Next to a great spread of food and some swinging tunes, no holiday gathering is complete without a well-stocked bar- it’s what keeps everyone holly and jolly after all! However pulling together an assortment of liquors, mixers, and garnishes can be an overwhelming and expensive endeavor, especially if you are unsure of your guests drinking preferences. Beyond collecting all of the ingredients, it’s also important to consider how much time you want to spend behind the bar mixing drinks for friends. For larger get-togethers simplicity is often best- no one should be fresh squeezing lime juice for their gimlet while in their holiday best. Luckily with a little bit of pre-party planning and prep and some smart selection of mixers, it’s easy to craft delicious cocktails that have a complexity of flavor but not preparation.
So what to get for your upcoming holiday shin-dig?
I pulled together my favorite bar basics that can easily craft up to 20 mixed drinks and simple cocktails, most only needing 2-3 ingredients to make. Cognizant of costs, I try to find a balance between splurge-worthy boozes that guest can sip on and less expensive bottles that work perfectly well in mixed drinks. As always, try and tailor your selections to your crowd. If all of your friends are majorly into bourbon make sure to have a few different bottles on hand. And be sure to have a ready supply of alcohol-free alternatives for your designated drivers and guest who choose not to imbibe. This time of year it’s always nice to have a gallon of fresh cider in the fridge- it's great for mixing with bourbon and rum but also delicious on its own!
Great base liquors to have on hand:
- A good vodka is an absolute must for any home bar. It’s neutral flavor makes is a real crowd-pleaser and is the perfect base for a handful of simple and tasty drinks. Try Ketel One if you plan on mixing up Martini’s. I always like to have a less expensive vodka like Smirnoff in the pantry for mixed drinks or punches (or for when the good stuff is gone.)
- Whiskey is another bar essential that mixes up well with just a few other ingredients. I like to have a “house” bourbon in a decanter for easy mixed drinks (shh… it’s Ezra Brooks!) as well as a bottle of a nice rye or Canadian whiskey for those who’d like to mix up a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
- Gin is a liquor that people either love or hate, but for those who enjoy the herbly-pine flavor, it’s an important bar staple. I think gin is a great year-round liquor that again is so easy to mix with just a few other ingredients to make a great tasting cocktail. Tanqueray is a good mid-priced gin to try.
- Other liquors to consider:
o A dark spiced rum’s warm sweet flavor is nice to have on hand this time of year. Try Kraken or Pyrat.
o For me tequila is more of a summer liquor but depending on the taste preferences of your guests, it might be a nice addition to your home bar.
o I don’t often keep Bailey’s on hand but it was recommended by everyone at work to have for holiday guests to drink on ice or in coffee.
Liqueurs and mixers to complete your drinks:
- Sodas and sparking waters: Ginger ale, ginger beer, club soda, tonic water, Coke, and grapefruit soda are all great mixers that pair well with many of the above liquors. For larger parties pick up a 2 liter of each, for smaller gatherings get small screw-top bottles or cans.
- Luxardo Maraschino cherries. The best there is and worth the splurge if Old Fashioned are on your menu.
- Chambord (raspberry liqueur,) Cointreau (orange liqueur,) and a Ginger liqueur are great to have on hand for tasty cocktail concoctions. They add sweetness and complexity to your drinks and keep well for many months in your bar.
- Bitters. Angostura bitters are a classic and essential bitter to have on hand, especially if you're planning on making Old Fashioned's, Manhattan's, or Champagne cocktails. I really like mixing up these drinks by adding in Black Walnut, Orange, or Cherry bitters.
- Lemon, lime, orange, and pineapple juice. Save yourself the time and buy all of these ahead of time. Use fresh lemons, limes and oranges for garnishes and pre-cut everything before your guests arrive. Fresh mint is nice to have on hand as well to use in your cocktails and as a pretty garnish.
- Simple syrup- make ahead or buy a bottle of it. It's also nice to have sugar cubes.
- Ice. Lots and lots of ice. I try to start making batches of ice at least a week ahead of time and keep extra ice in gallon sized plastic bags. If you're having a large party or forget to plan ahead just grab a bag of ice at the grocery store!
In addition to the above, I like to have at least a bottle of white wine (like a Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay,) a bottle of red wine (like a Cabernet,) and a bottle or two of sparkling wine (which also mixes well with many essential bar items.) If you're party guests are more into beer pick up a couple varieties of beer and hard cider as well.
While this may seem like a lot, you don't have to break the bank to have a well stocked bar. Choose where you want to save and splurge and don't buy anything that you or your guests probably won't drink. The great thing about stocking up your bar this holiday season is that many of the essential items will keep long past party time (unless your friends and family are total lushes!)
Have a fabulous Friday!!