How to equip a bar
January 17, 2011 8:38 PM   Subscribe

Bar essentials. If I want to stock a bar, what are some essential ingredients for mixing?
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure that many more people will chime in here, but:
tonic water
club soda
limes/lemons and maybe oranges
orange juice
simple syrup (make your own!)

Most importantly:
lots of ice
posted by rossination at 8:45 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Angostura Bitters
posted by griphus at 8:46 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh! Also, a good, utilitarian cocktail book. Someone else can point you toward that a lot better than I, however.
posted by griphus at 8:47 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by John Cohen at 8:51 PM on January 17, 2011

Always keep these:

a can of tomato juice (it'll keep til you need it)
a can of pineapple juice (same)
vermouth (sweet and dry)
Angostura bitters
Peychaud's bitters
triple sec or cointreau

You'll have a lot more turnover of these:
ginger ale
club soda (seltzer works)
juices that aren't in cans.

If you're having a party, buy 50% more ice than you think you might go through.
posted by oreofuchi at 8:51 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good start, off the top of my head I would add:

Vermouth, Ginger-ale, Green Olives, Jar of Maraschino Cherries.
posted by token-ring at 8:52 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chambord (tastes like Ribena) for shots, champagne cocktails, or to mix with lemonade.

Amaretto - tastes like red starburst lollies.

ps: eponysterical?
posted by KLF at 8:56 PM on January 17, 2011

Club soda
Sweet & Sour (make your own, premade is horrible)
Simple syrup (make your own)
Sugar cubes
Angostura Bitters
Vermouth (sweet and dry). Get the smallest bottles you can and store them in the fridge. I'm convinced that most people who hate vermouth have only had it from dusty bottles that have been sitting unused and spoiled since the Carter Administration.

That should get you 90% there.
posted by mikesch at 8:57 PM on January 17, 2011

A metal cup shaker, a muddling tool, a bar strainer that easily fits the rim of a pint glass, sugar and salt to rim glasses.
posted by Term of Art at 8:58 PM on January 17, 2011

Buy a good corkscrew, like one made by Pulltap. Not one of the silly ones with the wings that open up as you screw it in, nor one of the $60 Rabbit ones. Just a basic, well-made waiters corkscrew that takes up no space and lasts forever, and works perfectly every time.

Also, I don't think anyone mentioned straws and toothpicks and little napkins yet.
posted by twblalock at 9:44 PM on January 17, 2011

The Ace Saloon home mixology blog has a series of posts about setting up your bar, including this great one on mixers.
posted by judith at 9:55 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Alcohol, with some specific brand suggestions
  • rye or a decent bourbon; Jim Beam Rye, Woodford Reserve
  • blended scotch; Johnny Walker Black or Chivas
  • Jamaican rum; Appleton estates
  • gin; Hendricks
  • french vermouth
  • Cointreu
  • Brandy/Cognac
Other ingredients
  • sugar: Simple syrup is classic, I've grown to like agave syrup recently, honey works but imports a fair amount of flavor, superfine sugar is good but clumps quickly in humid climits.
  • bitters: Angostura is my preference, but any would be fine.
  • Coke
  • lemons
  • limes
  • ginger ale
  • pineapple juice
  • grapefruit juice
  • oranges
  • tonic
  • club soda
  • Boston Shaker
  • Oxo Mini Angled Measure
  • a good recipe book; Esquire Drinks is my favorite (and worth $45 used on Amazon). Joy of Mixology and Craft of the Cocktail are good choices as well.
With the above you could make the following at least
  • Presbyterian/Rye and Ginger Ale
  • Daiquiri
  • manhattan
  • algonquin
  • martini
  • sours
  • ward eight
  • el presidente
  • Sidecar
  • Presidente Vincent/Roosevelt
  • Cuba Libre
  • Old Delaware Fishing Punch
  • Mississippi Punch
  • Hot Buttered Rum/cognac
  • Cafe Grog
  • Maple Leaf
Random thoughts:

There is no excuse for "sour mix" EVER. While I would ignore most any recipe that lists sour mix, you could replace it with a mix of fresh lemon juice and sugar of your choice.

