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How to Stock a Home Bar, Part 2

Welcome back, Choppers. In yesterday’s post we went over the problems with most bar-stocking advice at great length. Today we’re back to give you some solid advice on how to get started on building a bar that even Churchill himself would be proud of.

We told you yesterday that collecting 30 good bottles of liquor would not be as expensive or as difficult as one might imagine. Make no mistake though… it’s going to take a while. If you happen to have a large lump sum to blow on booze that’s all to the good. Most of you though, will be wanting to spread the cost out over time, by adding one or two bottles a week.

These posts make a couple of assumptions about you, Gentle Reader. They assume that if you’re going to acquire a piece of furniture for specific use as a bar or liquor cabinet, then you actually like to drink. We assume you’re the type who comes home from work and has three drinks to unwind, and then has a friend or a couple over on Saturday for four drinks. (And if anyone ever asks you how many drinks you’ve had, they’re an uncouth bastard. You will not answer with a number higher than 4 under any circumstance.) It assumes you know what you like and what your friends like, and that your tastes have evolved beyond your college years.

As we hinted before, we believe 30 bottles is the ideal number for the well stocked home bar. Any fewer might just leave you wanting for something particular in the wee hours. Any more will almost certainly gather dust and hang around way too long. Let us be very clear about this though; that 30 does not include wine. 90% Of bar guide books will suggest putting a few types of wine on your bar, and this is just plain wrong. Wine goes on the wine rack. We also assume that you own a wine rack.

This is pretty much what your weekends will look like with a proper bar in your house.

So with the wine out of the way, you can break down your 30 bottles into 7 different categories, which can be purchased individually in turn in the order of their utility. A hard and fast rule of bar stocking is this: Never return from the liquor store with a free hand. meaning that you should be buying at least 2 bottles at a time. One is the everyday bottle you went to the store to refill, and the other is stock to be put by for the future. In this way, in about 7 months of weekly trips to the liquor store, you should have a very well-supplied bar at home.

The Staples… 6 bottles.

These are what you definitely need to be shopping for first. They are the basic 6 liquors that you’ll find in any bar anywhere. They’re your everyday go-to’s, your speed rail, if you will. Whiskey, gin, vodka, brandy, rum and tequila. These don’t need to be very expensive at all, since you’re going to run through them. You do want to stick to name brands though. We’d recommend Jim Beam, Beefeater, Smirnoff, Bacardi, Cuervo, and Tariquet. (Which is actually Armagnac, but who cares? We like it and it makes a tasty Sidecar, so don’t be a nerd about it.) These are your minimums. You can adjust upwards as your taste and budget allows.

Variations… 8 Bottles

These are liquors of the same types as above, but of a slightly different type or a better quality. Example: One bottle of Cuervo might be plenty enough, but even though you like Beam okay, you still want to keep something better on hand like Buffalo Trace, as well as a good rye (Rittenhouse), 2 Scotches (Johnnie Walker and something in the $40-$50 range), a blend (Dickel) and an Irish (Tullamore Dew or Powers). You might even throw in a second gin and a dark rum.

Liqueurs… 6 Bottles.

These are going to be bottles that you use primarily as mellowing, sweetening, or flavoring agents in cocktails. They should be of at least the same quality as the base spirit, so do yourself a favor and stay away from the Mr. Boston and Bols shite down there on the bottom shelf. Six good choices would be: Kahlua, Cointreau, Domaine de Canton, St. Germain, Rumple Minze, and a Calvados or apple liqueur of some sort.

Vermouth… 2 Bottles.

Sweet red and dry white. You may think you can get by without them, but you can’t. Not even in the age of Red Bull. Smallish bottles of brand name stuff will pay dividends.

After Dinner Drinks… 2 bottles.

It’s handy to have something sweet on hand that you intend to drink one glass at a time. Nobody’s going to sit around and get drunk on sambucca, but sometimes it really hits the spot after a meal. Good choices in this category might be Pernod, Bailey’s, and Tia Maria.

Wild Cards… 4 bottles.

Use this category to fill in the gaps and experiment a bit. You might want to fill it up with more after dinner type drinks, or experiment with whatever catches your eye at the liquor store. At this point you’ve been collecting bottles for a while now, so you know what you’d like to try. You can also change it up once you empty a bottle.

Special Occasion Bottles… 2 Bottles.

These are your macho single malts and your VSOP or XO cognacs. Odds are you won’t even have to buy these bottles, as someone will likely notice you’ve built a hell of a bar, and may give you one as a gift. Likewise, they are what the name suggests. You’ll save them for a special occasion and share them as a gift with your guests for that occasion.

