Book Review: The 12 Bottle Bar

The 12 Bottle Bar is founded on a great idea: Build a home bar not by amassing hundreds of obscurities like Chartreuse and Punt e Mes (guilty!), but rather by focusing on the bare essentials. With just 12BottleBar_CVR_MechOut 03.indd12 bottles, authors David and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson say you can make hundreds of cocktails without breaking the bank or having to devote a spare room to your hooch (also guilty!).

I won’t belabor the mystery. Here are the 12 bottles:

brandy
dry gin
genever
amber rum
white rum
rye whiskey
vodka
orange liqueur
dry vermouth
sweet vermouth
aromatic bitters
orange bitters

OK. So, yes, that’s one way to do it. That’s a fine first draft. But… two kinds of rum? Genever? Humbly, I submit my own curated list of 12 most essential bottles:

brandy
dry gin
amber rum
rye whiskey
vodka
orange liqueur
sweet vermouth
aromatic bitters
reposado tequila
bourbon
absinthe
maraschino liqueur

Now that’s a starter bar. And arguably you could replace the rye with a single malt scotch, letting a good, rye-heavy bourbon sub in for straight rye in any number of cocktails. I don’t think you need two kinds of rum; just use amber and live with darker (and more flavorful) Daiquiris and Mojitos. Absinthe may not sound like a big deal, but it does open up the Sazerac and Death in the Afternoon, and works wonders as a rinse in any number of avant garde concoctions. Even the book notes that the lack of tequila in their list is a tough one, but life with Margaritas may not be worth living. Maraschino — in lieu of seldomly used orange bitters and basically-used-in-martinis-only dry vermouth — is, I think, one of my little linchpins here. Try it with rum or in a Manhattan.

But I digress.

Let’s look at The 12 Bottle Bar on its merits, not my own conjecture and my own wild bar ideas.

This is a really thick tome — 412 pages — for a book that is about making do with less. That’s a testament to how far 12 bottles will get you… but bear in mind you will still need fruits, juices, syrups, sodas, mint, cream, eggs, and more to make nearly anything in the book. With few exceptions, you can’t make any of the cocktails in the book with just these bottles. The Mai Tai, for example, has 6 ingredients, only 2 of which are in the above list. The curious Green Snapper has 7, but you’ll need to source 6 on your own time.

What emerges after spending time with the book is not instructions on getting by with a small bar, but rather a primer on using a handful of base spirits in numerous classic and avant garde cocktails. There’s plenty here to choose from, including some delightful-sounding concoctions, but the little black-and-white icons don’t do much to cue you in to what the final product is going to be like. Every cocktail has a story attached — typically far longer than the recipe itself. Given that design, I would have put each cocktail on its own page (the typical length of a recipe, anyway) instead of running free form, which makes the book much harder to scan.

So, fun idea, but the second edition could use a little better presentation. If anyone out there ever makes a genever cocktail at home, do let me know.

B / $10 / [BUY IT HERE]

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3 Responses

  1. John S. Steidler January 24, 2015 / 9:06 am

    This is a great list of different types of booze to start your own personal bar with, however, I can think of a few others to add to this list. Whiskeys with cinnamon, moonshine, brandy, vodka and different types of wines, etc.!!

  2. Eric January 24, 2015 / 12:11 pm

    Heck yes – aged genever makes a very fine old-fashioned. I agree that it doesn’t really belong on a starter list of cocktail ingredients, though. 12BB made some puzzling updates to their bottle list when they announced this book; it’s worth checking out their website for the older list and drinks.

  3. Richard Cuccia January 26, 2015 / 11:00 am

    For the price of about $10, this book is most well worth the price. 12BB might not be perfect, and people can disagree with some of its choices. However, 12BB’s choices are quite rational and reasonable. You will not be disappointed. Get it.

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