Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Mixology: Liquid Assets (Best of FP 2010)

Posted on: December 24, 2010

More than any other, the question I am asked by friends when it comes to cocktails is “What basic liquor should I get?”  Good question.  We’ve already covered the basic hardware for setting up a home bar; this week’s post will focus on the necessary software.  Many of you no doubt have a motley assortment of booze, usually in the kitchen, perhaps left over from a long-ago party.  Upon closer examination of your cache, you may find yourself wondering: “Dear God, why do we have a bottle of butterscotch schnapps?”

Not my liquor cabinet... yet

It doesn’t take much to get yourself shipshape, liquor-wise, and you may already have some of what you’ll need.

Also, we’re talking about what you need to make a wide range of drinks — not some obscure potion that is only good for a few drinks and not the hyper-specific ingredients used in many modern cocktails, e.g. rosemary and kaffir lime-infused vodka.

Having a well-stocked home bar helps with the ladies.

In fact, the basic taxonomy is: (i) base spirits; (ii) liqueurs and other alcohol-based flavorings; and (iii) accents.  Given FP’s music focus, the most apt analogy is to a triadic chord.  Using only three notes — base, flavor, accent — one can still create many different chords. This theory of cocktails is seminally explored by lawyer-cum-cocktail theorist David A. Embury in his classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Mr. Embury was adamant that proper cocktails are pre-prandial libations, and, as such, should either be aromatic or sour, but never sweet.

The following list will allow you to grow your bar in such a manner as to allow the most cocktails possible.  Getting a bottle of rye and one of gin is the most crucial, as these spirits form the base for the largest number of cocktails.  Bourbon can be substituted for rye, but rye is spicier and a little less sweet and is what was used most often for cocktails.

So, here’s what you need, together with suggested brands.  Do make sure you get good quality hooch — no bottom-shelf brands, please!

Base Spirits

Rye Whiskey – Wild Turkey Rye

Dry Gin – Plymouth

Light Rum – Flor de Caña 4 year

Dark Rum – Appleton Estate Reserve

Blended Scotch – The Famous Grouse

Brandy or Cognac – Pierre Ferrand Ambre (cognac is expensive, for cocktails this is a great value)

Tequila or Mescal – Corralejo Reposado

Applejack – Laird’s (bonded, i.e. 101-proof, if you can find it)

Liqueurs & Aperitif Wines

Sweet (Italian) Vermouth – Cinzano

Dry (French) Vermouth – Dolin Blanc

Maraschino – Luxardo

Triple Sec – Cointreau

Apricot brandy – Marie Brizard Apry


Aromatic Bitters – Angostura

Orange Bitters – Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6

Grenadine – Small Hand Foods or make your own

Simple Syrup – make your own, simmer on low for 10 min. 1 part sugar to 1 part water.

Ahh... that's the stuff!

The great thing about spirits is that they last pretty much forever, except for vermouth.  Vermouth is fortified wine not hard liquor.  While it keep far longer than that open bottle of chardonnay from last night, you should keep it in the fridge, and for no longer than 6 to 8 months at that.

With this set up, plus a variety of citrus and ice, you’ll be able to start mixing up hundreds of different cocktails, including:

The Martinez

1 ½ oz. dry gin

¾ oz. sweet vermouth

barspoon of maraschino

dash of Angostura bitters

dash of orange bitters

Stir with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass; wipe the rim of the glass with a lemon peel, drop lemon peel into the drink.

The ancestor of the Martini, the Martinez is an exemplary classic cocktail: simple without being boring, sophisticated, and perfect before dinner.  You can also play around with the proportions, as I’ve seen versions that take the ratio of gin to vermouth all the way up to 1:1.

Drink up,


2 Responses to "Frontier Mixology: Liquid Assets (Best of FP 2010)"

GO5qaw Good point. I hadn’t thuohgt about it quite that way. 🙂

[…] liqueur, and bitters is hard to beat, and endlessly versatile.  See, e.g., the Brooklyn and the Martinez.  As for ingredients, rather than a French or Italian sweet vermouth, I like to keep my Vancouver […]

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