A well stocked bar is a must. That being said, alcohol is quite helpful- but not essential. Be mindful, there are many people, who for either health, personal struggles or religious reasons choose to abstain from alcohol. Make sure to be mindful of your friends who may abstain and make Happy Hour – Happy for all! Fortunately, in today’s markets there are plenty of things to keep things interesting without alcohol.
For the liquor side-
Vodka– very popular these days. Keep a backup bottle of vodka. Have a good quality Vodka on hand. Vodka can be distilled from Potatoes or an assortment of grains. Don’t wear yourself out just pick a nice one to have at the bar like Kettle One ( it seems to appeal to even the pickiest of vodka drinkers).
Next, try a citrus vodka for creative citrus cocktails. As a general rule stay away from the flavored vodkas. Many are cloyingly sweet and have an artificial taste. I recommend 4 Oranges Vodka- which is distilled from four different types of oranges in Florida. ( not just flavored) It can be difficult to find so ask the store manager- it’s worth it) Excellent for a variety of cocktails.
Gin– an old standard which is making a comeback. People tend to have strong feelings towards gin one way or the other. Tanqueray is a safe bet and won’t break the bank. However, Bombay Sapphire is always popular and a personal favorite. ( plus the blue bottle is very attractive on your bar!) There are several specialty gins available as well, Nollette is a particularly aromatic option and is a wonderful option which appeals to milder palates. My personal favorite is St George, Terroir. It is terribly aromatic and unique.
Bourbon/Whiskey– The choices are endless. For stocking the bar, Jack Daniels or Crown Royal are good everyday whiskeys. When it comes to Bourbon it is hard to go wrong with a bottle of Makers Mark for your bar. Believe me, Bourbon has gained a real following and if you have a Bourbon aficionado in your group they will let you know what their favorite is. ( Angel’s Envy is a favorite of mine)
Scotch– Scotch is another where the possibilities and the price points are endless. Jonnie Walker Red label or Dewars white label are safe bets without breaking the bank for the scotch and soda crowd. For straight sipping, try Glenmorangie or splurge on some Macallan.
Tequila– Although many folks only think of tequila for margaritas it has become quite popular for sipping and simple cocktails ( mixed with club soda and a twist of lime for example) Tequila is for many people, easier to digest and has gained popularity. There is now a wide selection of specialty options. Don’t bother with the cheap stuff, please. Get a bottle of Patron – silver label. It is a bit pricey but worth it and an excellent ‘staple’. ( it’s is a clear tequila which makes it a little more versatile.) From there, the options are limitless.
RUM: You can’t make a “boat drink” without rum. There is an assortment of Spiced Rums on the market these days. ( Sailor Jerry, Captain Morgan, even Costco (Kirkland brand) makes a very good quality spiced rum) There also some very good ‘sipping rums’. These are usually aged for several years (like a good Bourbon) and have complex flavors. Our favorite is Ron Zacapa 23-year-old rum from Guatemala. Skip the plain white rums and go for spiced and aged rums for interest and flavor.
MIXERS and Non Alcoholic options:
Invest in a Soda/Seltzer Bottle. They are just plain FUN to have on the bar and you can easily make an assortment of interesting beverages. Simply fill with spring water add a soda charger and commence to making wonderful fizzy options.
If you have a soda bottle you can concoct all sorts of things with just some simple flavorings on hand. If you don’t want to make your own, World Market and Total Wine have quite a selection of “flavorings” available. You can make your own simple syrup infused with citrus fruits, cucumbers or melons for an excellent start. Just keep in attractive bottles in the fridge for when the time comes .
BITTERS– Again – get something interesting. They are pricey but last for a LONG time and can really make an interesting libation. Total Wine has some very interesting options such as Orange bitters and Celery bitters ( a must to jazz up a Bloody Mary) Of course traditional bitters are a must for Old Fashiond’s.
You can also add these bitters to soda water and a squeeze of lime for a pick me up when schedules prohibit a cocktail .
Club soda ( if you don’t get a seltzer bottle).
TONIC- I can not make a big enough point here- GET GOOD TONIC. The stuff on the soda aisle in the grocery store does NOT count. WHY would you invest and serve good quality liquor and then serve it with imitation tonic water. There are several good brands available that actually use Quinine- not quinine flavored imitation flavoring… Again- check out Total Wine or World Market. Fever Tree or Fentiman’s are good options ( ‘Fever Tree’ gets its name because quinine was a cure for malaria)
At these same stores, they also have an assortment of interesting favored sodas and seltzers. I recently bought a wonderful cucumber soda which is delicious with gin or on its own for the tea-totalers. Interesting sodas like “real” creme soda, root beer and a plethora of flavorings are available and will add real interest to your happy hour.
Fruit Juices- Buy the small bottles. Start with Cranberry to keep at the bar. ( if you have someone waffling you can always make a Cosmo) Don’t forget pineapple ( essential for “boat drinks”) and perhaps mango juice as well.
A few Coffee /Espresso bottled drinks as well as an ‘energy drink” can serve as a base for libations or non-alcoholic options.
Fresh Fruit- Of course you need lemons and limes, but try to keep on hand some oranges, and other seasonal fruit ( strawberries, cherries, blackberries for garnish and interest in both spirited libations and non-alcoholic )
Assorted Pickles/olives- Classic green olives of course but get a jar of caper berries ( available at World Market, fresh Market etc) Pickled onions, pickled okra and some spicy pickles ( like Wickles) These are all excellent cocktail garnishes and wonderful snacks!
NAPKINS– there are so many FUN cocktail napkins available these days. Get some you enjoy and USE THEM!
COCKTAIL GLASSES– Invest in some fun Martini ( up) glasses, rocks glasses( double old-fashion), tall glasses and some scotch/whiskey ( tulip ) glasses- of course, you can always serve scotch in a double old-fashioned glass but the new styles are really fun and help showcase the spirit. You can often find some great options at estate sales and of course, there are wonderful options at local artisan shops. It never hurts to have some margarita glasses on hand- they do take up a lot of space but you can serve all sorts of tropical /summer drinks in them ( even in the middle of winter). They also make a nice presentation for serving desserts.
WHATEVER you are serving – it should be in nice glassware! It shows you care, it sets the stage.
So go stock your bar! Click here to see the recipes and ideas for Happy Hour Essentials.