There’s no one way to stock your home bar. After all, a bar is a reflection of who you are and what you like.
And even if you want your guests to be able to craft a wide range of cocktails — basics like a daiquiri, martini or Gibson — you don’t need a ton of spirits or mixers. You just need the right bottles.
If you’re looking for the basic setup, start with five bottles: a vodka, a London dry gin, a blanco tequila, a light rum, and either a bourbon or rye whiskey. Pick up a few mixers like tonic water and sparkling mineral water, a lemon, a lime, and some sweet and dry vermouth and a bottle of bitters, and your guests will be ready to make just about anything they’d like.
Pretty simple, right? Not really. Have you walked through the whiskey aisle at your liquor store lately? The number of choices can make your head spin.
That’s why we reached out to experts — party-planning guides, liquor store owners and the like — to help you figure out what to get. But rather than lay out the particular “must get” spirits you need to stock your bar, we’re going to suggest the questions you should ask at your local well-stocked liquor store.
Let’s start with vodka. Although it’s supposed to be a flavorless, odorless and colorless spirit, there are producers making interesting vodkas that have distinct flavors and aromas. There are vodkas made of grapes, potatoes, wheat. So ask yourself, what sounds appealing?
Then there’s gin. Although there are more variations than you may think, stick with a London dry gin, which is flavored with a mix of juniper berries, coriander seed and citrus peel. There’s been a lot of experimentation lately with different ingredients to add to the spirit’s flavor, but we suggest making sure that a gin with an offbeat spice like cinnamon remains balanced so your martini doesn’t end up tasting like a snickerdoodle.
Both blanco tequilas and light rums should be interesting on their own while also working well in a cocktail. Otherwise there’s little separating them from vodka. In the case of tequila, that means the spirit should have a complex, vegetal, citrusy element. Light rums should be sweet and smooth while also having some depth.
Finally, there’s whiskey. Do you want sweeter and fruitier (bourbon) or spicier (rye)? We like bourbon, but even so, there are so many options. Do you want a smooth, wheated bourbon, like Maker’s Mark, or a spicy high rye like Bulleit?
If we’re choosing one, we might go with the well-rounded spicy yet honeyed, fruity, budget-friendly Bulleit, which can add depth to classics like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned while still being delicious on its own.
But with whiskey, or any of these spirits, you almost — emphasis on the almost — can’t go wrong.
How do you make that?
Five simple recipes to get you started, all from classic guides “Difford’s Encyclopedia of Cocktails” by Simon Difford or “Classic Cocktails” by Salvatore Calabrese.
▪ Manhattan dry: Stir 21/2 ounces bourbon, 1 ounce sweet vermouth and 3 dashes Angostura bitters with ice. Strain into a glass. Garnish with maraschino cherries. (Difford)
▪ Daiquiri: Shake 21/2 ounces rum, 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice and 1/2 ounce simple syrup with ice. Strain into a glass. Garnish with lime wedge. (Difford)
▪ Vodka martini: Pour 23/4 ounces vodka into a chilled glass. Add 1-2 drops vermouth. Stir. Garnish with lemon twist or olive. (Calabrese)
▪ Margarita: Pour into a shaker 1 ounce tequila, 1 ounce fresh lime juice and 3/4 ounce triple sec (or Cointreau). Shake, then strain into glass (salt-rimmed, if you like). (Calabrese)
▪ Gin and tonic: Pour 2 ounces gin into an ice-filled Collins glass; fill with tonic. Run lime wedge around rim of glass. Squeeze and drop into drink. (Difford)