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Stocking a Bar - What should I have on hand?

We're not huge liquor drinkers, yet I'd like to have a decently-stocked bar at home.

Currently, I have bottles of:

Smirnoff Vodka
Cuervo Tequila
Crown Royal
Beefeater Gin
Eagle Rare Bourbon

What other staples should I have for a well-stocked bar?

Thank you!

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  1. You should get a bottle of vermouth or two. If possible get a small bottle of sweet and a small bottle of dry. Remember to refrigerate it after you open it so it doesn't oxidize.

    You should also have a bottle of bitters, angosutra at the least, but preferably a bottle of orange bitters as well. In a month or two angosutra will have it's orange bitters out which will drastically help people finding this otherwise hard to find product.

    You should pick up a bottle of rum and a bottle of good rye.

    Aside from that you need to look at the type of drinks you would be making. I personally can't think of not having a bottle of Luxardo maraschino at home or not having any Chartreuse.

    5 Replies
    1. re: fafner

      Thank you! What would I use rye in?

      1. re: QueenB

        Rye used to be the most popular whiskey in the States; I think Prohibition damped its fortunes in a way it never really recovered from. Scotch and bourbon became more popular after Repeal. Lots of popular whiskey cocktails that are now made with other whiskeys were probably originally made with rye, like the Manhattan (a fun fact to spring on your Manhattan-drinking friends).

        I use rye is classic old-school cocktails like the Sazerac, Whiskey Sour, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Brooklyn. I also make simple highballs with it like rye and soda or rye and ginger ale.

      2. re: fafner

        er, that'd be angostura, not angosutra (which i believe is what they called the english translation of the kamasutra)

        1. re: tuqueboy

          Are angosutra bitters better than angostura? ;-)

        2. re: fafner

          In southeastern Virginia, home wet bars seem to show much importance on good quality Bourbon (MAKER'S MARK). All ages here in VA drink bourbon - it's certainly not just your grandparent's cocktail anymore..

          Vodka ( STOLICHNAYA 75 proof - red label) is also very popular. More & more folks are enjoying Vodka martinis &/or simply on rocks without an infuser or mixer. With this in mind, Stoli will provide the smoothest & most classic choice.

          I didn't see any mention of Scotch (THE GLENLIVET) on your list. I'm not much of a whisky drinker, but many guys are. My "scotch guests" always seem impressed to see the 12 yeard old first fill I present.

          One last recommendation...MUSIC. THE PINK MARTINI BAND, Sympathique CD is one of the best mixes for cocktail tunes - you'll truly enjoy the "romantic Hollywood musical-ish of the 1940s or 50s – but with a global perspective which is modern.”

        3. Sorta depends on what your household and your frequent guests like. You're off to an excellent start. I just took a look at my own bar, and will suggest a few extras:

          Some rye, Scotch, and Irish whiskey; light, gold, and dark rum; an inexpensive brandy for cocktails and a fancy one (Cognac or Armagnac) for sipping; liqueurs for sipping and popular cocktails like an orange cordial (Triple Sec, Cointreau, Curacao, or Grand Marnier), Maraschino, and creme de cassis; sweet and dry Vermouth, and perhaps another aromatized wine (Lillet, Punt e Mes); some bitters for cocktail flavoring (Angostura, Peychaud's, orange bitters) and for sipping (Fernet Branca, Campari, Cynar, Jagermeister, Becheverovka, etc.); some fortified wines like sherry and port; maybe a bottle of pastis (e.g., Pernod).

          You should also stock mixers: tonic water, seltzer, ginger ale, lemon-lime soda, ginger beer, cola; shelf-stable juices (tomato, pineapple, passionfruit). Syrups (Grenadine, simple cane-sugar syrup, Orgeat); cream of coconut; cocktail onions, olives, and cherries (I hate those fake-red Maraschinos, and make my own); coarse salt; a pepper mill; super-fine sugar.

