Who doesn’t want to play the role of bartender at home, serving cocktails with a bit of flair when friends and family arrive? Mixing drinks isn’t nearly as difficult as you might imagine; it’s all about being prepared so you can offer guests variety with little effort. Read on to find out the essentials for every home bartender.
Distilled spirits form the backbone of most cocktails. Do a little research before choosing brands—the most expensive is not always the best! Your selection will depend on your tastes, the type of party you’re having and what you want to make. For a starter selection, we recommend stocking up on a bottle each of gin, bourbon, Canadian whisky, rum (both white and dark), tequila (make sure the label says 100% agave) and vodka. Some home bartenders also find cognac useful to have around. When planning your cocktail night, note which liqueurs are needed for the drinks you want to try. For example, triple sec, a liqueur flavoured with orange peels, is often included in cocktail recipes.
Tip: Simplify bartending duties (and narrow down your shopping list) by offering guests a cocktail menu with just a few options. They get choices, and you get to perfect your skills on a handful of drinks before expanding your repertoire.
Preparation also means having all your mixers and ready-to-drink beverages organized (and chilled, if necessary). For simple mixed drinks and cocktails, you’ll be able to cover the essentials by stocking up on club soda, ginger ale, tonic and cola. Other basics include grenadine, Italian sodas, sugar cubes, tomato juice cocktail, olives, milk, half-and-half cream and maraschino cherries. You’ll also need at least one standard-size bag of cubed ice (about 2.7 kg/6 lb) for every two guests.
Guests who won’t be drinking alcohol also deserve to have interesting options to satisfy their thirst. They might appreciate non-alcoholic beer, de-alcoholized wine or elegantly garnished mocktails.
Using fresh produce in your cocktails makes them extra special—and extra delicious. Plan ahead by selecting the recipes you’d like to make, and then adding the fruits and veggies to your shopping list. For example, you can’t create genuine Havana-style mojitos without plenty of limes and fresh mint. Lemons and oranges make frequent appearances in cocktails too, and sometimes you’ll need grapefruits, fresh cranberries, cucumbers or rosemary. Shop for produce the day before your party to ensure the ingredients are at their best.
Tip: Plan on using one package of mint per three drinks. Store herbs in re-sealable plastic bags and keep them in the refrigerator crisper or vegetable bin for up to five days.
If you love serving cocktails, a shaker is a good investment. It’s easy to use and looks great placed on your bar cart.
Bar spoons, little measuring cups called “jiggers” and special cocktail strainers are all available through housewares retailers and at kitchen supply stores. Other essential tools include a vegetable peeler for making garnishes and a muddler, which is simply a little bat used to squish and pulverize fresh ingredients. (The back of a wooden spoon will do in a pinch.) Keep a small paring knife and cutting board for slicing up fruit in the area where you’re making drinks. And make sure to have tea towels handy for spills and a container to hold ice.
Now you should have everything you need to feel relaxed and ready for a great party with family and friends. Cheers to you!