Building a good home-bar can be difficult. How do you avoid buying a bad bottle? Well, if you follow this helpful list, you’ll have a great dorm cocktail bar!
As far as amateur bartending goes, vodka is your best friend. It is the most neutral spirit available and mixes with just about anything – making it an essential part of any dorm cocktail bar. In order to figure out which vodka is right for your needs, you just need to decide which price point you’re shopping in.
You don’t have to pay boutique brand prices to get a drinkable vodka though. Brands like Tobaritch offer a high quality product for a fraction of the price of higher end brands. For instance, in most markets, a 1.75L bottle of Tobaritch will set you back about $20, putting it in the same price range as a 75oml bottle of Grey Goose. If you’re willing to spend just a little bit more, you can grab a 1.75L bottle of Ketel One or Tito’s Vodka for closer to the $30 mark. Tito’s has actually grown to be the best selling vodka brand in the United States, having recently surpassed Smirnoff.
Any of the aforementioned vodkas should work for your cocktail-mixing needs, as they are all fairly neutral and mixable, but still have enough character to stand up in a spirit-forward cocktail like a vodka martini.
Gin has been a rising star in the craft cocktail scene for several years now, slowly creeping back towards its former popularity. It is an absolute necessity for anyone who wants to make classic cocktails and should be a staple in any dorm cocktail bar. While there are several gins on the market with unique botanicals, most cocktails call for a traditional dry gin.
Gin is a fairly affordable spirit, especially if you’re shopping for a more traditional variation of it. For instance, you can find 1.75L bottles Boodles gin for around $30 in most markets. Boodles is a classic British gin that is often cited as Winston Churchill’s drink of choice. It is known for its unique botanical bill, omitting citrus peels entirely in favor of herbs like rosemary and sage. If you’re more accustomed to the piney flavors typically associated with gin, you’ll find those here too. All gin contains juniper, so that pine flavor is just endemic to the spirit. Boodles’s flavor profile is not dominated by the juniper though, so those of you who dislike the typical ‘gin flavor’ should still find it palatable.
Your dorm cocktail bar would be incomplete without a decent bottle of gin because it is not only used for classic drinks like the martini and the gin and tonic, but also for college favorites like the Long Island iced tea (and it’s variations!).
Everyone claims to have a crazy tequila story. Some people flat out refuse to drink it. Ignore their protests and buy a bottle for your dorm cocktail bar. Learning how to properly utilize tequila in drinks is an important skill for any cocktail enthusiast. As it has grown in popularity, tequila has seen a huge increase in availability at most liquor stores. Previously, you may have only had a selection of four or five brands at your local liquor store. Chances are, that store’s shelves are a little more tequila-heavy these days.
How do you know you’re buying a quality bottle though? Well, for starters, always check the bottle’s label for the “100% Agave” label. All quality tequila is distilled from 100% agave. Any tequila that doesn’t include this distinction is filling out the rest of its mash bill with adjunct ingredients like sugar or artificial flavoring. If you’ve found your 100% agave brand, you now have to decide whether you want an aged or an un-aged bottling. An aged tequila is generally a little softer when it comes to alcohol heat, but might lose some of that fresh agave flavor that you’d find in an un-aged tequila. For the sake of being able to shoot the tequila, as well as mixing it, you’re best suited with an aged tequila like El Jimador Reposado (aged 6 months to 1 year). El Jimador Reposado is fairly affordable, being priced around $30 for a 1.75L bottle, so that you won’t have to feel guilty when you’re mixing a large batch of margaritas or palomas.
As tequila has grown in popularity, so too has its consumption in college dorms across the country. Even if you’re personally not a tequila drinker, no dorm cocktail bar is complete without a bottle of Jalisco’s native spirit. Try it in the aforementioned margarita or paloma to get your vitamin c, or mix it in a Long Island iced tea or AMF for an added punch!
When you think of rum, you probably think of overly sweet flavored liquor or of pounding hangovers. This opinion is entirely justified given what generally passes as rum at most stores. If you really take a look around, however, you’ll find a number of fantastic rums that are worthy of your dorm cocktail bar.
