First things first: take stock of what you have. Even those who don't cocktail often usually have a few dusty bottles hidden at the back of the liquor cabinet, things they bought for a party or that were left behind after a party, covered in dust and forgotten - until now. Before you buy anything, see what you've already got on hand. For most people, that's going to be the things you drink frequently, as well as a few odds and ends. Once you know what you have, you will know what you need to add. Also, feel free to ask us about the odds and ends you find and we'll help you come up with a way to use them.
The Basics of Your Holiday Bar. Disclaimer: since everyone's taste is a little different, you may decide to switch out a few of these ingredients for your faves. But we recommend these items because they're versatile and make lovely classic and fresh holiday drinks. So pick and choose from the list as budget and taste allow, but if you pick up this list, you will be set for everything we're going to help you make in the next couple of weeks:
- Brandy (VS or VSOP are both fine)
- Rum, Gold is usually best as it works in multiple drinks
- Bourbon (Shaun will have more to say about this soon)
- Triple Sec
- Vermouth, sweet and dry
- Bitters, Angostura and Orange
We also recommend that you buy one or more of the following liqueurs. If your budget will allow only one, select the Maraschino.
- Luxardo Maraschino
- Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
A Note About Mixers. For the most part, the cocktails we make don't use much in the way of mixers, and we never use pre-made mixes. What we do keep on hand in addition as important additions to cocktails are:
- Lemons, limes, and grapefruits
- Club soda
- Tonic water
Used less frequently are cranberry juice and apple juice (buy 100% juice). We also use ginger beer and spiced apple cider (sparkling), preferably Reed's. Finally, we usually keep sparkling wine on hand, which isn't really a mixer but can be used in many cocktails. Also, it's a good thing to have around during the holidays. You should also keep some wine on hand, but that's not our domain.
Top Shelf Vs Cheap. Ok, so when it comes to budget the place you're going to feel it the most is when choosing the spirits. A good bottle of brandy or gin can be spendy, but you don't want to offer your guests something that resembles rubbing alcohol either. When it comes to choosing our spirits, we tend to land somewhere in the middle. There is a caveat to that though: the purpose for which you're using the booze makes a difference.
If I am making a gin & tonic I don't care if I am using cheaper gin. I won't taste the difference. When it comes to a martini, though, it's a whole different ball game. A martini demands good gin, because here is where you will taste it. I prefer Martin Miller's, but there are a number of good gins out there. Beefeater won't break the bank and is a good choice for budget buying. Of course, personal taste matters as well. Bottom line, buy the best you can, but keep a cheaper bottle on hand for when someone asks for a rum & coke - throw the Bacardi in there, not the higher end stuff.
Where's the Vodka? I can hear a number of you asking why vodka isn't on my list. Well, that's because we don't really use vodka for much these days. Vodka, being basically tasteless, really only serves to add alcohol content to a drink without affecting the flavour. We prefer spirits that add to the taste of the drink, like gin, brandy, and bourbon. Sorry, vodka lovers. We do keep a bottle of Belvedere in the house for a certain special guest, but never touch it ourselves. So, it's not a bad idea to have a bottle around if you have vodka drinkers in the family.
There is another use for vodka. We use it for infusions, and add it to some of our other concoctions, such as the homemade cinnamon syrup I'll be posting about this week.
So that's it. The beginning of your holiday bar. Of course, we will be adding some things to the list this week, including some homemade items that are easy to make and enhance your holiday drinking experience. Homemade hazelnut liqueur anyone? Stay tuned.