What should I stock my bar with?
December 11, 2006 2:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm having a few people over one evening "for cocktails." In order to provide a decent repertoire of standard cocktails, what should I stock my bar with?

The vibe I'm going for is somewhat old-fashioned — basic grown-up cocktails, with the possibility of some more flashy drinks. Along the lines of martinis and Manhattans; probably nothing tropical or sophomoric.
posted by jacobm to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
For standard cocktails, I'd go with gin, vodka, tequila, rum, vermouth, whiskey/scotch, bitters, amaretto, tonic.
posted by harrumph at 2:49 PM on December 11, 2006

Stock my bar.
posted by bigmusic at 2:51 PM on December 11, 2006

Well, you can start off with the basics: a good dry gin, some decent vodka, Bourbon and/or American Whiskey, perhaps an Irish Whiskey and Scotch? Everyone ought to be able to find something they like out of those. I think the bigger issue is mixers; you'll want club soda, tonic water, vermouth (both sweet and dry if you can afford it), and potentially some fruit juices and slices.

http://www.webtender.com/ will let you pick drinks and then back out from them what ingredients you'll require.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:51 PM on December 11, 2006

Vodka and vermouth and olives for martinis.
Gin and tonic.
Scotch and water.
Rum and Coke.
Whiskey, vermouth and Angostura bitters for a Manhattan.

Maraschino Cherries, Lemons and limes.
Triple-sec and cranberry juice for Cosmopolitans
Orange Juice for screwdrivers
Kahluha and milk for black & white Russians

www.chroniclebooks.com produced a series of recipe cards in a box called the Cocktail Hour. I just went through the cards and distilled the ingredient list for the drinks I thought of as old-fashioned, but still "trendy." I can provide full recipes if needed. The set of cards is fun to have, though, and with a really well stocked bar, cutting for drinks can be an interesting evening's entertainment.

Lemon Drops and Green Apple Tini's are also popular, but they're not as classic and require some additional stuff.

A full set of bar tools, ice and a shaker are also quite helpful.
posted by FYKshun at 2:52 PM on December 11, 2006

I don't know what your budget is but the list harrumph provided is a good one. Be sure to get mid-to-top shelf stuff, especially if you're doing one or two-ingredient drinks. No Monarch-brand anything, in other words. It's better to have fewer choices of better quality than a wide variety of crap.
posted by pdb at 2:53 PM on December 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Harrumph has a good standard list, but I'd suggest a bottle of Scotch and a bottle of bourbon.

You'll also need mixers and garnishes: tonic water, soda water, olives (usually Spanish, sometimes stuffed with something more interesting like blue cheese or almonds), limes, lemons (and their peels), and marachino cherries. Not to mention ice, and plenty of it.

The other thing I've done with similar parties is actually make up a paper menu of 8-10 drinks including standards (martinis, manhattans, G&T, etc.) as well as a couple more festive or unusual choices (mojitos, lemon drops, sazeracs, etc.) That way you can feel free to concentrate on what you mix best, and leave experiments to your guests.
posted by j-dawg at 2:55 PM on December 11, 2006

Lime Juice
Tonic Water

To expand the menu:
Maraschino Cherries
Triple Sec
Cranberry Juice

That will get you a real Martini, Manhattan, Gin or Vodka Tonic and also Cosmos and Cape Cods for the ladies.
posted by team lowkey at 2:56 PM on December 11, 2006

some good gin, like bombay or tanqueray (for martinis and such).

wiskey , i keep george dickle on hand for manhattans. some bitters ,and sweet and dry vermouth are in order. and get a copy of mr. boston
posted by nola at 2:57 PM on December 11, 2006

Since you'll be wanting some vermouth, I suggest Noilly Prat - dry for the martini, sweet for the Manhattan. Do *not* attempt to cut corners on vermouth, especially since it's like $9/750 mL.

