If you haven’t noticed, we here at Gents of Lancaster enjoy our drinks.
Sometimes, one that requires a full bar.
So where do you start when you want to fill out an entire bar?
I won’t spend too much time on this since we already covered glassware in another part of the Gents blog.
In a nutshell, you just need to get the glasses that correspond to the drinks you want to make.
Making a wine spritzer?
Get a red wine glass.
Trying out a Manhattan?
Pick up a rocks glass.
Going for the gold with the highly-unusual beer cocktail?
If you wanted something smaller, you could probably get away with a rocks glass.
Plus, if you really want to keep that carbonation bubblin’, you could always go with a champagne flute.
It’d be weird, but hey, beer cocktails are a tad strange anyway.
Whatever you get, I recommend picking up your glassware from the vendors Libbey or Anchor Hocking.
They’re two of the best glass manufacturers in the United States. Their stuff is made to stand up to restaurant-level use so you know it’s durable, and it’s surprisingly elegant for its strength.
Got your glassware ready?
Let’s talk about another essential — shakers.
As the name implies, a shaker is a cup-shaped piece of barware that lets you shake all of a drink’s ingredients together for even distribution, full aromas, and balanced flavor.
You can use it for everything from a two-ingredient gimlet to a six-ingredient artisinal cocktail.
Sometimes, people call these “martini shakers” as well. But both names refer to the same item.
The best shakers will be made out of metal — preferably stainless steel.
Steel is durable (duh), but it also holds temperature well when you have it chilled. So if you’re making iced drinks, it’s a great way to serve an ice-cold beverage right from the shaker itself.
No ice needed, no watered down alcohol, no thin flavor.
You could also go for a glass shaker, which also holds temperature well. But, naturally, glass can’t hold a candle to steel in terms of durability.
If you want a good starter shaker that won’t break the bank, I recommend the OneBom Cocktail Shaker set.
This cocktail shaker is made of steel (woo!), and it’s affordable for gents on the tightest of budgets.
It also comes with a jigger cap — which is the name of an actual unit of measurement in mixology — and a strainer.
All in all, this is a solid buy.
But what if you just want to make one drink right in a glass?
Well then, my friend, you need a stirrer.
Aside from being really hard to say for people with a lisp, a stirrer does exactly what it’s named to do.
Typically, this is a thin, metal instrument that terminates with a wide paddle, kind of like an oar.
This lets you get your stirrer right down to the bottom of a glass and mix up the ingredients to make them even again.
Without a stirrer, cocktail ingredients tend to separate, especially when you use solids, zest, or bitters.
That means all of those flavorful little tidbits sink to the bottom of the liquor.
This is all besides the fact that alcohol is heavier than most liquids. So even when you make something simple — like a vodka cranberry — your alcohol will sink to the bottom of a drink, given enough time.
As a result, stirrers are important for occasions where people want to nurse a single drink for an hour or so.
It’s also just helpful for re-mixing drinks after they’ve been poured.
If you want a good stirrer, I recommend the Hiware LZS13B 12″ drink stirrer.
It’s affordable, solid, and elegant.
Check, check, and check-plus.
So let’s change gears a bit. You have the equipment at your bar that you need to make drinks.
But what do you put in the drinks themselves?
There’s a lot — but we’ll start with bitters.
Bitters are cocktail additives that make the drink more…
They tend to be heavily aromatic to help cover up the smell of any strong alcohols that are involved in cocktails.
They’re also aromatic so you can only use one or two drops of bitters in a drink to get their full flavors.
Bitters are helpful in drink-making because they help balance the intense sweetness that other drink ingredients bring to the table.
So if you have a cocktail that includes a lot of syrups, citruses, or sugars, then you can add bitters to keep the drink as a whole from tasting sickly sweet.
Even if you don’t like bitters, you actually might need them for more complex cocktails. They’re essential parts in constructing well-balanced, full-bodied flavors.
It’s hard to recommend a “starter” version of bitters since it’s so subjective to your personal tastes.
