One of my favorite drink writers, Jason Wilson, wrote a column for The Washington Post on how to stock a bar for under $300 that's versatile and offers an element of surprise.
The Philadelphia resident and author of "Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure and the Overrated in Spirits" (Ten Speed Press, 2010) advised consumers to set up a 12-bottle bar with the usual suspects: vodka, bourbon, light rum, tequila, gin, mixers and bitters. For winter, add cognac, rye whiskey -- brasher than bourbon -- and aged rum.
Interesting bitters and mixers can offer something unusual. For a 1950s-era Stinger, for example, have creme de menthe on hand to mix with cognac.
While Mr. Wilson's suggestions resonate with me, everyone has his or her preferences. I generally do not make drinks with white or light rum, although I'll drink dark rum any day of the week. And I don't drink vodka. Ever.
Before I bought booze that I would not use, I talked with a couple of local cocktail aficionados about how they tailor their own winter home bar.
Dutch DeVries, one of Pittsburgh's home cocktail enthusiasts, suggests a seasonal classic cocktail bar that highlights brown spirits, while Will Groves, bar manager at Butterjoint and Legume in Oakland, recommends a shot-and-a-beer bar stocked with artisan booze.
"Overall, when it comes to classic cocktails, most of your winter drinks are spirit-forward," said Mr. DeVries. The centerpiece of his Strip District loft is his custom-built home bar, lined with bottles of rye and bourbon, Chartreuse, pisco and a battalion of bitters.
"You don't necessarily have to stick with brown liquors for the winter," he said. They're perfect for drinks such as a Vieux Carre, a 1930s-era drink from New Orleans that's a brooding cocktail made with rye, cognac, sweet vermouth, bitters, Benedictine and Angostura bitters. Or pare down ingredients with a Harvard from the 1890s, made with cognac, sweet vermouth and bitters.
Mr. DeVries' winter recommendations are stirred with cracked ice, then strained into a rocks glass and coupe, respectively, then garnished. "When you stir, you want to stir just until you get that burst of flavor on the nose, when it's the most fragrant," he said.
For colder nights, he suggests a hot buttered rum made with dark Jamaican rum, sugar cubes, a pat of unsalted butter, hot water and grated nutmeg. One of my favorites is a milk punch, which also contains dark Jamaican rum, cognac or brandy, a spoonful of sugar, hot milk and grated nutmeg.
"Drinks with hot water are especially foolproof because it does the work for you," Mr. DeVries said.
Mr. Groves takes a simpler approach to stocking his home bar in Point Breeze.
He cites bourbon, rye, tequila and "a half bottle of Campari," among the spirits in his home bar. Down in his basement, he's aging 70 bottles of beer.
A beer and a shot speaks to how he drinks.
For beers, he recommends Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. "Brewed every winter, it's a big imperial that will stand up to the most aggressive whiskey," he said. "And it improves with up to five years of age."
Pittsburgh Dad's 3-2-1 Win! beer from Full Pint Brewing Co. is his local pick, a beer brewed to drink while watching a game. "It's an easy-drinking, straightforward kolsch," he said.
Mr. Groves' selections vary when it comes to spirits, with suggestions that range from whiskey, to blanco tequila and mezcal.
One of his favorite bourbons isn't from Kentucky but rather, West Virginia, near his childhood home. "I'm all about Smooth Ambler Old Scout bourbon," he said. "It's easygoing enough to drink neat, but, being bottled at 99 proof means it will take to ice or mixers really well."
Another of his go-to whiskeys has to be special-ordered at a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board store but he says it's worth it. "Old Heaven Hill Bonded bourbon is the best value in bourbon whiskey. Sip it neat, on the rocks, mix it, shoot it, whatever."
Mr. Groves said he has a soft spot for blanco tequila. "Clear tequila allows you to taste the agave, where darker ones are about the oak experience."
Siembra Azul blanco tequila is his a favorite. "With big fruited notes and a peppery finish, it's the only tequila you should be buying," he said.
Despite the variety of his liquors in his home bar, he shies away from making cocktails off-duty.
"Since I make cocktails all night long, the most effort I want to put forth is finding the churchkey."
Hot Milk Punch
1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
1 ounce Cognac or brandy
1 bar spoon of sugar
Stir the rum, brandy, and sugar until sugar is dissolved in a mug, and add hot milk to top, stir and garnish with grated nutmeg.
Hot Buttered Rum
2 sugar cubes
2 ounces dark Jamaican rum
Pad of unsalted butter
Dissolve sugar with a little hot water in a mug. Add rum and pad of butter. Top with more hot water, stir and garnish with grated nutmeg.
1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce Cognac
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients with cracked ice, then strain into a rocks glass and garnish with an orange peel twist.
A variation on a Manhattan. Stir with cracked ice, then strain into a coupe or cocktail glass.
2 ounces Cognac
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.