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You’ll need to round out the bar with mixers, maybe the two most important of which are bitters and simple syrup. get at least one bottle of bitters, and buy (or re-use) a dedicated bottle for simple syrup. you’re not going to be buying any of those pre-made gross grocery store mixers, so go ahead and boil some sugar. It’s really not hard.

For everything else, stick to small cans. You can skip whatever you’re in the habit of keeping in the fridge already. For instance, we usually have orange juice and ginger ale in the fridge at the Chophouse, so we don’t bother much with stocking bar sizes of it. You are going to want Coke, ginger ale, Sprite, club soda, tonic, OJ, cranberry, and the surprisingly versatile Minute Maid lemonade, as well as a can of tomato or v8 stashed way in the back just in case. We say experiment as much as you want with juice, but leave the flavored vodkas to the D.C. set.

The only other thing you’ll need is glassware. We swear by the double old-fashioned glass. It will in fact hold a nice double shot with room for sloshing if you’re drinking on the rocks, and is plenty big enough to build a highball in if you want some soda. It’s the only glass you’ll ever really need. If you have any room left, you might want to also go in for a decent set of cocktail glasses for serving drinks straight-up or neat. We recommend cocktail glasses without stems.

You won’t look or feel like Don Draper when you’re busy wiping that Negroni off your white sofa just because you wanted a set of “real martini glasses.”

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How to Stock a Home Bar, Part 1

As some of you may already know, we recently furnished our dining room here at the Chophouse. We’re exceedingly pleased with it, as it turned out looking and feeling even better than we thought it would. Thanks to the invention of the 180 degree flatscreen, we can even see the television from the head of the table, which means we might actually take meals in there more than once or twice a year.

Quite honestly; comparing furniture, installing lighting, trying to match napkins to placemats, and deciding from among thousands of paint colors can become a tedious chore after a while. There’s only been one step of the process which we’ve thoroughly enjoyed every step of the way… building the bar.

Every house should have a bar. Even if that house is a tent.

Well, not exactly. We already had a very serviceable home bar set up in the kitchen. But moving it into the dining room means it’s still a good opportunity to step things up an extra notch, and a good excuse to buy (and sample) a few new bottles.

As luck would have it, we also just picked up a copy of Jason Wilson’s Boozehound; On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits and after the first 60 pages or so, we’re finding it pretty good. It’s conversational in tone, and Wilson is someone we’d definitely have a drink with. Still, he manages to fall into the same traps that virtually all drink and cocktail writers fall into.

People who adopt drinking as a hobby are almost exclusively of two types: Nerds and Frat Boys. Frat Boys (of any age) are pretty much self explanatory. Cocktail Nerds are a little more nuanced.

There are several things that nerds of all stripes will have in common, and one of them is that if you ask a nerd a simple question, you will get a very complicated answer. Ask a Star Wars nerd on which planet the rebels hideout was, and you’re likely to get an answer which includes the prequels, a full explanation of the rebels guerrilla structure, and the particulars of the Lucasfilm soundstage in the 1970’s.

So it is with Cocktail Nerds. Even something as simple as “What goes into a Manhattan?” will earn you a lecture on the merits of rye whiskey vs. bourbon, the type and ratios of vermouth, a lesson on the prohibition era, and a full discourse on bitters. Plus a snarky remark about cherries. On top.

This is the exact pitfall that catches Wilson in his book. Open up any mixing guide or bartender’s bible and you’ve got to sort through scores of pages of ridiculous recipes featuring arcane ingredients, endangered brands and preposterous combinations. Even modern guides and books talk about things like egg whites, grenadine, and Lillet with a straight face. It’s 2010. When’s the last time you saw anyone drinking a cocktail with grenadine?

By the same token, these books, as well as virtually every website out there will give you just plain bad advice on how to stock your bar. Most of them will just assume that you’re going to have some kind of huge party (and that you have them all the time) and that you’re going to be wowing your guests with your extensive knowledge and skill on the history and practice of bartending. Give us a break! Even fairly social people are usually drinking alone when they’re at home. When company does come over, they usually come just a few people at a time. It’s rare to meet an adult who hosts more than 2 medium-to-large scale parties at home each year. One or none is the norm.

This is why the Chop knows people with cabinets full of wedding booze that gather dust years after the wedding; because they followed bad advice on bar stocking when they threw the biggest party of their lives.What should be a source of pleasure and a point of pride becomes little more than a dusty, clangy, expensive eyesore.

So tomorrow the Chop is going to explain exactly how to build an impressive home bar to suit your own tastes, without all the nerdistry. And when we say impressive, we mean it. By the time you’re done you’ll have 30 bottles. There will be no sour apple pucker, no ancient bottle of sherry to impress Grandma, and most importantly: no Red Bull.

The best part? Building a full bar is cheaper and easier than you think. Stay tuned.

