Building An Excellent Home Bar, 5 Bottles And 1 Quality Cocktail At A Time


by Shaun Layton | Something that I often get asked about is the building of a home bar. Depending on how much you drink at home, or how many deadbeat roommates you have, this can either take a long time to build or be done in a few trips to the liquor store. What I tell people is this: build you’re bar 1 or 2 drinks at a time.

This is the first in a series of posts on building a home bar, five bottles and one drink at a time. I will also provide some tips along the way, so please let me know (@shaunlayton) how your own home bar came together, share thoughts or photos, or ask any questions you like.

The brands I choose aren’t necessarily the best in their respective categories. I’m just trying to use unique, readily available, and cost efficient brands. So here we go…

1. Broker’s London Dry gin – A good London dry gin, which means a classic style of gin with a heavy juniper profile. I choose Broker’s because it has great value ($27.99) and it’s great for classic-style drinks like the Negroni.

2. Dolin Dry Vermouth – Essential for classics like The Martini. I choose Dolin, my favourite of its category. Located in Chambery, France, it’s been a producer of fine fortified wines since 1821. Dolin is well worth the $28.00 price tag. Tip: this is a wine, so please keep it capped in the fridge! You will have to go to a specialty store like 16th St. Liquor in West Van or Legacy liquor in Olympic Village to find your bottle.

3. Campari – A “potable” Italian bitter which is great for cocktails, or sipped on the rocks with a splash of soda and a slice of orange. At $26.99, a bottle should last you a while. People either love or hate Campari. It’s also fashionable, so a lot of who don’t particularly like it pretend to.

4. Rittenhouse rye – A good rye is essential for classic cocktails like the Sazerac. For me, American rye is best when mixing drinks. Canadian whiskeys are great in my opinion for sipping. Rittenhouse ($44.99) is 101 proof so it has a strong presence and spicy finish – ideal traits for a proper drink.

5. Angostura Bitters – The essential bottle of bitters for any home bar ($12.00). You will find this in any decent bar anywhere on the world. Seriously, if the bar you walk into doesn’t have any, turn around and start running! Literally hundreds of cocktails call for these bitters, which are made in Trinidad.



A strong, bitter, dry, bold cocktail. Serve to gentleman with beards and ladies who like Negronis.

45 ml Rittenhouse rye
25 ml Campari
25 ml Dolin Dry Vermouth

Stir ingredients with ice in a mixing glass then strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with lemon twist.

IMG_6220Shaun Layton has helped to maintain a top notch bar scene in Vancouver for ten years, and since day one at Gastown’s L’Abattoir, where he is the Bar Manager. He also runs his own consulting company, designing bar programs and training staff locally and as far away as St.John’s, NFLD. Layton has competed and travelled throughout the USA and Europe, touring distilleries, breweries and bars. He was recognized in 2012 as the Bartender of The Year by Vancouver Magazine.

There are 7 comments

  1. You never hear Campari described as an amaro, but I don’t understand why not- it seems to match any definition thereof that I’ve found. An Italian friend looked at me like I was an idiot when I called it one.

    Back in the ’70s, when I was only old, Campari had an ad campaign that tried to make a virtue of their unpopularity in North America, with the tagline “9 out of 10,000 Americans prefer Campari.” It was an effective approach for the times, when consumers were searching for their identities in the products they chose. We’re better than that now- right? Right?

    Nit: Rittenhouse is 100 proof and, at BC Liquor stores, $50 a bottle- not 101 and $45. But who’s counting?

  2. S. Rose, “9 out of 10,000 Americans prefer Campari.” thats hilarious, love it! You’re right on the 101 thing, my bad. The price seems to fluctuate sometimes on all booze, I’ve seen Rittenhouse between $44-51

  3. Oh my how I adore dolin vermouth, but I have never been able to find it in town and have resorted to weekends in seattle to score. Please do tell if it really is available here. I frequent legacy often And have never seen it.

  4. Agree on Dolin. I find it necessary to bring it back from the US as well, coincidentally having brought one back just today. I thought maybe I’d seen it at Kitsilano Wine Cellar on W 4th, but they say that they have never carried it so it must have been a (wet) dream. I’ll bet BC Liquor could get it for you, but you generally have to commit to a case. I think that’s only six bottles, so not too big a commitment.

  5. So Dolin is now a SPEC product through the LDB. The SKU is 754853 (x12) . Legacy usually carries most SPECs, so Id give them a call, or 16th st in West Van, Chris there is the man.

  6. “a lot of who don’t particularly like it pretend to” made me laugh out loud.