Most cocktail books suck.

Lots of tasty non-alcoholic drinks can be made by combining mixers with strong flavorants like mint and bitters.

Glowing red maraschino cherries are an abomination and don't belong in cocktails. Real brandied cherries are available or can be made.

Most garnishes are overrated, stick with curls of citrus skin or perhaps wedges.
posted by fief at 10:15 PM on January 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Never substitute Pepsi (or any other cola) for Coke. Personally, I prefer Pepsi to Coke when drinking just cola, but a rum and Coke is not a rum and Pepsi. Also, no diet colas. If you're serving drinks, you're going to want to serve the right drink.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:27 PM on January 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:28 PM on January 17, 2011

The previouslies are worth a look here, but, to extend:

Good tonic, which comes in small glass bottles, will keep well. If you don't want to store little bottles of tonic, then at least go with Schweppes or Canada Dry: off-label tonic is usually horrible enough to ruin a drink, which is why you should never order a G&T in a bar where the tonic comes from a fucking squirt gun.

If you can do a twist with a paring knife, all power to you, but you may want a zester and/or peeler for fruity things.
posted by holgate at 10:52 PM on January 17, 2011

While all of the previous answers are useful, I think you need to ask yourself what you want to do with your bar first. Do you only entertain occasionally, or are you having big parties every weekend? Do you usually have the same group of people over, or is it a large and varied group? Are the majority of your guests young or older? The reason to ask these questions is that you will need to vary your stock based on the drinking habits of your guests. Occasional gatherings of the same group of friends should only necessitate getting whatever they regularly drink plus a couple of new things to try occasionally. Why spend a huge amount of money on booze your guests are unlikely to try?

If you entertain larger groups with a variety of tastes, you're going to looking at more of a full bar scenario. If I were outfitting a party bar to entertain large groups of people on a regular basis, here's what I would do:

Don't buy top shelf, but buy known brands. I'll list my choice brands, which may or may not be available by you. Again, these aren't "the best", they're serviceable and affordable brands of liquor. Not for booze snobs, just for regular drinking folks.

Basic Booze:
Light rum (Bacardi)
Spiced rum (Sailor Jerry or Captain Morgan)
Dark rum (Myer's)
Vodka (Smirnoff or Absolut)
Gin (Seagram's)
Silver Tequila (Jose Cuervo)
Gold Tequila (Jose Cuervo)
Bourbon Whiskey (Jim Beam)
Scotch Whiskey (J&B)
American Whiskey (Seagram's 7)
Canadian Whiskey (Crown Royal)
Tennessee Whiskey (Jack Daniel's)
Brandy (Kessler's)

Liqueurs and extras:
Coffee liqueur (Kahalua)
Irish Cream (Bailey's)
Peach Schnapps (DeKuyper)
Amaretto (DeKuyper)
Triple Sec (DeKuyper)
Dry Vermouth(Martini and Rossi)
Sweet Vermouth(Martini and Rossi)
Grenadine (Rose's)
Sweetened Lime Juice (Rose's)
Bitters (Angostura)
Creme de Menthe (deKuyper)
Peppermint schnapps (deKuyper)
Blue Curaco (deKuyper)

Orange juice
pineapple juice
tomato juice
cranberry juice
grapefruit juice
diet coke
ginger ale
soda water
tonic water
sour mix
sweet and sour mix
coco loco condensed sweetened coconut milk (mix with pineapple for pina coladas)

Several varieties of white, ranging from dry to sweet
Several varieties of red, again ranging in tastes
sparkling wine

Variety of light, dark, micro and macro brews

pearl onions

I'm probably forgetting something basic, but it's been years since I was behind the bar. Again, the key is to know the group you'll be serving and try to anticipate their needs.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:10 PM on January 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