          It's good to have some wine on hand: red, white, rose, and a sparkler, as well as beer. In anticipation of entertaining, you'll want to get fresh fruit for garnishes (lemon, lime, orange) and juice (ditto, plus grapefruit), fresh herbs (mint); celery. Lots and lots of cocktail ice: you don't want to run out.

          A good assortment of glassware: cocktail glases, dobule-rocks glasses, highball glasses; a variety of stemware (red wine, white wine, champagne, pony); beer glasses (Pilsener and pint); a snifter or two; cordial glasses; a couple of cocktail shakers (my giant one is handy for parties); a mixing glass; a pitcher or two; a punch bowl and cups; Tiki glasses; a pastis set.

          A waiter's corkscrew, a mixing spoon, swizzle sticks, a wine chiller, a wine coaster, a Hawthorn (clip-on) cocktail strainer, an absinthe spoon, wineglass identifiers (charms), cocktail napkins, bar towels, a cutting board, a channel knife for stripping fruit rinds.

          A high-powered electric blender, a manual citrus juicer, an automatic ice maker in your freezer, an ice shaver.

          Most people get by just fine with far less.

          4 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Some others in the back of my bar: pisco, cachaça, akvavit, sake, soju, and shochu. I had bottles of grappa, maotai and baijiu on my bar for years, but I won't be restocking those.

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              I admit, I only know what sake is. I have no idea about any of the rest of these! (I'm talking about your second post, not the first one.)

              1. re: QueenB

                Pisco is a white brandy made in Peru and Chile, their national spirit (Bolivians drink a lot of it, too). I mainly use it in the Pisco Sour cocktail

                Cachaça is the national spirit of Brazil, a liquor made from fermented cane juice. It reminds me of a cross between light rum and silver tequila, a bit rough, but delicious in the national cocktail, the Caipirinha.

                Akvavit is the white lightning of Scandanavia, a bit like a rough vodka. I mostly drink it neat from the freezer. It comes in a lot of different flavors, including caraway seeds, perhaps the most popular (and what's on my bar). My Swedish granny would have approved.

                Soju and shochu are Korean and Japanese, respectively, and somewhat similar. They too are white lightning kind of drinks, consumed neat, though often not as strong (40-50 proof is common). Usually based on rice, though there's a shochu I like based on sweet potatoes, traditionally served diluted with a little hot water.

                Grappa is an Italian white lightning made from the waste by-products of the wine-making process. It's often sold in very beautiful crystal bottles at very high prices, though I compare its flavor to grain alcohol with a soupcon of 3-in-1 household oil, not very pleasant. One of my favorite digestifs (Fernet Branca) is based on grappa, but I don't realy care for grappa by itself.

                Maotai and baijiu are two varieties of moonshine that I brought back from visits to mainland China. Maotai is made from fermented sorghum, and is kind of indescribable. I drank a few shots of this at various business dinners in the PRC, and I'm not sure what possessed me to bring some home. It's an acquired taste, like fermented tofu, which I don't care for, either. Baijiu is I believe the proper term for this other bottle I brought back, a very clear, very rough kind of moonshine that was probably distilled from wheat (it was made somewhere near Beijing.)

                Oh, and I found another bottle on the bar I forgot to mention: applejack, which I mostly use in Jack Rose cocktails.

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Wow, I really am limited in my knowledge of spirits! Thank you for all of the information.

                  I think I may have had baijiu once. About twelve or so years ago, my father had a coworker from China. After returning from a visit back home, she gave my dad two bottles of what she called "Chinese liquor". We never did know what they were, as they were pretty fairly unmarked, and what writing was on them, was in Chinese. It was clear and very harsh, but got better after the second shot.

                  Thanks again, MC Slim JB. I'm learning a lot.

          2. FOR BASIC LIQUOR (in addition to your above)
            A few more liqeuers (Irish Cream, Godiva)

            Mixers (vermouth, bloody mary mix, sweet & sour, sodas, tonic, Juices, water, cream/milk etc.)
            Garnishes (lemon, lime, cherry's, olives, pearl onions, etc.)

