Stock your home bar for the holiday season

Brian Rung

    Fall is in the air and soon it will be time to deck the halls. Before we deck the halls, we will need to stock the bar for holiday entertaining.
    This is the time of year that my friends and family begin to ask the question, “What should I have in my home bar?”
    A properly stocked home bar is a cornerstone to entertaining, and if done right will not cost nearly as much as you might think. There is still plenty of time to stock your bar for the upcoming holiday parties. Let's get to work.
    There are two key points to remember when stocking a home bar. First, start small. Your home bar is a work in progress and will change with the seasons.
    For example, don't load up on expensive rum, tequila and tiki ingredients before the Christmas party. Make sure you have bourbon, gin and scotch for Manhattans, Martinis, etc. You can add the dark rum and tequila to your bar in the spring.
    The second thing to remember, and this is perhaps the most important guiding principle to stocking your home bar, is to stock your bar with spirits that you like.
    Part of the reason that you keep a well-stocked bar is so that you can entertain your guests, but at the end of the day you don't want to be stuck with several expensive bottles that you bought only to impress your friends.
    Nobody should get more enjoyment out of your bar than you.  
    Okay, start small and buy stuff that you like. We're off to a good start. This round of bar stocking will focus on the fall and winter bar. We will revisit this list for the spring and summer bar.  
    By the way, you will notice that most of the bottles on this list are around the $20 price point or less. Stay around that price point when building your basic home bar.
    All of the brands recommended this week are industry standard brands and will fare quite well as mixers and sippers.
    On the other hand if you already know that you love 18-year-old single malt Scotch and have the $100 to spend on the bottle, go for it.  
    Think of this list as a list of ingredients from which you will be able to build most of the classic cocktails. Pay special attention to the mixers. How many times (after the stores have closed) have you been missing a key ingredient to a classic cocktail?
     Follow the guide below and that will not happen to you this holiday season.
    We will start with the primary spirits.
    You will need a bottle of vodka. Not bank-breaking boutique vodka, but good vodka. I recommend Smirnoff Red Label or Tito's. Vodka and tonic? Vodka and cranberry? Vodka mixes with almost anything, and now you're covered.
    You don't have to go whiskey crazy when you stock your bar. Start with one bottle of bourbon. Jim Beam, Evan Williams, and Wild Turkey are all great mixing bourbons that can be sipped as well.  
    Every home bar needs a bottle of gin, and if you are only going to have one type of gin in your bar make it a London Dry.  Beefeater is tough to beat for taste and value. It's great in a gin and tonic, and holds its own in a Martini.
    As mentioned earlier, rum and tequila are typically summer ingredients, but perhaps you're hosting an island-themed party this fall. If you do decide to pick up a bottle of tequila, make sure that it is 100 percent agave.
    Hornito's and Altos are the best of the entry level 100 percent agave tequilas. My favorite light rums for mixing are Cruzan, Bacardi and Flor de Cana.
    If you only keep one bottle of Scotch on hand, make it a bottle of Dewar's White Label. Dewar's White is a solid blend that is great in a Rob Roy and smooth enough to sip. If you have a few Scotch lovers in your crowd, grab a single malt in addition to your Dewar's blend.
    Keep in mind that a quality single malt will set you back around $30 or more depending on your state and local taxes, so only grab that second bottle of Scotch if you are sure that you will need it. My favorite “every day” single malts are Highland Park 12, Glenfiddich 12 and Auchentoshan 12.
    In addition to your spirits, keep your “crowd favorite” beer on hand, and wine if you will be serving dinner.
    We're not done. Unless you are going to serve everything neat, you are going to need mixers. This is by no means a complete list, but from this list you will be able to build most of the classics.
    Bitters are a must have in any bar. No need to get fancy here. Reach for the classic Angostura bitters.
    You're not going to get very far without some club soda and some tonic water. Always have a bottle of each.
    Have plenty of cane sugar on hand if simple syrup is required for any of your favorite cocktails.
    You will also need some fruit juices. For the fall/winter bar you will need orange juice and cranberry juice.
    Soft drinks such as Coca Cola, Sprite or 7-up, and ginger ale are all part of a complete bar. All are essential mixers and are much appreciated by the designated drivers and non-drinkers in the crowd.
    If Martinis and Manhattans are on the menu you will need sweet vermouth and dry vermouth, one small bottle of each. I recommend Noilly Prat.
    Last but not least, literally the cherry on top. Don't forget the garnish. Maraschino cherries, lemons, limes, oranges, cocktail and cocktail olives should get you started.
    Take this list to your local spirits retailer. Odds are they'll be happy to see you.
    Until next week, enjoy responsibly.