Gregg Brooks is one of Richmond's elite bartenders and Belle Isle's resident Cocktail Connoisseur. This week, Brooks takes us through the process of selecting fine spirits for the well-rounded home bar. We've included some photos of Gregg's own home bar for a bit of inspiration. Cheers!
Stocking the proper home bar. It can be an intimidating process. Long gone are the days of your friends showing up to the house and being handed a shot of Kentucky Gentleman and a Bud. It’s time to step up your game. No fear, you can keep it simple and begin with the basics and add on as you get comfortable making that terrible face you’re bound to make as you shake the heck out of an egg white cocktail. Just remember, these days none of your friends are coming over to drink your famous Party Punch. At the same time, no one's coming over to your house if you don’t have any alcohol at all. Let’s stock a bar.
Since Belle Isle Craft Spirits is glad to call Virginia home, I’ve included a few fine options for Virginia made spirits as well. Give the small local guys a shot. They’re doing some wonderful things.
A good London Dry Gin is always a good bet. Beefeater and Broker’s do the trick. I love Citadelle, especially for the money. A bit more complex than the Dry London style. If you must have that style, be sure to check out Bulldog Gin which I’ve grown to love. Virginia- Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin. James River Distilling’s UA Navy Strength Gin for the higher proof.
The tequila market has exploded in the last few years. Unless you plan on making muchu amounts of tequila cocktails, drop $30 on an Anejo and call it a day. If you prefer the Blanco style, Lunazul makes a really solid product that’ll cost you less than a 20 spot.
Why drink Vodka when you have a great neutral grain spirit like Belle Isle Moonshine? Let’s boycott Putin and his native juice anyway. I admit to always having a cheap bottle of vodka in the freezer in case of emergency. That emergency is usually “Oh no, we’re out of Belle Isle and we need Bloody Mary’s pronto”. Virginia- If you must have a Vodka, give Cirrus your loot. They are doing really cool things.
If you’re only doing one, make it a good small batch bourbon or high quality Rye Whiskey. If there’s shelf space, cash in that $50 gift card from your Grandmother on a good bottle of Single Malt Scotch. My tip: Treat yourself to just one bottle of barrel proof bourbon, which are usually in the 130 to 140 proof range. The boozier the better in my book. Virginia- Reservoir Wheat, Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye or Bowman Brothers Small Batch. If you’re a scotch drinker, check at Virginia Distillery’s Highland Malt.
Very simple, one bottle each of a quality dry and sweet version. Do your guest’s palate a favor and spend a few extra dollars on these. Your Manhattans and Negronis will be a little more enthusiastic as well. Dolin makes some fab products, usually available in better wine shops.
So easy to make, or if you’re really that lazy just throw a bottle of pre made stuff in your cart alongside your frozen organic burrito at the grocery store. Also a grand idea to always have fresh citrus on hand. Fresh juice makes a world of difference in a great cocktail, and you’ll need them for garnish regardless. Lemons, limes and oranges. Pro Tip: Fresh ruby red grapefruit juice is the perfect compliment to Belle Isle Honey Habanero.
Shaker tins, a pint glass, a bar spoon, Jiggers ranging from ½ oz to 2 oz and a strainer. If you can’t find these in a local store they’re available online from Amazon among many others sites. Drop a few extra bucks on your glassware if you can justify it with your better half and/or therapist. It makes a difference, believe me. Want to step it up another notch, invest in a few ice molds and always have bigger ice cubes on hand in your freezer. Bad ice is your cocktail’s worst enemy.
A great bartender is an artist, so learning the most basic of techniques is important. All of these pretty bottles sitting on your shelf don’t mean a thing if you don’t know what to do with them. Invest in a book or two that explores the art of making a proper cocktail. You’ll be amazed at just how many different variations of classic cocktails you’ll be able to make with just these products, and you’ll be a hit amongst your friends. A couple of my favs: Death & Co.- Modern Classic Cocktails. The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff. The Joy of Mixology by by Gary Regan. Pick one that has the prettiest cover, they all make great coffee table books.
The most important thing is to just enjoy the pleasure a well crafted cocktail can bring while hanging with good company. Just remember to drink responsibly, at least until all of your guests have left.
*Opinions expressed in this article don’t necessarily reflect those of Belle Isle Craft Spirits. They are just some ramblings from an old jaded bartender. Nobody was hurt in the writing of this piece, unless you consider a bottle of 12 year old bourbon a person.