If you were stranded on a desert island and could have any four bottles of booze, do you know which bottles you’d pick? That’s the question we posed to David and Lesley Solmonson, authors of The 12 Bottle Bar, a newly-published book that, in the authors’ words, demystifies craft cocktails and home bartending.
The new book explains how to build a home bar starting with just one liquor and building up to—you guessed it—12 bottles. What happens between the first and last steps caught our attention. Instead of building up the booze collection with multiple types of what many bartenders and drinks connoisseurs would deem “necessary” spirits like bourbon, Scotch and tequila, the Solmonsons threw a curveball: A four-bottle bar should include a base spirit of your preference, a vermouth to complement the base spirit, one bottle of bitters and orange liqueur.
“When you add vermouth and bitters, you add enormously to your selection of cocktails,” explains Lesley, “because very often the change up of vermouth or the addition of bitters creates an entirely different drink.”
In other words, no matter whether you choose whiskey, gin, vodka or rum as your base, the addition of vermouth, bitters and orange liqueur will ensure you have a home bar that has more cocktail potential than, say, one that stocks only hard liquor. Of course, even these four ingredients will only get you so far.
“Buy fresh citrus and fruit whenever possible and learn how to make simple syrup,” David says. That’s what will give you “so much flexibility.” And from there, he recommends learning how to make infused syrups with fresh fruit, herbs and teas. “That’s the kind of thing that will change a drink’s profile completely.”
So, in this admittedly fanciful desert island situation—given that all the tools, syrups and juices are available—what four bottles would David and Lesley choose?
“Given that a desert island is probably going to be a pretty summery, tropical place, I’m sure I would go with gin and light vermouth,” Lesley says, crediting her love of the French 75. “I love all spirits, but I appreciate the flexibility that gin has; it can be rich and intense, but also crisp, botanical and refreshing.”
David, on the other hand, would go with genever (another intriguing focus of The 12 Bottle Bar), sweet vermouth and orange bitters, so he could make Pimm’s Cups and Amsterdam 75s.
Take the Solmonsons’ advice or toss it overboard. This is your desert island, after all.