Creating your own home bar is some of the most fun you can have in your home-owning or apartment-renting life.
You have everything you need to celebrate a good day or get over a bad one well within arm’s reach, and you don’t have to be at the mercy of a bartender’s experience to get what you want.
With that in mind — and because I’m in the happier end of that spectrum — we’ll start with my all-time favorite alcohol and the drink that unifies every Russian from Moscow to Kamchatka.
Vodka is the best.
It’s basically water if water went through a James Dean phase and got a leather jacket and a motorcycle.
Vodka is most often made from fermented grains like wheat, rice, or corn.
Surprisingly, you can also make vodka from potatoes, fruit, and even regular-assed sugar.
In other words, vodka is the easiest thing to make because you can take whatever you want, put it in a jar, and let it sit in the sun until it has alcohol.
(Not really. Please don’t do this. You’ll probably die.)
So what makes vodka good?
It’s mostly up to the drinker. You may discover you have a preference for grain or potato vodka, which are the most common kinds.
You could also discover you like an artificially-flavored vodka, like the ones Pinnacle makes.
(And if you do, congratulations, I guess.)
For those of us who like vodka because it tastes like vodka, it’s pretty simple to tell when one is good.
The worst vodkas taste like rubbing alcohol.
The best have a body, character, and flavor that make you feel like you just heard The Beatles for the first time.
A lot of these vodkas — the “top shelf” type — acquire this incredible flavor and body by being distilled multiple times.
Single-distilled vodka is your everyday booze-a-hol. Double-distilled is pretty good. Triple-distilled is so pure that you’d swear you’re looking at liquid diamonds.
Still, you may find that you love a single-distilled vodka more than anything else in the world.
There’s nothing wrong with that — in fact, you’ll probably save a lot of money by avoiding “top-shelf” options.
Regardless, you need it for your bar.
Vodka goes in just about everything except whiskey, and it works for sweet, savory, and tart cocktails.
It’s also just fine on its own when it’s neat or on the rocks.
Lookin’ at you, Kettle One.
My God, we talk about whiskey a lot, don’t we?
For good reason though.
Whiskey is the savory-smoky alcohol of choice for everyone from a sophisticated Scottish billionaire to a backwoods banjo-strummer.
And today, whiskey distilling has gone beyond the borders of Scotland, the United States, and even the Western Hemisphere.
It’s crossed the Pacific and landed square in the heart of Japan.
But before we get to whiskey’s newbie nation, let’s cover the basics — starting with Scotch.
Y’know, upon reflection, we Gents may have a problem with booze because we talk about Scotch a lot, too.
All things aside, Scotch is the whiskey that’s made according to Scottish regulations.
It’s traditional, delicious, and a solid choice for anyone who wants to get the warm-in-the-belly feeling off of half a glass of something tasty.
It’s also strong, robust, full-bodied, and even a little “hairy” — much like a barrel-chested Scotsman himself.
You don’t want to mix Scotch with anything, really. It’s perfect on its own.
At most, maybe throw in an ice cube if you like a chilly mouthfeel and don’t mind watered-down booze.
Otherwise, enjoy Scotch straight from the bottle. (Or with a splash of water.)
It’s quite an experience.
If you want to be strict, “bourbon” is technically only whiskey that’s made inside and according to the era-old traditions of Bourbon County, Kentucky.
If you don’t want to be strict, it’s a kind of whiskey that’s barrel-aged and… well… Kentucky-ish.
Bourbon is often considered to be a delicious and non-mix-worthy booze that you enjoy neat or on the rocks.
But Bourbon isn’t perfect — Evan Williams is apparently Bourbon, and that’s a little bit like drinking water out of a sidewalk rain puddle that had someone’s boot soaking in it.
(It’s even the same color.)But other brands are outstanding and truly live up to the “don’t mix this” idea.
Maker’s Mark, Michter’s, Old Crow — they’ve all got their charm.
And speaking of charm, there’s another charming “genre” of whiskey that’s just getting its feet wet in the world.
Japanese whiskey is… interesting.
