Pre-prohibition cocktails and modern twists on classics

Cocktails Simplified – Cost

Source:401(K) 2013

Source: 401(K) 2013

A lot of folks think making cocktails sounds like a great idea, but feel that starting up a home “bar” is too much of an expense.

But doesn’t buying the ingredients required to make all these drinks add up to a lot of money?

Not necessarily. Let’s use the Cocktails Simplified – Whiskey article as a reference for our cocktail list. We can do some simple MATH to come up with a ballpark idea of what it might cost to get started based on what you want to make. To recap the ingredients required to make all the cocktails in Cocktails Simplified – Whiskey, lets review the ingredients and their average cost:


  • Whiskey (preferably Rye for 5/6 recipes) – $10-20
  • Angostura Bitters – $6
  • Peychaud’s Bitters – $6
  • Absinthe (or other Anise liquor) – $40-80 (absinthe), $20-30 (Pernod, etc)
  • Campari – $20-30
  • Sweet Vermouth – $10 (average) up to $30 or more for something more high end
  • Dry Vermouth – $10 and up (just like sweet vermouth)

Assuming you possess none of these items, it would be reasonably INEXPENSIVE to get started mixing drinks at home. The drinks were listed in the order presented to illustrate how to progress from one cocktail to the next; however, if price is a concern, we can regroup them and come up with a few rough ESTIMATES of the cost to get started. This allows you to fit and taylor purchases to any budget.

Old Overholt

If cost is a concern, choosing a an inexpensive yet decent quality rye like OLD OVERHOLT as well as buying a less expensive anise liquor, such as PASTIS, we can get started with minimal expense and then build from there. All prices are estimates before tax based on my area.

  • The Big 3: To obtain the whiskey, Angostura bitters and sweet vermouth required to make an Old FashionedWhiskey Sour and Manhattan, it would cost about $30. This is a low price to get started with the three most popular classic whiskey cocktails. You can now branch one of two ways (or both) depending on what you want to make.
  • To make a Boulevardier/Old Pal:
  • Alternatively, you could go the Sazerac route and add Pastis and Peychaud’s bitters to bring the total after the big 3 to about $50-60.

To make all 6 drinks, your total average initial cost, assuming you had none of the ingredients, would likely be somewhere around $80-90.

Assuming you use 2oz of whiskey per cocktail, a 750ml bottle will yield about 12.5 cocktails.

Let’s factor in that you will get a little over 12 COCKTAILS per bottle of whiskey (more if making Boulevardiers and Old Pals, which only use 1oz of whiskey). The total COST of each cocktail using 2oz whiskey per drink and using the higher estimate of $90 to buy all ingredients, the startup cost comes out to about $7.5/cocktail.

After that first bottle of whiskey is gone, you will surely have PLENTY of the other ingredients left. This is where the cost begins to significantly decrease. Lets say you buy 1 more bottle of whiskey and make the same cocktails again. Factoring in that additional bottle of whiskey (25 cocktails using 2oz pours from 2 bottles) into your initial cost, you end up at a total cost of about $100, which comes out to about $4 a cocktail.

Your true cost will likely end up even LESS as the items you purchased will likely have enough left to work through a third or fourth bottle of whiskey. Not to mention the utility of having these ADDITIONAL components on hand for making something other than whiskey based cocktails. For example, adding a bottle of gin would allow you to make a Negroni:


1oz Gin

1oz Sweet Vermouth

1oz Campari

Orange Twist

Adding the gin also puts you a $6 bottle of orange bitters away from a Martini (heck some people don’t even use the bitters):


2oz Gin

1oz Dry Vermouth

1 dash Orange Bitters

1 Lemon twist

The Campari and absinthe/pastis can be drank on their own as well. You could even mix the two vermouths and some bitters (classically orange and Peychauds, but any will do) to make a version of the Old Hickory Cocktail:

Old Hickory - Sweet/Lillet

Old Hickory Cocktail

1.5oz Sweet Vermouth

1.5oz Dry Vermouth

2 dashes Orange bitters

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Orange twist

Moving FORWARD from this base, you also will not be constantly respending that start up cost as you will run out of bottles at different times, resulting in more tolerable SMALL expenses as need.

Hopefully this exercise helped illustrate that making cocktails doesn’t have to be expensive. It really doesn’t take much to get started and you can always build up your bar through a series of small steps.

4 Responses to “Cocktails Simplified – Cost”

  1. Dan

    Awesome post. My entry into home mixology was more or less sparked by one idea: I wanted to learn to make an old fashioned for myself, as it (along with the martini) seemed to be the most wildly inconsistent drink I’d ever ordered at bars, even in a place like San Francisco. My research into the cocktail led me to the oldest recipe I could find, which was so beautifully simple I couldn’t afford NOT to go out and purchase the ingredients. (It is not at all uncommon for upscale cocktail bars to charge $10 or more—even when using Old Overholt—for a drink whose pouring cost is about $2.)

    Starting with one drink that is either a favorite or one you’ve always wanted to try and building from there really is the best (and least cost-intimidating) approach to building a home bar. You’ve done a great job of illustrating that here.

    Thanks for all the great content!

    – Dan

    • The Straight Up

      Thanks for the compliments. Your words obviously echo my own thoughts on the matter. It really is so easy to make drinks that are better than most bars and rival some of the best places in the world. Even if you just make a favorite or two, you will be shocked how much better they are when done right. Not to mention how much less you will be spending.

      Obviously, I drink out from time to time, but I use that as an opportunity to try a spirit I’ve never had or if at a respectable cocktail joint, try something new that I haven’t done at home.


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