Hello, and WELCOME to the Modern Bar Cart Podcast—the cocktail podcast where we demystify the tools and techniques that make great drinks.
I’m your host, Eric Kozlik, and I’m glad you’ve decided to join me for what may be one of the most crucial early episodes you’ll listen to on this podcast. In Episode 2, I broke down the essential cocktail-related tools you’ll need to build your home bar or bar cart, and if you recall, I used a computer analogy that compared hardware and software to cocktail tools (like shakers and bar spoons) and consumables (like spirits and mixers).
Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into our metaphorical cocktail software—the literal spirits and cocktail mixers you’ll need on hand if you want to start learning how to mix delicious drinks.
Because this episode follows more of an audio essay format, I’m going to include a complete transcript of this episode (including links) in the show notes at modernbarcart.com/podcast. This is going to be a fairly BRAND-DRIVEN episode (at least toward the end) where I make a TON of brand recommendations at different price points. So please do check out the show notes or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any lingering questions.
Now, to kick things off, I’m going to identify a strong literary resource in respect to building your spirits and mixers collection, and that resource is The 12 Bottle Bar by David Solomonson and Lesley Jacobs Solomonson, originally published not too long ago in 2014.
I will admit that I DO NOT OWN THIS BOOK—Seen it a few times, flipped through it, but don’t personally own it. And if I were in your position right now, I’d be like,
Why is this dude trying to sell me a book he doesn’t personally own?
I’m going to make my own recommendations here today, and so I want you to have at least one resource to test my recommendations against. I’d absolutely love it if you just accepted all my advice and help me up as the end-all be-all of cocktail advice. But the truth is, everybody’s got a different palate and different priorities, and I want you to have options.
So, jumping right in, I’m gonna rattle through the bottles that the authors of the 12 Bottle Bar think you should have on your shelf, and then I’m going to give you the EJK UPDATED 12 Bottle Bar, where I keep the good and swap out what I think are weaker bottles for things that might be more fun or useful.
Ready, here we go. The original 12 Bottle Bar consists of:
- Dry Gin
- Genever (Also known as Hollands Gin)
- Amber Rum
- White Rum
- Rye Whiskey
- Orange Liqueur
- Dry Vermouth
- Sweet Vermouth
- Aromatic Bitters
- Orange Bitters
Definitely a strong list of recommendations, and if I had to list 20 bottles that should be on every bar, then all (or almost all) of these would make my cut. And the goal here is obviously to be able to make the most and most interesting cocktails with the most flexible assortment of spirits.
Instead of quibbling item-by-item, I’m just gonna identify and quickly run through the three bottles I swapped out in my 12-Bottle bar, and those bottles are Genever, Dry Vermouth, and Amber Rum.
Genever is a type of gin, produced in an off-dry style, just like it was in Holland when that spirit was a particularly popular import into the U.S. This was during the Mid-1800s when cocktail culture was still ramping up, and as David Wondrich notes in his book, Imbibe! it was replaced dramatically in popularity by English style dry gin around the turn of the 20th century (and this is traceable by import records).
Now, why am I picking on Genever? It’s because there are so many great types of gins out there today, that you shouldn’t really be focusing on a certain STYLE, per se, but rather tasting your way around to determine which gins you enjoy, and which mix well with certain vermouths, bitters, and other mixers.
Now my choice to eliminate Dry Vermouth also comes into the discussion here because Wondrich notes that the switch in popularity was at least partly due to the fact that dry vermouth was also becoming a popular cocktail ingredient at that time and IT mixed well with dry gin, but not with Genever. So why am I throwing the baby out with the bathwater here? If I get rid of Genever, shouldn’t the dry vermouth be allowed to stay? The answer: in just a few minutes.
Finally, we’ve got amber rum, which, in my opinion has a bit of an identity crisis. It’s not dark, but it’s got too much caramel flavoring and coloring to be considered “white.” Don’t start your bar with bottles that are straddling a middle ground between two other products. There are a lot of great cocktails that can be made with either dark rum or light rum, and so my advice would be to pick up a bottle of whichever one you prefer most, and then work your way out from there.
So, now that I’ve gutted the premise of a really well respected book, probably alienated some people, and maybe had some eyes glaze over on my dive into the history books there, let’s take a look at my new and (I think) slightly improved 12 Bottle Bar.
And I’m gonna go through these items a bit more slowly so they stick, so without further ado…