Chris Ciesiel. Better known (to some) as @thehydeparker, proprietor of The Campground, Kansas City’s own guerrilla cocktail service. We first met Mr. Ceisel, and his lovely wife, @owlandmouse, like you do these days…through Instagram. They built a backyard speakeasy with their own four hands, and as far as we’re concerned, it’s the best damn place to get a stiff drink in KCMO.
Chris and I connected over fine spirits, and he’s been a constant source of inspiration to me in my fledgling cocktail journey. That’s why we’re so excited that he’s agreed to share his knowledge with us—and you. So, first up from Mr. Ciesiel: how to get your own bar up and running.
Throughout every aspect of life there are essentials, or must-haves. For example: riding a bicycle and wearing a helmet (you do wear a helmet, don’t you?); eating a Chicago-style hotdog with neon-green relish, diced onions, two sport peppers, tomato wedges, Kosher pickle spear, celery salt, steamed poppy seed bun with mustard (absolutely no ketchup). Similarly, there are certain rules that apply to properly stocking your home bar.
Before I dive in and you get overwhelmed with how much all of this costs, I should reassure you that building the perfect home bar takes some time. Like any other skill on the way to manhood, it’s not something you knock out in one fell swoop. And that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? A bottle here, a cordial there. This is a journey. Savor it.
Let’s get into it.
- BOURBON: You’ll either find Bulleit or Buffalo Trace on my stick. They’re both aces and won’t break the bank ($25-30).
- VODKA: I don’t often drink vodka, but when I do it’s Tito’s Handmade Vodka ($18). That is all you need to know.
- GIN: This is where it gets a little tricky, as not all gins are created equal. Hayman’s Old Tom ($25) is my ideal mixing gin for everyday use. It’s botanically forward, while imparting a bit of sweetness. Ransom Old Tom ($35) is the “historically accurate” version, distilled with malted barely and neutral corn spirits. What’s more is that it is barrel-aged. This gin plays wonderfully in cocktails that are very gin-centered, i.e. Martinez. Finally, I’ll use a dry gin, such as Beefeater ($16), for my other cocktails that don’t typically include a citrus, as it is reasonably priced for every day consumption.
- VERMOUTH: You’ll need both sweet and dry. There are a number of different varieties/brands of vermouth out there, but I have come to love Carpano Antica Formula ($35) as the best for sweet (even as pricy as it is) and Dolin Dry ($12) for well, dry. You’ll find that there are many varieties of vermouth at different (read: cheaper) price points, so you should certainly experiment.
- AMARO: These Italian digestifs provide bitterness and a different yet pleasant dimension to cocktails. There’s several we usually stock: Cynar ($24, an artichoke liqueur), Fernet Branca ($26, peppermint, menthol), Ramazzotti Amaro ($22, orange peel, cardamom, cinnamon).
- SWEET: Make an easy, rich, no-cook syrup by combining sugar (turbinado) and water—at 2 parts sugar to 1 part water—in a large jar, and shake the hell out of it. It should dissolve after five minutes and be ready to incorporate into cocktails. Oh yeah, and get some sugar cubes too (ahem, Old Fashioneds?)
- SOUR: Get off your lazy ass and hand-press some fresh lemons, limes, and oranges!
- BITTERS: You’ll definitely need one… Angostura Aromatic Bitters. You can experiment with the other flavors at your own will.
- I love spicy, hot ginger beer! That’s why I use Cock ‘n’ Bull. Also because there’s no artificial sweetener.
- Jiggers: Exact measurement is key when crafting cocktails with pricey spirits. But if you want to add a little spill-over bourbon to my Old Fashioned, I won’t get mad at ‘cha.
- Boston Shaker: I typically use these whilst shaking cocktails containing egg, as the emulsification process builds up subtle pressure which is easier to expel by tapping the sides.
- Cobbler Shaker: I like these because they are easy to use, and they create a tight seal when in action. Added bonus: They have a built in strainer. If you have a couple extra bucks to spend this month, check out Cocktail Kingdom or Umami Mart.
- Bar Spoon(s): Because you’re going to want to stir your spirit-heavy cocktails. Word of advice: Get something with a tight coil. They’re easier to twirl.
- Mixing Glass: I like Pyrex beakers, because, well, they look cool.
- Channel Knife: This ensures you get those nice long twists.
- Y-Peeler: Quickly get that peel to garnish you drink.
- Paring Knife: Same concept as the Y-peeler, only you’ll get thicker peels, and you can easily trim down that bitter white pith.
- Cone Strainer: When you want to double strain to omit the mini ice chips formed by vigorous shaking.
- Hawthorne Strainer: These are used to strain shaken (or stirred cocktails) while keeping the ice in the tumbler. The wire coil helps prevents other debris from entering your drink, i.e., mint leaves, berries, etc.
- Julep Strainer: These are typically used to strain stirred cocktails.
- Muddler: My friend Dylan Sly over at Manifesto crafted me a Brazilian Walnut muddler. Chances are, it’s better than yours.
- Mallet & Lewis Bag: Oh yeah, Dylan also made me an Thor-sized American Oak Mallet. You could kill a man with this thing!
- Juicer: Either a handheld or a stand-up, any juicer will do (scour your local antique malls, as I picked up a really nice juicer from the 1950s).
In no way is this an exhaustive list, but it is a good, solid start. I began building my bar several years ago while obsessing over with one drink: the Aviation. The more I experimented with cocktails, the more equipment I amassed. Or, you could blow your rent/mortgage, and purchase everything in one outing. Finally, put up some nicknacks that give your bar space your own personal touch. For instance, we have a .22 caliber hollow point bullet; locust sheddings; a hen feather we found at Will Rogers’ home; and a really cool vintage postcard that sums up our love for all things booze.