms a milky white layer, to dramatic effect.

Bottle #9: Your Personal Favorite

Now’s the time to add a final bottle to your bar that brings your personal touch, or even just reflects your current mood: maybe the sweet, floral St. Germain; or the complex, herbal (and pricey) Chartreuse; the somewhat softer (and significantly cheaper) herbal mix of an Amaro; or coffee, pear, or ginger liqueur. This is your chance to give your bar a signature style.


Don’t panic. You don’t need to rush into a permanent #9 decision. And if you don’t know where to start, don’t fear. As we mentioned in our Tears of Chios post, we’ll be regularly previewing potential #9s for you.

For us, #9 is  Cocchi Americano (pronounced like “coke” with an “ee” at the end, not coach-ee like we’ve heard people say). At any given time, we might be experimenting with something new, indulging a current favorite, or returning to an old flame. But through it all, we always have a bottle of Cocchi on the shelf. Cocchi is a lighter, slightly floral cousin of vermouth. We’ll drink it on the rocks with some bitters, use it as a base for brunch cocktails, or substitute it for vermouth in any number of recipes,.

Cocchi on the Rocks

This one’s not quite a cocktail. It’s drinking Cocchi in more like the traditional European style, (almost) straight, as an aperitivo (a pre-dinner warm-up drink). Don’t let it’s simplicity fool you. It’s delicious.

  • Cocchi Americano
  • Ice
  • a small glass
  • (optional: bitters)

Fill your small glass (an old-fashioned glass, whiskey glass, cordial glass, juice glass or the like) with ice. Then fill it with Cocchi. If you have bitters, add a shake or two to make the drink a smidge more complex. Enjoy.

Roberts & June