The Five Most Mathematically Essential Bottles of Booze

By Brent Rose on at

You're getting classy. You've served your guests enough Miller High Life. When you entertain, you want to do it with style. You want to set up a proper home bar.

But with such a huge array of spirits, liqueurs, mixers, and other ingredients out there, it's hard to know which type of booze gives the most bang for the bottle. So we analysed the top cocktails and identified five key ingredients. This is the essential sauce, from a scientific, statistical, slurred-speech standpoint.

It's Easter weekend, you've made it through the long week, and it's time for Happy Hour. Gizmodo's booze column is a cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. Today, we're bringing the bar to you.

To determine the top five, we started with a list of 115 commonly ordered drinks. We broke each drink down to its components then put them in a spreadsheet, dividing the ingredients into spirits, liqueurs, and other. We decided to start with a list of popular drinks from About.com. The results were, literally, clear.

The Five Most Mathematically Essential Bottles of BoozeVodka dominates the list. It appears in a whopping 37 of the 115 drinks. It's followed by rum, gin, and then bourbon. Bourbon, last? Has the world gone topsy turvy? The most common liqueurs list was even more disturbing.

The Five Most Mathematically Essential Bottles of BoozeCoffee liqueur? Gah! Really? Three times as popular as sweet vermouth? Maybe our finger isn't on the pulse of mainstream America, but this seems wrong. Very wrong. In the list of other ingredients, bitters only appeared 5 times. We got 16 hits for orange juice and 15 uses for cream. Y'know what? Screw that list.

We needed to class things up, so we reached out to one of the classiest bartenders we know: Ms. Anne-Louise Marquis. Anne-Louise has a blog called The Tendency, all about life behind the bar. In a recent post called How To Look Like You Know What You're Doing, she breaks down everything a freshman bartender needs to know, including the 50 most commonly ordered drinks where she works. The disclaimer from her post:

The calibre of my bar is somewhere in the upper-middle of the spectrum. I work in a higher-end hotel bar, and we truly get all kinds of guests. We have a cocktail menu, but we don't specialise in craft cocktails the way the smaller bars do. We have standards: No flavoured vodkas, spirit on spirit drinks get stirred, we use all fresh juices, and you'll never get a muddled orange in your old fashioned.

Sounds just about right. So, we went again and broke down that list of drinks into their component parts, using the most recent Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide for recipes.

The Five Most Mathematically Essential Bottles of BoozeAll right. This is looking better already. Gin and vodka are tied, and bourbon isn't too far behind. The liqueur list was also much shorter, and much less sugary.

The Five Most Mathematically Essential Bottles of BoozeThis time we went ahead and included bitters in the liquers category, because Angostura actually beat out all of the liqueurs (though tincture bitters are technically not liqueurs). This restored our faith in humanity. Don't get us wrong, we love a good Black Russian. But there's no way coffee liqueur should make it to the top five. No way.

Even the list of other ingredients is much more pleasing. Way to keep it classy, folks.

The Five Most Mathematically Essential Bottles of BoozeOkay, so what can we divine from all of this? What are the must-have bottles? Of course, ultimately, it boils down to personal taste. If you know you love whiskey drinks, you're going to lean brown. The goal of this exercise is to determine the best home bar starter kit for general usage.

So, if you only get five bottles for your home bar, make it the five that appear in at least 43 cocktails, based on the charts above:

Vodka. Gin. Bourbon. Bitters. Sweet Vermouth.

With these alone, you can make plenty of killer cocktails. Add some ingredients you've probably got around your house already—sugar, soda water, juice, citrus fruits—and the possibilities are endless. Those five will give you a great foundation for your home bar. From there, build drink by drink. For example, if you're craving white russians some night, add a bottle of Kahlúa to your collection. Feeling margaritas? Grab some tequila. Wanna bust out a negroni? Get yourself some Campari, son. Your collection will expand, organically, as your tastes do.

What essentials stay stocked in your home bars, dear readers? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.

Big thanks to Anne-Louise Marquis for her input. Her blog, The Tendency, is fantastic.

Image credit: Shutterstock/ Larry St. Pierre