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P.S.- If you want to read writers who manage to talk about drinking in an interesting, engaging, and entertaining way, check out our drinking blogs blogroll, especially Modern Drunkard, NY Barfly, and Boozeblogger.

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Cheers! The Culture of Drink in Early Maryland @ Homewood Museum

If you know the Chop at all, you know that we’re the type to take our drinking very, very seriously. Of course, we strongly believe in drinking responsibly, but to us ‘drinking responsibly’ doesn’t just mean taking a cab or laying off the Jaeger shots… it means drinking the right way.

So, we’re trying to buy a dining room group at the moment. This is a task which has so far required no shortage of time and effort in straining our eyes to look online and driving to and fro from store to store to deal with salesmen and parse the differences between “cherry” and “cherry satin”. It will undoubtedly require yet more effort in painting, wallpapering, and possibly even installing new lighting. This is not to mention considerable expense.

A drawing room at 1515 Linden Avenue in Reservoir Hill, 1886. Photo courtesy MD Historical Society.

But you may ask, “Chop, you’re a single bachelor. Most of your meals consist of Midnight Snacks on the couch. What do you need with a fancy-schmancy table?” Well, you’re right. The table and chairs are mostly an afterthought. What we’re actually shopping for, and what will be the true centerpiece of the room, is the bar.

It’s well known that our grandfathers were better drinkers than we are. The Chop’s own grandfathers are a case in point. Do you think they ever drank beer from “aluminum bottles”, or asked if their wine was “bio-dynamic”, or mixed anything with Red Bull? Of course not. They learned to drink in World War II.

But what about our grandfathers’ grandfathers? The landed gentry and patriarchs of the Old Line State? How did they drink? For they are the ones we should be emulating if we really want to do it right. Cask Madeira, Terrapin Stew and 20 year rye? Yes, please.

This is why, before we rebuild our bar this Fall, we’re going to stroll over to the Homewood Museum and have a look at their exhibit Cheers! The Culture of Drink in Early Maryland.

The exhibition is on view as part of the regular Homewood tour, and focuses on how the Carrolls and other early families procured, stored, served and sipped their wines and whiskies.

While we’re at it, we might even come back tomorrow for the Museum’s Historic Home Brews talk and tasting featuring Baltimore native and Stillwater Ales founder Brian Strumke as part of the 2010 Baltimore Beer Week. If you can’t make it down to the Museum of Industry for the Official Opening Tap Ceremony you can still taste some of the best beer in Maryland right here at Homewood, just in time for Friday happy hour.

Cheers.

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Tapping ceremony and home brews tasting require advance registration. See bbweek.com for more information on all beer week events. The Culture of Drink exhibit runs from Sep. 16 until Nov. 28 2010 from 11am-4pm Tue-Fri and 12-4 Sat & Sun.

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The Chop vs. Ikea

Okay. We admit it. This is a half-assed post. No links or brilliant commentary today.

We’re busy as hell this weekend and don’t have time for a proper post. In fact, we’re so busy we don’t even know what we’re up to today.

We might go to the Senator Theater to catch a free screening of Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story at 1pm. But probably not since we’ve already seen it.

We might go to Ottobar for Jello Biafra’s new project, but probably not, because it’s not DK and never will be.

We might even go to the Metro Gallery for the Victoria Vox CD release show. But maybe not.

You know what they say about guys with big bookshelves...

What we’ll probably do is stay at home and open a bottle of wine and attempt to assemble this monster, the Expedit 5 x 5 which is the centerpiece of the Chop’s new home office. We’ve already knocked together two of the smaller ones this week, but this is the big leagues right here.

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Decadent Chop

It’s sometimes strange living as a man of leisure. Its easy to fall out of sync with the rest of the world. When the rest of the city is hating Monday and wanting to pass out with fatigue at night, we’re restless and looking for fun. When its Friday rush hour and everyone else is cursing traffic and hitting happy hour, we’re doing Sunday chores like vacuuming. Tuesday is date night and Wednesday is social.

So it is with Saturday. We don’t know what you all are up to tonight, but we might, maybe, finally spend a rare night in. (Or we might holler at Egg Babies at the Ottobar, since we had an invite from a very old friend.)

This weekend ought to be a good one to stay home, now that we have the new bedroom set, which we really can’t get over… it feels like spending the night in a hotel every night, but a really nice hotel that we can’t usually afford. We’ve even got the armchair and ottomans set up in the bay window along with the new flatscreen, and we’re buying curtains today as well. Tres chic.

