This is when I tell you to go out and, before purchasing tequila, rum, brandy, or any other staple liquor, get yourself a bottle of Campari; a bitter, herbal, Italian amaro that will turn half of the drinks it is a part of a lovely shade of pink. That's right, pink. So what's my logic here?
First off, I think buying Campari this early on in building your bar is a bold move towards widening your understanding of cocktails and the flavors therein, and pushing outward what you can do with the spirits you already have. To go back to my spice rack analogy at the introduction to this whole post, what you have right now with the first 5 bottles is something like steak, chicken, salt and pepper. Buying another spirit now would be like adding pork to that. Pork is great, but then your flavoring options would remain at salt and pepper. Choosing Campari now is like buying a spice rack instead of a pork chop, and it will broaden your ability to use the spirits you already have.
Second, Campari is undeniably bitter. In fact, if you've never had Campari before and you're anything like me when I first tried it, you're going to HATE Campari. On day one, you and Campari will get along about as well as I can touch my toes without bending my knees (which is to say, not at all). This is because your taste buds, like my legs, are simply inflexible and need to be stretched. It's better to do this sooner than later. Because if you keep trying the stuff, eventually the bitterness of Campari will fade to the background just enough to reveal and truly amazing array of flavors and a fantastically refreshing sweetness. Campari is the gatekeeper to the wonderful and delicious world of Italian Amaro. Be persistent. It'll pay off.
Lastly, and this is mostly for guys here, you need to learn to be ok with drinking pink drinks. You're a grown-up person ordering an alcoholic beverage, not a toddler picking out the color of his bedroom. Your manhood, however you choose to define it, should, I sure hope, be firmly cemented enough at this stage in your life as to not be threatened by the shade of a cocktail. Stop it. Just stop it already. It's a drink, not an identity. Unless, ironically, you're threatened by it. At which your identity is that of a person who has absolutely no confidence whatsoever. Please, and this is me as a bartender speaking, just stop worrying about this shit. Thank you.
What to buy:
Campari. There's only one so this is easy.
How to mix it:
Start with a Negroni. Then go back in time and have that drink's predecessor, the Americano cocktail. Now drink a Boulevardier. Then make a fresh gimlet and replace a half ounce of the gin with Campari and be like, holy good god everything makes sense now.
7. Silver Tequila
Here's a thing you're never allowed to say ever again in your life: "I can't ever drink tequila because..." Whatever the reason to come, it's stupid and you're wrong. So just don't.
I get it, you drank too much tequila that one time on spring break and have sworn it off forever. That's dumb. Don't let a worse (the worst?) version of yourself ruin something great. You also got sunburned on spring break but have you since sworn off going outdoors and lived like some sort of mole person? No you haven't. You probably just got better at using sunscreen and not passing out by the pool. Apply the same reasoning to tequila. Drink it like the grown-up that you now are.
Or maybe you're the type who doesn't drink tequila because you claim it makes you crazy. If you think this, it's a really good indicator that you're actually just a bad drunk in general. Too much tequila only makes you plain old regular drunk, just like whiskey or vodka or anything else. What YOU do though is only drink tequila when you're grumpy and want to drink too much and become extra grumpy. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. You need to cut this out because it's getting in the way of you and all the wonderfully delicious drinks out there that just so happen to contain tequila.
As a tangent, this is all part of the psychosomatic disorder I like to call, "Irish Car Bomb Disease." There's a bro bar drink that is not very sensitively named an Irish Car Bomb, which consists of dropping a mixed shot of Irish whiskey and Irish cream into a half pint of Guinness. The Irish cream curdles pretty quickly in the beer and so the point is to chug the whole mess faster than it'll get gross. People at bars think that this gets them completely hammered. Well guess what, it doesn't. Because what you're affectively doing is drinking a medium to low proof shot (40%) and then following it with a few gulps of a low alcohol beer. Unless you get drunk from one and a half drinks, one single Irish Car Bomb won't get you hammered.
What does get you hammered is the mindset that you're in when you decide to drink an Irish Car bomb in the first place. Chances are you've already been drinking and you've decided to really go for it, so you order a Car Bomb to cement/celebrate your decision to descend into ultra-inebriation. Doing an Irish Car Bomb is like getting married, both are rather benign events that serve as a sign to both yourself and your peers of the commitment you made to ruin either the rest of your night or your social life, respectively.
