I accidentally watched a video of bartenders lecturing common-folk on the art of stocking the perfect home bar. You see, if you bothered to venture into a semi-adult career path, you can’t have given much thought to the things you prefer to drink. Predictably, these barmaids hold your hand through the process of buying a nice bottle of something in each of the obvious categories of distilled spirits—you gotta have one handmade vodka, one authentically Caribbean rum, one craft tequila, etc. Get your tools and shakers and jiggers and whatnot.
But as an avid boozer and professional whiskey-pourer, I’d like to layer a bit more onto this narcissistic preaching and suggest that this is all insecure smuggery, designed to make the world of bar-keeping maintain its illusion of pretentious chemistry class meets hipster Benihana. It’s actually an industry fueled by alcoholism, Adderall, and failed aspirations of acting and/or activism.
I’ve come to terms with being amongst the dregs of society, being asked to stand behind a wooden barrier and pour libations before the celebrating masses, and with being strangely revered for it nonetheless. Here’s the deal, don’t bother making cocktails at home unless you’re having people over and are going to be making at least ten of them—but even then, just whip up a bowl of punch instead (sugar, fresh citrus, booze, champagne, that’s it). No need for any special tools or measuring devices.
Home bars, like refrigerators or pantries, are places where you store shit before you consume it. So your home bar is where you stash your spirits, or, if you’re open about your habit, where you display them. When bartenders give advice on stocking a home bar, what they’re really doing is guiding you through a catalog of hip, cool-looking hooch with throwback labels. Sure, some of this small batch local swill can be decent, but often it’s cutesy marketing nonsense and is often not only overpriced, but also inferior (see Hudson Whiskey products).
My home bar generally consists of a half-full bottle of fancy bourbon (see EH Taylor, High West), a bottle of sub $20 normal bourbon (see Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond, Wild Turkey 101), some bitters, a bottle of gin or vodka, and then something random that I picked up on a whim—the latter is currently a bottle of Tapatio anejo tequila, which I highly recommend.
The home bar also takes up space in the refrigerator, as you should always keep some vermouth or sherry on hand, and a couple bottles of sparkling wine— Costco brand prosecco for $6.99 is excellent. If Miller High Life is the champagne of beers, prosecco is the champagne of beers of champagne. As for beer, you’re not going to beat Budweiser bottles.
Alcohol is for drinking. Stock a few bottles of shit you like, but accumulating a collection can be a symptom of the Millennial Booze Disorder—a common ailment that often consists of hoarding bottles of limited edition craft beers and proudly displaying jars of organic saffron-infused moonshine—inflicted youngsters do very little drinking of course, as liquor to these people is an icon of cultural ambition, not a vice.
I find that whenever I do pick up a bottle of respectable scotch or bourbon, drinking it tends to follow a predictable pattern—a series of steps not unlike the Stations of the Cross.
Stage 1. Honeymoon Phase: You think this bottle will last forever as if it’s a full vat of whisky. You’ve already taken a hefty pull off it and it still looks as if it hasn’t been touched. Surely you can pour a few more and it won’t look much different.
Stage 2. The Hangover: Okay, you got a little aggressive last night. You look at the bottle in the morning and think, I didn’t drink half that fucker, did I? Not quite half, but let’s just say you broke the bottle in a bit harder than you intended to.
Stage 3. The Glass is No Longer Half Full: This is the inflection point in the surface descent—it’s the point at which the bottle is less than half full. The point of no return. Here you’ll start nipping at random bottles surrounding it, perhaps switching back to your standby bottle of cheap stuff. You’re pretending you’re not drinking the bottle as fast as you actually are.
Stage 4. Neglect: You will now ignore this bottle for 1-3 weeks. Drink more sherry, which I enjoy sipping as diet whiskey.
Stage 5. Give Up: You’ll do well to remind yourself that this amber bottle is not some lava lamp that needs to remain full in order to maintain proper ambiance in your foyer. Stage 4 is when you come home and consider pouring a glass of Macallan 12, but settle for nip of Jim Beam because heaven forbid the bottle of the good stuff might look a bit closer to empty. You’ve now abandoned this nonsense and have accepted your fate—down the hatch. Kill the bottle and throw it in the trash. No more recycling—glass bottles were born from tiny grains of sand—buried in a shallow grave at the local landfill, broken into shards, is where should be laid to rest.
Repeat steps as needed.
I will admit that I marvel at the restraint some of these tequila aficionados have with their shelves full of rare Oaxacan mezcal that they just stare at. And I assure you, it is my expertise talking and not my alcoholic insecurities when I tell them, “You’re doing it wrong.”