Tips for stocking up your home bar
So, you read our post on how to create a home bar; you got all the bits and bobs you need to mix up some wicked cocktails, and then… crickets.
You haven’t got any of the most essential stuff, the booze!
Really, all the strainers and shakers in the world will not make a party go off with a bang if you have got no party juice to play with!
Remember, there’s no point going out and buying these things all at once- unless you have a big party planned and your cupboards are totally bare… Better to add one or two bits at a time, for space reasons, to gauge your tastes and level of usage for each spirit, and of course, for the benefit of your wallet!! When you have guests visit, they will often bring a small gift with them- flowers and chocolates seem to be a little less popular than before, and boutique spirits are on the rise.
Read on for our tips on how to stock your home bar.
Vodka is an essential ingredient in many mixed drinks and cocktail recipes. It’s pretty much a requirement behind the bar because it’s used in so many mixed beverages and cocktails.
I would suggest buying a decent brand, or something you know you like for vodka-based cocktails. A cheap vodka has a very harsh taste that mixers just can’t drown out. There are also many flavoured vodkas that appeal to certain drinkers, and can be fun as sipping drinks. With a decent vodka, you can make many of these at home yourself.
A classic London dry gin, such as Beefeater, will come in handy when making martinis, gin & tonics, and other delicious cocktails. Consider getting a more botanical gin, or even a selection of classics such as Hendricks, Tanqueray, or a vibrant, citrussy Malfi to offer to sophisticated gin connoisseurs.
Some prefer brown spirits neat or over ice, while others like it in mixed drinks. Keep at least two distinct varieties of whiskey on hand to offer guests.
You’ll need a bottle of single malt scotch whiskey or Irish whisky, and probably a bourbon to cover most of the bases. Some people swear by a blended whisky for mixed drinks- I personally think it tastes like pain, but of course, that’s up to you!
This is very much to your personal taste. It is worth doing some extensive tastings before you drop some serious money on a single malt!
My father enjoys whisky and water – so an attractive water jug is also a nice idea if you know someone with similar tastes.
You’ll need both a dark and a white rum to hand. White rums are fantastic for mixed drinks like a Cubra Libre, also for mojitos, and daiquiris. A decent dark rum is just what the doctor ordered if you’re going to make any tropical or tiki cocktails. A spiced rum is also a good spirit to have on hand to add a depth of flavour to cocktails, or even as a more autumnal alternative to a rum and coke.
If your visitors are expecting Margaritas on the drink menu, you’ll want to stock tequila on hand. There are plenty of other tequila-based cocktails, including the Paloma and Tequila Sunrise, as well as variations on classic drinks using Tequila rather than their original spirit.
Grab some limes and salt in case things get out of hand during the party, since your guests may want to do some tequila shots.
Note please, that all tequila is not created equal. A cheap tequila is a headache in a bottle! Some premium brands are on offer these days and you can even purchase sipping tequilas. This is not the bottle to offer at the end of the night when salt is flying over everyone’s shoulder!
Other beverages you really must keep on hand in order to be an excellent host, include both red and white wine. Stocking a variety pack of craft beers is another excellent choice. If you’re not sure what kinds of craft beer to offer, consider buying a sample or mixed pack. Beer and wine are both very sophisticated these days, so even if you haven’t enjoyed one or the other in the past, it might be a good time to try them again.
If your guests have a particular favourite drink, it is a nice touch to provide that for them if your budget and time constraints allow. However, people will often bring their particular favourites with them to parties and gatherings, rather than risk going without them.
Mixers are used in a wide range of mixed beverages that would be significantly different without them.
Cartons of orange, cranberry, pineapple and tomato juice are practical and tend to last a while if unopened. They are also helpful to have for day to day use, so consider having a well rotated store cupboard of juices.
Cranberry juice is used to make the Cosmopolitan. For just about any tropical drink, pineapple juice is a must. You cannot avoid having fresh limes and lemons in your home bar, for garnish and as cocktail flavourings. For ease and economy, consider buying a jif lemon or similar. They last for ages and really help if your hand is sore from crushing endless citruss fruits!
You will also want plenty of fruit juices and mixers to create delicious mocktails for those who don’t want to consume alcohol!
Depending on the sort of party or drinks you are putting on, consider your dairy mixers as well. The White Russian, for example, is made with milk, cream, and a generous dollop of vodka. It pays to have some milk and cream (or non-dairy alternatives) on hand in case of emergency white Russian requests! A Brown Cow is much the same mix, using Kahlua in place of the vodka. Delicious!
While on the subject of Russian themed drinks, ginger beer is an excellent ingredient in the Moscow Mule Cocktail. Ginger ale or American dry ginger is also a wonderful accompaniment to a bourbon for a Rat Pack vibe.
All fizzy mixers such as tonic, soda, ginger ale and so on should be stocked in mini cans for individual drinks, and large bottles for parties. If you can get your hands on a vintage soda syphon you can have fun making up your own mixers, otherwise make sure they are kept in a dark place.
MISC Flavours and Mixers
Some cocktails will call for small amounts of other flavours or mixers.
Simple syrup is a simple combination of equal parts sugar and water. It’s easy to make at home and can really change a cocktail completely.
Angostura bitters is invaluable in a load of different drinks- particularly if, like me, you aren’t a fan of endless sweet drinks.
Tabasco, or another brand of hot sauce, is most frequently used in a Bloody Mary, and Worcestershire sauce adds a savoury touch to many mixed drinks. Always handy to have on hand for both food and drinks needs.
Things like grenadine can come in handy if you make a lot of cocktails or mixed drinks, as can items such as coconut milk, fresh fruits for garnish, and salt or sugar for frosting the rims of glasses.
As time goes on, you will find out what you value and need in your cocktail cabinet, so enjoy finding out!
You should be prepared to use ice in almost every drink you prepare. It may seem obvious, but you’ll employ it in nearly every cocktail and mixed drink you create. It is a nice touch to offer it in soft drinks as well, even though in the UK this still isn’t de rigeur!
Many a party has hit the skids while someone has been sent out to scrounge up ice at some ungodly hour, so make sure you keep an eye on levels as the party progresses!