Cocktails: The Household Stocklist

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Published on: February 6, 2013


Booze, spirits, liqueurs, regardless of what you call it or what kind you use, all cocktails need some, otherwise it’s a mocktail!  Most cocktails follow a set of basic rules in their construction.  First off, you have a base, then a modifier and finally a taste or colouring agent.  For instance, a Mudslide cocktail is vodka (base), Irish Cream (modifier) and Coffee liqueur (agent).

The base, constitutes the majority of the alcoholic content of a cocktail.  In shooters or shorts, it will make up around 50% or more of the cocktail.  While in long drinks, it will usually make up around 25% or less.  The base is usually a high alcohol spirit – vodka, gin, rum, brandy, etc.  But it can also be a fortified wine or champagne.

The modifier generally makes up the majority of the cocktail in anything other than shooters or shorts.  It contributes the most to the flavour and texture of the cocktail.  There is a wide range of modifiers and they are not all alcoholic.  Typical modifiers are wine based, like a vermouth or champagne.  But they can also be things like fruit juices, vegetable juices, tonic or soda water, still or sparkling water, milk, cream, whiskey based liqueurs or even eggs.

Finally there is the agent.  This is usually the smallest part of the cocktail but it should bring all the ingredients together.  There are several types of agents, syrups like grenadine add both sweetness and colour.  Liqueurs will often add a particular flavour to a drink and bitters, again for flavour and sometimes colour.

Why did I just explain all this?  Well aside from being useful for coming up with your own cocktails, it also gives you an idea of what you need to stock at home.  There’s no use in having a selection of gins, rums and vodkas but no “mixers” to go with them. You’d end up with one awfully strong (and awful tasting) cocktail.  Even a Martini has a hint of vermouth and ice water to temper the flavour of the gin and that brings me neatly on to my next subject…


The Stocklist:

So what should you be storing in your drinks cabinet?  It depends what you will be making, if you have a particular cocktail you love then obviously get the drinks for it but otherwise a good general list for a beginner would be:

– Light Rum

– Vodka

– London Dry Gin

– Blanco Tequila (100% Agave)

– Triple Sec

I refer to those drinks as “The 5 White Spirits” and they will form the base for the vast majority of cocktails… together along with sour mix and coke, they make the long island iced tea.

– Dry Vermouth

– Creme De Cassis / Chambord / Sweet Vermouth

– Grenadine

– Simple Syrup (make your own!)

– Lemons & Limes

– Various Fruit Juices & Soft Drinks (Pineapple, Cranberry, Orange and Coke being the most common initially)

– Ice (lots and lots of it)

I won’t go into specific brands of drinks to buy here, it would just make this article massive; I’ll cover that later in a recommendations article and in some later ‘taste test’ type articles.  This is just a basic list, I can do a bigger list for the most common cocktails if there is demand for it.


Different cocktails need different glasses.  As you start out you will probably just dump everything into american soda glasses or wine glasses (like I did) but it’s hard to drink a Martini out of anything other than a Martini (cocktail) glass – particularly if you want the olive(s) to sit in easy reach.  Initially you will only need a small range of glassware, lowball/rocks glasses, highball/Collins, american soda and cocktail glasses along with some wine glasses and champagne glasses if you intend to do wine or champagne based cocktails.  You can add more as you go or make do with the ones I’ve suggested – glasses take up a fair bit of space and they’re not high on my list of priorities!


To really give your cocktail that final touch of flair, you will need a garnish, well where one is called for, a B52 shooter with an umbrella and cherry/pineapple stick isn’t going to work!  Most of the time, all you will need is a slice or wedge of lemon or lime.  I also recommend getting some maraschino cherries – the natural type, not the ones which have been dyed red and then left in some kind of almond syrup.  The odd pineapple piece can be added from some canned pineapple.  If you like Mojitos or Mint Juleps you will need some mint as well.

Hopefully that has given you a good idea as to what you need to start running your own home cocktail bar.  It sounds like a lot, but most people have a few of those drinks at home already, the glasses can be collected over time and the garnish isn’t an immediate priority.  All you need is the cocktail tools (see my previous article) and the drinks and you can start mixing up cocktails! Next up, I’m going to cover a list of recommended brands for the drinks I have just listed and then I will start covering a few cocktail recipes.  Hope you’ve enjoyed it so far!


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