Preparing for a party is sometimes a struggle for even the best hostess. A tip for making sure any festivity is successful is to have a bar setup that suits the occasion. It’s easier than you may think, and because liquor keeps for more than a year, you can stock for future parties months in advance.
The first step in designing any bar is acquiring the proper tools for mixing. We suggest selecting an all-in-one stainless steel kit, which has a timeless, classic appearance that will never go out of style. Best of all, it can be thrown in the dishwasher. Make sure the kit contains the following: a shaker, jigger, strainer, bar knife, zester, bottle opener, and long bar spoon.
Bartender Tip: Look for a cobbler-style shaker. A cobbler shaker has a built-in strainer. A Boston shaker requires a pint glass and separate strainer.
Stainless Steel Bar Set
Available at Williams-Sonoma
There are always going to be times when cocktails are not appropriate for the occasion or one of your guests simply prefers wine. Invest in a quality corkscrew. Cheap pieces tend to break from overuse, and that’s a completely avoidable embarrassment.
Multi Wood Waiter’s Bow Corkscrew
Available at Premium Home and Garden
Muddled drinks such as the mojito and the Brazilian favorite caipirinha have become very popular lately. But in order to properly make these, you’ll need a muddler.
Mr. Mojito Muddler
Available at Mister Mojito
Bartender Tip: Learn how to properly muddle. With fruit or herbs in your shaker, press the muddler down, and then turn. The idea is to bruise the fruit to extract the natural oils and juices -- not macerate it.
Having different kinds of glassware is a fun way to incorporate personality to your bar. If you have the room, ordering sets of 12 is a nice number for gatherings.
Also, hanging racks do double duty for elegant appearance and safe storage. Unlike wine glasses, cocktail glassware is easy to mix and match to accommodate your creative side. We like these versatile glasses, which can be used for serving sparkling wine or cocktails.
The Backyard Champagne Flute
Available at Anthropologie
It’s best to have at least one bottle on hand from each of these categories: sparkling wine, gin, vodka, rum, tequila, scotch, bourbon or whiskey.
To further complete the bar, you also need bottles of sweet and dry vermouth and a bottle of bitters for making classic cocktails.
Shopping Tip: Walking the aisles of the liquor store can be a bit daunting, and many liquors are more about pretty packaging and heavy marketing than exceptional taste and true quality.
You never know when life is going to surprise you and demand celebration, so a good rule of thumb is to always have an unopened bottle of sparkling wine in your home.
A Steal: Pierrer-Jouët makes a nice range of champagnes to suit any budget or occasion.
A Splurge: If you want to stock something that will really “wow” wine-savvy guests, we suggest the 1998 Cuvée R. Lalou.
Hostess Tip: If you are serving a champagne cocktail, you don’t need a very expensive bottle. In fact, champagne cocktails were created as a use for less than stellar bubbly.
Gin is one of the world’s most classic spirits and is seeing a resurgence on many bar menus. It comes in four varieties: London-dry, Old Tom, Dutch, and Plymouth. Every gin contains the essence or flavoring of juniper berries, and generally, coriander and cassis bark. (Some gins utilize much more juniper than others.)
A New Favorite:
Martin Miller’s Gin is a terrific, London-dry gin with hints of violet and cinnamon that give it an unforgettable taste.
No. TEN by Tanqueray is another choice that is extremely easy to find. It has a heavy citrus component that many people find appealing when coupled with juniper.
Vodka is a key component in many popular cocktails, such as the Bloody Mary, screwdriver, and vodka martini. There are hundreds of labels on the market, so when choosing one, do a little research and look beyond the packaging.
For the true vodka fanatic, Hangar One is a grape-based vodka of exceptional quality. It's available in a variety of intriguing flavor profiles including Mandarin Blossom and Kaffir Lime.
A less expensive option is Sobieski. New to the market, this straightforward Polish vodka is wonderful for cocktail parties.
Rum has always been the spirit of choice for pirates and tropical getaways, but a good bottle comes in handy for cooking up cakes and sweet potatoes, too.
Old New Orleans Rum will give you an opportunity to both imbibe and embrace a bit of the Vieux Carré spirit. Crafted in America’s oldest premium rum distillery, it comes in four varieties: spiced, aged, amber, and crystal -- all with affordable price tags.
El Dorado makes several rums, including a 21-year-old variety that has been named the highest rated rum in the United States by the Beverage Tasting Institute. It makes a perfect gift for friends who enjoy authentic tiki-style drinks or any chef who enjoys cooking with spirits.
In the last few years, tequila has outgrown its rowdy image and become a refined choice for cocktails -- especially the margarita. Within this cocktail category, there are literally hundreds of recipes that could suit any kind of party, any time of year.
Partida Tequila is as versatile as the spirit comes. Smooth citrus notes and a floral finish allow you to enjoy it straight, but there is enough of a taste impact to suit any margarita.
For the “certified” organic person in your life, 4 Copas is a great gift choice -- as it is the only certified organic option in the world. Because it takes 10 years for an agave plant to mature, this tequilla is quite a labor of love.
For home entertaining, stocking bourbon or whiskey is just fine. These two spirits generally substitute out for each other fairly well.
For whiskey, you can't go wrong with a classic, such as Jack Daniel’s, but if you want to purchase something special, splurge on Jameson’s 18-year Irish Whiskey. It’s outstanding sipped neat.
Fun Fact: Maker’s Mark is a green company. From managing their land as a nature preserve to efforts toward becoming a zero-discharge facility in terms of solid waste, the company has a big heart when it comes to helping the planet.
It’s best to stock both a bottle of dry vermouth and a bottle of sweet. Vermouth is a fortified wine, aromatized with a variety of spices and herbs, and it is called for in many classic and contemporary cocktails -- from the basic martini to the Manhattan. Martini & Rossi is an excellent choice.
There are more bitters on the market than you can shake a swizzle stick at. We suggest Regan’s Orange Bitters and Peychaud’s Bitters, which offers a recipe passed down since the late 1700s. Any of these companies are premium quality in a tincture where you never need much quantity.
Bartender's Tip: Bitters are typically used to cut the sweetness and make your cocktail more balanced in flavor.
Peychaud’s and Regan’s Orange Bitters
$4.50 to $5.50
Available at Buffalo Trace
The absolute key to perfect cocktails is fresh ingredients. This applies to any and all fruit, whether it is a muddled strawberry in the shaker or 4 ounces of lime juice in a pitcher of mojitos. Purchase fruit the day of the party, freshly squeeze, and reserve fruit juice in the fridge a few hours before guests arrive.
Bartender Tip: Roll a lemon or lime on the bar top before cutting it (the fruit will render more juice.)
Cocktail Olives and Onions
When serving martinis, be sure to have these on hand.
Sable & Rosenfeld makes a line of cocktail onions and olives called “Tipsy.” They come in a variety of fun combos including “sake-laced” olives and a “vermouth-spiked” variety.