Liquor in a home bar
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Spirits and Mixers Every Home Bar Should Have

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Liquor in a home bar
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Mix It Up!

Among life's many little pleasures that the coronavirus pandemic has put on hold, few are missed quite as much as enjoying a cocktail at your favorite bar or restaurant. Since most of us won't be tippling at our favorite watering hole anytime soon, now is the perfect time to build your own home bar with your favorite spirits. Unless you prefer your liquor served straight up, you'll also want to stock up on mixers so you can mix cocktails ranging from classic to crazy. These are the essentials.

Related: 17 Refreshing Summer Cocktails From Around the World

Belvedere
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Vodka

If you had to choose just one spirit for your home bar, vodka would be it. This clear liquor, distilled from grains such as sorghum or rye, as well as corn, potatoes, or sugar beets (to name just a few) has a neutral flavor that mixes well with just about anything, and it's the foundation of many classic cocktails. For drinks like the martini, where the vodka takes center stage, choose a classic top-shelf spirit like Belvedere, a glassy-smooth Polish vodka with a subtle hint of vanilla. For mixed drinks like the bloody Mary, which contains a number of other ingredients, try Texas-made Tito's, which is distilled from corn and has a sublime sweetness that plays well with all those other flavors.

Pro tip: Flavored vodkas have their place in a home bar, too, especially if you enjoy fruity drinks like the cosmopolitan. Deep Eddy Lemon, another Texas vodka, will give your drink a clean, citrusy zing.

Related: 14 Cheap Punches to Liven Up Summer Parties

Greenhook Gin
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Gin

Infused with juniper berries and other herbs and botanicals, gin may not be to everyone's taste, but it's a bar essential for martinis, negronis, Singapore slings, and the classic gin and tonic (naturally, darling!). As with vodka, the world of gin has exploded with scores of new craft and small-batch offerings — but you can't go wrong with a classic London dry-style gin such as Beefeater for your G&T or martini. If you're not crazy about the juniper-heavy flavor of London dry gins, look for an American-style gin (which, because they don't use neutral grain spirits as a base, put more emphasis on the botanical flavors) such as Greenhook or Leopold's.

Pro tip: Sloe gin, despite the name, is not gin. It's a gin-based liqueur distilled with sloe berries, which are a distant relation of the plum native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa (they kinda look like grapes). Use it to make a sloe gin fizz.

Related: How to Drink in Other Countries

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old
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Bourbon, Rye, or Scotch

It's "whiskey" in the U.S. and Ireland, and "whisky" in Canada, Scotland, and Japan, but no matter how it's spelled, it all starts with a fermented grain mash of some sort. Corn is the primary ingredient in American bourbon, while ryes use (surprise!) rye. Scotch and Irish whiskies are distilled from malted barley, and Canadian whiskies use a blend of corn, rye, and sometimes other grains. For cocktails such as the Manhattan or mint julep, look for Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey or Rittenhouse Rye. If you prefer straight sipping, try a Scotch like Glenfiddich 12 Year Old.

Pro tip: Whiskies start oxidizing as soon as you open the bottle, so be sure to finish your favorite spirit within two months.

Related: 20 Best Whiskeys Under $50

Gosling's Bermuda Black Rum
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Rum

Nothing says the tropics like rum, which is distilled from sugar cane molasses or juice then aged. Rums vary in color from light to dark; in general, the darker the rum is, the fuller the flavor. Light rums such as Bacardi Silver are ideal for cocktails such as the mojito or piña colada, while a darker rum like Gosling's Bermuda Black Rum is suitable for a dark and stormy.

Pro tip: Rum isn't just for drinking. It's also great for baking, and making a dessert such as tiramisu or rum balls is a clever way to finish off a bottle of rum before it goes bad.