It has a powerful flavor just like the Scotches and Bourbons of the world.
But it also has a distinct edge that’s reflective of its Japanese origin.
That edge probably comes from the fact that Japanese whiskey relies heavily on barley grains for the fermentation process. This is different from Bourbon (which is made with corn) and Scotch (which include barley and wheat).
I’m actually not sure how to describe Japanese whiskey, to be honest.
It just possesses a different essence that makes it stand out against Scotch and Bourbon.
Rum is the islander booze of choice.
It’s a sweet-or-savory selection that plays well with other liquors and gets you just the right amount of buzzed to enjoy an evening on the beach (or not realize you’re getting sunburned).
From pina coladas to jungle juice, you can find rum in damn near everything.
And for good reason — it’s delicious.
Much like vodka, rum lends itself well to artificial flavoring, which means you get a wide breadth of choices whenever you start rummin’ down.
It’s also nice that most brands package their rum in bottles that look like they belong on the deck of a pirate ship. It makes it easier to feel like you’re swabbing the deck with Sailor Jerry or yelling at Sailor Jerry with Captain Morgan.
Rum typically comes in one of two ways — brown or white.
Brown rum is a little bit like whiskey for the Caribbean.
White rum is like vodka for the Caribbean.
But, I promise, rum is its own drink and not just another liquor wearing a bedsheet with two eyeholes cut out.
Brown rum gets its color from barrel-aging before its ever filtered. It’s made from sugar (sometimes molasses), which gives it a distinct sweet flavor.
The darker a brown rum appears, the bolder its flavor tends to be.
Brown rums are also distilled for longer than white rums. That makes them more expensive most of the time,
(In this case, “bold” means “strong,” like with coffee — the opposite of sweet.)
So if you want something that mixes well with liqueurs and other liquors, a light brown rum will get the job done.
A dark brown rum will ruin your birthday guest’s attempt at making a Manhattan.
It’s worth noting that Bicardi 151 — one of the most alcoholic liquors of the day — is a brown rum.
It’s also worth noting that you can use Bicardi 151 to strip rust off a shipwreck.
White rum is distilled from sugarcane juice. It’s crazy-assed sweet compared to every other alcohol on this list, and you couldn’t be blamed for mistaking it for simple syrup in a blind taste test.
White rum makes mojitos, sexes on the beaches (?), and a bunch of other popular cocktails.
It’s just a good go-to for sweet cocktails. White rum possesses a sweetness that complements nearly all other sweetnesses, and it can even out some bitter flavors too (if you use it right).
So grab a bottle. At least it’s not 151.
I like to call gin “not-wine berry-booze.”
Gin is started by taking any alcohol — literally any ethanol created via plants — and mixing it with juniper berries to re-distill.
Aside form being interesting, isn’t that freaking nuts?
Still, the predominant flavor in gin is the juniper, which is reminiscent of pine needles.
It gives gin a trademark earthy smell that’s kind of endearing, if you grew up near the woods.
The flavor profile matches the smell as well. That can be jarring if you’ve never had gin before.
But it’s an acquired taste. Just keep at it.
Gin is shockingly refreshing, considering the fact that it’s an alcohol distilled from an alcohol that’s already been distilled.
It makes mint julips, gin-and-tonics, and a bunch of other simple cocktails that are ideal on ice.
Personally, gin is my summer go-to for any booze occasion. It tastes good, it feels fresh, and it actually has a lower ABV than most other liquors.
So get some lime juice and a sprig of mint.
It’s time to drink like it’s July in Victorian England.
Tequila might be the most polarizing liquor of all time.
As comedian Dylan Moran likes to say:
“Tequila isn’t a drink. It’s a way of calling the police without using the phone.”Dylan Moran
And I happen to agree.
Aside from making outstanding cocktails like margaritas, mules, and sunrises, it’s a heavy-hitting liquor that can catch you off guard if you’ve never had it before.
Tequila is made by harvesting blue agave, draining the juice, keeping the pit (which looks like a pineapple), and pretty much letting it sit until it becomes tequila.
Appropriately, this wild distillation process brings out the wild side in almost every human being alive.