For a Manhattan I like Maker's Mark bourbon - a real Manhattan is made with rye, though. If you don't like that, Jim Beam makes their standard bourbon, a yellow label rye, and a variety of specialty bourbons including Knob Creek, and there are lots of other nice bourbons out there. Maker's is an old standby though.

For a gin that will offend no one's palates, think Gordon's. I like Bombay Sapphire but a vocal minority of people will object strenuously to this. Tanqueray 10 is also very nice.

Vodka is vodka. If you don't like the way it tastes out of the bottle, run it through a Brita filter. If you insist on paying a lot of money for vodka, make sure you like the way the bottle looks. They are making some pretty bottles, especially if you have funky lighting in your bar area to backlight or bottom-light them.

The other two major liquors, rum and tequila, have a decidedly tropical vibe, so we'll omit them.

You'll want some club soda, some tonic water, some ginger ale, some limes and lemons (for juice, for a "twist" made with the peels) and a sharp knife. You might also want some lemon-lime soda and cola, and maybe a grapefruit or two, someone always wants a greyhound. You'll want a few trays full of fresh clean ice cubes. I like to have some "maraschino" red cherries around but they are quite synthetic and the flavor is not very nice. Some will say have Angostura bitters or Fee Bros. old fashioned bitters on hand for your Manhattan etc; others will point out that these overwhelm the delicate flavors of your other expensive ingredients.

You'll want something to mix in - I do like my Oneida 18/8 stainless shaker. Others will say, no, stir your drinks in a mixing glass with one of those long-handled spoons with a corkscrewed handle.

Last of all you'll be wanting some nice fancy cocktail glasses to serve your concoctions in. These can be chilled ahead of time for bonus points.

Have fun, and remember, moderation is one of the old-fashioned virtues that still holds up!
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:58 PM on December 11, 2006 [3 favorites]

on preview, what everyone else said. ;)
posted by nola at 2:59 PM on December 11, 2006

the original James Bond Martini as written by Fleming himself is: 6 parts Gin, 2 parts Vodka, 1 part of the pretty appalling French apéritif Lillet Blanc

that's if you want to go truly oldskool and impress the shit out of your guest
posted by matteo at 3:00 PM on December 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

if you want to go beyond the basics, some schnapps and the like would go down well. creme de menthe, apple and peach schnapps, creme de banane, creme de cacao ,etc. all make for delicious (non classic) cocktails. also frangelico, malibu, and grenadine. gomme syrop for mojitos. and lots of mixers. cranberry juice, orange juice, apple juice, sweet and sour mix, soda water, coke, etc.

and if you want to get some interesting shots out, baileys is great, more grenadine, amaretto, etc.

i think the easiest (and cheapest) way to do it would be to pick five or six drinks that you want to make, hopefully ones that share ingredients, and buy everything you need for those. if people want to experiement with what you've got to make something new they can, but you'll have all you need for a good night.
posted by twirlypen at 3:02 PM on December 11, 2006

Rum is indeed distinctly tropical, but twenty-something guests often enjoy rum & Coke, and a bottle of Bacardi is pretty cheap.
posted by Kwantsar at 3:08 PM on December 11, 2006

Well, I'd go with the most basic outward.

Get a decent bottle of vodka (stoly, grey goose, kettle one, something along those lines). It's very versatile. Between vodka & soda, Martinis, gimlets, screwdrivers, cosmopolitans, or a host of other mixers, pretty much anyone can find something they like in the vodka genre. It can be made into traditional "grown up" cocktails, and it is a good base on the off chance you do want to do some wild things.

So vodka is a must.

I'd say the next value is a bottle of some bourbon or whiskey. This is an easy choice. The most popular drink in the country is Crown Royal. Anyone likes it. Some people drink only CR. Some people drink Jack, but can roll with a Crown. But, people who drink Crown probably aren't going to like Jack. Crown and coke is an extremely simple, but amazingly broad-based choice for cocktails. Crown can also be used in Manhattans or other whiskey drinks.

With those two things, I think you can please 90% of the drinking public.

