All you need to stock the perfect home bar is a dozen bottles and a few essential tools, according to David and Lesley Solmonson, authors of The 12 Bottle Bar. From there, the cocktail combinations are practically limitless.
Lesley Solmonson: You need 12 bottles: 7 spirits, 1 liqueur and what we call our four special ingredients, which are vermouths and bitters. [Ed. note: Find more information about each of the bottles on the Solmonsons' website.]
There are two different ways you can approach the idea of cost with our 12 bottles. If you were to buy all 12 bottles, we have low-end choices and high-end choices. At the low end, it would be about $200 for your entire bar. You can make a good number of drinks with this for any number of people. If you were buying all high-end spirits, you're looking at about $350. But you don't have to buy all the bottles.
David Solmonson: In fact, we show you how to set up a one-bottle bar. What started cocktails was punch. If we go to that very basic element, you take a spirit and you mix non-spirity things with it -- citrus, sugar and spices -- and you can make glorious drinks.
We have a follow-up chapter called the three-bottle bar, where we introduce bitters and vermouth. Then a four-bottle bar, where we introduce liqueur. You can mix and match. If you only drink one spirit, you still find use in the recipes.
LS: Starting with the light spirits, you have gin, which is the king of the cocktail spirits. It was the original spirit that everybody used in drinks and was incredibly popular -- it still is. We use that for the botanicals. Nothing else has botanicals like gin.
LS: Genever is not truly a light spirit, but because it's the forefather of gin, it's kind of in that category. Genever is our ringer, the one that surprises everybody. It has this beautiful combination of aromatics and maltiness that gives it a bridge across many categories, from rum to gins to brandy to whatever you want to use it in. [Ed. note: More from the Solmonsons on genever here.]
The Solmonsons' recipe: Splendid Genever Cup (Photo: Andy Kruse)
LS: Vodka is a top seller in the markets. You can't avoid vodka in drinks today. It's also an incredible conduit of flavor in terms of what you put in your drink, letting that shine through, and also as a base for making liqueurs. You open up a whole other door to your pantry to create more drinks.
LS: White rum is in some of our favorite summer drinks -- mojitos, daiquiris -- those beautiful, fruit-forward, but still crisp, lovely, sweet, balanced drinks. It just takes you to a tropical island, so how can you skip that?
DS: Amber rum is darker than the light rum and aged, with a lot of barrel characteristics, vanilla that's coming out of the oak, with tropical fruit flavors as well.
DS: Brandy, Cognac-style brandy specifically, is one of the most elegant spirits that you can find and one of the most versatile; you can use it in anything from a sweet drink to a very stirred brown drink.
DS: Everybody has a whiskey favorite. We love rye because you can get examples that can go up to 100 percent rye mash. It's incredibly spicy when mixed with sugar, citrus and other ingredients. It makes a beautiful Manhattan, it makes a beautiful sour.
DS: There are lots of liqueurs on the market, but we think that you need orange liqueur. We love Cointreau because we like triple sec because it's clear, first of all. Whatever drink you put it into, it's not going to color the drink. The king of triple sec is Cointreau. It's just an amazing, well-made spirit. We have no problems with the other ones, but it's just the most flexible thing and a pure, pure orange flavor.
LS: Your sweet vermouth is also your red vermouth, which is used in things like Manhattans and can add a lovely, slightly herbal but sweet characteristic.
LS: Your dry vermouth, also white vermouth, is of course used if you have a proper martini, which is the king of cocktails. It's also used in any number of other drinks, adding that herbal characteristic, but an underlying dry note.
LS: Orange bitters add the brightness of orange, but that bitter characteristic.
LS: Aromatic bitters have all of those Christmas spices like cinnamon, allspice and things of that sort.
DS: You want to use the best quality ice you can get. [Ed. note: Find more from the Solmonsons on ice here.]
LS: There are a lot of things that just using a little bit of sugar, some water and an herb or some kind of fruit will make an entirely new element for your drinks -- that includes syrups and shrubs, which are a really exciting thing. A shrub is a fruit, sugar and vinegar. Again, just things that are in your pantry.
DS: It's a very colonial drink. This is not a new invention, this is what George Washington and Paul Revere were drinking.
LS: Simple syrup is really your king of additions. With simple syrup, you can do whatever you want. You can make rosemary simple syrup, basil simple syrup, lemon simple syrup.
DS: Hibiscus is lovely if you want to make a drink pink. Simple syrup is just equal parts sugar and water. If you wanted, you could just mix them together. But if you heat the water just slightly, dissolve the sugar in there.
Each week, The Splendid Table brings you stories that expand your world view, inspire you to try something new, and show how food brings us together. We rely on you to do this. You have the power to keep us cooking, sharing these stories, and helping you in the kitchen.
Donate today for as little as $5.00 a month. Your gift only takes a few minutes and has a lasting impact on The Splendid Table.
Jennifer Russell is a founding producer at The Splendid Table. Before coming to radio, she made historical and arts and cultural programming for public television. She claims to have come out of the womb a food lover -- when other girls played house, she played restaurateur. Follow her comings and goings on Twitter: @jenejentweets.