It’s good for a drink here and there.
But if you’re getting tequila-drunk at a party, be ready to wake up to a splitting headache and a lot of embarrassing Instagrams.
Brandy is distilled wine.
You just take something you were going to drink anyway, put it in the corner for a while, and maybe add some mash every once in a while.
Voila — you’ve made brandy.
I don’t recommend making brandy (or any alcohol) on your own, though. It’s very easy for you to accidentally distill methanol instead of ethanol.
(Methanol blinds and kills you. Ethanol does too, but more slowly.)
Regardless, brandies are nice. They make you feel sophisticated, they have a dedicated glass, and they taste outstanding.
Probably don’t mix brandies with other liquors.
But if you do, go for something sweet or dry, depending on the brandy you like.
It’s an excellent desert drink when you have it neat, and it makes a decent beverage for dessert.
Liqueurs are some of my favorite drinks because they’re made with liquor in them, but crossed with other flavors.
They’re like pre-made cocktails!
I only say that because I can drink triple sec on the rocks.
But also, liqueurs play a huge role in professional and amateur mixology.
That’s because you can make almost any flavor profile with a liqueur.
You make a liqueur by dissolving the flavor you want in an alcohol.
As a result, you have a near-infinite list of liqueurs to choose.
Here’s a short list you can get to cover all of your major flavors:
- Triple sec (fruity)
- Kahluah (milky)
- Grenadine (sweet)
- Lavender (floral)
- Amaretto (nutty)
- Spiced whiskey (cinnamon)
- Honey (sweet, but in a different way)
Is that a lot of liqueurs?
But the opportunities are endless with them.
Mix and match your own flavors. Make your own cocktails.
You never know when you’ll create the next Flamin’ Homer.
Beer is amazing.
Aside from playing a major role in saving Western Civilization during the Black Death, it’s one of the most affordable and common alcohols you’ll find.
In fact, all of us gents have been to beer bars that don’t serve liquor.
But we’ve never been to a non-beer bar that only serves liquor.
Also, did you know that there are only three styles of beer?
Here’s what you need to know about the wide world of beer — all three of them.
The main characteristic of a lager is that it’s made with a certain type of yeast that’s “bottom-fermenting,” giving it a lighter color and a higher sugar content than other beer types.
The most popular lager in Lancaster, Pennsylvania is Yuengling. Seriously, it’s not even a contest — you can say “I’ll have a lager” at a bar and someone will bring you a Yuengling.
Despite this, there’s more than one way to make a lager.
Budweiser, Blue Moon, and a bunch of other companies all have their signature lager. It can be heavy, it can be light, it can be dark, it can be effervescent.
But no matter what, you’ll know a lager from an ale or a lambic by its crisp (some may say harsh or cutting) immediate taste.
Lagers also work well for beer cocktails, if you can manage a good combination. The higher sugar content makes lagers a better fit for drinks that intentionally cover the taste of alcohol with sweetness or tartness.
This is all in direct contrast to the second major type of beers — ales.
Ales are a wide world of beer unto themselves. All of them are made with “top-fermenting” yeast that leaves less sugar in the beer, compared to lagers.
The yeast used for ales is considered to be the “original” yeast. Variants of it have been used as far back as Babylonian times, which makes ales one of the oldest things in the solar system (much less planet Earth).
You’ll find an ale for just about every flavor and body profile you could imagine.
Miller Lite is the standard “light” ale. Indian pale ales (IPAs) are the ultra-heavy ales.
Light ales tend to be refreshing, and heavy ales tend to feel like you’re forcing a loaf of bread down your gullet without chewing.
All the same, ales are wonderful. They’re a little harder to turn into beer cocktails if that’s your thing, but some of them can also lack flavor.
So, if you’re into creating a cocktail with a borderline-flavorless body, ales are your choice!
If both of these beer styles haven’t scratched your itch for booze yet, we have good news.
There’s one final kind of beer — a lambic.
Lambic beers are buckwild. They’re easily the rarest kind of beer on the market because they’re only made with a wild breed of yeast and bacteria native to the Senne (or Zenne, if you’re Belgian) Valley.