The next question would be what do you want to mix with those. I'd get some cokes for the Crown. I'd get a bottle of club soda and one of tonic (like 99 cents). I'd get some olives and olive juice for martinis (people can survive without vermouth). And I'd buy some limes.

That would be a pretty basic setup that covers a lot of people.

With that setup, I think you could please a lot of people for a relatively good price:
- bottle of good vodka (~$25)
- bottle of Crown Royal (~$30)
- 12 pack of Coke (~$3.00)
- bottle of club soda (~0.99)
- bottle of tonic (~0.99)
- bottle of olives in olive juice (~$3.00)
- some limes (~$3.00)

I'd hesitate with things like Scotch unless you know your guests want it b/c it is an acquired taste. And I think you can generally get gin people to suffer through some vodka.

So I would go with that list for broad based appeal. If you can fit more in your budget, I would go with vermouth for martinis and manhattans (although with that you are stuck with the bitters issue) because those are fun and old-timey. You could also get some cranberry juice and some triple sec (but that has limited use in this setup) for Cosmos that ladies seem to like.
posted by dios at 3:10 PM on December 11, 2006

Grey Goose vodka. It's no better than running some Popov Vodka from Safeway through a Britta filter, but the stuff looks impressive on your bar. ;-)
posted by drstein at 3:15 PM on December 11, 2006

There's no reason to skimp on the mixers, since they cost virtually nothing compared to the alcohol.
posted by smackfu at 3:32 PM on December 11, 2006

If you're really interested in an old-fashioned feel, I'd recommend getting a bottle of rye, for "authentic" Manhattans. Despite being an old-fashioned spirit, rye is very much in fashion right now, so there might be some demand for it. Make sure you're mixing with a sweet vermouth for rye Manhattans; this isn't a much of concern when you're using bourbon, but rye doesn't have the same inherent sweetness and you need to add it for a well-balanced cocktail.

Speaking of old-fashioned, you might want to have a couple of oranges on hand so you can make old-fashioneds. (Although some will object to an old-fashioned with an orange slice as inauthentic. Screw them.)
posted by mr_roboto at 3:32 PM on December 11, 2006

Good vodka no different than popov?

Tell you what: ask the person the next day if there is a difference.... if you can get them to talk to you through the train rolling through their brain.

Besides, I thought the point of this exercise is to get a nice, respectable cocktail party. A starting point, I would submit, would begin with the rule of 'no plastic bottles.'

And reading some the posts, I would again advise against dropping your money in different base liquors. Vodka and Crown can please most people. Spend your extra money in mixers: coke, tonic, club soda, cranberry, vermouth, olives, limes, orange juice, etc. It's cheaper to buy different mixers than different booze and helps you get some good options. There seems to be little reason to buy gin and vodka on a budget; vodka has a broader appeal. Rum is out based on the point of the exercise since it is pretty much an island drink; tequila is also out for the same reason (though you can make some incredible cocktails with it). Crown can appease most whiskey/ Irish whisky/bourbon/rye/scotch people.

You'll get more mileage out of 2 liquors and 6-7 mixers than you will with 4 liquors and 2 mixers for the same amount of money.
posted by dios at 3:33 PM on December 11, 2006

Ice. Fresh clean ice, 3 or 4 times as much as you think you might need.

And please remember that a martini is not made with vodka.
posted by dirtdirt at 3:38 PM on December 11, 2006

dios writes "Good vodka no different than popov?"

You need to filter the Popov or, yeah, it'll kill you the next morning. But activated charcoal does wonders, believe me.

I agree, however, that this lacks a certain class.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:47 PM on December 11, 2006

I notice that no one, including myself, has mentioned brandy. Inexpensive brandy that is drinkable is difficult to come by, but it can be used for things like the brandy Crusta and the Sidecar. I have heard good things about Germain-Robin and Korbel brandies, but since I tend to sip cognac, rather than mix with it, I am not sure which one to recommend.

