Must-Have Bar Essentials – Part 1: Essential Spirits

So you just moved out on your own, or you just moved and had to toss out all of your old booze when you left. In any event, you’re starting over from scratch and you want to make sure you have all of the essentials, whether you’re mixing yourself a nice cocktail after a long hard day at the office, or you want to make sure you have everything you need before you have some friends over on a Saturday night.

In part 1, we’ll take a look at some of the essential beverages you need in a wet bar – not a huge one, just the kind that you can put on the top of the fridge or in a tidy little spare square of counter top that won’t take up space. In part 2, we’ll chat about some of the things you may need to pick up for a party or when you want something specific, but won’t need sitting in your fridge at all times, unless you really do drink that much. In part 3, we’ll round out our chat with some of the basic bar equipment that you’ll need in order to make a decent cocktail – casually.

For the purpose of this roundup, let’s pretend that you and your friends aren’t beer people. I mean, let’s be honest, you probably are, or at least are beer people sometimes, but let’s pretend that for this party you want to class it up a bit more than a couple of cases of Michelob Ultra, okay? Besides, no worries – we’ll get to a roundup of quality beers another time, okay? Let’s stick with building a great wet bar that will give you all of the ingredients you need to mix drinks at home.

So your top priority should be the basics – spirits that will make up the core of your bar, the things that you’ll need for just about every drink you’ll want to make. We’ll hit this from the classier side of things – sure, you would run out and grab some of this stuff from the bottom of the shelf at your local liquor store, but I’m going to level with you: that would be vile, and I would only accept that from you if you’re a hungover fratboy looking for a little hair of the dog. Now. Let’s look at the list.

Look for your standard 750ml bottle of the stuff. If you have a preferred brand of vodka, grab it, as long as it’s not some swill like “Uncle Joe’s Vodka-flavored drink.” Personal recommendations? Spend anywhere between $15 and $20 USD on your mid-sized bottle of vodka and don’t be afraid to go a little over. Vodka is the core of so cheap oakleys many different mixed drinks that you want to get something that tastes good. You don’t have to go top shelf and pick up Grey Goose, but try something mid-shelf and see how you like it. Suggested brands: Stolichnaya, Smirnoff, Skyy, Finlandia

Rum is so incredibly underrated it’s not even funny. I dated a girl with West Indian heritage a while back and she was quick to teach me that in her family, which wasn’t particularly huge on drinking, still kept a nice big bottle of rum around the house for medicinal purposes if nothing else. A good shot of rum can be sipped like a fine Cognac or Brandy and is just as complex in flavors and scents as any of those, can be taken like a good cough medicine, or mixed into a Hot Toddy – a drink that’ll kill a cold dead pretty damned quick. Again, hang out around the $20+ USD range on a mid-sized bottle here – you’ll be tempted to go and grab a massive bottle of Captain Morgan. Unless you particularly like it, resist. Get a smaller bottle or try something different, okay? Suggested brands: Bacardi, Cruzan, Appleton

Ah Gin – the sweet, pungent smell of juniper berries are enough to either brighten your day, wake you up from a hazy hangover, or of course, make you ill – it all depends on your perspective. For some people gin is entirely too odiferous for them to drink in anything, and for some people they can upend the bottle and drink it down like liquid candy. In any event, you’ll want gin in your bar if you’re making a proper martini, or if you want to discover the glorious luxury that is a Gin and Tonic. Again, there are some really awful cheap gins here – if you don’t want to be ruined on the stuff, stick with the names that people have trusted for hundreds – and I mean that – of years. Expect to spend upwards of $25+ USD. Suggested brands: Seagram’s, Beefeater, Bombay

The trick with whiskey (or Whisky if you’re not in Ireland or the United States, more on this later) is that too many people take it in shots. A really great whiskey can be served and enjoyed on the rocks or even straight in a shallow glass. There are hundreds of different types and it’s difficult to make a strict recommendation cheap oakley sunglasses here, but there are a couple of things to know: Scotch Whisky is most commonly referred to as “scotch,” Canadian and Japanese Whisky is spelled like I just did, and Irish and American Whiskey and Bourbon Whiskey is spelled the way I just did. Follow?

Those aren’t the only types of Whisky, or the only countries in the world where the good stuff is produced. That’s not terribly important at this stage, but it’s something we’ll discuss in a future post, promise, because it’s information worth having for any classy geek – and considering so much of the differences have to do with how and where the stuff is made, I think you’ll be entertained. In any event, for the time being, Pick yourself a nice Whisky or Whiskey depending on what’s available to you. You could go light and spend as little as $15 USD if you’re getting a blended malt, and tons more if you go single malt. If you put the two side by side you’ll definitely noticed the difference, so I’ll say this – go single malt if you like drinking liquor straight or on the rocks. Go blended for the purposes of building a bar from scratch, but get something nice. With whisky, you’ll definitely notice the difference. Suggested brands: Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker, Jameson


That takes care of the essential spirits. Some people will tell you to make sure you keep specifically a Scotch, a bourbon, a Canadian Whiskey, and a Rye Whiskey in your bar – I think that’s a little bit much for someone who’s not sure how much they’re planning to drink and just want the basics needed for a few mixed drinks. Besides, whiskey (and whisky) is complicated enough a topic all on their own that they warrant their own discussion. That being said though, using the wrong kind of whiskey in a mixed drink can be problematic, so make sure you’re using the right type for the kind of drink you’re going to make. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging on this one, keep your eyes peeled.

At the same time, this is why I wouldn’t suggest keeping a light and dark rum in your bar unless you specifically like some mixed drinks that call for a light and other mixed drinks that call for a dark. If you do, most brands have a type of both. Same with Tequila – I know, I know, everyone loves the stuff, but I don’t think you need to buy a bottle when you get your bar set up. If you must pick up a tequila though, don’t mind the commercials and steer clear of Jose Cuervo unless you’re on a budget, only mixing drinks, or go for the higher-end. If you actually want to taste your Tequila or want to sip or drink it straight, spring for a Patron. Anejo or Reposado will taste great without breaking the bank – Silver if you’re going to mix. It’ll cost more, but it’s more than worth it.

Anyway, that should get you started with the essential spirits you’ll need for any bar. They’re definitely the cornerstone, and in some ways you could stop right here. But there’s more to a good bar than just the alcohol, and we’ll get to that in the next part, where we cover some of the essential mixers, and then tie it all together with the right bar equipment in the last segment.






9 responses to “Must-Have Bar Essentials – Part 1: Essential Spirits”

  1. Rachel Avatar

    What about some girly stuff for the ladies? I am thinking specifically of Baileys here… or will you be covering that in Part 2?

  2. Alan Henry Avatar

    Definitely! I’m planning to hit on some essential mixers in part 2 – and no set of essential mixers would be complete without Baileys!

  3. Lauren Avatar

    You better report on Malibu Bay Breeze. Pink, no booze flavor whatsoever, and completely devoid of masculinity.

  4. sjon Avatar

    Classy geek … or …. Glassy geek …. LOL

  5. Susan Avatar

    Kahlua yo!

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