“You’ll want base spirits that are good and ethically made,” says Mix. This is a bit of barroom jargon that’s not hard to parse: Base spirits are the umbrella of booze that makes up the base of a cocktail. At a lot of bars, bartenders sometimes refer to this as their “rail,” but that can also mean the literal bottles in the rail (which can mean anything). Think gin, whiskey, tequila, rum and vodka; the core spirits that make up the lion’s share of cocktails throughout history. Figuring out the ethics of production is complicated and changes with each spirit and region, but a good first step is check out what they’re pouring at your favorite bar. Often times you’ll want to avoid the absolute cheapest stuff (and probably the most expensive as well).
“Your preferences might not be the same as your guest. With a little bit of variety you’ll give people the opportunity to show some preference to say, ’Oh, that’s the thing that I like,’” says Simo. “You’ve got to have that ability to seamlessly transition to another option. You want to be able to anticipate those needs. You don’t want to have six different types of bourbon. If they don’t like whiskey, that’s not helping. You want to have a bottle of gin, a bottle of rum. You want to have stuff you like, but also think about your guest.”
At a bare minimum you’ll want to have a dark spirit and a light spirit. Simo advises a bottle of gin (and I’d go so far as to advise going with the original London Dry style) and a bottle of Cognac to go with the aforementioned champagne. Of course, if that’s not your thing, a bottle of vodka and whiskey will do OK. It’s your home bar, after all.
“Know your own interests. To me, going on a date, nothing’s more attractive than someone who knows what they want, how they like it and what they like about it,” says Mix. “I’m really impressed with people who get geeky about stuff. I find it impressive when somebody is interested in something—anything. I find it to be really attractive.”
After you’ve got at least a couple of bottles kicking around on a shelf, both bartenders agree having some fresh citrus on hand is clutch. Grab a handful of lemons at a bare minimum, but if you’ve got both limes and lemons you’re doing great. You can peel the fruit first so you have a garnish on hand before using a hand-press juicer
. Use a tea strainer
if you’ve got one. (Pulp is great for the next morning in your orange juice, but not so much for your nite cap.)
You’ll want to keep a little bit of simple syrup in the fridge with your Champagne. Remember to keep it simple. Put equal parts white sugar and filtered water in a blender and mix until it reaches solution. Keep it far away from the stove.
From here on out you’re equipped to make a sour. Your favorite cocktail book
will have various theories on the proper ratio (and it’s probably not a bad idea to have a couple of these around your home bar) but I like two ounces of spirit along with three quarters of an ounce of both citrus and simple syrup. Use whiskey and lemon and you’ve got a whiskey sour (toss in an egg white to get old school); use rum and lime and you’ve got a daiquiri.