Instead, I’ll just promote my favorite.
This is Woodford Reserve orange bitters.
I like Woodford Reserve orange bitters for two big reasons:
- Orange is delicious
- Every other bitter is focused on cherry or bourbon or saffron or some weird nonsense like my god people
Orange bitters act a little bit like orange zest where you get the flavor of an orange rind without the sweet citrus inside.
But what if you want citrus?
Citrus is an awesome addition to your bar because it gives you the opportunity to add sweet and tart flavors to your beverages.
This is also the simplest ingredient to get, really.
You know how citrus fruit just, like…
There’s your citrus.
Fresh citrus fruit tends to work better in cocktails than from-concentrate or frozen stuff. It’s just good to have the straight-up juice right from the fruit to your glass (or shaker).
In a pinch, from-concentrate can work too. But if you don’t want fresh fruit, at least look for fruit juices.
Concentrate is just the worst.
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend oranges online because they’re not availa–
Oh wait, it’s 2019.
While I don’t recommend that you get your fruit from a warehouse, Amazon does have fruit options.
The Golden State fruit citrus duet gift box (it’s a box of oranges, for god’s sake) is probably the best one available.
Seriously though — just drive down the street if you can.
I’d rather get fresh fruit from a gas station than online.
So let’s talk about stuff that you can’t get from a tree, online store, or gas station.
Let’s talk syrups, ya’ll.
Fun fact: Syrups are all made of the same basic ingredients.
The flavor, color, viscosity, and use of the syrup depends on the sugar that’s dissolved inside the water.
But cocktail syrups aren’t like maple syrup. They tend to be fast-flowing, mild-tasting drink additives that give a touch of sweetness to a beverage.
They could also completely override the natural flavors of a drink, if you’re not careful.
Regardless, they belong in any gent’s starting bar.
Again, it’s hard to recommend syrups because they all differ and everyone has their own taste.
It’s smokey, so it’s not a great choice for sweet drinks. But if you like making savory or bitter drinks, then this is right up your alley.
Still, syrups aren’t the only other additive for cocktails.
A well-rounded bar also has mixers.
Mixers encompass any drink additive that makes it taste a super-specific way.
They’re not syrups, though some mixers might be syrup-y.
They’re not bitters, though some of them may taste bitter.
Instead, mixers are specially-formulated cocktail extras that form the primary flavor of a drink.
So in a Jack and Coke, Coca-Cola is the mixer.
In a vodka tonic, the mixer is tonic water.
Mixers tend to be a little pricey, but when you buy them in bulk, they can last you for a good long while.
That’s why I recommend the Master of Mixes six-piece variety pack.
This mixer pack has the additives you need to make margaritas, daiquiris, and a bunch of other cocktails.
Yeah, it’s $40. But that’s $8 for each 34 oz. bottle of mixer.
If you have $40 to spare, that’s a pretty good deal.
So with all of the ingredients and mixing equipment ready to go, let’s start talking about the major parts of your bar’s drinks.
Let’s start with ice.
It sounds stupid to say that you need ice. But you need ice.
I recommend picking out some cool ice molds that give you large, rounded cubes with a large surface area.
Rounded ice chunks last longer and melt more slowly than square or rectangular chunks.
That’s because of the relationship among spheres, surface area, and temperature.
So if you want some solid (ha) ice without any of the watered-down flavor, pick out some large, rounded ice molds.
The Chillz ice ball maker is a good start.
This ice mold does exactly what it says on the tin.
Just add water, throw the mold in the freezer, and wait.
When you get the ice balls out, they’ll be perfect for every cocktail that you want to serve on the rocks and last a whole lot longer.
So, after eight items for your gentlemanly bar, we arrive at the best parts.
Let’s start talking about alcohol — namely, wine.
Wine is awesome.
Drink it straight, add it to a spritzer, turn it into sangria — you have a billion options with a good bottle (or box) of wine.
