Friday, March 4, 2011

How to Build Your Cocktail Bar, Part 1: Gin and Vodka

Does your home bar just have a few random bottles left over from parties past? Or are you starting your spirits collection from scratch? A well-stocked bar is an essential for any good host or hostess, but building up a functional collection can be a little overwhelming; there are lots of items to pick out, and versatility is key if you want to be able to serve friends a wide range of mixed drinks. In the How to Build Your Cocktail Bar series, we’ll provide you with some easy tips on creating the best bar possible for your home. In each installment, we’ll also provide advanced items for the more seasoned cocktailian (or, of course, the adventurous amateur).

Gin and vodka are two clear pillars of mixology. Vodka is a starting point for many basics, often admired most for an ability to stealthily hide in the background of a drink, while the more assertive gin is the base for many of the more complex classics. You definitely need some of each, but which ones to pick?

The right vodka choice can mean the difference between an adequate and excellent cocktail. We love U'Luvka Vodka for mixing precisely because it refuses to be a wallflower. Slightly peppery and quite full-flavored, it integrates into a cocktail beautifully while deliciously reminding you that it’s there. A citrus vodka is also a home bar staple, finding its way comfortably into a wide array of drinks. Try Hangar One Kaffir Lime in a Moscow Mule--vodka and ginger ale--for an easy crowd-pleaser.

As for gin, it’s most essential to have a London Dry on hand. This is the workhorse of cocktail-making and the most common on the market. These gins tend to be strong on the juniper flavor, and are what you’d usually reach for when making a Martini or Gin & Tonic. Martin Miller's London Dry Gin is one of our favorites, as it’s balanced and versatile. We’d also suggest stocking a bottle of Plymouth English Gin, a brand that also defines its own subcategory. This is a softer, rounder, slightly sweeter style that adds variety to your repertoire. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, look to Hayman's Old Tom Gin. This yet-sweeter style was popular in the 18th century, and would have been the type that many older cocktail recipes would have been referring to when they called for gin. This uncommon variation begs for creative experimentation, but if you’re interested in a somewhat complicated cocktail with a killer payoff, we suggest a Ramos Gin Fizz.

Ramos Gin Fizz

2 oz Old Tom gin
1 oz cream
½ oz lemon juice
½ oz lime juice
1 egg white
1 tsp sugar
2-3 dashes orange flower water

Add ice and shake hard for several minutes--we suggest waiting until the shaker gets really, really cold. Strain into a tall class, and fill to the top with selzer. Play with the proportions to suit your tastes as desired, but we promise, this drink is well worth achy arms.

Until next time, cheers!

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