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!

One of life's many pleasures is being able to sip on an excellent cocktail at your favorite bar or restaurant. But it's getting expensive out there, and opting to build your own home bar with your favorite spirits has become an especially savvy move — plus, it means you're well-prepared to mix up a variety of libations whenever your friends drop in. Whether you're building a home bar from scratch or want to give your current one a revamp, here are the must-have liquors and mixers you'll need to concoct cocktails ranging from classic to creative.


Related: 17 Refreshing Summer Cocktails From Around the World

Belvedere Vodka
Total Wine

Vodka

Vodka is the chameleon of liquor. This clear spirit, 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 such as a vodka martini, in which the vodka takes center stage, choose a classic top-shelf spirit such as Belvedere, a glassy-smooth Polish vodka with a subtle hint of vanilla. For mixed drinks such as 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 such as the cosmopolitan. Deep Eddy Lemon, another Texas vodka, will give your drink a clean, citrusy zing.


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Greenhook Ginsmiths American Dry Gin
Drizly

Gin

Infused with juniper berries and other herbs and botanicals, gin is an essential home bar ingredient 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 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 strictly gin. It's a gin-based liqueur distilled with sloe berries, which are a distant relation of the plum that are native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa (and kinda look like grapes). We recommend using Plymouth Sloe Gin to make a sloe gin fizz.

Glenfiddich 12 Yr Scotch
Total Wine

Bourbon, Rye, or Scotch

It's "whiskey" in the United States and Ireland, and "whisky" in Canada, Scotland, and Japan, but no matter how it's spelled, the popular liquor 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 such as 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 Black Seal Rum
Total Wine

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, the fuller its flavor. Light rums such as Bacardi Silver are ideal for cocktails such as the mojito or piña colada, while a darker rum such as 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; making a dessert such as tiramisu or rum balls is a clever way to finish off a bottle before it goes bad.


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

1800 Silver 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 be produced only in designated appellations within the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. For a classic margarita, choose a younger tequila such as 1800 or Herradura.


Pro tip: There are five types of tequila: joven (aka young) is not aged and contains additives such as 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: Costco Tequilas That Offer the Best Sweet-Sippin' Payoff

Mezcal
Wikimedia Commons

Mezcal

If you're a fan of tequila, give mezcal a chance. The spirit, which has experienced a rise in popularity in recent years, is defined as any agave-based liquor — which means that all tequila is mezcal. It's often characterized by a smoky flavor, which comes from roasting piña, the core of the agave plant, in the ground. There are three distinct categories of mezcal based on production styles: Mezcal, Mezcal Artesanal, and Mezcal Ancestral. To really experience mezcal's smoky flavor, try Del Maguey Vida Mezcal; for something a little smoother, Montelobos Mezcal Espadin is an excellent option.


Pro tip: Mezcal can often be used in your favorite tequila-centric recipes including margaritas and palomas. But it can also make for a great mezcal negroni — try this creative spin on a classic.

Dolin Vermouth De Chambery Dry
Total Wine

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. If dry martinis are your thing, experts recommend the very dry, slightly citrusy Dolin Dry Vermouth. For Manhattans and aperitifs, choose a sweet vermouth such as 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.

Cointreau
Total Wine

Triple Sec

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


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

Angostura Bitters
Total Wine

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 Fee Brothers Orange Bitters will round out your home bar and is a must for drinks such as the daiquiri and Aperol spritz.

Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water
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Tonic Water

A home bar essential, tonic water contains quinine, a bitter extract from bark of the cinchona tree used originally 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.

Topo Chico
Total Wine

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 such as potassium bicarbonate that give it a slightly salty taste. Club soda is a must for cocktails such as 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.

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 one- or two-liter bottles so your mixer is always fresh and fizzy.


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

Gosling's Black Seal
Amazon

Ginger Beer

If your cocktail cravings lean toward the Moscow mule or a dark 'n' stormy, add ginger beer to your shopping list. This nonalcoholic, 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 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.


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 — choose a brand 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 The Original Worcestershire Sauce
Amazon

Tabasco, Worcestershire, and Horseradish

If fancy bloody Marys are your thing, stock up on these condiments. Tabasco brand pepper sauce, which can also be used in drinks such as 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 a 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. 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 such as margaritas or daiquiris because it is smaller than ice cubes and less likely to jam a 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 adding it to drinks.


Related: The Best Countertop Ice Makers at Every Price Point

Mini Drinks
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How Much Should I Buy?

If you're shopping for a 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 one liter of a mixer for every three guests, and one 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