Related: 18 Best Rums Under $35 to Spice Up Your Home Bar

1800 Tequila
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Tequila

Margaritas. And tequila sunrises. And palomas. But mainly margaritas. That's why no home bar is complete without tequila, a spirit distilled from the blue agave plant. Mexican law stipulates that tequila can only be produced in designated appellations within the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. For a classic margarita, choose a younger tequila like 1800 or Herradura.

Pro tip: There are five types of tequila: joven (aka young) is not aged and contains additives like caramel color to give it its yellow hue; blanco (white or silver), which is aged no more than 60 days; reposado (rested), which are aged for two to nine months; añejo (old), aged from one to three years; and extra añejo, which is aged for at least three years. In general, the older the tequila, the smoother and mellow it will be, and the more suited it will be for sipping straight.

Related: 15 Best Tequilas Under $30 a Bottle for Your Home Bar

Fever-Tree
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Tonic Water

A home bar essential, tonic water contains quinine, a bitter extract from bark of the cinchona tree originally used to treat malaria. It gives cocktails a refreshing dash of astringent effervescence and can be mixed with just about any spirit, but gin and vodka are tonic water's BFFs. Cheaper tonic waters that use high-fructose corn syrup will be sweeter than those that use cane sugar or other natural sweeteners. Schweppes Tonic Water is a good budget option. Tonic waters flavored with essence of cucumber, elderflower, citrus, or similar botanicals are another option. Try Fever-Tree, one of the first craft-tonic makers to hit it big and a favorite with bartenders.

Pro tip: Tonic water goes flat quickly, so buy individual-serving bottles rather than 1-liter or larger containers, say the mixmasters at Food Network.

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Topo Chico
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Club Soda and Seltzer

Like tonic water, seltzer and club soda give cocktails a bubbly kick while taking the edge off strong liquors. Both are essentially carbonated water and can be used interchangeably, although club soda has been fortified with minerals like potassium bicarbonate that give it a slightly salty taste. Club soda is a must for cocktails like the gin rickey or Aperol spritz, while plain seltzer is used for wine spritzers and sangria. If you like your bubbles big and carbonation bracing, experts recommend Topo Chico mineral water and Schweppes Club Soda. If you prefer a little less fizz, but a bit more flavor, try Q Club Soda

Pro tip: Avoid flavored and sweetened seltzer water, which can introduce unwanted flavors into your cocktail.

Angostura
Amazon

Bitters

These alcoholic extracts — which are derived from citrus, spice, herbs, and other botanicals — give cocktails that certain something. Or as The Washington Post put it: "They bind, they brace, they emphasize flavor notes in spirits dark and light." Although there are literally hundreds of bitters available, experts say two of the oldest brands, Angostura and Peychaud's, are perfectly acceptable for cocktails such as the Manhattan and Old Fashioned.

Pro tip: A bottle of orange bitters such as Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 will round out your home bar and is a must for drinks like the daiquiri and Aperol spritz.

Dolin Dry Vermouth
Amazon

Vermouth

A key ingredient of martinis and negronis, vermouth is wine that's been fortified with aromatic botanical ingredients. There are two basic kinds — dry vermouth, which is white, and sweet vermouth, which is red — but as with other spirits, you'll find plenty of small-batch vermouths with unusual ingredients or flavorings, too. If dry martinis are your thing, experts recommend the very dry, slightly citrusy Dolin Dry Vermouth. For Manhattans and aperitifs, choose a sweet vermouth like Carpano Antica Formula, with notes of cherry, vanilla, and clove.

Pro tip: Like table wine, vermouth does not have a long shelf life. Refrigerate after opening, and buy fresh if your vermouth is more than four to six weeks old.

Related: Where to Order Beer, Wine, and Liquor Online

Gosling's Black Seal
Amazon

Ginger Beer

If your cocktail cravings lean toward the Moscow mule or a dark 'n' stormy, then add ginger beer to your shopping list. This non-alcoholic, carbonated mixer is made with ginger, sugar, and water, then fermented. It's got a stronger ginger taste than ginger ale, which is not fermented, but it's typically less fizzy. Experts recommend two classic ginger beers, Barritts Bermuda Ginger Beer and Gosling's Black Seal, for your cocktails.

