Sometimes you have to just roll with the basics. Like when you are pondering what five spirits everyone should stock. Don’t overthink things. These aren’t suggestions for sipping, but for mixing. You know, when company comes a’callin’, you want to have a solid pick as a base for whatever concoction they request. As difficult as it is to believe, not everyone likes what we like. A gin-and-tonic drinker isn’t going to be happy with a bourbon and ginger ale. In other words, think of these five picks as your break-glass-in-case-of-emergency bottles. When it comes to booze, “be prepared” is the watchword at Casa de Heaps. You may write that down.
With the appropriate collection of spirits (and three or four mixers like tonic water, ginger ale and so forth), you should be able to fashion something at least close to what 80 percent of your alcohol-swilling guests’ requests. You are never going to cover all the bases. So, don’t make yourself crazy trying. BYOB (bring your own bottle) was a brilliant idea hatched by a creative cheapskate who realized no one can stock every person’s favorite spirit. It’s a fool’s mission to try. Likewise, on short notice, no one can be prepared to mix everyone’s drink of choice. To save yourself some heartache, practice this line, “Sorry, my blender is broken.”
Also feel free to toss anyone out on his or her keister who asks for a Cosmo, Mojito or any martini made with anything other than vodka or gin, and vermouth. It’s your home; not the Lobby Bar at the Ritz.
I am convinced you can get by with a liquor selection including a bourbon, a blended scotch, a gin, a vodka, and a tequila. Although there are some folks out there who like rum, it isn’t widely sought after. Other than those few who drink rum and Coke, most rum drinkers consume it in the form of some complicated potion like a Rum Runner, Planters Punch or Mojito. Unless it’s 90 degrees outside and you’re having a pool party, almost no one will even think of rum. And, if they do, say it again, “Sorry, my blender is broken.”
Because these are mixers, you don’t need to throw a lot of money at them. Think of them as “house” brands rather than “call” brands. They should be decent, but not necessarily top shelf. Keeping in mind that every label has at least a somewhat unique flavor profile, the odds are against the brands you are pouring being your guests’ call brands anyway. Any guest so fussy about the brand of booze in their mixed drink that they refuse to drink anything else will have to settle for that can of Bud squirreled away in the back of your fridge.
In recommending what you might stock, I simply looked to see what I have. Keep in mind that I do drink bourbon and tequila. My recommendations for those are not necessarily what I offer other bourbon and tequila drinkers visiting my home, but they are what I keep for guests who aren’t all that particular about the label. So, here you go…
By definition, gin is usually somewhat flowery on the nose and the tongue. Bombay Sapphire follows this path.
The name is a result of gin’s popularity in India during Britain’s 90-or-so year rule of the country. It’s a solid, every-day London-dry gin that doesn’t overwhelm the palate with crazy flavors. It makes an excellent martini. On those rare occasions when I sip gin, I do it mixed with club soda and a twist of lime. You can find Bombay Sapphire at most liquor stores priced around $20 a bottle. Its alcohol content (ABV) is 47 percent.
I find vodka utterly boring, and I’m not particularly fond of the taste, but I’m among the minority on this issue. Having said that, in a group of 10 liquor drinkers, probably half will down vodka in some drink, be it a martini, Bloody Mary, Moscow Mule or some other concoction. We’ll let the Poles and Russians duke it out over where Vodka originated because one of the more popular vodka labels in the U.S. today is actually produced in Austin, Texas.
It’s Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Gluten-free, Tito’s is made in pot stills. Widely available for around $25 a bottle, it has a bit of a pepper note with an ABV of 40 percent.
Although you will read differing reviews on my tequila pick, I have personal reasons for pouring Cabo Wabo Blanco Tequila at my house.
A label nurtured by 1980s rock-and-roll legend Sammy Hagar, Cabo Wabo has been my house tequila for two decades. I visited Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina in Los Cabos a couple of times in the late 1990s and loved it. I’ve been pouring the namesake tequila ever since. I’m much more particular about the tequila I pour than I am the vodka and gin. Hence, the $40 price tag. It makes a tasty margarita; yet, sips well neat or on the rocks. Using eight- to ten-year-old blue Weber agave plants, Cabo Wabo Blanco is bottled with an ABV of 40 percent. The nose is floral, the taste earthy and the finish, a tad spicy.
When it comes to a blended scotch, I like Johnnie Walker Black Label because it’s been around since 1820, when it was branded as “Extra Special Highland Whisky.”
Roughly 90 years later, it was renamed Johnnie Walker Black. It is the result of mixing 12-year-old juice from nearly 40 distilleries. Many of them are peated single malts with the rest comprised of grain whiskeys. It’s a single step up from Johnnie Walker Red, but worlds apart in complexity and flavor. Bottled at 40-percent ABV, Johnnie Walker Black is smokey and spicy on the tongue with a touch of caramel. The long finish continues the smoke, malt, and caramel. Widely available, it retails for around $35.
I have more than 40 different bourbons in my stash.
At least 15 or 20 of them qualified for this column, but Evan Williams Single Barrel is my go-to label whenever asked to pick a solid, affordable, accessible bourbon. Not only does it make a killer Old Fashioned, but it’s also quite sippable neat or with ice. It’s a Heaven Hill label distilled in Bardstown, Kentucky. Aged eight years, its ABV is 43 percent. You can buy it nearly everywhere for well under $30 a bottle. It tastes with notes of oak, vanilla, and cinnamon with a bit of orange peel on the finish.
Russ is a long-time bourbon and craft-beer drinker who also produces the BEER2WHISKEY channel on YouTube.