I'd get some olives and olive juice for martinis (people can survive without vermouth)

The above represents an example of a cocktail party to which I hope I am not invited. Seriously, for $18 you can get a 750 mL bottle of Noilly Prat dry vermouth and another of sweet vermouth, enough to make 25 double martinis and 25 double manhattans. Or, they make 375 mL bottles too. Don't skip the vermouth; it's really good and so key to the classic cocktail! (You can make a "Perfect" Manhattan by substituting a 50/50 mix of sweet and dry for the sweet vermouth in the regular Manhattan, which I wholeheartedly recommend.)

The recommendation for a bottle of rye is one that I'd second, except that it seems harder than it should be to find a bottle of rye around, and way way harder than it should be to find a bottle of affordable rye.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:47 PM on December 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Stocking the Bar.
posted by ericb at 3:48 PM on December 11, 2006

I want to emphasize the importance of having both sweet and dry vermouth around. It's cheap and makes all the difference in the world for a Manhattan. Also, both soda water and tonic water. As a suggestion, I adore something called a Bronx Cocktail. It's basically a dry gin martini with barely enough orange juice to give it a different flavor, but not enough to make it sweet. A lovely beverage.
posted by Schismatic at 3:49 PM on December 11, 2006

As for gin, I wholeheartedly recommend Tanquery (10) over Bombay Sapphire. It is significantly better, all for only a few dollars. If you want a bourbon, they are cheap for the quality you get, just don't go rotgut. Top shelf bourbon is only 25 bucks (well, you can get more expensive, but not much reason).

As for vodka, I've tried most of the mid-high end ones, and I'd recommend Stoli as a good generic bottle under $20, and Grey Goose as the $30 dollar bottle. They are both very good, with the Goose being more very good.

I wouldn't bother with Tequila, and rum is iffy (not many 'classy' cocktails take rum, I agree with the fruity characterization that it was given above.)
posted by cschneid at 3:49 PM on December 11, 2006

The most popular drink in the country is Crown Royal. Anyone likes it. Some people drink only CR.

Really? Where exactly do you get those stats from? Because everyone I know drinks Jack Daniels.

If you want both, get both, but I'd recommend a bottle of Jack Daniels before getting a bottle of CR. It's cheaper, and it's usually expected.

I get the feeling that all of these drink enthusiasts are rushing to respond, but the poster sounds like someone without a massive knowledge of cocktails -- otherwise he wouldn't have needed to post the question.

For old-fashioned type cocktails, you really need only three main liquors -- Vodka, Gin, and Bourbon -- along with tonic water, seltzer, sours mix, etc.

Just keep it simple!
posted by Deathalicious at 3:49 PM on December 11, 2006

Everyone's going to have their own style on this, as I'm sure this thread has shown you, so rather than argue with anyone (for example, the people who think a martini can be made with vodka or without vermouth, and anyone who recommends Tanqueray 10 as your only gin) I will offer my suggestions.

You should have whiskey, gin, and vodka, in that order. Whiskey is the basis of simple drinking, and should you choose to have only one on hand it should be a bourbon, like Maker's Mark, or a sour mash, like Jack Daniel's or George Dickel. For gin you should get something without too much Juniper (no T10 or Aviation) and without any strange botanicals that will keep it from working in certain drinks (this, unfortunately, means no Hendrick's).

Vodka-wise, I prefer Finlandia or Luksusowa for simple mixing. If you won't be shooting, you don't need something sublime, but don't cheap out on this.

I also endorse carrying both sweet and dry vermouth. This will enable you to make a proper (or perfect) Manhattan (if you've got Angostura bitters) and a decent martini.

For mixers, fruit juices (cranberry cocktail, lime juice (Rose's will work for almost everything), lemon juice/sour mix, orange juice, and grapefruit juice) and the necessary bubblies: tonic, soda, and ginger ale (recommend a bourbon and ginger ale to waffling friends), and either pre-mixed sour mix or something you've tested. Don't foist unverified sour mixes on your friends, unless they're your enemies.

