Everything You Need for a Well-Stocked Home Bar to Entertain During the Holiday Season
By Daisy Barringer
If you plan on entertaining during the holidays, make sure you have the necessary ingredients to whip up some fantastic cocktails for your friends and family. After all, nothing makes spirits bright quite like spirits.
Don’t worry: if you’re starting your bar from scratch, you don’t need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars. Instead, pick one or two drinks that you’d like to be able to offer guests and make sure you have the required ingredients and bar tools as well as beer, wine, and non-alcoholic options. This list is a great place to start and also to refer back to as you expand your bar.
Of course, there’s no point in having everything you need to concoct a cocktail if you don’t know how to make it, so be sure to pick up a book that will tell you everything you need to know. We like The Savoy Cocktail Book ($20 at Amazon) and Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails ($27 at Amazon). Our advice is to pick a couple of classic drinks and master those. You’ll find all of the tools you need to do so below.
(And don’t forget: you can never have too much ice. If someone offers to bring something to your celebration, that’s a great thing to ask for.)
A Stylish Bar Cart
Since most homes don’t have a built-in bar, a bar cart that you can store when not in use or that doubles as home décor is the best option for when you’re playing host. There are stylish options to go with every kind of home décor. Here are a few we like:
Mid-Century Bar Cart in Walnut
Gold Metal, Wood, and Leather Bar Cart
Round Art Deco Antiqued Gold Bar Cart
Acrylic Tray Table
You don’t need a ton of tools to make a quality cocktail, but you do need a few, including a cocktail shaker, a bar spoon, a strainer, and a jigger. A garnish peeler, juicer, and muddler can also come in handy. Here’s why:
A cocktail shaker integrates all of the drink’s ingredients and provides the proper amount of dilution for drinks served “up.” It can also double as a mixing beaker for drinks that are stirred, not shaken, but still need to be strained.
Not sure when to shake or when to stir?
- Shake when the cocktail is made with citrus, other juices, cream, eggs, or dairy products in general. You should usually shake for around seven seconds.
- Stir when the cocktail is made solely with spirits or when the soda/tonic/sparkling wine is added at the end. Yes, that’s right: James Bond did not order his martinis properly, though, of course, one can always do whatever they want. Stirring takes longer than shaking; you’ll usually want to stir your cocktail for about 30 seconds.
If your shaker does not have a strainer, you’ll need to get one. Strainers remove any ice or solid ingredients (like muddled fruit) as you pour the drink into the glass.
If the cocktail calls to be stirred, you’ll want to use a bar spoon to make sure everything is mixed properly. A spiral handle helps the spoon twist easily in your hand while stirring, and stainless steel ensures that the taste of the drink won’t be affected. If you want to get fancy, you can also use the spoon to measure (the bowl is about one teaspoon), and if you pour liquid slowly over the back of the bowl of the spoon, that helps it stay on top instead of mixing in with the other liquids.
A jigger is a tool that helps you measure what you’re putting into your cocktail. Even if your drink recipe isn’t complicated, it’s a good idea to use a jigger when making drinks so that your drinks are consistent and well-balanced (and no one is being over-served).
While some cocktails call for garnishes that don’t require any work, like an olive or onion, if a drink comes with a twist, a peeler is a must. Not only will it look elegant, but also when you squeeze the twist, it adds an aromatic oil that is an essential ingredient for a complete drink.
Cocktails always taste better and more balanced with fresh juice, and a hand-held juicer makes sure the juice and the citrus oils make it into the drink.
If you want to make a Caipirinha, an Old Fashioned, or a mojito, you’ll need a muddler to extract the essential oils from herbs or the juice from fruit.
Mixologist Cocktail Bar Set
Includes: shaker, stirring spoon, wooden muddler, strainer, mixing glass, and shot glass.
Stainless Steel Bar Tool Set with Stand
Includes: shaker, strainer, jigger, bottle opener, garnish knife, stirrer, and ice tongs.
Bar Set with Bamboo Stand
Includes: shaker/strainer, jigger, muddler, bar spoon, Hawthorne strainer, liquor pourers, ice tongs, corkscrew
Manual Citrus Press Juicer
Stainless Steel Cocktail Muddler
OXO Good Grips Pro Swivel Peeler
The Proper Glasses
Glassware for cocktails serves a few different purposes besides just being a vessel for the liquid. These are the three types every bar should have:
A highball glass is used to serve “tall” cocktails that contain a lot of non-alcoholic mixer and are poured over ice.
Luminarc Barcraft Highball Glass, Set of 4
Classic Highball Glasses, Set of 4 (monogram optional)
A lowball glass is used to serve cocktails that are spirit-forward with a limited number of ingredients, like an Old Fashioned or a scotch and soda.
Bola Double Old Fashioned Glass
Dorset Crystal Double Old Fashioned Glasses, Set of 4
A martini glass is used to serve, that’s right: martinis. The long stem ensures that the drink, which is meant to be served very cold, doesn’t warm up too quickly.
Modern Martini Glass, Set of 4
A well-stocked bar is all about options. If you want to be able to make your guests their favorite drinks, you should have vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, and rum on hand. A mid-range level is the way to go because you don’t want to serve anyone booze that’s so cheap it will induce a hangover, but you also don’t need your friends polishing off a bottle of $100 sipping tequila.
If you don’t want to buy every kind of spirit, a vodka and a whiskey are usually all you need to please everyone’s palate.
Liqueurs are the flavoring agents you add to the base spirit. There are lots of different kinds, but you should be sure to stock:
- Dry and sweet vermouth if you plan on making martinis (Note: vermouth needs to be refrigerated once it has been opened, and it goes bad after about three or four months)
- Irish cream liqueur (like Bailey’s) if you plan on spiking coffee or eggnog (you can also add brandy, rum/Cognac, or bourbon to eggnog)
- Orange liqueur if you want to make margaritas
If you have guests coming over, ask them to bring their preferred mixer. Some good ones to have on hand are club soda, tonic water, simple syrup (sugar and water is a great way to sweeten cocktails, and you can also make it yourself), and bitters.
Like mixers, there’s a plethora of garnishes you can use. If you’re having a party, pick a few cocktails you’ll be serving and make sure you have plenty of whichever garnish is required. Otherwise, it’s nice to always have lemons, limes, oranges, and maraschino cherries. Cocktail onions, olives, and mint also come in handy.
(And again: don’t forget to make sure you have lots and lots of ice!)