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The Twelve Bottle Bar

Mixing a lot with a little

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Which 12 bottles would make it into your bar?

Johner / Johner Images / Getty Images

Johner / Johner Images / Getty Images

Published: September 24, 2006

Twelve bottles is a strict limit for a bar. What should be included? What should be excluded? What is going to give the best variety in drinks? Those questions have been revolving through my head since I first heard about this topic from Joseph Mailander at The Cocktail Circuit. It is a challenge to limit any bar to twelve spirits; it would be significantly easier if fifteen were allowed, unfortunately that luxury is not afforded.

Obviously the main spirits (vodka, gin, rum, brandy, whiskey) need to be included, the choice from there is the brand. Although whiskey did present a special challenge in deciding which type(s) of whiskey to include, the resulting decision has grown on me and become a whisky that has yet to fall in any drink. The accent liqueurs were a challenge within themselves. My decision was primarily founded in how often is a certain liqueur used in the greatest number of cocktails or cocktails where the liqueur can act as a substitute for another. After that list, it’s back to choosing a brand. With a well-stocked supply of essential mixers this list can make at least 100 different cocktails.

The brands I finally decided on are on my personal top choice list. From that list of favorites the final brand choice was a matter of versatility and quality. Some brands are spectacular on their own but are not as mixable as others. I was looking for both qualities.

  1. Charbay Clear Vodka- Wholesome and honest vodka that is true to its roots and enhances any cocktail with clean style.
  2. Martin Miller's Gin- Features the crisp taste of refined gin without an overabundance of botanicals that can interfere in the flavors of a cocktail.
  3. Corazon Reposado Tequila- Smooth and flavorful are the distinct qualities of this aged tequila. It adds the expected tequila kick to cocktails in a spicy flourish.
  4. Jacques Cardin VSOP Cognac- A new personal discovery in the exploration of brandy. Notes of sweet vines fill this many-sided spirit, making it perfect in many classic brandy cocktails.
  5. Leblon Cachaça- When used in place of light rum, this cachaça is a mixer’s paradise. It's lively, yet smooth, with a sugary sweetness that accents many of the sweet flavors found in rum cocktails.
  6. Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky- A smooth, sweet bourbon, it's my choice for an "all-around" whiskey that is versatile enough to handle both a Manhattan and an Old-fashioned.
  7. Cointreau- Classically, a top pick for an orange liqueur. As a highly mixable and wonderfully flavored liqueur, it can not only be used in cocktails calling for it specifically but also as a replacement for any orange liqueur.
  8. Café Illy Coffee Liqueur- A good coffee liqueur is necessary for so many classic drinks that it's a shame not to include one. Café Illy is one of the top producers of espresso and it's no surprise that their attempt at a liqueur is stunning.
  9. Luxardo Amaretto di Saschira Liqueur- When thinking of amaretto the word luscious comes to mind and that describes this bottle to a tee. Its delicate flavors enhance the characteristics of anything it is mixed with.
  10. Vya Extra Dry Vermouth- In my bar you must be able to have a magnificent Martini and a marvelous Manhattan, thus the inclusion of both sweet and dry vermouth. Vya is an exceptional dry because it can stand on it's own and if it can do that, it's worthy of being mixed with equally superior gins and vodkas.
  11. Cinzano Sweet Vermouth- As sweet vermouth goes this has everything one might expect. The infusion of this Italian bouquet is an exciting accent to many of the classics.
  12. Angostura Bitters- Within the limit of bottles in this bar it is necessary and possible to stock one bitter. Although it was the most difficult decision, the most universal choice was the classic Angostura Bitters to add punch to all those classic cocktails.
100 cocktails possible from this Twelve Bottle Bar:
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