            FOR BASIC WINE:
            Simple white wine (chardonnay or riesling)
            Simple red (cabernet or shiraz)

            BASIC BEER:
            American pizz (budweiser etc)
            American light pizz (bud light etc)
            A nice India Pale Ale
            A nice Stout
            A nice wheat beer

            What time's the party at your place ???

            16 Replies
              1. re: theflytyr

                I agree with upgrading on the vodka. While it may not be necessary to have something high end, I think Smirnoff is pretty gross. I find that Stoli is a nice medium range choice, though you could go with Absolut.

                1. re: fistalee

                  fistalee, actually the vodka is for my homemade vanilla extract. I can upgrade to Stoli or Absolut though for drinking vodka. Thanks!

                  1. re: fistalee

                    yeah, except Smirnoff won that NYTimes taste test against Grey Goose etc...I think Skyy also did well...there are other topics on this board about which vodkas are best. Don't fall for the premium vodka hype!

                    1. re: kenito799

                      I am well aware of the taste test. I still find Smirnoff disgusting. Trust me darling, I know my vodka and don't drink any goddamn thing simply because of hype. If QueenB and her friends enjoy Smirnoff, more power to them. I have heard that Smirnoff is a very good vodka for doing infusions, so it makes sense that she chose it for that.

                      Clearly it's important to know your own taste, because after Smirnoff, Skyy is the other vodka I find absolutely abhorrent.

                      1. re: fistalee

                        I'm not an afficinado of vodka, and when I do drink it to neat , rocks or close, I drink infusions, and that rarely happens. My attitude towards vodka was best summed up by Pete Wells in June 2004 article: "As for myself, I've never had time for anything that, once it starts to show a little personality, gets in trouble with the government."

                        However, I know someone who has represented a few brands of vodka in sales, and among those, were Smirnoff and Absolut. The thing that sutck out about both was that they used totally different ways create their product. Smirnoff was, as per what I was told, something bought from industrial distillers, and then filtered. And that, the idea of filtering industrial spirit, kind of turned me off on Smirnoff. I was told Absolut was distilled in potstills to a certain amount of purity, and then portions of undistlled amsh were put back into the distilled product, to "dirty it up" and give it flavour.

                        1. re: fistalee

                          Yes, I bought the Smirnoff for my vanilla infusion. I'll do something else for the "drinking" vodka, though I doubt I'll ever personally touch the stuff.

                          1. re: fistalee

                            My personal Chowhound maxims include: "Never eat at a place called Mom's", "Lower your expectations of any restaurant whose website features several pages of glamour shots of the chef/owner", and "Be wary of booze recommendations from anyone who says, 'Trust me, darling, I know my vodka."'

                            Seriously, it is all about personal preference, and there is a distinct possibility that among the now hundreds of entrants in the super-premium vodka sweepstakes, every one of which has put an extraordinary amount of resources into packaging, there are a few that aren't utter swindles.

                            And as I've said elsewhere, I have more than one friend for whom a vodka's costliness, and thereby the ability to demonstrate their presumed wealth by consuming it conspicuously, are in fact its main attractions. They're the ones drinking $50-a-bottle vodkas in Vodka Gimlets, which seems rather silly to me. But I still think it's possible that these fancier vodkas actuallly taste better to them, so more power to them.

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              Trust me when I tell you that I can't afford to go out and buy 50 dollar a pop vodka. I don't have issues with going one step up though, to a Stoli or something like it. I refuse to buy Grey Goose, as I believe it is overpriced for what it is.
                              Honestly, most of my vodka will be used in mixed drinks. I can't forsee many people I know drinking it straight up, so I doubt I have to get the best there is.

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                My bar has Ketel One for mixing (which breaks my general rule that you should avoid brands that advertise heavily -- pay for craft, not marketing), and Smirnoff for making infusions (a frequent Yuletide gift); I do agree with the NY Times that it "tastes like vodka is supposed to taste".

