I’ve had a crack at picking the five staples for any home bar. Apologies to those who haven’t made the list – it’s nothing personal.
1. A high-quality vodka or gin
These two spirits are very versatile. Vodka is one of the biggest spirits categories in the world, as it can mix with almost anything (Vodka & Coke is another story). I hardly need to tell anybody about the global boom in gin sales over the last decade or so. Both can be served very simply; in a long glass with lots of ice, a slice and a good quality tonic - the quintessential "sundowner".
When properly made and chilled, Martinis are a thing of exquisite beauty. If you’re prepared to drink it ‘bone dry’, all you need is vodka or gin and plenty of ice. If not, a splash of vermouth (more on that later), a few stirs of the mixing spoon and you’re in for a cold, crisp, boozy treat.
2. A high-quality "white" or aged rum
Rum is an exciting and incredibly diverse spirit. Made around the world in a variety of styles, no spirits cupboard is complete without at least one rum (I suggest you try several). Try a dry, lighter style of white rum from Cuba or Puerto Rico, a bold, fruitier style from Jamaica or Martinique, an aged rum, or a blend from various Caribbean nations. Mix it with lime and a touch of sugar and thank me later!
While Rum is the base for so many classic cocktails - Daiquiri, Mojito, Mai Tai, Caribbean punch - the best rums aren’t just mixers. Pick well and you have a quality sipper to enjoy like a well-aged whisky or brandy.
3. A high-quality whisk(e)y
Any spirit collection, however small, must include something for sipping. I often reach for one of my favourite whiskies at the end of the day. All whiskies share two common denominators - grain and wood. The type of grain(s) used as a raw material and the type of wood in which the spirit is matured are two major factors influencing style and flavour. Look for something well-aged, at least 14 years from Scotland, Ireland, or Japan and 8 if from the USA. This allows for greater oxidation of the aromatic compounds inside the cask, increasing the richness and depth of flavour, offering the drinker a more interesting and memorable experience.
Your whisky selection should also provide a base for simple mixed drinks. A whisk(e)y highball (whisk(e)y & soda) is an easy-to-make thing of beauty. Something made with peated or wood-smoked malt with a floral, fragrant smokiness can really benefit from being served long with very fizzy soda (especially on a hot summers day!). And, with a few simple extras from your cupboard or pantry (see sugar, bitters and vermouth), you can transform whisky into a classic Old-Fashioned, Manhattan or Boulevardier.