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Bar Basics

Stock these essentials for classic cocktails.

The Well-Appointed Home Bar

Maintaining a well-stocked bar can be an expensive endeavor. The good news is that spirits will last indefinitely, so you can build your collection gradually without any worry of spoilage. As when stocking a bar for a gathering, buy the highest quality liquor your budget will allow.

A well-stocked home bar includes:


  • Bourbon: used in Manhattans and old fashioned cocktails
  • Gin: for gin and tonics, Tom Collins, and of course, the original martini
  • Rum: stock both light and dark. Use in piña coladas, mai tais, daiquiris
  • Scotch: for drinking on the rocks, or mixing in Rob Roys (Scotch Manhattans)
  • Single Malt Scotch: for sipping neat (without ice). There are many to try, with smoky, peaty, and caramel overtones. Experiment as your budget will allow.
  • Tequila: for margaritas and tequila sunrises. Premium brands of aged tequila are good for sipping.
  • Vodka: buy the 1.5-liter bottle; this is a versatile spirit. Use in vodka martinis, vodka Collins, sea breeze, Cape Cod, vodka & tonic, White Russians, screwdrivers, etc.
  • Whiskey: enjoyed on the rocks or in whiskey sours and hot toddys
  • Sweet Vermouth: essential for Manhattans
  • Dry Vermouth: essential for martinis
  • Triple Sec or Cointreau: this orange liqueur is added to many cocktails, from margaritas to hurricanes to Long Island iced tea.
  • Liqueur: With so many to choose from, this is an area where you can let your personal taste be your guide. You may want to buy liqueurs that you enjoy drinking and for cooking: Cointreau, Kahlua, and peppermint schnapps are delicious in chocolate desserts.
  • Brandy or Cognac: generally enjoyed on its own.
  • Port: this sweet fortified wine is generally served as a dessert wine.
  • Sherry: dry sherry can be used in cooking or as an aperitif, while cream sherries are enjoyed as an after-dinner digestif.
  • Beer: beer does have a shelf-life; if you don't drink it yourself, only buy it when you're having guests.
  • Wine: you needn't be a collector to keep an assortment of wine on hand. Store a bottle or two of white wine in your refrigerator for impromptu guests.

Mixers and Garnishes

  • Bitters: used in Manhattans and other cocktails
  • Olives: for dry martinis
  • Lemons and limes: for all manner of drinks
  • Maraschino or brandied cherries
  • Grenadine: this pomegranate-colored (and, traditionally, flavored) syrup is used in Shirley Temples, tequila sunrises, and layered drinks
  • Lime Juice: sweetened lime juice is available in the mixer aisle with grenadine
  • Sweet and Sour mix

Oct. 28, 2009 12:44 am
all hail tequila! :]
Dec. 26, 2009 12:54 pm
What kind of wine would you serve - I know absolutely nothing about wine - red or white if we are serving homemade BBQ sauce ribs?He cooks these ribs for 2 days. They are actually wonderful. All of our guests practically inhale them. Spo kind of potato (haven't figured that one out yet. but O will not be making those "company potatos" even though everyone likes them. My husband does the cooking, I just get the groceries. I just need to know what kind of wine to serve with dinner. It doesn't have to be expensive. PLEASE HELP! The party is going to be after the holidays due to everyone's schedules. Trying to be very prepared as I am a very organized person. Also, any other ideas for a BETTER meal from you "cookers". Thanks. Everything and any suggestions would be awesome. Thank you. I appreciate it.
Dec. 26, 2009 3:20 pm
I would stick with a hearty red wine like a zinfandel,barolo or cabernet or if your guests prefer white a rich buttery chardonnay.You don't want the flavors in the bbq sauce to compete with the wine so they can compliment each other. Always match the wine with the sauce/spices of a dish and not necessarily the protein.That's old school thinking.
Feb. 1, 2012 7:23 pm
I want the rib recipe! Sounds wonderful
Sep. 1, 2012 10:29 pm
I would quickly recommend a wine called Llano Estacado Sweet Red. It is a multi-grape wine with a sweet taste but not overly sweet. It would pair well with barbecue ribs, especially if your bbq sauce is tangy. Sweet wine to balance acidity of sauce and meat. If you can't find the Llano Winery items, then look for a Cabernet Sauvingion. (I doubt I spelled that right). It would pair well too. Good luck !
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