Home bars: What types of alcohol should you keep on hand?

What Types of Alcohol Should Every Home Bar Have?

What Types of Alcohol Should Every Home Bar Have?

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Oct. 3 2015 7:19 AM

What Types of Alcohol Should Every Home Bar Have?

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Choose wisely.

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Answer by Domhnall O'Huigin, used to work in bars, dives, roughhouses, shantys, and shebeens:

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So you've decided to host a shindig, huh? Well, your first problem is the Internet. The days of un-self-conscious straight drinks are pretty dead, and everyone has a favorite Hiberno-Peruvian cocktail made with y'tang y'tang berries or whatever that he had in a great little bar in Machu Picchu, but let's press on.

Your first tier of alcohol is made of what I call the generic ones, the spirits that can be made into mixed drinks or drank straight if that's your thing. Included in this tier are the usual suspects with a couple of wild cards:

  • A nice but neutral vodka, like Finlandia Classic.
  • A similarly nice gin. The thing you need to remember about gin is it is supposed to have a flavor, so it is pretty much a crap shoot, and you will never be able to please everyone with the particular type you choose. I personally loathe gin (I don't drink spirits as a rule), but I hear good things about Bombay Sapphire. It is supposed to be lighter overall and therefore a better mixer for a traditional gin and tonic.
  • Irish whiskey. It's nothing special, but you really can't go wrong with Jameson Irish Whiskey. Plus it is a good whiskey for things like whiskey sours and such.
  • Scotch whisky. Apparently people drink this abomination. I wouldn't feed it to pigs myself, but it takes all types. You can probably find the least offensive swill here, but I wash my hands of it.
  • Jack Daniel's. You've got to acknowledge the Colonials after all. 
  • Dark rum, or as I call it, “the pirate drink”—something like Captain MorganIt's quite a modish drink and can go surprisingly well with some mixers.
  • White rum, like Bacardi white rum.
  • Baileys Irish Cream. Because there's always one person who actually likes this stuff, and no one can drink very much of it, so it will last past the next holiday season. I think it has a half-life of 10,000 years or something, so try it at your own risk.

Into the second tier I put the wines, wine byproducts, wine-originated drinks, drinks beginning with W, whatever:

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  • Red wine. Duh. If you are serving food, align the wine with that. There are about a billion guides written by people who seem to know what they are talking about to help you do that. So I'm not going to.
  • White wine. See red wine above.
  • Rosé wine. If you are in the Frozen North Beyond the Wall, then the idea of a nice chilled rosé probably doesn't seem that enticing. On the other hand, if it is remotely sunny where you are, this can be a really lovely and refreshing drink, either on its own or with a spritzer. Make sure you serve proper rosé and not a decolorised one.
  • Port and sherry. Just don't, unless you are a character in an Edgar Allan Poe story or you are trying to get gout.

The third tier is my favorite tier. The beers, ciders, ambrosias of forest fruits, periapts of natures bounty, and so forth. 

  • Beer, light. Basically I mean lager and around 3.5 to 4 percent alcohol by volume, nice chilled.
  • Cider. Also nicely chilled, and please remember, not everyone prefers beer if there is a choice. Savanna Dry is a lovely, dry South African cider with worldwide distribution.
  • A stout. Yes, like Guinness. Get four. Someone always mentions how much nicer it is in Dublin because it is made with Dublin river water. 
  • Wild cards: craft beers, krieks, craft ales, microbrewery stuff. The problem is that unless you know in advance that  people like a particular brand or type, you have two choices—you can double down and buy lots of a particular type you like, so you'll have lots for yourself if no one else does. Or you can get a mix, but if someone really likes one of them, there's probably only one or two other bottles, and that's it. Neither is really ideal, so I'd avoid the wild card options unless you have reasonable insight into what people will like. In that case you can hedge your bets.

You'll notice some obvious omissions from the lists above. No brandy. No cognac. No Limoncello or Jägermeister or Alcopops. No green fairy. No tequila even. This means you pretty much have the adult-oriented rock of booze—more “We Built This City” than “Debaser.” 

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But, like all good mentors, I have equipped you with the tools to complete your alcoholic journey on your own. With clever use of mixers (juices, soft drinks and tonics, cordials, bitters, and the like) you can accommodate every palate and taste in this world or the next. The Internet—the very enemy I called out at the top of the answer—is your friend now, rather than your foe.

Enjoy your little soirée. I regret I will not be able to attend on account of doing something far more fabulous, but your fervent praise for my humbly magnificent answer is gladden my heart.