When stocking a bar, you have many choices. You can go the traditional full bar route and mimic a professional establishment. This will include the essential liquors and mixers needed for the most popular bar drinks, offering the most versatility in the cocktails you can make.
However, you don't need to include everything, and your home bar should be customized to what you actually drink. If you prefer whiskey over vodka, focus your attention on diversifying your whiskey selection. The same goes for liqueurs and nonalcoholic mixers. After all, there's no need to stock something you are not going to use.
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The foundation for the majority of cocktails, a well-rounded bar should include at least one bottle of each of the six base liquors. Stocking a good selection of these will ensure you can mix up almost any cocktail on a whim. If you feel like a whiskey cocktail tonight, you'll be ready. When brandy, gin, rum, tequila, or vodka sound good, you're also prepared to grab the shaker and mix up a drink.
Vodka Is Essential
Vodka has a clean, transparent flavor, and it is used for more cocktails than any other distilled spirit. Some people like vodka more than others, so stock according to your preference.
- A good budget-friendly bottle is ideal for tall drinks like the screwdriver and bloody mary.
- If you fancy a vodka martini, spend a little extra for a top-shelf bottle as well.
- Add your favorite flavored vodkas. In a traditional bar, citrus and vanilla vodkas are the trusted standbys.
A Versatile Gin or Two
Not everyone is a fan of gin. However, it is nice to have at least one bottle in every bar.
- In the least, a good bottle of a London dry gin is recommended. This is the most versatile and can work in everything from a dry martini to a gin and tonic.
- From there, explore the gin's versatility. Every brand is different, and you can customize your bar with a fascinating array of botanicals.
Tequilas for Margaritas
Tequila is key to margaritas, though there are other fascinating tequila cocktails to explore. Generally, you'll want to stock at least one nice tequila.
- The most versatile style is blanco (or silver) tequila, and it's the best option for a one-tequila bar.
- For a little upgrade, add a slightly aged reposado as well.
Two Rums Are Good
A well-stocked bar has at least two bottles of rum. You can spend as little or as much as you like, though rum tends to be one of the more affordable liquors.
- A light rum will be your workhorse for most cocktails, from the daiquiri to the mojito.
- As a secondary rum, take your pick of aged, dark, or spiced rum. Each has its own purpose, and which you choose will depend on your taste and the drinks you enjoy. If you really like tropical cocktails, dark rum is essential.
Choose Your Whiskey
Things get complicated when it comes to stocking whiskey because each style has its own characteristics and uses. This category is definitely going to be adapted to your personal style. In general, two bottles are good to start, and you can always add more. Ideally, a bar should have one bottle of each style.
- For the most versatility and mixability, stock a bourbon and Canadian whisky. The bourbon will give you that robust whiskey flavor, while the Canadian blends tend to be very smooth.
- Rye whiskey is another excellent choice for everyday mixed drinks. Though some drinkers find it too spicy, rye is excellent in almost any cocktail that calls for a generic whiskey. If you enjoy classic cocktails, give rye a try for an authentic taste.
- A bottle of Irish whiskey and a decent blended scotch are good complements to any bar. While they make excellent cocktails, they're not as common or as versatile as the other styles.
A Basic Brandy
A bottle of brandy rounds off a well-stocked bar, but it's not necessarily essential. Some people simply will not drink or mix with it, but if you want to explore classic cocktails, you'll find brandy very useful.Continue to 2 of 4 below.
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Liqueurs are often used as flavoring agents that define a cocktail. On occasion, they are the only distilled spirits in a drink. Liqueurs come in every flavor you could want and a bottle can last quite a long time. Start with the basics and gradually add to your stock as you see fit.
The Basic Liqueurs
As you explore cocktail recipes, you will quickly realize that some liqueurs make an appearance more often than others. These are among the most often used:
- Amaretto: The almond-flavored liqueur is used in both fancy and casual cocktails.
- Coffee Liqueur: White Russians and countless other cocktails rely on a bottle like Kahlúa.
- Dry and Sweet Vermouth: Technically, these are fortified wines, but they're essential for martinis.
- Irish Cream Liqueur: Baileys is a popular brand, though there are others worth checking out. You can also stock another cream liqueur, such as RumChata instead.
- Orange Liqueur: Used in countless cocktails, this one's invaluable. Options include curaçao, triple sec, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier, and many bars have two or more bottles in stock.
The Secondary Liqueurs
Depending on your drinking style and favorite cocktails, the following liqueurs are good to consider as well. If you're designing a complete bar, a bottle of each will set you up nicely, and you'll be able to mix almost any cocktail you come across.
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- Bénédictine D.O.M.: A sweet honey and herb liqueur that is smooth and famously paired with brandy in the B&B.
- Chambord: It's the iconic black raspberry liqueur brand, though any bottle of this flavor makes a good substitute.
- Crème de Cacao: This chocolate liqueur is either white (clear) or dark and is not creamy like some chocolate liqueurs.
- Crème de Menthe: The mint liqueur is either white (clear) or green. Peppermint schnapps is a good substitute.
- Ginger Liqueur: Ginger liqueurs add a sweet spice to cocktails. Domaine de Canton is popular, but other brands rival its taste.
- Drambuie: A scotch-based herbal liqueur, this is the ultimate companion to your whiskey stock.
