What You Need
Buying a variety of spirits is important when stocking your first bar. When entertaining guests, it’s good to have some choices. It is unnecessary to have every type of liquor available but there are basic liquors that can be used different ways to suit many pallets.
It is hard to decide how much of each you need to have on hand and it is different for everyone. To start out, one bottle of each is enough. If you are having a party, expect to have enough liquor, mixers and garnishes for three drinks per person.
- Vodka (for vodka tonics, screwdrivers, and the vodka martini)
- Tequila (for margaritas, sunrises, and paloma)
- Gin (for martinis, gin and tonics, Tom Collinses)
- Rum (for daiquiris and mojitos)
- Bourbon (for Manhattans, old fashioneds, and whiskey sours)
- Scotch (optional)
The good news is that you don’t have to drain your bank account when buying most spirits. If you are going to splurge on any of the liquors, splurge on the one that you like and drink the most. If you’re stocking up for general entertaining, spend on bourbon and rum. These are both used frequently and their flavors are very strong. Vodka and gin tend to be served in mixed drinks so you can get away with less expensive brands.
Tequila can go either way: in the winter, most people steer clear of it. In the summer, splurge on a 100 percent agave tequila. Cheap tequilas contain corn syrup and grain alcohol which translate to one nasty hangover.
Scotch is also common at home bars, but if you’re just getting started, chances are you won’t need it on hand. If you entertain frequently and decide to stock it, spend the extra cash for a higher end brand, as it is generally sipped on the rocks.
Liquor will keep for a long time when stored in a cool place away from sunlight. The lower the liquid level, the faster you should consumer the liquor. Note: Vermouth, however, is a wine, and should be refrigerated and used fairly quickly.
Mixers are an essential part of your bar. It is likely that, if entertaining, your guests will want mixed drinks. Though some classic cocktails might require mixers that you wouldn’t normally have on hand, there are some basics that even the novice home mixologist should keep around.
- Tonic Water
- Home-squeezed fruit juice (buy 10 lemons, 10 limes, 5 oranges for every 20 guests)
- Cointreau (full of natural orange flavor, and not too sweet)
- Red Vermouth (for Manhattans)
- White Vermouth (essential for truly sublime martinis)
- Bitters (a common misconception, bitters are not used not to make the drink taste bitter, but to help other flavors blend).
It’s easy to confuse seltzer and tonic water, as many drinks that require one of these can be substituted by another. However, there is a difference between the two, as those of us who have accidentally purchased the wrong one have learned the hard way. Tonic water has mineral-like ingredients that enhance flavors and it can be high in calories depending on the brand. Seltzer water is simply just carbonated, meaning no it has no calories.
When it comes to garnishes, keep it simple, but splurge on the good stuff. Stock up on lemons and limes for martinis served with a twist. If you’re planning on serving a signature cocktail be sure to have plenty of the appropriate garnishes. For martini, pick high-quality, salty Sicilian olives and keep Maraschino or Luxardo cherries around for Manhattans.
For everyday use in your home bar, you only need six or eight of each of these three basic types: a short glass, a tall glass, and a stem. If you often have friends over for wine, invest in eight to 12 basic stemmed wineglasses, either a single shape that is appropriate for both red and white or separate sets of glasses for each. If you run with a crowd that favors martinis served up, six to eight martini glasses will keep you in business.
Barware is often overlooked until drinks are being made. To make basic drinks, you will need a jigger and a cocktail shaker. And don’t forget the napkins!
- Ice bag
- Bar spoon
- Cocktail shaker
- Ice cube trays
Bonus: the Non Alcoholic Bar
No one should be punished for passing up a cocktail (especially that friend who is pregnant but hasn’t told anyone yet…if you don’t have one, you soon will). If plain soda and canned juice are the only alternatives, an abstainer is likely to wind up thirsty. Mix fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice with a splash of seltzer to make a light cocktail. Also try sweetened, diluted lime and lemon juice served over crushed ice, or whip fresh or frozen berries in a blender with ice and a dash of lime.
These bar essentials will take you a long way. By having a stocked bar, you are able to entertain friends and make everyone’s signature cocktail. As you continue to entertain, you will be able to build onto your bar by adding more specific spirits with additional types of mixers and garnishes.