For garnishes, you will need olives and their brine, lemons and limes, maraschino cherries (regrettable but true), and cocktail onions. Get a channel knife so you can make twists, and know how to use them.
posted by j.edwards at 4:04 PM on December 11, 2006

please, PLEASE, buy at least one six-pack of good ale.

There is always the one uncouth guest that insists on a beer (namely me)
posted by peewinkle at 4:27 PM on December 11, 2006

Vodka, gin, whiskey. Those are the three basics. Bitters, brandy, Cointreau or Grand Marnier and dry vermouth should be your frist four alcoholic mixers.

Use fresh lemons and limes. Do not use prefab lemon or lime juice. And even if you're using prefab orange juice, keep an orange around so you can garnish with a twist of peel.

If you're going to mix with juice or other non-alcoholic mixers, you can get away with 'call' brands (mid-range brands like Absolut or Stoli for vodka and Gordon's for gin). For martinis, I recommend stepping it up a notch with Grey Goose (for vodka) and Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray No. 10 for gin.

After some years of building my liquor cabinet, I keep several brands each of (plain) vodka and gin, and a dozen flavoured vodkas including some homemade varieties. Jack Daniels, Crown Royal, Wiser's (rye), Angostina bitters, orange bitter, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Bols Blue, Midori, Xante (pear brandy liqueur), Calvados, Martini sweet vermouth, Martini dry vermouth (I refrigerate both vermouths and replace every four months), a very cheap brandy for sangria, a Napoleon VSOP, Bacardi white rum, Appleton amber rum, a dark rum whose name escapes me, Cuervo Gold tequila and about two dozen other different specialty liqeuers ranging from amaretto to Frangelico to Galiano to Maraschino to Chambord. I have a pisco and a real absinthe. I can't make a proper caipirinha, but I can make 95% of the contents of any cocktail book.

I rarely have more than a couple drinks a week. But when I have company, they can have whatever they like.

And I recommend The Craft of the Cocktail as perhaps the best book on the subject.
posted by solid-one-love at 4:29 PM on December 11, 2006

Sour mix! Yes indeed! Did you know that you can make your own sour mix at home? Lemon juice and sugar. You're done, and it tastes sweet and clean and fresh. Buying pre-made sour mix is just silly.

(I used to drink Rose's Lime Juice, too. Not any more.)

Bear in mind that Jack Daniel's and Dickel's are not bourbons; they are Tennessee whiskies, made via a different process that leaves them much less sweet. Bourbon comes from Kentucky.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:01 PM on December 11, 2006

And please remember that a martini is not made with vodka.
posted by dirtdirt at 3:38 PM PST on December 11

Say's who? Yes, martinis used to be made just with gin. But guess what, we've been making martinis with Vodka for quite a while and that's what you're more likely to get in most places if you don't specify your alcohol.
/not a purist
posted by special-k at 5:44 PM on December 11, 2006

Germain-Robin is excellent brandy. I did some computer work for them, many years ago, and their brandies had just started coming out of the casks a year or two prior. On a lark, I bought a couple of bottles of the mid-grade stuff. It was amazingly good. At the time, geeze, almost 10 years ago, it was about $40/bottle, and worth every penny.
posted by Malor at 5:59 PM on December 11, 2006

pdb wrote:

It's better to have fewer choices of better quality than a wide variety of crap.

This might become my new personal motto.
posted by matty at 6:09 PM on December 11, 2006 [2 favorites]

When my wife and I do cocktail parties, it's around a theme.... seasonally appropriate and limited in variety, concentrating on quality.

If you are going to feed people booze until they puke, who cares what's in the cabinet? But I am with pdb... quality and a smaller variety, directed at your target audience, is a winner.

Ideally, they have been notified in advance... 'Cocktails from the South Pacific' or 'The Classic Mint Julep', or 'Drinks from the 30's for My Friends Who Are 30', or 'Prom Night Aphrodisical Reminscences', or whatever theme is appropros. It's a learning experience for you, too.

