Welcome to Uncle Mat’s “How to Entertain and Be a Holiday Winner Series,” part one. In today’s segment we will discuss how to stock a home bar for simple happy hours with two to eight guests.
If you are an alcoholic and will drink all the booze you place in your home as fast as humanly possible, do not stock a bar. If you are not of legal drinking age, do not stock a bar. That is what your parents’ bar is for.
This bar is your year-round entertaining cornerstone, not the daily well. If you like a nice glass of wine or a shot of tequila at the end of a hard day, then you should stock that in addition to what will be detailed here.
To begin, your bar should be proportionate to your home and entertaining space and expectations. How many people can you have for an impromptu cocktail hour? If you are entertaining more than six or eight, you should be planning ahead to hit the store for additional fortifications or send a BYOB invite to ensure all of your guests are properly satiated and lubricated.
For the hard stuff, 750ml bottles will do. You can buy them bigger if you have the storage space, but remember that large half-consumed bottles of liquor on the kitchen counter are not decorative and give mothers-in-law and cleaning ladies something to gossip about. Sure those bar set-ups on the soaps look classy with a “k,” but those people are screwing their cousins and selling their sisters’ babies on Tuesdays. No matter the bottle size, it’s best to have a place to put the liquor away. A bar can be anything from a kitchen cupboard to a vintage free-standing cabinet in the den or living room.
Stock one each of vodka, dry gin, bourbon, tequila, and a blended scotch. You don’t have to stock Grey Goose, but McCormick is not the answer. If you need advice, ask your favorite bartender. I like Monopolowa, Bombay, Maker’s Mark, Sauza (Hornitos), and Dewar’s. This is about a $150 investment. You might not be able to do it in a day, but all good things are worth the wait and effort. A good friend of mine recently threw a bar-stocking party in lieu of a housewarming party. You don’t get to choose the booze, but it does fill up the bar pretty quickly.
You’ll need a few more bottles from the liquor store for your bar to be complete: One each sweet and dry vermouth, triple sec or orange liqueur, and bitters. In addition, your pantry should be stocked with club soda, tonic, and Coke in small single-serving bottles with screwcaps for sealing in the bubbles. The fridge should have lemons, limes, at least one or two juice options (orange, cranberry, tomato, grapefruit), and milk or cream. Salt, pepper, sugar, celery salt, hot sauce, and Worcestershire are all requirements in my book. Olives and cocktail onions are needed if you make classic martinis, and any variety of pickled or fresh veggies and herbs make for fun garnish and flavor if you like to live on the edge of contemporary cocktailing.
You should keep three to six bottles each of red and white wine — just something easy to drink. You aren’t pairing this with an elegantly molested sea bass in a French demi-glace you can’t pronounce. It’s for drinking, plain and simple.
An ample stock of mixers as listed above should do fine, but be sure to be prepared with more than water for any non-drinking guests. Whether a recovering alcoholic, a pregnant woman, or some other form of curious or high-maintenance guest, you don’t want them to feel left out or put out by a nonexistent selection of beverages.
Last but not least, the hardware: glassware that meets both your needs for form and function, napkins, stirrers (can even be a few nice spoons on the bar), a shaker, a knife, cutting board, and ice bucket with scoop or tongs. No fingers in the ice please. Always be sure to stock plenty of ice.
Your Uncle Mat
P.S. At least one book. The American Bar, The Esquire Party Book, or another bartender guide that appeals to you. Just not Drinks for Dummies. It is rude to point out the obvious to our guests.
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