The blogosphere takes the weekend off too. You’re not even reading this, apparently. We’re still new at this. We didn’t know it. No one told us. But we figured it out last weekend, and since Roommate is way better at buying DVD’s than we are, we’ve got no shortage of stuff waiting to be watched. Up in the Air, 500 Days of Summer, 30 Rock, Mad Men, and The Wire. Yeah, the Chop hasn’t actually seen any of those. Stop mocking. While y’all were watching TV, we were traveling the world and painting the town. It’s time for us to catch up.

So we’re gonna fire up the DVD player, run by the Wine Source, and figure out what to do with all these vegetables we’re buying this morning at the Waverly Farmers’ Market.

Sounds nice for a change.

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Secret Mountains, Hop Along @ Hexagon Tonight

It’s Friday Baltimore. Ease up a little. You’ve been busting ass and running yourself ragged all week… don’t think we haven’t noticed. So tonight it’s all about taking it easy. Slow and Low, that’s the word today.

And we’re in luck again, cause after you hit that post-work happy hour and nosh on something spring-timey and delicious, there’s really no better way to decompress that with Baltimore’s own Secret Mountains, playing at the Hexagon tonight.

Secret Mountains play the Hexagon w/ Hop Along tonight. 9 pm.

Aural States says that SM’s Kaddish EP is “nothing short of breathtaking.” We say that quiet is the new hard, and these guys sound like Mazzy Star. Don’t get us wrong though: what we mean to say is that they are as good as Mazzy Star. In our book, that’s no faint praise.

They’re supported on this bill by Philly’s Hop Along, which you may also know as Hop Along Queen Ansleis. They’ve played Baltimore plenty before, but we haven’t heard much from them recently. If you haven’t checked them out yet, you really should. Rounding out the bill is Dangerous Ponies and Lithuania.

The show tonight is BYOB, so we’ll probably strap on our trusty steel flask, which we get a lot more use out of than we thought we would when we bought it. We’re also planning to stop by the Windup Space beforehand and have a few cocktails while we check out their visual exhibit, Coupling: Selections from the Baker Artist Awards, which just opened on Wednesday.

Our walls in the new house are still entirely bare, and now that Value City finally got around to delivering the new bedroom furniture (half-assed customer service, to be sure, but the room is strictly big-pimpin’), we have an idea of exactly what we’ll need for that room, canvas-wise. If the work is up to snuff, we might even break out our checkbook.

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This Is Why You Don’t Deserve A Raise.

As you’re beginning to figure out, The Baltimore Chop is always on top of its game. We do what the hell we say we’re going to do, and when we say we’ll do it. Of course, our timing is always impeccable, and our attention to detail unimpeachable.

So we’re very disappointed when others fail to meet their obligations. We’re not one to lose our cool, but we are highly vexed by those of you (and you know goddamn well who you are) who wait until Friday afternoon to contact the parties with whom you do business, and say in effect:

‘Oh, remember that thing you were depending on me for? Well, I didn’t get around to it, and I need something else from you, and by the way I’m already mentally checked out since I’m leaving the office early today and going away for the weekend and probably taking a ‘personal day’ on Monday.’

This is entirely unacceptable. Don’t do this.

It seems the Chop has been running into these sort of people Every Friday since about the beginning of the recession, when everyone basically stopped caring and was paralyzed by fear. This Friday in particular, its the sales staff at Value City Furniture in White Marsh, who failed to deliver the sofa we had ordered. Normally this would be a mere minor detail, except that the Chop had already arranged for the Louisville Slugger to come all the way from the New York City this weekend, and we had offered him a couch on which to sleep. We won’t have our friends laid out on hardwood floors.

In related news, the Chop had a second date tonight with a very charming young lady whose father had the ill-manners and poor timing to have himself a small heart attack or some such thing, and managed to land himself in a Pennsylvania hospital. Needless to say the date is canceled, and probably wouldn’t be much fun if it happened under those circumstances anyway. We wish our (very remotely possibly) future father in law a quick and comfortable convalescence.

So while we’re tempted to do the call-around, The Chop is going to take this as a good excuse for some quality ass-to-seat time in our new armchairs (which actually were delivered), and probably make our way into Hampden for Bar Bacon Comedy IX at the Golden West.

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Bar Bacon IX is at the Golden West tonight. 10pm. $7.

The Chop feels like we might well be behind the curve having let eight of these things go by, especially since we’ve heard nothing but good things. Jimmy “Valentine” Meyer even won a Best of Baltimore award for best comedy night, although the competition probably wasn’t all that stiff. Still and all, that’s even more reason to respect and support something like Bar Bacon. Any asshole can pick up a guitar and form a band, but there are far too few people willing to try their hand at comedy, and to give it the treatment deserved by the serious art form that it is. So the Chop is excited to finally hear the Bacon for ourselves, and we hope Meyer will keep cracking wise for a good long time, inspiring others to do likewise.

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