I have had nights of just Rioja wine samplings, 15 year old Scotch, and an Intro to Weller Bourbon (smooth and buttery!). We also did one where we fixed borscht for a Russian friend and wound up on our asses from vodka shots and puked purple. Ick. Bad night.... woooo. Learned to avoid that particular one, we did.

Stash the car keys, too.
posted by FauxScot at 7:01 PM on December 11, 2006

For our cocktail parties, we offer a repertoire of three or four standards, and then email our friends to vote on their favorite three of another five drinks based on ingredients we can add.

We then buy ingredients for the top winners. This lets people experiment with drinks they haven't had, while getting to drink favorites and standards.

I will agree that quality over variety is important for the hard stuff. But it is easy to buy "cheap" on flavored liqueurs, which are all more or less the same. Spending a lot on flavored liqueurs is silly — for example, an inexpensive creme de cacao tastes about the same as Godiva liqueur as a drink flavoring, for the amount you actually use.

Depending on your budget, I'd say go for the good stuff for the heavy alcohol, and don't be afraid to scrimp on the less heavy stuff.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:48 PM on December 11, 2006

Yet another recommendation for rye here. The Jim Beam yellow label is surprisingly good for the price (roughly $12 in my area), good both on its own and as a cocktail ingredient. If you want something a little more upmarket, there's also the Sazerac rye.

I like the theme idea, too: that way you can focus on drinks you know well, rather than having to wing it when someone orders something weird.
posted by gimonca at 7:50 PM on December 11, 2006

By no means necessary, but if you want to wow your guests try the following:

Take a bottle of Maraschino liqueur, a bag of frozen sour cherries, and a mason jar. Fill the jar with the cherries and pour the liqueur on top. Let sit in fridge for about 1 week. The resulting cherries are intense (and very alcoholic) and really good in drinks like the Manhattan, where the sugary kinds seem rather anomalous.
posted by carmen at 8:32 PM on December 11, 2006

We've been making martinis with Vodka for quite a while and that's what you're more likely to get in most places if you don't specify your alcohol.

Good god man.

I have no problem with people drinking vodka with vermouth, but if I order a martini in America is that really what I will get?

On to the question. I would pick 6 or so classic cocktails and buy what you need for those, and then put out a recipe card as someone suggested. If people can make other things so be it. Perhaps buy additional soft-drinks and fruit juices as these are cheap and will add variety.

Buy some cheap vodka or methylated spirit and some white wine for the people who drink vodka martinis ;)
posted by markr at 1:37 AM on December 12, 2006

Fantastic question - and something that I've longed to do for many a year.

I don't have any additional suggestions (there's too many other experienced alcoholics here!) but it sounds like you're going to have an expensive bill (20-30 bottles of spirits - ouch!) if you provide everything... why not get each guest to bring along a different bottle specified by you?
posted by Chunder at 1:54 AM on December 12, 2006

Rye, the ultimate and best, likely the oldest in the US*, is Old Overholt, straight rye. Suitable for mixing or sipping. (My old favorite from decades past was Old Overholt, ginger ale, and a bit of grenadine. But I liked sweet more back then)

Crown Royal, for mixing? While, oookaay, but do you also drink single malt with coke? Mixing isn't usually done with sipping whiskey, just sayin'. Perhaps dios meant to say Canadian Club, or Seagram's Seven. Both are ryes and reasonable.

*Overholt is out of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The family was making rye since before the American Revolution. Decendants of Mennonites that fled from Switzerland, in the Swiss reformation.
posted by Goofyy at 3:08 AM on December 12, 2006

Say's who? (...)
posted by special-k at 5:44 PM PST on December 11

The OP is asking about old-fashioned, standard, grown up cocktails. In that context a martini is certainly made with gin.

As for being more likely to get vodka in my martini if I don't specify, well, I guess I am just glad that that has not been my experience. But, I don't do too much drinking at Applebees.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:04 AM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

dirtdirt: I'm so glad I don't live in middle America. Thanks for the perspective!
posted by special-k at 7:22 PM on December 14, 2006

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