Rum is an underrated spirit – often being relegated to the flavored liqueur section of the bar. If you buy the right bottle, your rum will be able to hold its own in a lot of fantastic cocktails. For instance, Doorly’s 3 Year and Doorly’s 5 Year are both available at most Total Wine & More locations in 1.75L bottles for around $25. These rums are produced at the Foursquare distillery in Barbados and are free from any post-distillation ingredients. If you’re not near a Total Wine store or can’t find Doorly’s, Flor De Caña 4 Year is in the same price point and will work just as well. Both brands offer a white and gold rum for all of your different cocktail needs.
Having a decent rum in your arsenal will greatly increase the drinks you can make in your dorm cocktail bar. For instance, you can stick to classic rum cocktails like the daiquiri or the dark ‘n’ stormy, or you can substitute rum for the whiskey in your old fashioned for a Caribbean twist. Rum is also an essential component to AMF’s and other punch party drinks.
Bourbon is a staple of any worthwhile dorm cocktail bar. Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself “why bourbon?” The reason for choosing bourbon over another style of whiskey is that it is more versatile in cocktails. Bourbon is typically more bold than a typical Canadian or Irish whiskey, meaning that it holds up and isn’t lost when mixed with other ingredients. Similarly, you could choose to use rye whiskey for your dorm cocktail bar, but bourbon is typically more palatable for the average whiskey drinker.
As far as bourbon goes, you can generally find a decent bottle at a good price. Typically you’re going to want to choose a bottle that works well in cocktails, but is also drinkable enough to serve neat. You really can’t go wrong with the classic brands – namely Old Forester’s 86 proof bottling or Jim Beam Black, both of which retail for about $30 for a 1.75L bottle.
As previously mentioned, bourbon can be used for different classic cocktails like the old fashioned and the Manhattan. It is also good to just have a spirit that can be served neat to please any whiskey drinkers.
6. Triple Sec
Triple Sec is a colorless orange liqueur and an absolutely essential bottle for any dorm cocktail bar. The most common brand of triple sec that you’ll see behind bars is Cointreau, however it is also one of the more expensive options. Cointreau typically retails around $30 or higher for a 750ml bottle, which is quite an increase from the $10 to $15 you might be paying for a lesser known brand. It is important to keep in mind that triple sec is going to operate as a supporting ingredient in your cocktails. It’ll add more of a citrus kick to your margarita or cosmopolitan, but it is rarely going to be at the forefront of the drink.
While regular triple sec is more versatile in cocktails, other styles of orange liqueur can be substituted for your bar. You’ve more than likely seen Grand Marnier, a Cognac based orange liqueur, used in “Cadillac” margaritas. Another option in this category is blue Curaçao, which is essentially just an orange liqueur with blue dye added to change the color of your drinks.
7. Dry Vermouth
Barring some sort of unforeseen shortage, dry vermouth will always be a staple in every cocktail bar in the country. Your dorm cocktail bar should be no exception. Dry vermouth can cost you anywhere between $8 to $20, depending on the brand, and is used for essential drinks like the martini and the perfect Manhattan. Your dorm cocktail bar simply won’t be complete without it.
8. Sweet Vermouth
Admittedly, sweet vermouth is the more versatile of the two vermouths on this list. Sweet vermouth is an essential ingredient in cocktails like the Manhattan, the Negroni, and the Americano. Similar to dry vermouth, a bottle of sweet vermouth will typically cost somewhere between $8 on the low end of the scale to $20 on the higher end. Typically, a complex sweet vermouth like Cocchi Vermouth di Torino will add herbal citrus notes and sometimes even a cacao-esque flavor to your cocktail.
Bitters are a non-negotiable part of any dorm cocktail bar, as they are essential for the most basic of drinks. Cocktails will generally call for aromatic bitters, with Angostura being the most widely known brand. A bottle of Angostura Aromatic bitters will cost you around $10, but it will last for a long time. It’s helpful to think of bitters as cocktail seasoning – the recipes generally only require small amounts. Of course, there are a variety of other flavors of bitters on the market. These other flavors can be a fun way to switch up a cocktail and add your own flair to a recipe.
Campari is a bright red, bitter liqueur that probably isn’t typically found on college campuses. This is definitely something that needs to change, however, as Campari is essential for several delicious cocktails that you will already have the ingredients for. The Negroni is arguably the most famous of all of the Campari cocktails and it is a simple combination of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. Similarly, adding Campari to your Manhattan will make it a boulevardier. Although a 750ml bottle will typically cost you around $25, Campari is a handy bottle to add to your dorm cocktail bar, as it expands your options based on what you already have.