There you have it: the end of 12 Bottle Bar, Phase One. We’ve identified all twelve bottles and a smattering of drinks to represent each one. If you’re already overwhelmed (or underwhelmed), this would be a good place to put in the bookmark and walk away. With the completion of this chapter, you should have enough classics and esoterics — from the Sling to the Martini — to keep your bottles limber and your guests happily askew. Should you stick with us, however, I make you a simple promise: you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Before we jump into Phase Two, I thought it worthwhile to address the bench warmers of the 12 Bottle Bar. If you’ve followed along, surely at more than one time you’ve uttered either “What the hell is that?” or “Why didn’t he pick this?”. The 12 Bottle Bar experiment — and it is exactly that — is to recreate the Golden Age of Cocktails (broadly from the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s) at home with a fixed roster of ingredients. Some bottles, like Rye and Orange Liqueur are timeless. Others, like Leopold’s Gin, are modern specimens of excellent character. And still others, like Bols Genever, are not only resurrected wonders, they also add a necessary intrigue to your home bar that propels it into a whole different stratosphere. Break out the booze from the days of Shakespeare, and you’ll get people’s attention.
This post, however, is about those bottles that didn’t make the cut. All of the bottles listed below currently reside in my home bar. I use them all, but for one reason or another, when the 12 Bottle Bar roll call was taken, they were left on the sidelines.
Without question, Vodka is the best-selling liquor in America. If your home has a bottle of booze in it, it’s probably Vodka. So, why cast it by the wayside? Chronologically, Vodka just doesn’t make it into the Golden Age. Though Vodka has existed for quite some time — and periodically crept into bars on a minimal scale –it really is a child of the 1950’s. Fueled by the invention of the Moscow Mule at Los Angeles’ Cock ‘n Bull tavern and the dawn of the James Bond Vodka Martini — both instances aggressively spurred on by America’s Smirnoff brand — Vodka quickly found a waiting audience eager for its flavorless, odorless profile.
For the classic cocktail set, these last point’s put a pin on Vodka’s less than popular reception. Why drink something flavorless? Classic cocktails are meant to taste good. Vodka is meant to deliver alcohol while you taste the other ingredients. There’s a big gap there. Vodka also has a reputation as the liquor of choice for people who don’t like liquor, and in many ways, this is very true. Sidle up to the bar at any classic cocktail watering hole and order a Vodka and Tonic; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you’re literally shown the door.
Orange Bitters (Update: Orange Bitters are now part of the bar, replacing Peychaud’s)
If the name was 13 Bottle Bar, Orange Bitters would have been the final member of the team. Whereas most bitters — Angostura and Peychaud’s included — are dark and challenging, Orange Bitters are light, bright, and almost delicate. Whether you go with Fee’s or Regan’s, they’re well worth adding to any bar. They also define a certain period of drinks, and by excluding them, we’ll be missing out on some winners. This was a hard cut.
I’m sorry to say that we won’t be drinking the Daiquiri, the Mojito, or the incomparable Smaller Dinger. White rum is cheap and, if you buy correctly, delicious. I went with Pusser’s here as our sugarcane representative, as if I was forced to pick only one rum on the planet, I’d happily forsake all others for the Admiralty’s finest. Still, if you you’ve got a hankering for a Daiquiri, give Nicaragua’s Flor de Caña Extra Dry a try — you won’t regret it.
Bulleit, Buffalo Trace, Old Grand-Dad, Michter’s — the choices for great Bourbon are almost endless. If there’s an all-American liquor, it’s Kentucky’s finest, and while there’s no denying that Bourbon satisfies all the qualities we looking for in the 12 Bottle Bar, our choice of Rye is just, well, sexier.
There’s a belief among some cocktailians that blended whisky just doesn’t mix well with anything. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to that belief, I do find that blended Scotch’s easy-to-drink character causes it to get lost in most cocktails. It can be nice for a light, summer Sour, but Redbreast is better. Single malts, on the other hand, are a wonder, but how to pick just one for all purposes?
Besides the Margarita, name a Tequila-based drink. Okay, the Tequila Sunrise. When was the last time you had one.? I’ve made drinks with Tequila, but the only reason most of us keep it around is for Margaritas — period. We can satisfy that summer thirst-quencher with a myriad of other libations, so Tequila gets left on the store shelf. When you do make Margaritas, however, opt for a quality Silver Tequila, such as Herradura.
I’m sure I’ve missed many others, but these are the major players that won’t be taking a part in our liquor cabinet. If you do need a good Daiquiri or Margarita recipe, feel free to email us. We’re always glad to help, but the plan is to publicly strictly stick to the script. We’ve covered a couple of dozen drinks so far, but if you stick with us, I’ll repeat what I stated above:
You ain’t seen nothing yet.