                                The last fancy vodka I bought was Hangar One ($28), as it is one of the few American vodkas which the producers distill from their own grain (rye, in their case), instead of just buying Everclear from Archer Daniels Midland and diluting and flavoring it, like most domestic producers. But the Hangar One Lime (they also do real infusions rather than just adding flavorings) doesn't have what I consider a pleasing lime taste: it reminds me of lime Popsicles rather than fresh limes.

                                I got a gift of Grey Goose from someone a while back, which I should regift, as it is unopened over a year later; I agree that that one is not worth the tariff.

                                I guess I have enough varieties of strong, clear, moonshiney-type liquors that I rarely sip vodka neat. I do like a vodka and lemonade highball in the heat of the summer, though, and I invented a strong cocktail last summer I call the Anastasia based on vodka infused with fresh ginger, plus fresh lemon juice, pomegranate juice, and Cointreau. Zingy.

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  The Anastasia sounds great. Perfect for summer.

                            2. re: kenito799

                              Fris (pronounced "freeze") is a great mid-range vodka choice.
                              About $20 for a 1.75 litre and just as good if not better than
                              slightly higher priced vokdas like Skyy and Absolute.

                          2. re: theflytyr

                            Is Makers Mark better than the Eagle Rare? I bought the Eagle Rare because it's my dad's preferred bourbon at the moment, but I know he does like Maker's Mark.

                            1. re: QueenB

                              Eagle Rare is certainly better than Maker's Mark, and can often be found for a lower price than Maker's (at least the 10 year old variety), as it doesn't seem to have the brand cachet. That bottle of Eagle Rare is probably the best liquor in your collection at this time.

                              1. re: QueenB

                                My Grandparent's cocktail was strictly Maker's Mark & they were "well-seasoned bourbon connoisseur."

                            2. re: Chicago Mike

                              Thanks ChicagoMike. We have a great stock of wine (we have a 30 bottle wine cooler that's pretty much full). We definitely need to get more a variety of beer.

                            3. ..and buy yourself a bartenders guide for recipes, inspiration and requests! When we first "outfitted" our bar the how-to use all those wonderful bottles was the last thing we thought of :)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: HillJ

                                That I have HillJ! I have two, as a matter of fact. Thank you!

                              2. Vermouth oxidizes?! Uh-oh.....

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Maud

                                  Indeed it does. It doesn't oxidize as fast as regular wine, but if you've had a bottle at room temperature for more than a few weeks it's time to get a new one. The 375 milliliter bottles will last you a plenty long time unless you drink LOTS of martinis.

                                2. Oh, and to build my bar stock gradually, I learn just a cocktail or two at a time. When I'd have people over, I ask them what their choice was of the few I can make with what I had on hand. They're usually thrilled to have a homemade cocktail made with good, fresh ingredients in a chilled glass. If not, they can have wine. Works fine.

                                  Btw I noticed last time I was at Whole Foods that they have "real" maraschino cherries for cocktails. They're, of course, not bright red like the embalmed ones are. I haven't tried them - has anyone?

                                  1. Tequila - You definitely need to take out that Cuervo of your shelf that is the worst and get some good tequila such as Casa Noble, Tesoro or even Don Julio.

                                    Vodka – Get something more updated to have another choice of vodka, maybe a kettle One or Hanger One, both are good and not overpriced like Gray Goose

                                    Rum – One of the best is Zacapa Centenario but if you don’t want to spend so much go for Zaya, same distillery just less aging.

                                    You need a good single malt in there, something like the ones posted in here called “Best Single Malts”, there are some great suggestions.

                                    Cognac – You never know when you are going to get a fancy guest you need to treat nice, you can go for the commercial cognac such as Hennessy but one of my favorites is A.E Dor, don’t think of the reserves just get the D selection, it is wonderful!

                                    You have Gin, which is good for your traditional martinis, you have Rye not common now days but good option.

                                    Liqueurs – You only have Amaretto, I hope it is Disaronno, and Kahlua, you need to get more... Grand Marnier for margaritas, Baileys for people with sweet tooth, Licor 43 great after dinner.

                                    This would be some of the basics... then you can get into more exotic and fun things like Rhum agricole, Grappa, etc.

