Necessary Spirits according to Playboy:
2 Blended whiskey, U.S.
1 Canadian Whiskey
1 Dry Vermouth
1 Sweet Vermouth
3 Assorted liqueurs (fruit, coffee, creme de menthe, etc.)
1 Aperitif (Campari, Dubonnet, etc.)
For the most part I think that this is an excellent start to a home bar. It is however, 23 bottles and if you are starting from scratch it can be pretty pricey. So... here is my recommendation for what to buy when starting your home bar.
Vodka- soap box moment: I know that there are differences between different vodkas. However, vodka is supposed to be a neutral spirit. You don't have to buy the most expensive or best marketed vodka to have a clean, smooth vodka. My 2 favorite vodkas to purchase for home are Smirnoff and Tito's. If I am mixing the vodka I buy Smirnoff (even though it is great by itself too) and if I am making martinis I buy Tito's because I love the slightly sweet flavor. Both products are very reasonably priced! Tito's runs around $17.50 for a 750ml. Smirnoff runs around $12 for a 750ml. I also generally dislike flavored vodka. I think it is out of fashion and sticky sweet flavors are best left to teenagers and those without access to fresh fruit. Maybe if I was craving a drink that tasted like my old Strawberry Shortcake doll.
Bourbon. Oh how I love thee. Besides vodka for it's sheer versatility and the ability to please most, Bourbon and Gin compete for top spot in my home bar. Because it is winter Bourbon is currently in the lead. I have a bunch of different Bourbon at home but I am a cocktail geek. If I was just starting my home bar I would pick one brand and go with that. Be adventurous and skip the average bar brand. Currently my favorite bourbon on the market is Eagle Rare. $28 or so will get you this fantastic bourbon and it is worth every penny! This is about $10 more than you would pay for something like Jim Beam. A great bourbon like this will definately be a good conversation starter.
Blended Whiskey: I usually like an Irish blended, in particular Jameson. My husband is a Crown guy so we have both in the house. These whiskeys are consistent because they are basically a house blend of several different batches of whiskey and often a neutral spirit. They are excellent for simple highballs or for a particularly hard day. A 750 ml. of Jameson or Crown is about $20.
Scotch: Out of all the spirits scotch seems to be the one that people have the most passionate brand loyalty. My recommendation is to get a blended such as Dewer's and a single malt. Dewer's is light and is perfect for the scotch and soda set. A 750 ml. of white label is about $20.
Single malts are usaully much richer. My favorite single malt is Lagavalin 16 yr. It is caramelly with hints of sherry and is absolutely delicious! This is not a budget bottle. it runs about $80. You don't have to pay this much for a respectable bottle of single malt. Ask your liquor store purveyor what he or she recommends. If money isn't an object than the Lagavalin is actually a mid priced bottle.
Canadian whiskey: Get some if you want but I have never had it in my bar and don't feel like I have missed anything.
Gin: My spring and summer favorite! Today gin is not all about the overly juniper, pine tree smelling, foul tasting, nasty stuff that the old man down the street used to drink with his bulbous red nose. Gin has gone through a recent renaissance period thanks to good mixologists and craft distillers.
The gin I use at the house the most- perfect in tonics and has a lovely clean flavor and orange peel aroma is also one of the least expensive in the store. Score! New Amsterdam is around $12 a 750 ml. Note: this is not the gin you want if you like a piny gin.
For the juniper lover, my favorite is Blue Coat. It has intense juniper and earthy components but it also has balance. That and I love the bottle. I am sometimes a sucker for packaging. Blue Coat will run you around $30.
I recommend that you have both the lighter, citrussy gin and a heavier juniper influenced gin in your well appointed home bar. There are also some beautiful cucumber heavy gins on the market that I love. Specifically, Hendrick's and Miller's. I don't normally stock these in my home though because I drink them too fast. I will buy some before a planned party but I know there won't be any left at the end. Expect to pay between $35-$40 for these brands.
Rum: I find that I need 3 types of rum for most of the cocktail recipes out there: light, dark and spiced. I tend to buy the big names because most of the rum drinks that I make are juiced up or mixed with falernum. I say go for whatever is on sale at the time. Myers, Bacardi, Captain Morgan's, Sailer Jerry...all good.
Tequila: I have some beautiful aged tequilas behind my home bar but the basics are blanco and anejo. There is a lot of great tequila out there but I always have Don Julio in my home. I like all of the Don Julio products. I currently have the Reposado wich is made from 100% blue agave and aged in small barrels. It runs between $35-$40.
Vermouth: I don't care what brand of vermouth you have in your home bar but for Pete sake put it in the refrigerator! This is a fortified wine product and has an expiration date. The reason people think that vermouth is nasty is because they have had the stuff from behind a bar that has been open and sitting out in the heat and light since the 1971 Playboy's New Host & Bar Book was being written. Gross. Vermouth is actually a lovely product. Monks came up with it and when have they ever been wrong about booze? Champagne, abbey ales... So when it is time for new vermouth cook with the stuff, have it as a light aperitif just don't sit on it for years.
Brandy: I keep E&J Brandy for cooking and making sangria and punches. I keep one bottle of good cognac for winter nights for the fire. I love Kelt vsop. It is around $55 but it lasts me all winter. One snifter and I am golden.
Assorted liquors: This is totally up to what your favorite flavors are. I usually recommend something creamy like Bailey's, something with a cassis or berry flavor such as Chambord or Creme Yvette and something floral like St. Germaine. Some of these finer cordials are rather expensive but you will use them sparingly in cocktails so splurge and get the best. A splash of St. Germaine can make even the most ho hum Prosecco taste great.
Don't expect to only spend the 1971 price of $140 to stock your bar. Don't be daunted however, gradually accumulating for a well appointed home bar is fun. There are also lots of ways around fully stocking for each and every party.