When trying to be the better host in the new year, one question may arise: How do I stock my bar so I’m not scrounging up half-consumed bottles of cheap vodka at all of my parties? Stocking a bar for entertaining may seem like a tall order. When you go to your local drinking hole, there’s literally an entire wall filled with various liquors, mixers, and garnishes. Putting that together for basic entertaining seems excessive… and expensive.
And that would be correct. Having a killer bar for most entertaining scenarios is a bit of an undertaking, but it’s not going to empty your wallet or take up half of your kitchen. A small variety of basic ingredients is all you need, and you’ll be surprised at the dozens and dozens of cocktails you can make with a small bar, which will always be prepared for a party at any time of year.
Gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, and tequila are the standard liquors that most of the people you will be hosting will be familiar with, and thus, want to drink. If we’re talking purely essentials, you’ll want mid-range liquors (think the big brands: Jack Daniel’s, Absolut, Cruzan) that will still taste good in various cocktails without draining your bank account. You can add different, more unique liquors and pricier brands to your bar over time, but these classics are a good jumping-off point.
You want mixers that have a decent shelf life and that can be used for multiple cocktails, so stock simple, fizzy beverages, such as lemon-lime soda, tonic water, club soda, ginger beer, and cola. It’s also handy to have a variety of juices on hand, such as pineapple juice, apple cider, orange juice, cranberry juice, and tomato juice. These various ingredients can easily be mixed and matched to make most standard mixed drinks.
Add a little flourish to your bar with a few garnishes. Fresh lemons, limes, oranges, and celery can make a normal cocktail feel ultra-special with just a little handy knife work. Jarred standbys such as maraschino cherries, cocktail onions, and olives are also essential.
Salt and pepper are essential in any kitchen, and they’re necessary for your bar as well. Seasoned salt, celery salt, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and fine-grain sugar are ingredients in many cocktails, and you’ll find that your drinks are just missing a little something if they don’t have them. Additionally, while not seasonings per se, Angostura bitters and simple syrup are also necessary ingredients for any bar for an extra dash (or three) of flavor.
Adding in fresh, herbal flavors to your drinks is one of the biggest trends at the moment. Mint is a classic standby for mojitos and fancy waters. Consider incorporating thyme, rosemary, and basil into your drinks for an extra dose of freshness.
Of course, you can’t have an essential bar without the most basic tools. At the very least, you’ll need a shaker, strainer, bottle opener, ice scoop, tongs, bar spoon, and a jigger. Make sure you also have standard barware, including martini glasses, highball glasses, and Champagne flutes.
This story was originally published by Allison Beck on Jan. 10, 2011.