                                    1. I would stock my bar first according to price, and how much I wished to have tied up in it, or how much I iwshed to impress someone with my bar. The stuff in my bar would impress many, but it's mostly there because I want what is in it for me. Some of the more expensive things in it are rarer whiskies, so that ups my costs.

                                      I would have at least one of the following: scotch, irish whiskey, bourbon, tequila, rye, gin, vodka, rum, and for some more than one. I am not one to be able to recommend tequilas.

                                      For scotch, if you are not a whiskey drinker, yourself, I would get one of the follwoing, which are generally accepted as well-balanced and drinkable by most: Johnny Walker Black, Chivas Regal, Glenlivet or Glenfiddich. For myself, a whisky drinker, I'd pick one of the later two. BUt, if I walked into someone's home and was offered any, I would not be disappointed.

                                      For rye, you have a liimited number of choice. I would probably pick a Vin Winkle, if picking expensive, or a Rittenhouse.

                                      For Bourbon, what you have is fine.

                                      For Irish whiskey, I would if being spendthirft, pick Powers. It's what the Irish drink more often than Jameson, and it's a better whiskey. If spending up to $50, I would buy Red Breast, which I would also live on if my body could take it.

                                      As far as Vodka, your choices are broad and varied. If being spendthrift, my next bottle would be Gordon's, which is decent enough stuff made in potstills, or Lukosova, a decent Polish vodka. I would probably have one plain vodka and might add one infused vodka, depending on the tastes fo those who would drink from my bar.

                                      With regard to gin, your Beefeater is a decent London Dry Gin. I would always have some London gin in my bar. If I added to it, I would next pick up a bottle of Plymouth Gin, which is a different style.

                                      Rum is the neglected and unknown spirit. Alas, it is allowed to proliferate in terrible examples of blah or blech examples, and then it's flavors are drowned in cola. That being the case, I'd keep lousy rum on hand for those who will mix it with Coke. I would also keep one good, amber, probably hors d'age rum, and my choice would in most cases be a 7-15 year old Barbancourt, drinkable on the rocks, not that expensive. I would never allow someone to mix Barbancourt with Coke.

                                      My after-dinner drinks as stocked would depend on the tastes of what people I know like. Mine would have a Cognac, Irish Mist, Baileys, Grand Marnier, Sambuca, and a bottle of tawny port. I would also have vermouth, sweet and dry.

                                      This might be a good link to look at: http://www.tastings.com/spirits/best_...

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Captain

                                        re: rye, old overholt is a fine bottle that is widely available for around $10, pikesville is around the same price and truly excellent, but harder to find.

                                        1. re: andytee

                                          One that just became available around here is Sazerac rye, for about 25 a bottle. Now you can have yourself a Sazerac Sazerac.

                                      2. In my opinion, replace:

                                        Cuervo with Sauza (equal or better product and costs less)
                                        Crown Royal with Canadian Club 12 (by far, much better product)

                                        Need some:

                                        Cruzan rum

                                        All of these products can be upgraded, but I've mentioned replacements based on similar quality.

                                        1. Perhaps I've missed someone mentioning it in another post, but something that is indispensable in many cocktail recipies is triple sec. If you are planning on stocking a bar for many different occasions, then it is certainly a must have.

                                          By the way, I'll throw in another vote for the Eagle Rare 10 yr. It's a great value and usually priced at just a bit less than most better known bourbons.

                                          1. Thanks for all the suggestions so far, everyone.

                                            1. *** VODKA
                                              * Stolichnaya 75 proof (red label) - the mac daddy bottle
                                              * Stolichnaya Elit ("ultra-luxury" i.e. ultra-filtered) - for your Ketel 1 snobs
                                              * Stoli Cranberi - for your capecod crowd
                                              * Stoli Ohranj - for those screw driving fanatics
                                              * Stoli Blueberi - just because...
                                              * Stoli Zinamon - if you fly to Russia!
                                              * Bollinger Champagne - for "stolli-bolli's"

                                              *** BOURBON
                                              * Maker's Mark Bourbon

                                              *** SCOTCH
                                              * The Glenlivet 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve
                                              * The Glenlivet 12 Year Old First Fill

                                              *** WHISKY
                                              * Crown Royal - bag is well-known in association to Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F.