Pro tip: You don't need alcohol to enjoy ginger beer. It can be served on the rocks like any soda for a bracing, refreshingly snappy sipper.

Cointreau
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Triple Sec

Although you can enjoy this orange liqueur on its own as a digestif, it's usually found in cocktails like the Long Island iced tea, sidecar, and margarita ("the only way to make a margarita without sacrificing your integrity," according to Gentleman's Quarterly.) Among triple secs, Cointreau is the standard.

Pro tip: Want a new twist on the margarita? Try making margarita Jell-O shots.

cranberry juice cocktail
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Juices

Fruit juices play an important role in mixology, whether it's as an accent (a dash of lemon or lime in a tonic-based cocktail) or as the main feature (aside from the booze, of course) in a bloody Mary, pina colada, or seabreeze. Fresh is best for lemon and lime juice, but canned is just fine for cranberry, pineapple, tomato, and orange juices.

Pro tip: Be careful when you shop for cranberry juice and choose a brand that is labeled "100% juice," meaning it has been sweetened with fruit juices, rather than cranberry juice cocktail, which is sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.

Lea & Perrins
Amazon

Tabasco, Worcestershire, and Horseradish

If fancy bloody Marys are your thing, then stock up on these condiments. Tabasco brand pepper sauce, which can also be used in drinks like the Michelada, will give your cocktail a touch of spicy heat. Kick it up a notch with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and horseradish, which add pungency and savory notes. There are dozens of Worcestershire sauces at the store, but that old standby Lea & Perrins will do just fine, experts say. As for the prepared horseradish, look for Woeber's Pure Horseradish.

Pro tip: Don't buy horseradish sauce, which contains mayonnaise; it's not the same as pure horseradish and will ruin your bloody Mary.

Related:25 Indulgent Brunch Recipes for a Weekend Feast at Home

glass of whiskey with large ice cubes
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Ice

Ice is a no-brainer, especially during hot weather. Most people are content with the ice from their freezer. But if you're super-serious about your drink, any old ice cube will not do. For on-the-rocks drinks, use cubes that are 1.5 to 2 inches in size; anything smaller will melt too quickly and dilute your drink. Cracked ice, the kind you'll find at a grocery store, is a good choice for frozen drinks like margaritas or daiquiris because it is smaller than ice cubes and less likely to jam your blender. Chips of crushed ice, sometimes called shaved ice, are smaller still and best for slushy drinks such as the Moscow mule.

Pro tip: You can use a high-powered blender to turn ice cubes into shaved ice, but be sure to drain off the melted water before you add it to your drinks.

Related: 27 Kitchen Essentials That Are Built to Last

Little-Known Facts About Coke
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Cola

Coke and Pepsi are just fine on their own, but there are also a handful of classic cocktails that take cola to the next level: rum and Coke, Cuba libre, and Long Island iced tea, among them. 

Pro tip: As with tonic water, choose small cans instead of large 1- or 2-liter containers so your mixer is always fresh and fizzy.

Related: 44 Unique Regional Sodas You Have to Try — If You Can Find Them

Mini Drinks
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How Much Should I Buy?

If you're shopping for your home bar, keep one 750ml bottle (called "a fifth") of your favorite spirit on hand, but go for smaller sizes of liquors that you may not use frequently. As for mixers, choose single-serving containers when possible. If you're planning a party (when the booze goes fast) figure on pouring 16 drinks from each fifth of liquor, plus 1 liter of a mixer for every three guests, and 1 pound of ice per person. That sounds like a lot of ice, but remember that you'll lose a fair amount to melting over time, especially if it's hot out.

Related: 21 Summer Beers to Cool You Off On a Hot Day