When rounding out your home bar, you’ll want to stock up on the right mixers and garnishes. Here’s our list of the essential items that you need to put the finishing touches on your at-home cocktails.
You’ll definitely want tonic water and club soda in house at all times. Keeping a couple quarts on hand for entertaining is a good idea, but those mini 7.5-ounce cans are great for day-to-day use. If you go through a lot of soda, a SodaStream might be a good investment; you can make your own flavors and never have to worry about running out. Also having a few cans of Coke, Sprite, and ginger ale stashed always is always a good call, too. Ditto for ginger beer since Moscow Mules are all the rage these days.
Since juice goes bad relatively quickly, it’s best to pick it up as needed. You probably already have a bottle of juice in your fridge, and most will mix just fine with vodka in a pinch. Fresh juice is always better, but you could also pick up some of those single-serving cans of grapefruit, pineapple, cranberry, and tomato juice. They don’t need to be refrigerated, and keep on the shelf for a long time. Also, keep a bottle of lemon juice (the real stuff) around if you don’t feel like juicing lemons the next time someone wants a whiskey sour. Whatever you do, don’t use sour mix — it’s the worst.
Keeping a couple lemons and limes and in the crisper is always a good idea.
A jar of green olives will keep for a while. Buy a quality brand that actually tastes good so you can use them in the kitchen as well. And a small jar of cherries won’t set you back too much. Plus, if you buy those radioactive maraschinos that most bars use, they’ll keep forever. As for onions, grab a jar if you’re a big Gibson fan. Otherwise, you can probably get by without them.
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While simple syrup is super easy to make, you don’t want to be cooking up a batch at the last minute. I usually keep a small sealed bottle in my fridge just in case. It lasts for a couple months, and costs next to nothing so no big deal if it does go bad.
A bar is not complete without bitters. You’ll want a bottle of Angostura for sure. You might also want to grab some Peychaud’s, especially if you’re a Sazerac purist. A bottle of orange bitters is also a good idea. From here you can go down the rabbit hole — there are a lot of varieties. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even make your own.
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When entertaining, there’s no worse feeling than offering someone a drink then realizing you have no ice — or, worse yet, the ice you do have is skunky. One pricey solution is to buy an ice machine. A less expensive option is to plan ahead. While regular ice cube trays are okay for most drinks, you might want to pick up some silicon large-cube trays for your fancier cocktails (just make sure your glasses are big enough).
Jim Sabataso is a writer, part-time bartender, and full-time cocktail enthusiast living in Vermont. Follow him on Twitter @JimSabataso