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Keeping a well-stocked cocktail bar will make every drop-in visit a prepped party. If you are planning on building out your bar, there are a few must-have items. From liquor to garnishes, learning what your friends like to drink will give you a good idea as to what to keep in stock all the time. As time goes on and you start to branch out beyond the classic cocktails, you’ll be able to grow your bar until you have something unique. But for now, here are some basics you need to start your collection:
A well-stocked bar means not having to run to the freezer for ice every few minutes. It also means having something a bit nicer than an Igloo Playmate, which certainly has it’s place in the home. With many varieties, find one that suits your style, and consider a double wall to keep condensation to a minimum, an attached lid and tongs or a scoop. For a conversation starter and a little excitement, check out this ice bucket with a color-changing LED light. (I kind of want to buy that just to have some fun at our next party.) Bucket and tongs setfeatured below.
Good-quality ice makes your drinks taste better. Thinking of ice as just a way to keep your drink cold is doing it a major disservice. Making your own ice is a good idea if you like the taste of your water. If you don’t, running it through a filter takes some of the mineral taste out of it.
Fresh ice also is preferable over older ice since it can pick up strange flavors from the air in your freezer. During your party planning stage, make enough ice to last the night. Having to make an ice run at the height of your party is a major buzzkill. However, if you’re throwing a spur-of-the-moment party, there is nothing wrong with store-bought ice as long as you have enough to keep everything cold and people’s drinks refreshed.
Keeping Your Drinks Stylishly Cool
My husband introduced me to ice balls a few years ago and we now keep a collection in our freezer. There’s a fine art to creating the perfect ice ball (I’ll have to write a post on that in the future.) These molds are inexpensive and stand the test of time (and many moldings.) They also allow for infusions, which are so fun for colorful and flavorful ice balls. We’re working on coffee-flavor soon.
Ice balls are great for drinks that you need to stay cool, and can use a little watering-down, but when you want instantly chilled wine without the water, turn to wine pearls. Keep a set or two in your freezer for when you need to open an unchilled bottle of white.
While some people like obscure and hard-to-find liquors, most are content to have the well-known staples. These are the key to a good cocktail party, as you’ll use them to make the bulk of your drinks.
- Vodka is an obvious choice to keep in your bar because it is versatile. Add some to your favorite juice, like cranberry or pineapple, and you have a quick drink that anyone can enjoy. Vodka also can be used for more complex cocktails, like a vodka martini or Moscow mule. The other advantage of vodka is that because it has a neutral-to-low taste, it can be added to just about anything to give it a slight kick.
- The right kind of rum depends on what else you’re serving. Light rums go great with drinks that have an emphasis on fruit and sweetness. Pina coladas and mojitos are good examples of light rum drinks. Dark or spiced rums, however, tend to overpower mild mixers. Dark rums are best mixed with stronger flavors, such as Coke for a Cuba libre or ginger beer for a dark and stormy.
- Whiskeys are another must have for any bar set. Whiskey, compared to most other staple liquors, can be served neat (without ice or mixers) or as a cocktail. For example, an old fashioned is a classic and classy cocktail that is a mix of sugar, bitters and whiskey that is served in a glass with ice and a cherry and orange slice garnish.
Shaker & Other Mixing Tools
It’s time to shake, shake, shake those drinks, and you’ll need a reliable shaker to mix your guests’ favorites. I’ve always admired this shaker because it has recipes for popular drinks on the side. Here’s a prettier shaker, it’s clear glass allows you to admire your concoction for a bit more of a farmhouse feel (comes with a wood muddler and a stainless steel jigger). Or opt for a full 7-piece set of standard bar tools (including an ebook: 101 Cocktail Recipes).
Garnishes are often overlooked when building a cocktail bar. Although you don’t need an extensive collection, there are a few must-haves. Always have a few pieces of fresh citrus to garnish the sides of your glasses. Oranges for an old fashioned, limes for a Cuba libre and lemons for a martini with a twist are necessary staples.
Maraschino cherries and green olives are also common garnishes that shouldn’t be ignored. Cherries give a hint of sweetness to drinks that shouldn’t be overly sweet. Olives are the classic pairing for martinis because the oils and salts elevate the sweetness of the vodka or gin.
Also keep a sampler of bitters in your bar, which will make your cocktails tastier. Each bottle in this bitters set will dress up your cocktails and let you experience many different flavors of liquors. (They’re also fun to mix with foods.)
Cocktail Napkins, Stirrers and Toothpicks
Replacing your disposables as soon as you run through is excellent prep for your next party or standard drop-in of a long-lost friend. Run to your bar area now and check in. Do you have toothpicks? Stirrers? Cocktail Napkins? Re-stock with timeless pieces today so your bar is all set. Here’s a standard set of swizzle sticks and toothpicks to keep on hand, but remember to replace with fun themes before you host a party. (Featured cocktail swizzles in the above image.) There’s a great variety of cocktail napkins available to suit every mood.
This post was co-written by Social Monsters.
© 2016, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.