The process that brewers use to make lambics is actually called “spontaneous fermentation.” It’s the Jackson Pollock method of making beer.
You can make lambics with fruit. You can make them with grains.
Wanna make a pork lambic?
I don’t know if it’s legal and the pig might have some opinions on the idea — but maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find a Belgian who’ll do it!
Wine is the end-all-be-all for drinkers across the world.
French wine has a reputation. Italian wine has a reputation. Californian wine has a reputation.
You can make it with just about any grapes and any process you want. The major limits are:
- Your budget
- Your imagination
You can make it out of friggin’ dandelions, for God’s sake.
So what’s the story on one of the most famous and beloved boozes in the world?
Surprisingly, not much. There are two kinds of wine:
And there are two flavor profiles:
You can mix and match the colors and flavor profiles, so we’ll talk about everything in the context of color.
Red wine is made from red grapes.
(I think they look purple, but whatever.)
The grapes are pulped with the skin still on, which gives the wine its distinctive color.
Then, the pulp drains juice, the juice is pressed from the pulp, and you have wine.
Winemakers will then take the resulting juice and distill it to create alcohol. They may also remove sugars from the wine, which will make it dry.
When the sugars are left in the wine, it becomes sweet.
That’s why red wines have such a wide range of flavor profiles from merlots to lambruscos.
Red wine is great for making cocktails, sangria, and having on its own. Most people choose to drink it room temperature, but some sweeter reds — like concords — are excellent on ice.
White wine is made from white or red grapes, but it’s made without the skin.
As a result, you just get the translucent-white-ish appearance that grapes have underneath their weird, leatherlike exteriors.
Still, white whine is flavored the same way as red wine.
Lots of sugar makes sweet wine. No sugar makes dry wine.
The world continues to turn.
White wine is more often consumed with ice or at least chilled.
I’m not 100% sure, but I’m guessing some sommelier said something about it hundreds of years ago and we’ve all been riding that vibe for generations.
Mixers are the flavorful additives that go into a cocktail to make it taste good.
Unsurprisingly, most people don’t like the taste of straight-up liquor because alcohol is literally poison to the human body.
That’s why you can make tasty beer or liquor cocktails with:
- Soda / pop
- Fruit juice
All of these are equal parts of the mixer ecosystem in mixology, mostly because alcohol can dissolve almost any liquid you throw at it.
(I wouldn’t recommend drinking anything that can’t dissolve in alcohol anyway.)
Just remember to stir whatever you choose to mix.
Alcohol may be a powerful solvent, but it can still leave nasty residues in your rocks glass.
Garnishes are to booze what frilly toothpicks are to club sandwiches.
Sure, you could do without them. But every time you made a drink, you’d know something was off.
So what makes a good garnish?
It depends on the drink.
For almost any drink, you can’t go wrong with:
- Fresh fruit
- Cinnamon sticks
This applies to beer too, by the way. Thanks to Corona and Blue Moon, garnishes are elbowing their way into the most hair-on-your-chest parts of the alcohol universe.
Does it make your beer look ridiculous?
But Corona definitely tastes better with a lime.
Honorable Mention: Absinthe
Ohh man, does it ever take a special kind of person to enjoy absinthe.
It’s a rough ride — even if you’re drinking the American brands that don’t include wormwood.
(That’s the Dutch ingredient that allegedly makes you hallucinate.)
Aside from it’s high ABV rating, absinthe tastes like black licorice and comes with all of the charm that includes.
To make it even remotely tolerable, you have to create a “drip,” where you place a slotted spoon above your pour, place a sugar cube on that, and dissolve the cube with water.
You could earn a Ph.D in the time it takes to finish, probably because absinthe distillers hope you get bored and find something else to do instead of drinking the Dutch equivalent of firewater.
But after it’s done?
It’s still… just terrible.
Honorable Mention: Grain Alcohol
Don’t be stupid.
Just got to a bakery instead of drinking Everclear.
No one’s ever wound up in the emergency room because they ate a loaf of bread.
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