All that to say, most tequila deniers are suffering from Irish Car Bomb Disease. The spirit is perfectly fine, the people are the problem (in this way, it's the gluten of the beverage world). If you yourself are afflicted, my treatment for curing this disease is to get yourself a bottle of tequila, open it and make one, and only one, quality margarita. Drink that slowly on a full stomach then, and this is key, stop drinking for the rest of the night. You will be totally fine and thus prove that it was you this whole time, and not a totally delicious spirit from Mexico. Tequila deserves an apology.
What to buy:
Get a silver tequila that is made from 100% agave. I like El Jimador for being really cheap. Lunazul works. Altos is great for a few more bucks. As is Milagro. Patron is not bad but WAY overpriced for what it is. Skip it unless someone else is buying.
How to mix it:
Great news, I already wrote a post on how to make a margarita. Make an Old Fashioned with it (because remember, old fashioned is just a style of mixing any spirit). Pair it with Campari for a Siesta, which I called a Campargarita when I thought I had invented the drink.
8. Orange Liqueur
This one is easy because, unlike the above two bottles, I don't have to give you a pleading/angry lecture first. Orange liqueur (aka triple sec, aka curaço) is the first of many things you will eventually use in cocktails that is a flavored 1:1 (more or less) replacer of simple syrup. For example, if you were to replace the simple syrup in a gin sour with triple sec, you'd have a White Lady, which is a really delicious drink and also one of the main problems with rap music these days.
What to buy:
My go to is Combier Orange. It's not cheap, but definitely cheaper than Cointreau, which is delicious, but not ten extra dollars delicious. Don't buy cheap triple sec. Patron Citronge is good for margaritas only and not better than Combier. Skip it. Grand Marnier is for people in the suburbs who are pretending they're buying fancy margaritas.
How to mix it:
Margarita. White Lady. Sidecar. Jasmine. Corpse Reviver #2. Or whenever simple syrup is called for and you feel like orange flavored something could work.
Ninety percent of what you're going to use rum for will be making classic daiquiris. That's not to say that rum isn't incredibly delicious and versatile and useful in all sorts of cocktails. Because it is all of those things. Rum adds depth and a round sweetness and is all sorts of good on its own or teaming up with a another spirit. But the fact of the matter is, a daiquiri done well is just so damn good that it's hard not to make one when reaching for rum. Also, daiquiris are one of the best things to make for guests because everyone loves them but thinks they don't because almost no one has had a good quality version before. Minds will be blown. You'll be a hero and receive the keys to like six cities at least, and probably a parade.
What to buy:
Here's where I break from popular opinion here and suggest that if you're only going to have one bottle of rum, get an aged one. The aged stuff has a more recognizable flavor that stands out in cocktails. This is especially beneficial if you're working your way through making cocktails for the first time because starting with a bolder tasting aged rum will more easily establish the flavor profiles in your mind and the different ways in which the spirit can be used. Younger rum is great, and you should eventually own a bottle, but if you're getting only one, go with something darker (but not super dark like Goslings). I highly suggest Flor De Cana 7 or or Appleton 12 year for this task.
How to mix it:
Obviously, start by making a daiquiri. Go with 2 ounces rum, and 3/4 ounce each lime juice and simple syrup (a demerara or palm sugar simple would be great here), then feel free to see how other recipes taste. Realize they're all pretty great. Get excited about that. Next, take a great classic cocktail, like a whiskey sour, and then replace a half ounce of the main spirit with rum. See what it does there? Pretty good right? Right! Same idea works for a tequila sour. Or make a rum/dry vermouth negroni or sorts. Even if you never get into the world of tiki drinks (oh but you really should), adding rum to your bar is a great way to increase the depth and breadth of the drinks you can make.
Maraschino is made from distilling Marasca cherries and is related in name only to the bright red bar cherries that everyone seems to hate but I secretly kinda love (I think they're the American cheese of the cocktail world). Despite being made from cherries it tastes more like some sort of sweet rose and almond booze. This is another bottle that exists to widen the range of what you can make with the bottles you already have. I went through a pretty serious "everything gets a dash of Maraschino" phase last year, and I can't recommend it enough.
What to buy:
The two main brands are Luxardo and Maraska. The latter is cheaper and I think tastes just barely better (though both are great). Unfortunately, it's also sometimes impossible to find.
How to mix it:
Like orange liqueur, Maraschino is another sugar substitute. So experiment accordingly. Or make an Improved Whiskey Cocktail, which is my favorite Old Fashioned variation despite the fact that it was on the list at a restaurant I used to work at and I had to make literally a million of them every night. Aviation cocktails are great. Make a Hemmingway Daiquiri. Then make a Martinez and a Last Word. An Adderley is a Maraschino rye sour with orange bitters. You have all those things. Make one.