You always hear about a dash of Angostura bitters as the way to tie off and class up any cocktail, adding an additional layer of flavor, but I don't think it's the right fit in plenty of cases. That's why I like the flavor variety offered by the Fee Brothers line of bitters. I do think Angostura has that certain spicy je ne sais quoi and complexity and that the fruity/whatever Fee Brothers ones are closer to just the single flavor spelled out on the bottle, but I still think they are more appropriate in various cases. They make lemon, orange, and grapefruit bitters, for example, any of which I'd take in a gin/vodka tonic over Angostura. They've got mint for a hint of mint julep in an otherwise neat bourbon or to mojito up something rum based when you've got no mint. They've got a chocolate one for your various creamy/sweet things, peach and cherry for tropical stuff, and rhubarb for who knows what. It's probably useful to look at some of the suggested recipes for each on their site and work backwards to one or two that make sense to buy.
posted by Askr at 12:23 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second twblalock, but will go one better. Do not just buy a corkscrew like a Pulltap. Buy a Pulltap. Or at least, an exact clone. What matters is the hinged bottle-opener bit. It is the genius of this model corkscrew, making all waiter's corkscrews with unhinged bottle-opener bits things to be scorned.

Also, you should always have lemons and limes, and most likely oranges. If you use them, replace them. If you don't use them and they get hard and mummified, throw them out and replace them. There is really no acceptable substitute for freshly-juiced citrus. Pineapple, tomato, coconut, passionfruit et al. you're allowed to buy in bottles, but not citrus.

The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by Mr. David Augustus Embury is your text. If you want the classics, that is, and a course in how to arrive at well-proportioned drinks. Mr. Embury will not instruct in the creation of mudslides or shooters, if that's what you're after.

...Which really points up the fact that the kind of bar you stock is, of necessity, the kind of bar you want to have. If you have visions of tikis dancing in your head, you need very different sauce (heavy on the orgeat) than if you're looking to get your Don Draper on.
posted by mumkin at 12:50 AM on January 18, 2011

The basics (and not so basics) have been pretty extensively covered here. The question is: what bar are you talking about? You will need and want different things if you are opening a bar in a hotel than if you are tending bar at a friends wedding, than hosting a pre-party bar at your dorm, than maintaining a bar in your den for you to mix drinks for close friends while you all listen to 78s, you know?

I'm guessing this is a "home bar, drinks with friends" sort of thing, and I'd suggest getting those basics, and then maybe get a few specific ingredients for a specific recipe or two you plan tos erve. I's fun to say to someone, "Can I fix you a French 77?" instead of asking what they want and then fixing another rum and coke when they can't think of anything else right away.

You'll want the basics in any case (whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, coke, tonic, soda, ice (I absolutely agree with "more ice than you think you'll need"), vermouth x 2 (dry and sweet), bitters, limes).

I always keep 7-UP (for the love of God NOT SPRITE), as 7-UP and whiskey and a splash of bitters is great, and 7-UP plus bitters is nearly as great, and a nice cocktail for a person who is not drinking liquor.

You can make Manhattans with whiskey, but use rye to make a killer one.

Kahlua and half+half are pretty necessary these days because everybody loves white russians and they'll all say, "You make a mean caucasian, fizzzzzzzzzzzy". This is fine. White Russians are delicious.

Creme De Cacao is fairly nasty, but with brandy and half+half you get a Brandy Alexander. Replace the brandy with the rum you already have and you get an Alejandro.

Fresh mint makes many things better.

posted by dirtdirt at 4:29 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dark rum (Myer's) Gosling's
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:46 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Benedictine Liquor is the best recent addition to my bar. Often can be subbed in for places that call for simple syrup (whiskey/rye drinks mostly), if you don't mind making them even more alcoholic. I'll make an old fashioned++ this way (Monte Carlo).

