Holiday party season has begun. If you want to host a great holiday bash, your bar had better be ready. Sure, you could always just open a bottle of wine, but come mid-December, your guests (and your wallet), will be over it. Avoid this problem by preparing an at-home holiday bar.
Contrary to what most believe, entertaining doesn’t have to be expensive. On the flipside, you also don’t need the cheap wine and sugary mixes. You can stock your bar with fewer than 100 bucks to spend and still whip up some great cocktails.
A pound of ice for each guest will keep you from going through all your booze on the first round, and if you make it yourself, it’s free. Also, creating flavored seltzers and soda waters for mixed drinks will save you cash on pre-made mixers.
Instead of buying over-the-top garnishes, sugars, and spices, hit up your pantry. Spices like cinnamon, clove, and ginger, as well as additions like homemade simple syrup can add layers of flavor to your mixed drinks. Fun garnishes like mini candy canes and chocolate candies are a festive touch, but cocktail olives and onions will get you just as far.
Ready to get your bar as stocked as your Christmas stocking? Here's how to stock your bar with enough ingredients to keep a dozen people happy throughout your party for under $100.
Lemons, limes, and oranges go a long way in a cocktail. Squeeze them into your guests’ drinks for a fresh and vibrant juice that will add an extra layer of flavor to any cocktail. Fresh citrus fruits don’t cost much per pound, so a bowlful of flavor will only put you out a few dollars. For a small party, a pound of lemons, limes, or oranges can cost under $5. (Your cost so far: $5.)
If you don’t have one, get one. This will save your life when it comes to mixing the perfect cocktail. You can score one for a few bucks at your local dollar store or online. It’s a must, even for an amateur bartender. Depending on the quality, the cheap ones can cost as little as $2.99. (Your cost so far: $7.99)
Coffee- and tea-based cocktails are a hit during the holiday season. Luckily, most of us already have coffee and tea in our pantries. You can easily spike them and enhance them with flavors of the season like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger — all things you most likely have in your spice rack as well. If you already have the coffee or tea, this is a free addition to your holiday bar. If not, tea bags and instant coffee will cost you somewhere under $5. (Your cost so far: $12.99.)
A little garnish goes a long way. Cocktail olives and onions don’t just enhance image, they provide flavor. Also, additions like salted and sugared rims, pepper, and Tabasco sauce are just as appealing to the mouth as to the eye. Each ring in at about $2 per small bottle, making them a budget-friendly cocktail essential. For a small party, you’ll only need to buy one or two of each, keeping you under $10 total. (Your cost so far: $ $22.99.)
Of course you need booze, but you don’t need to overdo it. Choose one light liquor or one dark liquor for the season and focus your recipes around whatever you choose. Light or dark rum is great for mixing holiday-centric drinks like eggnog, hot toddies, spiked coffees, and more. Rum is an affordable spirit that works well with almost any mixer. Don’t bother with the big brand names if you're on a budget; you can find cheap liters of rum, vodka, and whiskey for around $14 a pop. Think about it this way: If you truly want to get the most bang for your buck, any brand will do the trick, regardless of the price. (Your cost so far: $50.99.)
It’s not the holidays without something bubbly. We’re not talking three-figure Champagne, though. We’re talking about a $7 bottle of prosecco to enjoy alone or for a mimosa (prosecco and orange juice). If you buy two bottles of the cheap (but good) stuff — like Andre — it will only cost you about $15. (Your cost so far: $80.99.)
Don’t buy simple syrup when you can make your own syrup instead. All it takes is a cup of sugar and a cup of water. Simmer over medium heat until completely dissolved and allow it to cool. Keep it in an airtight container or pour into a squeeze bottle for easy use. For deeper, richer syrups, swap out white sugar for brown. This version works nicely in rum drinks, whiskey cocktails, and anything else with brown booze. Luckily, if you make it at home, and assuming that you already have sugar in your cupboard, this won’t cost you anything.