One does not simply invite some friends over on the fly and then present them with perfectly crafted cocktails and other libations. If you want to graduate from the vodka cranberry game and raise your cocktail skills without having to leave the comfort of your own home, you’ll need some specific supplies, including the right spirits, cordials, mixers, glassware, and tools.
We asked a few Houston mixology experts—Greg Perez, beverage director and co-owner of Northside bar Monkey’s Tail; Rysse Goldfarb, who offers consults on how people can better their home bars through her business Mommy Mixology; and Linda Salinas, one of Houston’s foremost beverage consultants and professionals—to lay out our ultimate home bar.
All items can be purchased online at Spec's online, (specsonline.com) unless otherwise noted. Prices listed are for the Smith Street location only.
Left to Right:
Tito’s Handmade Vodka, $27. “Everyone loves their Tito’s,” Goldfarb says of the Austin-based vodka. “I do think Texans love supporting local, and it’s quality stuff. It’s smooth and easy, and it mixes well with everything.”
Saint Lucia Spirits Bounty White Rum, $19, drizly.com. “It’s really a great rum,” Salinas says. “It’s great in daiquiris, mojitos, swizzles—even an Old Cuban, which commonly uses an aged rum, but this can stand in that cocktail.”
Amaro Montenegro, $34. A favorite of bartenders, this particular brand of Italian herbal liqueur, derived from a secret mix of 40 botanicals, is always good to have on hand, Perez says. “This is an approachable amaro that allows newbies to shoot or sip with veteran drinkers.”
Cointreau, $39. “A quality orange liqueur that can substitute for a sweetener in cocktails, like a margarita, is always good to have on the shelf, and this is one of the best,” Perez says. “Also great for those counting calories or avoiding a lot of sugar.”
Four Roses Small Batch Select Bourbon, $35. Goldfarb: "It’s consistently the one I choose for bourbon cocktails. The taste and its price point make it a perfect combination for a mixing bourbon”
Tapatio Tequila Blanco, $43, . “It’s family-owned and value-driven,” Salinas says. “This tequila has never seen a diffuser, either, which can put off flavors in some tequilas.”
Monkey Shoulder Blended Single Malt Scotch, $32. Composed of three single-malts from the famed Speyside region of Scotland, “it’s economical for highballs and great for making cocktails,” Perez says.
Camparí, $32. Keep it around if only because it’s a key ingredient for the drink that Stanley Tucci made so many of us thirsty for in his wife’s viral lockdown video: “You have to be able to make people a Negroni,” Goldfarb says.
Tanqueray Gin, $33. “It’s a versatile gin that stands up in a cocktail, makes an excellent martini, and is not expensive,” Perez says.
Rittenhouse Rye, $28. “It’s bottled-in-bond rye (rye aged according to U.S. federal standards laid out back in 1897) and plays really well in cocktails,” according to Perez. “It makes a great old fashioned when used with bourbon—and it’s affordable.”
Left to Right:
Angostura Bitters, $11. Why? The answer is obvious, Goldfarb explains: “You can’t make an old fashioned without those. You can’t make a manhattan without those.”
Stirrings Simple Syrup, $10. Master of Mixes Simple Syrup, $5. “Simple is a versatile sweetener in many cocktails, and it allows you to measure in ounces as opposed to scooping in sugar.” It doesn’t really matter what brand you have, as long as you have it, according to Perez.
Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water, $4. “I find their tonics taste the best. They're more herby and less bitter than many tonics,” Goldfarb says. “Also, their packaging is beautiful, so if you’re serving other people, it looks far better to open a bottle of it over something generic.”
Topo Chico Sparkling Water, $2. “Topo Chico lasts the longest, hands down,” says Goldfarb. “You can open a bottle, reseal it, and it keeps its fizz all weekend long. And it comes off less biting than other sparkling waters. It’s Texas’s little secret.”
Orange Bitters, $9.“They allow wonderful aromatics by using such a small amount, and you don’t have to keep orange peels on hand,” Salinas says.
Peychaud’s Bitters, $6. “This is an essential ingredient in a few cocktails, most importantly a Sazerac,” Salinas says of the floral-based bitter that tastes strongly of anise. “It’s a New Orleans classic, and if you love rye, it’s a must.”
Cocchi Americano Aperitivo (Dry Vermouth), $21. Salinas says vermouth is based on preference, but this one, made with a Moscato grape, is “floral and fruity and it makes for a good corpse reviver or a vesper.”
Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (Sweet Vermouth), $17. Manhattans are, of course, a key drink to have on offer when showing off your home bar, and to make a good one it’s crucial to have the best ingredients, according to Salinas: “I like Torino for manhattans because of its (deeply aromatic) structure and functionality.”
Rocks Glasses , $46. “They can be used for juleps, old fashioneds, sours, caipirinhas, or any other juicy drinks. I love their versatility,” Salinas says.
Libby Speakeasy Coupe Glasses, $8.They’re a must, Goldfarb says: “You can put champagne in them, you can put manhattans in them, and martinis in them.”
Bar Spoon, $4. If you’re getting this fancy, you really should have something aside from your finger to stir the drinks.
Hand Towel. Perez notes the reason for this one is obvious: “A hand towel is essential because a clean station is the mark of a great bartender.”
Stainless Steel Boston Shaker Tins (2), $15. Don’t overthink this selection, Perez advises: “You want the ones used in the majority of cocktail bars. They won’t break, last a long time, and they hold temperature well.”
Muddler, $5. “It’s good if you like to have fruit in the bottom of a drink,” according to Goldfarb. And, after all, who doesn’t?
Jigger, $3. “People still use shot glasses from college to measure, but they’re all different sizes!” Goldfarb says. “A nice jigger is a worthwhile investment for any home bar.”
Peeler, $5. A multiuse utensil, Goldfarb says: “It’s good for an orange peel, say, to garnish for your old fashioned. And it’s one of those things that’s always in your kitchen.”
Hawthorne Strainer, $3. webrestaurantstore.com. “It’s the strainer you need because it fits on top of the shaker tins,” Perez says.
Citrus Squeezer, $6. “I cannot impress upon people enough how much a difference there is between fresh citrus and bottled citrus,” Goldfarb explains. “Typically, bottled juices subtly change the taste of a cocktail.”
Kosher salt, $5. “Salt, good salt, is a really big deal,” Salinas says. “Not only for salting glasses but also for throwing a couple pinches into cocktails – anything that has citrus.”
Citrus, <$1. Lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit—having them all around gives you plenty of cocktail choices whether you want a bit of lemon to garnish a sidecar or a lime for a Cuba Libre.
Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, $23. “They are hands down the best. Your manhattan simply isn’t complete without one,” Goldfarb says. “And it makes no sense to use expensive rye or bourbon and really good vermouth, and then garnish it with a cherry meant for an ice cream sundae.”
On the Rocks Ice Mold, $65. amazon.com. “These keep your ice cube clear,” Salinas says. “It really drives me bananas when I see someone make a really good cocktail but then ends up using a subpar cube maker and it doesn’t make the ice clear.”
The PDT Cocktail Book, $19, amazon.com. PDT, coming from another NYC watering hole, the celebrated Please Don’t Tell, “is a good one,” says Goldfarb, “and it’s exhaustive.”