Over the years, dozens of articles have been written about how to stock your bar. These throw out cheap booze recommendations, guides on when to splurge, and bar cart DIYs in huge numbers—but few of them tailor their suggestions based on why you’re stocking the bar.
To help wade through it, we’ve put together a list of ways to stock your bar for specific uses (and at a reasonable price). Mix and match a handful of affordable labels and you'll be prepared for spontaneous entertaining and quiet nights in alike. In addition to the booze listed below, keep equipment like a shaker tin, stirring spoon, and glassware on hand along with mixers like soda water, tonic water, and Coke. They’ll come in handy when you least expect it.
SCENARIO 1: YOU'RE HOSTING A PARTY
If you’re stocking up for a party, cheap may be the watchword. Stock most of your bar with the cheaper options (which will most likely be used for mixed drinks), then sprinkle in a couple beautiful, recognizable labels by splurging on one (or some) of the bottles from the second group, below.
For starters, buy: Sobieski vodka ($12.99), New Amsterdam gin ($11.99), Old Grand Dad bourbon ($13.99) or Four Roses Yellow Label ($19.99), Cruzan light rum ($10.99), Sauza tequila ($16.99)
To class things up, add: Hendrick’s gin ($35.99), Tito’s vodka ($19.99), Flor de Caña gold rum ($19.99), El Jimador tequila ($19.99)
SCENARIO 2: YOU WANT TO LOOK MORE LIKE AN ADULT
Buy decanters: In addition to looking awesome on the bar, decanters also remove the label from the equation. Psychologically, what you see influences how you experience it, meaning that you’re more likely to believe that a liquor tastes bad if it's in a cheap-looking or ugly bottle (and vice versa).
Keep on hand: 2-3 decanters, labeled with the type of alcohol
Fill with: Sobieski vodka ($12.99), New Amsterdam Gin ($11.99), Old Grand Dad bourbon ($13.99) or Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon ($19.99), Cruzan light rum ($10.99), Sauza tequila ($16.99)
SCENARIO 3: YOU WANT TO LEARN ABOUT CLASSIC COCKTAILS
First, invest in a cocktail book. We’re fans of Paul Clarke’s The Cocktail Chronicles ($17.45) or Jim Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book ($17.46) for some basic recipes and historical background. Classic cocktails were often made to showcase the main liquor rather than to mask it with lots of sugar and artificial flavoring. As a result, you may need to spend a couple bucks more on your ingredients; but as you’ll learn, it’s more about finding what you (or your guests) like to drink and mixing that up.
To cover the basics, grab: Angostura bitters ($9.95), sugar for syrups (4 lb for $8.99), Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon ($19.99), Sobieski vodka ($12.99), El Jimador tequila ($19.99), Flor de Caña gold rum ($19.99), Beefeater gin ($18.99)
SCENARIO 4: YOU JUST LIKE TO DRINK
It’s OK. We do too.
Buy: Sobieski vodka ($12.99), New Amsterdam Gin ($11.99), Old Grand Dad bourbon ($13.99), Cruzan light rum ($10.99), Sauza tequila ($16.99)