If you’ve ever considered starting a home bar, the festive season is probably the ideal time. Soon you’ll be hosting dinner parties with family and friends, and you’ll be able to impress them with a diverse range of pre-dinner cocktails and exotic nightcaps. If the idea sounds exciting but you don’t know where to begin, don’t worry, we have you covered.
The first thing to know is that you don’t need to run out and buy every spirit or liqueur under the sun. To get started, we’ve identified seven of the most versatile bottles you’ll need to get going.
This is an obvious one. Generally an inexpensive spirit, it is used in many popular cocktails including the Bloody Mary, Moscow Mule, Screwdriver and Vodka Martini. Whilst there are many options out there, one well known and trusted brand is Absolut — produced in southern Sweden. Start with the brand’s standard bottle which can be purchased for around $40 AUD to perfect your vodka-based drinks, and then move onto the more premium Absolut Vodka Elyx Single Estate, priced at $80. The Elyx promises more complexity and is said to be suitable to drink on the rocks.
Gin & Tonic is a staple on any bar’s drinks menu and it should be in your home bar too. As gin is a relatively easy and low-cost spirit to make, there’s a vast number of options out there which is kind of a good and bad thing as too much choice can be confusing. As your bar matures, you’ll no doubt be exploring some of the more boutique options available but as a starting point, go with a bottle that’s tried and tested and also offers something a little special. The Beefeater 24 is made from 12 handpicked botanicals including Japanese Sencha, Chinese Green Tea and Grapefruit Peels. Priced at around $60, it’s definitely not on the cheaper side of the scale but it will give your G&T a little eastern twist to impress your guests.
Tequila is great to have around for times when a guest arrives late and wants to catch up to where everyone else is at – if you get the drift. Having said that, it’s all fun and games until someone wakes up with a huge splitting headache from the shots. To avoid this, make sure you only serve tequila which says 100% agave on the bottle. Olmeca Altos produces plata (white), reposado (slightly aged) and anejo (aged between 1-3 years) tequila which can be used in various cocktails such as the Margherita and Tequila sunrise.
This is an interesting one and probably wide open for debate. Whilst whisky probably isn’t the first spirit that comes to mind for versatility in cocktails, it would seem remiss not to have at least one bottle in your bar. However, if you are into whisky, you probably already have a few stocked up. How much you like whisky, what you know about it, and how you like to drink it will heavily influence what you decide to stock. Much like wine, there isn’t really a better type of wine, it just comes down to personal preference. Now, if you don’t really know where to start, then Chivas Regal XV is worth considering. At $90 it’s in a price range where you’d likely be happy to sip it neat as well as use in a fancy cocktail. Finished in Grande Champagne Cognac casks, it’s sweet and fruity making it easier to appreciate for those who aren’t used to the spirit.
If your friends generally love beer, then perhaps there’s another way to entertain them with whiskey. Albeit, a very different kind of whiskey. The Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition, as the name suggests, is finished in IPA beer barrels, giving this drink a hoppy characteristic. Definitely serve it neat for guests to experience its intended taste and then whip up an Old Fashioned or a Jameson Caskmates, Tonic & Lemon to enjoy it further.
You’ve most likely heard of these rum favourites: Mojito, Pina Colada and Daiquiri. All three of those classic cocktails use light rum and generally speaking, it is more versatile than dark rum. We would recommend your first rum bottle to be the former rather than the latter. Either way, Havana Club have you covered with both the anejo 3 (light) and anejo 7 (dark). The anejo 7 is perfect for a Dark ’n’ Stormy or to enjoy neat.
Nobody really talks about Vermouth… most people probably haven’t even heard of it but did you know that it’s a common ingredient of widely popular cocktails like the Martini, the Manhattan and the Negroni. Lillet is an easy one to start with as it’s nice and sweet with honey, candied orange and floral aromas. Do note, vermouth is a fortified wine, not a spirit, so once the bottle is opened it only lasts about 3 months as compared to years that the spirits can be kept.
Just a few more things — 0n top of everything we’ve mentioned above, you’ll also need some bar staples like Angostura Bitters, some soda and tonic water (Fever-Tree has a quality selection), and sugar cubes or sugar water. Armed with all of that and a quick search on how to make killer cocktails, you’re set to be the most popular host for this festive season.