A home bar doesn't have to be a headache: Invest in basic equipment, stock up on essential liquors, and you can have a spread that will impress amateurs -- and even make professionals nod in quiet approval.
Liquor will keep for a long time, particularly in a cool place away from direct sunlight. The lower the liquid level, though, the more quickly you should consume the liquor, as the air in the bottle will leach out the flavors. Vermouth, however, is a wine, and should be refrigerated and drunk fairly quickly.
The equipment needed to mix a cocktail is simple to master, and you don't need a lot of it.
Ice cube trays
For more tips on tools and tumblers, see our Barware and Glassware Guide.
For everyday use in your home bar, you only need six or eight of each of these three basic types: a short glass, a tall glass, and a stem.
If you plan to serve wine at your parties, invest in eight to 12 basic stemmed wineglasses, either a single shape that is appropriate for both red and white or separate sets of glasses for each.
To make fantastic, creative cocktails, there's no need to stock your bar with 12 brands of expensive vodka and a rainbow's worth of brightly colored liqueurs. A half-dozen base spirits and a few mixers will not only allow you to turn out a surprising number of cocktail classics but also give you enough to tinker with to come up with some cool drinks of your own.
Cognac. For sidecars, brandy milk punches, crustas, daisies, and smashes.
White Rum. For daiquiris and mojitos.
Gin. For martinis, gin and tonics, Tom Collinses, etc.
Bourbon. For Manhattans, old fashioneds, and whiskey sours.
Vodka. Vodka is the workhorse of the liquor cabinet, used in basic drinks such as vodka tonics, screwdrivers, and the vodka martini.
Tequila. For margaritas, sunrises, and palomas. The best tequilas are made from 100 percent agave; check the label.
Cointreau. A bar essential -- clean, full of natural orange flavor, and not too sweet.
Red Vermouth. For Manhattans.
White Vermouth. Essential for truly sublime martinis.
Bitters. Bitters are used not to make the drink taste bitter but to help other flavors blend.
Drinks Per Guest
For cocktail parties, allow for a pound of ice for each guest, as well as three drinks, three glasses, and three napkins per person for a two-hour party.
The Nonalcoholic Bar
No one should be punished for passing up a cocktail, but if plain soda and canned juice are the only alternatives, an abstainer is likely to wind up pouting in the corner. Fortunately, there are enough flavorful nonalcoholic beverages to fill an entire bar and bring cheer to the soberest of souls. Mix fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice with a splash of seltzer to make a light cocktail. Also try sweetened, diluted lime and lemon juice served over crushed ice, or whip fresh or frozen berries in a blender with ice and a dash of lime.