To add on to suggestions for non-alcoholic drinks, I find a bitters and (diet) coke feels like a cocktail when I'm not drinking, so nthing the angostura. If you really want to go all-out, buy yourself a soda stream (one of the soda-making machines), and you have the ability to make fresh seltzer whenever a drink needs it, or when you don't need to drink.

The other really essential mixers for me are cointreau, canton (ginger brandy), some sort of apple brandy (calvados etc), and absinthe. You can go a long way with those.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:17 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and lillet blanc.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:18 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

A channel knife will help you with citrus twists for garnish
posted by crosbyh at 9:55 AM on January 18, 2011

Nobody else can make a liquor list for you that goes beyond the bare essentials, because too much depends on 1) How small- or large-scale your operation is, 2) What drinks you like/need to make, 3) How extravagant you want to get.

You may think bitters are not as important because the quantities used are so small. You would be mistaken.

Freshly-squeezed lemon and lime juice is vastly superior to the bottled stuff, even if you've never had a cocktail in your life and don't know the difference between rum and bourbon.

No sour mix. Ever.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 10:29 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just going to agree with the folks saying this varies wildly, you'd have to give us more info about your social crowd, the tone of the events when you'd be breaking out stuff, you and your guests' personal tastes, even right down to what kind of weather or setting you plan to entertain in (summer drinks vs. winter drinks is huge, Florida vs. New England or California, what kind of food you eat when you drink, whether you're all jocks who like to watch the game while imbibing or prissier than that or foodies or into spicy food or what, etc.). You can get carried away really quickly with trying to cover entire galaxies of drinking culture when there's no need and it'd be insanely expensive and high maintenance. So think some of that stuff through first.

That said, there are classic neutral sorts of cocktails someone will get behind no matter what, usually, and that's been covered mostly upthread. It's expensive and an ongoing thing but yes, a million times yes to always using fresh lemons and limes to make juice and garnishes (this is true for cooking too, at least, so it doesn't have to be a total waste). Seriously, if you plan to have people over for drink with any regularity just get used to keeping a sack of citrus in your fridge and a decent juicer (I swear by simple glass ones; those spooned ones are ok too though less versatile) and simple thing to peel/twist with. That and tonic/soda water (as mentioned, it's generally better to get packs of small bottles because you almost never need more than one little bottle and it'll go flat otherwise). Simple syrup, yes--I know there was a link recently on AskMe or Mefi about how to make the kind that lasts longest (I believe it's stronger and has a bit of alcohol added last minute to it? Wish I could find the link...). As people have mentioned, infusing said syrup with things--rosemary, basil, citrus, peppers, whatever--if an easy way to punch up drinks (you can also infuse the basic spirits themselves if you are inclined, if we're talking something fairly neutral like vodka. Lots of restaurant bars do this). Make sure you do it right to prevent contamination/spoilage and use in a prompt fashion re: syrup.

The basic set spirits (vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, tequila, and a "sipper" if you're of that persuasion--scotch and/or cognac/armagnac or whatever), though depending on your personality or whatever you can usually identify one you never plan on using at home (for me it's tequila; if I want a margarita on a hot day I'll just go out to my favorite Mexican joint, y'know?). Ditto certain ubiquitous mixers depending on your proclivities--it took me a while to realize owning anything blue and most things evoking tropical tiki type things just was not for me no matter how popular that stuff is among the younger crowd. On the other hand, I keep Pimm's, cassis, and sloe gin around all the time, which many folks would find silly (goes back to the "know thyself and drink what you like" factor). Don't feel too horrible about lacking something either--I don't know about your social circle but mine is always pretty upfront about what they'll have on hand for a party to let people know if they'll need to BYO extras, no biggies.

