Whether you are hosting a bunch of holiday gatherings or you just need a proper drink when you get home after a long day of work, shopping and traveling—having a well-stocked bar is a holiday must. Here are some of our tips and favorite recipes.
Gin is a staple at Chez Diva, with martinis being served year-round. Some people may not think they like gin yet; they just haven’t met the right gin cocktail. There’s the increasingly popular Negroni, of course, in which the gin is often undetectable when combined with equal parts of vermouth rosso and Campari (which is bitter and botanic). But if someone is just edging toward gin and needs a softer touch, go with the Vesper, which uses equal parts gin and vodka with a little Lillet Blanc (about 1.5 tsp for every oz of combined gin and vodka). The vodka softens the juniper flavor of the gin and the Lillet Blanc adds a dry, sweetness. It’s almost a little too drinkable. If you want to give a little color to the beverage, you can use Lillet Rouge, which is a little less dry than Lillet Blanc. Garnish with lemon peel (or orange peel).
Ah, good old vodka. The most basic spirit, it can be mixed and infused with anything. From juicy Screwdrivers and Cape Cods, to creamy White Russians and Espresso Martinis, it is the base requirement for a lot of crowd-pleasing cocktails. If you want to give your screwdriver (just vodka and OJ) a more herbal bite appropriate for the season of spices, add a dash of Galliano. Break out the Lillet Rouge again and combine with equal parts vodka (2 oz of each), then add an ounce of simple syrup and an ounce of lemon juice to make a lovely Bootsy Collins. And for the sweet-tooths, have the heavy cream and coffee liqueur on hand and mix it all up for a White Russian. The proportions are easy: 1 part cream and 1 part liqueur for every two parts vodka. Leave out the cream and you have a Black Russian for the lactose intolerant, or those who want a citrus garnish. (Orange peel works beautifully.)
A lot of people switch to brown liquor in the winter, so having some whiskey on hand is a good idea even if you don’t drink it much yourself. Naturally, some will just want to sip their whiskey straight or one the rocks, but we love a good whiskey cocktail. There are scads of variations on Manhattans and Old Fashioned, both of which require angostura bitters and a cherry garnish. For the Manhattan, you’ll need vermouth rosso. Tis the best!
And if you have Campari on hand for Negronis (yay, gin!), you can swap whiskey for gin and make the negroni’s darker cousin, the boulevardier. Garnish, again, with a cherry and/or citrus.
Mixers and Garnishes
Never underestimate the ability of the right mixer to transform a cocktail. Sure, Schweppes will suffice when the drunks are flowing fast and easy, but if you want a more sophisticated tonic water, there are better options. You should always have club soda or seltzer on hand, so just get bottle of Kina Tonic by Seattle-based Bradley’s Tonic Co., which comes in small batches in concentrated form to be added to the fizzy water to make tonic with genuine cinchona quinine and a blend of of subtle spices.
Ditch the usual, syrupy, clown-nose-red maraschino cherries and get a jar of brandied cherries if you didn’t make your own in the summer. (Note: It’s not because of that urban myth about those mass-produced cherries containing formaldehyde. They don’t. They get flavored with benzaldehyd, the same flavoring agent as Dr. Pepper, and corn syrup.) Sure, you can find more naturally flavored and colored maraschino cherries for the kids’ sundaes in summer, but for your cocktail go with brandied cherries. They may be pricier, but they actually complement the cocktail. If you aren’t skimping on the quality of your booze, why cut corners with the garnish?
That is true for juice mixers. Naturally, fresh-squeezed is best, but that can be a bit overwhelming and tedious when making cocktails at a party. If you have a good squeezer for yourself at your home bar, all the better, but just getting the freshest, purest juice you can get will be fine in most cases. Definitely invest in a good peeler and zester, though, and have lots of oranges and lemons on hand. It’s flu season, so eat your fruit!
Don’t want a giant cluster of bottles but want to have a versatile cocktail menu? Here’s our condensed shopping list for a well-stocked bar that allows you to make most of the cocktails listed above.
- Gin – Our favorite regional distiller: OOLA
- Vodka – Our favorite regional distiller: Dryfly
- Rye or Bourbon Whisky (or one of each!) – Our favorite regional distiller: Pendleton
- Lillet Rouge – Fortified wines make good digestifs to sip, so feel free to have a bottle of blanc and rouge for the most versatility. We like substituting Cocchi for recipes that call for Lillet when we’re feeling fancy.
- Vermouth Rosso – Naturally, we assume you have a bottle of dry vermouth on hand for martinis.
- Coffee Liqueur – Kahlua or Tia Maria are easy to find, but Firelit Coffee Liqueur from Napa, CA is an awesome, bold, less-sweet craft option.
- Angostura Bitters – We love Seattle-based Scrappy’s Bitters. Check them out for a wide variety of aromatic options!
- Bag of lemons (and a bottle of lemon juice if you don’t have a good squeezer)
- Some limes for the folks who simply want a Gin and Tonic
- A bowl full of oranges (and a jug of fresh-squeezed OJ)
- A jar of brandied cherries
- A couple bottles of soda water
- A high quality tonic or tonic syrup
Optional is a carton of cream—which you may have on hand for confections anyways—but only if you plan on having dessert cocktails. Cheers to a festive holiday season.
Here is to wishing you one amazing stocked bar this holiday season!