If there’s one thing every good host needs, it’s a well-stocked bar. Having the right liquors, mixers and fresh ingredients can make the difference between a great cocktail party and a total bust, so it’s best to have the essentials handy before you even think about inviting guests over for drinks.
For an expert's advice on the matter, we consulted cocktail connoisseur and television chef Nadia G.
On Cooking Channel's "Bitchin' Kitchen," this hostess-with-the-mostess regularly tackles mouthwatering meals, music and mixed drinks — the three tentpoles of a perfect party. Nobody knows more about hosting a great cocktail hour, so Nadia gave us the lowdown on stocking a home bar like a pro:
Stock the necessities.
The first thing you need to consider is the liquor. Stock your favorites, but Nadia insists that you have some premium quality liquors on hand, including vodka (Nadia prefers Van Gogh Blue), dark rum, bourbon, tequila, gin and orange liqueur. With these staples, you’ll be able to field almost any cocktail request.
And, when it comes time to purchase your liquors, remember that quality always trumps quantity. “You’re better off with three bottles of good quality liquor than a bunch of cheap bottles for the sake of variety,” says Nadia. She also suggests buying an extra bottle of an exotic vodka, such as double-espresso or pomegranate, but to draw the line at cheap novelty drinks. “Do we really need 'Bubblegum Cream Liqueur'?” she asks.
Ditch the pre-made mixes.
There’s nothing Nadia hates drinking more than “screw-top sangria or a stinkin’ vat of cosmopolitan,” so skip the pre-made mixes when stocking your bar. “It’s so much tastier — and cheaper — to just make these drinks from scratch,” says the alcohol aficionado.
In addition to being simpler and cheaper, Nadia says that homemade drink mixes are a breeze to make on your own. “Why buy margarita mix when all you need is fresh lime juice, orange liqueur and sugar? Also, don’t be afraid to get creative. Maybe you don’t have any orange liqueur but you have oranges — use the zest instead.”
Don't underestimate your fresh ingredients.
Stocking a bar isn’t only about the liquor, so don’t forget about the fresh ingredients. “Lemons and limes keep really well, and they’re used in almost every drink,” says Nadia, adding that there should always be fresh citrus behind your bar — as well as fresh herbs. According to the expert, herbs really liven up a tired cocktail. “Try infusing hard lemonade with a sprig of rosemary, or adding basil to a simple vodka-cran,” she suggests. And, if you’re especially daring, take a tip from Nadia and throw in a few spicy surprises. “I love to add a slice of fresh jalapeno to everything,” she says. “Spicy drinks rock.”
Make your ingredients multi-task.
Multi-tasking is key when you’re the bartender, so it only makes sense that your ingredients can do double-duty as well. In addition to lemons and limes, which are ubiquitous in cocktail recipes, Nadia advises keeping juice or seasonal fruits behind the bar, as they can be mixed and matched with various liquors.
Nadia also stresses the need for ice at a party (“It’s a must”), but also keeps lots of carbonated water nearby. “Carbonated water is pretty important too, whether you’re making a simple vodka soda, or just want to add a sparkling touch to any cocktail,” she says.
One of Nadia’s other favorite multi-tasking ingredients is maple syrup. “It not only adds sweetness, but a unique flavor,” she says. In fact, you can make any number of delicious rustic drinks with maple syrup, says Nadia. “Just muddle some ripe apricots — or any fruit — with mint and maple syrup, add vodka, ice, top it off with sparkling water, and cheers.”
Above all, be a fun host.
You may not have every single component of every single drink recipe, but don’t stress over it. You’ll be a more-than-accommodating host as long as you’re willing to mix, muddle and meld flavors. “Have fun with it,” she says. “All you really need are some glasses and bitchin’ drink recipes.”
One last piece of advice? "Always have a big bottle of vodka,” she adds. “It mixes with everything.”