The other thing with customizing and saying screw it to on-paper basic defaults is you may well find you gravitate towards a certain kind of spirit and want like, 3 or 4 variations on it to focus on instead of having some bland one-size-fits-all version of each major spirit because that seems more "right". That's cool. For instant, you may get into a gin phase and want to own a genever-style, a standard dry, and something esoteric like an Old Tom and get to appreciate the nuances and gradations of dryness, etc. Or you may go through a whiskey phase and want to learn firsthand how rye differs from bourbon in different drinks, etc. Rum has similar worlds to unfold. Do this sort of thing if you want, even if it means forgoing said tequila you never get around to drinking anyway. Again, don't be afraid to have what you like and are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about on hand even if it means a bit of a hit on your all-purpose bar--where I am anyway friends don't mind bringing what they love with them, especially if the point is they're going to try what you like, something new in return (but maybe I have adventurous friends, dunno).

Soda, specifically 7-Up, ginger ale, ginger beer if you've got fancy hipsters in need of a Pimm's or Moscow Mule around (wink), and coke (as mentioned, not diet, not Pepsi or any other brand). Nice thing is these keep well for a while.

It's not essential but you may well find Rose's or another's standard bottled syrups useful--grenadine, that sweeter than normal lime juice (I know, I said the thing about fresh lemon and lime juice, but there are some drinks like a gimlet that need Rose's lime).

Garnishes--frankly unless I know I need to impress somebody or I'm actively trying crazy complicated drinks and want to do it all the way special, I settle for the twists from the juice I squeeze (my preferred martini garnish) or the occasional cocktail olive. You don't have to get into crazy lemongrass or pickled okra or cocktail onion or even just maraschino or luxardo cherries or any of that unless you want to (most old drinks that call for cherries are ok with orange twist, but that makes me a heathen maybe). I do have to admit I think it would take a drink at home from ho-hum to "oooh I feel special" to use those silver picks to spear cherries or olives. They're not expensive.

People have mentioned bitters. Oh man. Like the fancier liqueurs that can be broken down into general sets (anise-flavored aperitif and mixer; herbal digestif; warm wintery clove-spice-honey-type things that go with whiskey, scotch, and rum; fruit-based eaux de vie...the list goes on forever) you can go down a rabbit hole here that will burn through you wallet (mole bitters are now like almost 20 bucks). Fee's as mentioned is a great cheap way to try different more one-dimensional flavors, and you can build from there. Personally I find Regan's orange bitters more useful and flavorful than the ubiquitous Angostura or Peychaud's, but seriously, this is a personal taste game.

With bitters and liqueurs it goes back to knowing yourself and not getting carried away with what you think you "should" have. It'd be better to buy a bottle or two of liqueurs, go through them at your own pace and make various cocktails with them, take mental notes on what you like or don't like from the experience, rinse, repeat. You don't need every obscure spirit known to man all at once. You can take your time; you'll probably learn what you like better by doing so.

You will need both kinds of vermouth (in my experience it's ok to cheap out on dry unless martinis or duplexes are your favorite drink but less ok to do so with sweet). Careful, sweet doesn't keep as well as most other things.

I wouldn't say you need to have it on hand at all times but a dry sparkling wine comes in very handy the dark part of the year for making festive cocktails like kirs or french 75s/french kisses.

Orange juice. Either keep oranges on hand with your lemons and limes or grab a carton of the premium stuff when you know you'll need it.

Shaker or two of course. Jigger or other measuring device (I use those cheap tiny silver herb prep cups from restaurant supply stores, they hold 2 ounces). A muddler if you know you'll be making the sorts of drinks that call for one (old fashioned, many summery cocktails with fresh fruit). If you want to get fancy you can get separate strainers (my shaker has one in it already, have never understood why the strainer on its own is so common) and bar spoons (longer so you can stir right, but if you happen to have long stirrer spoons already not necessary usually). Corkscrew and can/bottle openers.

Goes without saying but the right glassware--cocktail, collins, old fashioned, wine glass, beer mugs and/or pub glasses, and depending on how you roll fluted champagne glasses, cordial classes, or brandy snifters.
posted by ifjuly at 11:50 AM on January 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't think anyone's posted this, so here's how to equip a bar for a hundred bucks
posted by yggdrasil at 10:54 AM on January 19, 2011

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