While you can do whatever you want with all kinds of wines, sweet wines tend to be better for making cocktails than dry wines.
The reason is simple: It’s hard to find flavor complements for dry wine.
Is there anything else that tastes like merlot?
Is there anything that tastes like a zinfandel?
Yeah — pretty much every candy and fruit that doesn’t have “mint” in the name.
That’s why I recommend Barefoot pinot grigio for mixing wine cocktails.
Pinot is a bit sweet, but not overly or sickly sweet. It plays well with most other syrups, mixers, and liquors.
What’s not to like?
But what if you’re not a wine person? What if you want to get into one of the newest areas of mixology — beer cocktails.
Hey — you know beer?
Beer is one of the oldest and best-known forms of alcohol on the planet.
Every country has its own beers. Every community has its own preferences. Every brewery has its own style.
It’s insanely diverse and it’s probably the most compelling proof for the existence of a benevolent cosmic power that loves us.
Anyway, you need some for your bar!
If you want to get beer that you drink straight, then go with whatever you’d like.
If you want a beer to mix cocktails, then I’m going to make a socially-unpopular-yet-financially-successful suggestion: Miller Lite.
Miller Lite has a thin flavor and good consistency for mixing with other cocktail ingredients.
It plays nicely with most textures as well.
With a non-dominant, even “cautious” beer acting as the backbone of a cocktail, you get the mellow flavor of Miller Lite with the accents and boldness of whatever you want to add.
You can also play around with the flavor of your beer by adding an often-overlooked bar necessity — liqueur.
Liqueur is hard to pronounce (lih-kyoor) and even harder to spell.
But it’s also delicious and alcoholic.
Liqueur is often used as a flavor additive in liquor-based cocktails to complement or overpower the taste of raw alcohols.
Even if you’re not consciously seeking out liqueurs at any time, you’ve probably run across them in one way or another.
Triple sec, alcoholic creams, and a slew of well-known alcohol brands are liqueurs.
The one I’d recommend is Buffalo Trace bourbon cream, which is a Kahlua-like cocktail additive that gives a full-bodied whiskey flavor to your beverages.
Liqueurs can be expensive, but they’re also well worth the cost. When you use them sparingly, they can last you a long time while giving your cocktails a certain zing that they’d otherwise lack.
But as pricey as they can be, liqueurs don’t hold a candle to the real cost in making your own bar — liquor.
Liquor is the backbone of a bar.
Liquor comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, flavors, strengths, weaknesses, and bottles.
It provides an incredible array of opportunities for you to make any drink you want that tastes as good (or bad) as you want it to taste.
So how can I possibly make a liquor recommendation?
I’ll just follow the trend that we’ve established here at Gents of Lancaster and talk about whiskey.
Specifically, let’s talk about Crown Royal salted caramel Canadian whiskey.
Crown Royal is one of my favorite distilleries, and its salted caramel whiskey is pretty good when it comes to flavored options.
While I prefer Crown Royal as-is, the salted caramel qualities give this whiskey in particular a lot of range in cocktails.
It’s a good mix of savory and sweet, which makes it ideal for cocktails that could lean either way or balance the two expertly.
To do that, all you need is a little extra somethin’-somethin’.
I’m talking chutzpah. Boldness. Ambition. Elbow grease.
Creativity in mixology is just playing around with drink ingredients and combinations until you land on something you love — like the Flaming Homer.
So what if you don’t know anything about cocktails or mixers or liquors or all that jazz?
Start with a good recipe book.
I recommend the Ultimate Bar Book, which has a collection of 1,000 recipes that you can check out, try, and change as you like.
It’s an awesome starting point for anyone who wants to discover their own Flaming Homer, but isn’t sure where quite to begin.
So with all of this said and done, what’s left?
Tell us what’s in your bar.
What’s in Your Gentlemanly Bar?
What are you packing in your wondrous bar of drinks and flavors?
Did we miss anything that you love in a cocktail?
Let us know in the comments!