- Frangelico: The best-known hazelnut liqueur, the monk-like bottle also looks great on the liquor shelf.
- Galliano L'Autentico: An anise and vanilla liqueur, it's not essential but useful for specific cocktails like the Harvey Wallbanger. The problem is finding a place in the bar for the extra-tall bottle.
- Maraschino Liqueur: A good cherry-flavored liqueur is a nice addition, and there are some nice options available.
- Melon Liqueur: Bright green and flavored with sweet melons. Midori is the most famous melon liqueur, though any brand can create some very fun drinks.
- St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur: This floral liqueur is a shining star in the modern bar and makes fascinating cocktails.
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Essential Nonalcoholic Mixers
Mixers are the nonalcoholic liquids that add flavor and volume to cocktails. The majority of these are likely already in your kitchen and easily found at almost any store.
Many mixers will keep in your bar for a long period of time. Check their freshness periodically and pay attention to expiration dates.
Ice (Yes, Ice!)
Ice is the most important ingredient for cocktails. You will use it in 98 percent of your drinks, either while mixing or in the glass itself. All ice is not created equal, however, and it is important to use clean, fresh ice and know the difference between the various forms of ice. A little knowledge goes a long way to improving every cocktail you mix up.
Juice is easy: pick up a bottle or two during your next trip to the supermarket. Of course, it's best to use fresh juice whenever possible. However, for everyday drinking, those bottles of ready-to-pour juices are very convenient.
- Lemon and Lime Juice: Used as accents in too many cocktails to count, these citrus fruits are invaluable in a bar. They're also the easiest to squeeze fresh.
- Orange Juice: From the screwdriver to the tequila sunrise and many other cocktails, a good bottle of OJ will instantly diversify your cocktail game.
- Cranberry Juice: Whether it's for the cosmopolitan or a vodka cranberry, this sweet juice is required for many great drinks.
- Grapefruit Juice: Not essential, but really nice to have in stock. Grapefruit can be used in tall and short drinks and is ideal for summer cocktails.
- Pineapple Juice: Tropical drinks use a lot of pineapple juice. Try to buy small bottles or cans so it's always fresh.
- Tomato Juice: If you love a bloody mary, tomato juice is essential.
More Essential Mixers
There are a few more ingredients that you'll want in your bar. These are ranked in order of importance to help you prioritize. Quite a few mixers can also be made at home, which will save money.
- Bitters: It is amazing what a dash or two of bitters can do to the flavor of almost any cocktail. Aromatic and orange bitters are used most often, and a bottle of each can last years.
- Simple Syrup: Sugar and water... that's it! This is the best way to sweeten cocktails, and it's effortless to make.
- Sour Mix: Commonly used in tropical cocktails, this mixer brings citrus fruit into the sweet syrup base.
- Grenadine: Flavored with pomegranate juice, this red syrup is found in most bars and is essential for many great drinks, including the tequila sunrise.
- Milk, Half-and-Half, or Cream: Buy these as needed because of the limited shelf life (or raid the kitchen). They're useful for comforting drinks like the white Russian.
- Coffee: You will find that the best coffee cocktails do not come from a standard drip coffee machine. Try brewing methods that create richer, stronger brew like a French press.
- Tea: There are many great hot and cold tea cocktails to explore and many types of tea to try in them. Black teas tend to mix best.
- Tabasco Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce: If you stock tomato juice, these are essential accompaniments. Beyond the bloody mary, you'll find they add a nice spice or savory flavor to many drinks.
Consider stocking a variety of sodas. The list is simple and includes the basics that you are likely to encounter in recipes. When choosing sodas, try to pick up something other than the most famous brands. Today's craft soda market is impressive and can really upgrade the most basic of mixed drinks.
When buying soda for the bar, try to buy small bottles. Individual servings that work for one or two drinks will ensure you're not mixing with flat soda. Liter bottles are good for the sodas you use semi-daily and will use up within the week, though two-liters are best reserved for party service.Continue to 4 of 4 below.
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Garnishes are the finishing touch that adds visual appeal and a splash of flavor to cocktails. Realistically, you're probably not going to add a garnish to every drink. However, squeezing a lime wedge into a gin and tonic or expressing an orange peel over your martinis can take your beverages from ordinary to spectacular.
The three citrus fruits are the most common garnishes, whether as twists, wheels, or wedges. Have a few of each around the bar, and you can use them as both a garnish and a source of fresh juice.
- Maraschino Cherries: Make your own or try to find maraschinos that are more natural than those bright red, syrupy ones that are so common.
Nice to Have Around
- Olives: Required for the traditional dry martini garnish.
- Cocktail Onions: Fun alternatives to olives and the key to turning your martini into a Gibson.
- Mint: If you're mixing mojitos and mint juleps, fresh mint is essential and an easy herb to grow in a kitchen garden.
- Coarse Salt and Granulated Sugar: These are used to add a sweet or salty rim to your glass for drinks like the margarita.
- Cinnamon: A single cinnamon stick adds a nice flavor to hot cocktails.
- Grated Nutmeg: A great complement to many winter and creamy cocktails.
- Celery or Pickles: The iconic garnishes for a good bloody mary.
- Whipped Cream: A dollop on top of sweet dessert cocktails is a nice finishing touch. The canned whipped topping variety is extremely convenient.