The best part of adulting has got to be the adult beverages. Now that you’re all grown up, it’s time to take mixological matters into your own hands. We think that an absolute beginners’ bar only needs six or seven spirits, plus accoutrements. Here, you’ll find all the must-haves, down to the wouldn’t-it-be-nice additions. You’ve got plenty of bright, happy hour fueled years ahead of you, after all.
Vodka’s like a great character actor when it comes to liquor. Everywhere you look, it just keeps turning up and stealing the show! Vodka tonics, screwdrivers, cosmopolitans: It’s the foundation of so many modern cocktails. Since it’s so often going to be mixed, don’t go crazy on a high-end brand. Find one that’s drinkable, and just smooth enough. You probably don’t want to taste it too much, anyway.
Gin is a clear spirit, sure, but there’s nothing neutral about it. Its distinct flavor (thanks to the Juniper berry) is the base to many classic drinks, including proper martinis and that timeless power couple, the gin and tonic. You might not drink it all the time, but you’ll have happy to have it in the rotation.
We’re a little leery to jump into any debates about which whiskey, or bourbon, or rye, or Scotch, and so on—but you need one, so guests can enjoy their whiskey sours, old-fashioneds, Manhattans, and other darker drinks. Again: we are agnostic about which to choose, but we’d say that a whiskey (or a very smooth bourbon) is your most versatile option.
Tequila’s more versatile than you think. Absolutely get a bottle for mixing up margaritas, tequila sunrises, and other drinks that put you in a South of the Border mood. But don’t limit yourself to just those wonderful drinks—tequila is a great spirit to enjoy mixed with a soda or even seltzer with a lot of fresh lime. Or, for shots. You know.
Clear rum’s a must for daiquiris, mojitos, and other classic tropical drinks, but if you don’t want to go through the trouble of mixing up something complex, we found something great in the Caribbean. Try a rum and tonic—a staple tipple of island life.
Dark rum is a little bit more of a specialty pick for your bar—it can open the doors to a world of fun, fruity tiki drinks, but that may not be your beach bag. We’d be remiss, though, if we didn’t recommend keeping some around for dark and stormys. Especially ones served with a bitingly gingery ale and a lot of fresh lime. Yum.
Mixers to keep on hand
Oh, speaking of limes and ginger ale—you’re going to need some mixers. Absent the Martini, a tall glass of straight spirits is often a fairly tough drink to swallow. Here are a few starters to stock the other side of the bar with.
Sodas, all of them
The “soda” in most cocktail names refers to club soda or seltzer, not cola. But honestly, having cola, ginger ale, and a fizzy citrus choice around alongside seltzer isn’t the worst idea. Plenty of people drink them, after all. Bar tip: buy individual cans rather than larger liter sizes—if you’re a regular soda drinker, you’ll know that these are your mixer stash. If you’re not a regular soda drinker, you’ll won’t lose any money on spare soda going flat.
Cocktail bitters, a powerful herbal tincture, were once prescribed as medicine, if you can believe it. We don’t recommend it for health, necessarily. We do recommend it in old-fashioneds, and even as an accent to simple two-ingredient drinks, too—think of it as all-purpose seasoning to add kick to all your drinks.
Aperols, amari, and light liqueurs
The Aperol spritz has a moment every summer—and honestly, sometimes throughout the year around the Plated kitchen. You don’t have to limit your spritz to just one liquor, though. Many spritzes are made in Italy with other amari—which is technically a kind of liquor, but they’re used more as a mixer or digestif than as a spirit unto themselves. You might know Campari and Fernet, but feel free to sip the world.
While they don’t share much in flavor or history, now’s a good time to think about other, sweeter liqueurs used more to flavor drinks than stand on their own. Think about what drinks you like making and what flavors you enjoy to guide your purchases. For example: keep triple sec on hand for margaritas and sangria, or try something like St. Germain (an elderflower-inspired option) to liven up your mixology. Gin + club soda + St. Germain + lime = never a bad idea.
You probably know that a whisper of vermouth is the key ingredient to a Martini. Did you also know that vermouth is a kind of wine? (Now you do!) Because it’s not technically a distilled spirit, it can go bad—so make sure you refrigerate it, rather than keeping it in your bar.
Ice, ice baby
Last, but by no means least: you need to have ice. An ice bucket is, of course, the most refined choice. But until you hit your next stage of adulting, stay chill and just keep a few trays in the freezer. You can ask for barware for your next birthday.
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