Tag Archives: spirits

Best Bets: Baltimore’s Best Liquor Stores

Sometimes you just want a six pack of Heineken. That’s a problem easily solved. Other times, all you need is a bottle of Beam. You can find that just about anywhere. Occasionally though, you need to go above and beyond. If you’re planning for a large party, stocking your bar from scratch, or starting your wine collection you’ll need a liquor store that goes above and beyond.

The shops mentioned here aren’t so much liquor stores as they are liquor wonderlands. They’re like candy stores for grownups. They’re the places you keep coming back to, because they’ve got more different bottles in there than you could ever possibly drink, try though you might. They are, simply put, the best.

A visual approximation of the Chop buying a bottle at one of our favorite liquor stores.

Beltway Fine Wine. You’ve probably driven by Beltway at a pretty high speed and not thought much of it. It’s easy to miss, being jammed underneath an Ethan Allen furniture store. What you don’t realize from the road though is that it’s got the same square footage as the giant furniture store above it. It’s huge. There may be some strange obscure liquor somewhere in the world that Beltway doesn’t have, but we kind of doubt it. 8727 Loch Raven Blvd, Towson.

The Wine Source. As liquor stores go, the Wine Source is the Chop’s home base. Simply the best inside Baltimore City, as the rest of the stores on this list are all out in the suburbs. If the Wine Source had a walk-in beer cooler and a better parking situation, it would achieve liquor store perfection. 3601 Elm Avenue, Baltimore.

Dawson’s Liquors. We’ve never actually been to Dawson’s, because it’s in Severna Park and we only pass through that way about once every 10 years or so, but we were tipped off to it by our man over at I Hate JJ Redick who’s always on point, so we’re going to take his word for it. We hate to judge a store by its website, but theirs is pretty damn good, and crappy stores don’t usually invest in outstanding websites. 589 B & A Blvd, Severna Park.

Midway Liquors. If you’re traveling that far out Route 40 East, you must make a point of stopping in at Midway. Even if you have to pull a u-turn to do it. We’ve only been in there once, but we walked out with three good bottles of Scotch for $100. Those bottles would have cost $150 most other places, and that’s the beauty of Midway. You could say the same about anything in the store. 12320 Pulaski Highway, Joppa.

Honeygo Wine and Spirits. with their ‘Wall of Beer’ Honeygo is known as a go to spot for fans of microbrews and imports, and is even favored by one of Baltimore’s foremost beer experts. Of course, as any great liquor store does, they excel in their selection of wine and spirits as well. 5004 Honeygo Center Dr, Perry Hall.

Shawan Liquors. Shawan Liquors is in Hunt Valley. Like everything else in Hunt Valley, it’s pretty much by rich people, for rich people. So if you’ve got a taste for a well aged Islay or a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Shawan is the place for you. If you want a 30 pack of High Life, well, they might have that gathering dust in the basement too. 11337 York Road, Hunt Valley.

Ronnie’s Fine wine and Spirits. Last but not least is the pride of Harford County, Ronnie’s in Bel Air. They’ve got a wonderful walk in beer cooler, as well as a ton of microbrews, a good selection of kegs, and a 3-for-$12 wine bin. They’re also known for their occasional blowout sales which draw large crowds looking to stock up. Putting every bottle in the store on sale once in a while is a policy we’d like to see more stores adopt! 1514 Rock Spring Road, Forest Hill.

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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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