Guidelines for Beginners:
1. Choose things that you like, not what you think you should have. You're not a business, this is a home bar. You're looking to please yourself! Or maybe, for some of you, impress your friends. To each their own.
2. If you make cocktails every night, look for good values for your base spirits. Taste a lot. Blind taste. Don't get swept up in brand marketing.
3. Be wary when you see words like "premium" and "top shelf."
4. Have a bottle from every category you enjoy, but build up slowly. You don't need to buy it all at once.
5. Keep a few mixers on hand. Fresh citrus, tonic water, ginger beer, a bottle or shrub or homemade simple syrup.
6. Have at least one kind of bitters, and if it's only one, make sure it's an "aromatic" style.
For a bit more guidance, here are some suggestions to get you started. It's a work in progress and I've probably forgotten something.
Vodka : Gruven / Kirkland Brand
London Dry Style Gin : City of London / Brokers / Trader Joe's Rear Admiral London dry
New American or Western Style Gin // Bluecoat / St. George Botanivore
Bourbon, mixing grade : Elijah Craig Small Batch/ Buffalo Trace
Bourbon, sipping grade : Four Roses Small Batch / Eagle Rare 10 year
Rye, mixing grade : Rittenhouse 100 / Hochstadter's
Blended scotch, mixing grade : Bank Note 5 year / Black Bottle
Single Malt, sipping grade : Speyside or Highland
Blanco Tequila, Mixing grade : Cimarron / Espolon
White Rum, mixing grade : Diplomatico
Aged Rum, mixing grade : El Dorado 5 year
Brandy (Armagnac/Cognac) mixing grade : Pierre Ferrand Cognac 1840 / Tariquet VS Armagnac
Sweet Vermouth : Carpano Antica
Dry Vermouth : Dolin Dry
Curacao or Triple Sec : Merlet Triple Sec / Bauchant Orange
Fruit liqueur (apricot, pear, raspberry, etc) : Rothman & Winter / St George Spirits
Bitters : Angostura / Peychaud's
*Extra Credit: Campari / Aperol / Luxardo Maraschino / Fernet Branca
Intermediate BarVodka : St. George All Purpose
London Dry Style Gin : Sipsmith / Beefeater / Trader Joe's Rear Admiral London dry
New American Gin : St. George Botanivore / Benham's Sonoma
Barrel Aged Gin : Rusty Blade / Barr Hill Tomcat
Bourbon, mixing grade : Elijah Craig / Henry McKenna 10 / Eagle Rare 10 year
Bourbon, sipping grade : Four Roses Single Barrel / Rowan's Creek / Willet Pot Still
Rye whiskey, mixing grade : Rittenhouse 100 / Hochstadter's / Sazerac
Rye whiskey, sipping : Pikesville / Alley 6 / Pendleton 1910 (12 yr)
Blended scotch, mixing grade : Bank Note 5 year / Aisle of Skye 7 year
Single Malt, sipping grade : unpeated
Single Malt, sipping grade : peated
Japanese or World whiskey : Aksahi White Oak / Hibiki Harmony
Blanco Tequila, mixing grade : Cimarron / Pura Sangre
Mezcal -- Espadin : Bruxo No. 1 / Yuu Baal / Mezcal Union
Reposado or Anejo Tequila, sipping grade : Tequila Ocho / Siete Leguas
White rum, mixing grade : Santa Teresa Claro / Plantation 3 Star
Aged rum, mixing : Hamilton Demerara/ Diplomatico Anejo
Aged rum, sipping : Foursquare Port Finish / Plantation Single Island
Brandy, mixing grade : Pierre Ferrand Cognac 1840 / Tariquet VS Armagnac
Brandy (Armagnac/Cognac) sipping grade : Park VSOP or XO / Delord Napoleon Bas Armagnac / Dudognon Reserve
Sweet Vermouth : Punt e Mes / Dolin Rouge
Dry Vermouth : Noilly Pratt / Carpano Dry
Aperitivo : Aperol / Campari
Curacao or Triple Sec : Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
Fruit liqueur (apricot, pear, raspberry, etc) : Giffard / St George / Pur
Misc Liqueur : Leopold's or Luxardo
Amaro/Fernet : Fernet Branca / Meletti Amaro / Ramazotti Amaro
Bitters : Angostura / Peychaud's / Reagan's Orange or Angostura Orange
*Extra Credit : Green Chartreuse / Eau de Vie / Calvados /