                                              *** GIN
                                              * Tanqueray London Dry Gin

                                              *** RUM
                                              * Captain Morgan's
                                              * Barcardi Gold White

                                              *** WINE
                                              * Don't bother - instead, host a "wine cellar warming party"

                                              *** MISC.
                                              * Baileys, Malibu Rum & above Whisky - for your "BMW" buds
                                              * Limoncello (keep in the freezer for an impromtu lemon shooter!)
                                              * Butterscotch liqueur
                                              * Kahlua
                                              * Vermouth
                                              * Cranberry Juice
                                              * Orange Juice
                                              * Red Bull
                                              * Tonic
                                              * Soda Water
                                              * Coke & Diet Coke
                                              * Diet Mountain Dew
                                              * Rockstars (zero carb white label)
                                              * Fresh Lemon & Lime slices
                                              * Mint Leaves - for those mojitos or mint juleps
                                              * Monogrammed Cocktail napkins
                                              * Fun cocktail glasses

                                              * Soundtrack to "Somethings Gotta Give" - my favorite mix for a fun cocktail party
                                              * www.pinkmartini.com - the band is like a Hollywood musical of the 40s/50s
                                              * Buena Vista Social Club - perfect for a latin mojito moment

                                              1. be careful. It can get out of hand. I was taking inventory the other day(home bar, I'm ashamed to admit) 31 scotches, 7 Irish, 18 Bourbons, 5 ryes, 11 rums and that was just the browns. My advice, get a nice selection and stop

                                                2 Replies
                                                  1. re: chazzerking

                                                    Nothing to be ashamed of at all. And I want to come over too!

                                                  2. I'm going through and stocking a bar too. It's so much fun. Definitely get your hands on some triple sec, it goes in so many drinks. You would also do well to get some rum. Rums are like whiskeys and tequila in that there is quite a bit of depth in the field. Start with a light rum (Bacardi absolutely sucks, I stock Appleton), then add a dark (such as Gosling's Black Seal) and a gold (I do Pyrat XO) if you want to complete the rums.

                                                    Beyond that, it depends on what you (and more importantly, your guests) like to drink.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                                                      Smirnoff Vodka
                                                      Cuervo Tequila
                                                      Crown Royal
                                                      Beefeater Gin
                                                      Eagle Rare Bourbon

                                                      This line up reminds me of most of my high school parties. Barring the Eagle Rare.

                                                      Try Kirkland brand Vodka. No one's mentioned it and I feel like there may be stigma in a costco brand of alcohol, but the stuff is much better than smirnoff, and have your grey goose snobs bring a bottle of theirs chilled, you chill yours. Most of them will not be able to tell the difference blind.

                                                      Tanqueray S/P ten is a gin I like.

                                                      I'd definitely go anywhere else for tequila. Cuervo's pretty rough and most people have had a few too many cuervos at some point meaning the association is painful.

                                                    2. When you replace your gin, I say buy a bottle of Tanqueray - it'll be worth it, trust me!

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Chew on That

                                                        Tanqueray is good, as is Bombay Saffire. However, instead of a premium London Dry Gin, see if you can get your hands on a bottle Plymouth's Gin. It's cheaper, usually, but man is it something else! Soft, smooth, full bodied and flavorful it mixes really well.

                                                        On the rye front, definitely see if you can find the 6-year old Sazerac. Worth the hunt and very reasonable at the $20-30 range.

                                                        And I will second (or is it a third by now?) the hearty recommendation in getting at the very least Angostura bitters. If you can get the Regan's Orange as well- all the better!

                                                        1. re: Scortch

                                                          Oh yeah, one last thing. Do, do, DO get yourself a bottle of Cointreau. While it may be a bit more expensive than a generic triple sec, it can easily become the secret weapon in your cocktail arsenal! Whenever I reach for it, I know my drink just got a bit better!