I recently held a large cocktail party with an open bar and was overwhelmed at the prospect of getting all the famed cocktails covered, and while I over spent in the process I now see sticking to the classic categories of alcohol can be truly versatile. One disclaimer, I have some preferred brands based on my own experience, do what works for you, and your budget. If anything this could be a good guide to get you on your way. Also build this up over time. I once had a collection of 20+ vodkas i bought slowly over the course of a year, when a New Years Party was in the works I had quite the ultimate vodka tasting (not recommend by the way unless you have Excedrin on hand). That said, have fun with it, try a few key cocktails at a time and build up your core ingredients and special recipes. You can even work through our Happy Hour Tuesday section of our blog to get some great cocktail ideas, most of which you can make using this list.
Once you make your grocery list, please share your best and or worst cocktail bar experience!
Here are the must haves / Top 15 Bottles for the Ultimate Home Bar or Cocktail Party:
- Ketel One (Vodka) $24
- Highland Park 12 yr (Single Malt Scotch) $45
- Macallan 12 yr. (Single Malt Scotch) $90
- Beefeater (Dry Gin) $16
- Bombay Sapphire (Gin) $30
- Wild Turkey (Bourbon) $18
- Cazadores Blanco (Tequila) $20
- Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum (Dark Rum) $16
- Havana Club (Anejo Rum) $15
- Rometti Limoncello (Lemon Liqueur) $24
- Cointreu (Orange Liqueur) $35
- Grand Marnier (Orange Liqueur) $34
- Compari (Red Bitters) $24
- Angosture (Bitters) $10
- Martini (Dry Vermouth) $10
Soda, Sprite, Tonic, Cola, Orange –Cranberry- Tomato- Pineapple Juice, homemade simple syrup.
Cocktail Olives, Limes, Lemons, Oranges, Other exotic fruits, Sugar, Salt, Pepper.
Vodka: While true mixoglist will say vodka is an excuse to not be creative, I say if its good for Bond its good for me, thus I default to one of the better vodka’s out there Ketel One.
Scotch: This is the break the bank section of your bar set up however for any true enthusiast a nice singe malt is a must. I’ve included two in my top 15 selections for good reason. The Highland Park is a good value ($45 for a 12 yr) and it’s spice notes work well as part of creative cocktails such as a London Sour. There are a lot of incredible scotches out there but you also need one neat, not to be messed with…Macallan is a very nice smooth all-around scotch.
Gin: I’ve also broken this up into two bottles as well, Beefeater is cheaper and works well in cocktails as it has a nice baseline in flavor without getting a lot of the floral notes. Bombay on the other hand is much more complex and is your default to a good classic gin martini.
Bourbon: Unless you’re set up in West Texas, Bourbon neat may not be your most popular request, however its imperative in many cocktails. Wild Turkey is a great low cost option.
Tequila: There’s a lot of great sipper Tequila’s out there i.e 1942, however your average Margarita lover wont know the difference from Don John, to Don Julio. I find that Cazadores is a great tasting tequila that can be used in many forms without Don Julio rolling in his grave.
Rum: is broken up into two bottles one a spiced rum, another Anejo or aged rum which carries a stronger flavor but generally smooth. While I’ve added Havana Club to the list, for our US readers you wont find this on any shelves here, so Sailor Jerry’s is a great choice.
Lemon Liqueur: Rometti Limoncello lives two lives, one is a stand alone liqueur celebrated by great Italian heritage, the other one of the most versatile liqueurs for cocktails out there. From adding a twist, or freshly squeezed lemons, or citrus. Limoncello is the answer, and of course Rometti Limoncello is one of the best-handcrafted 100% natural limoncello’s you can find commercially in the US.
Orange Liqueur: Two of the best brands here are incredible compliments to cocktails, Cointreu and Grand Marnier. Countreu is a great additive if you don’t want to over sweeten the cocktail while still giving it a nice citrus balance. Grand Marnier on the other hand is about twice as sweet, so for the right combination this can smooth things out nicely.
Bitters: I think bitters are making a come back as the mixology trend is at its peak right now. Compari is a red bitters one of the most traditionally used in Italy and is quite refreshing. Angosture is your true cocktail bitters and one of the best I’ve tried.
Vermouth: While there are many choices here Martini is widely used, and is key for your Martini’s, Manhattans, Negroni among others.
Whats your best and or worst cocktail bar experience?