When it comes to entertaining, a well-stocked bar can make a huge difference. In part one, I covered all the basics for liquors and alcohols, but stocking your bar doesn’t stop there. Right now, I’m talking about the next steps in home bar essentials: mixers and garnishes.
Syrups and Flavors
This is where I like to focus to make my bar stand out from other home bars. Look at any cocktail list at a fancy restaurant, and you’ll see syrups and purees all over it. That’s because they make drinks taste amazing. In addition to the major player here – grenadine – I love to collect a variety of flavored syrups or sometimes make my own. Simple syrup is easy to cook up (it’s a one to one ratio of water and sugar) and you can infuse nearly anything from fruit to herbs in order to get the flavor you seek.
Another fancy cocktail basic you’ll need to have around is bitters. The most common is Angostura, which is used in many whiskey-based drinks, like an old fashioned. But there are so many great flavored bitters that will really make your cocktails come alive. As a starting point, try something fruity like a grapefruit or orange. Then add it a more robust flavor like walnut or vanilla. There are plenty of brands out there that make tons of varieties!
Juices, Sodas, and Other Liquids
You need the basics here to make your favorite blank-and-blank drinks (you know, like rum and coke, whiskey and ginger ale, vodka cranberry) and then you can add more interesting flavors. For real basics, you’ll need a cola, soda water, cranberry juice, and orange juice.
To make more fun cocktails, add in a lemon-lime soda, pineapple juice, grapefruit juice, and ginger ale. Then you can start to get real wild. My mom loves coconut rum with Dr. Pepper. I like mixing things with lemonade or apple cider. If you like a beverage without alcohol in it already, chances are you’ll like the cocktail with it included.
There are a few other liquids to have on hand as well. Coffee is a good match for cream liqueurs or whiskey. Milk is useful for white Russians and other creamy cocktails. Last, you may want to have some crowd-pleasing mixers on hand for easy frozen drinks: like margarita mix or pina colada mix.
Citrus is the most important place to start here. Lemons and limes can add that little bit of acidity to a drink, and double as a super simple garnish. With a single lemon, you can make rings, wedges, and twists. Plus you’ll still have juice leftover to shake up your cocktail.
As for other fruit, I like to keep around what’s in season and build my drinks around those. In spring and summer, strawberries and watermelons each make a pretty garnish and can be muddled into a mojito. A wedge of pineapple is a tasty way to dress up a tropical rum punch. In the fall and winter, apple slices and cranberries can be tossed into a white sangria.
We’re now talking cocktail umbrellas here, but it can’t hurt to have a couple cute ones on hand for mai tais. I’m think about non-fruit garnishes that will add just a little something extra to your drinks. Herbs are great for this: a sprig of fresh mint or rosemary. This is a super easy way to impress your guests.
You can also think about adding a rim to the glass (think like salt on a margarita). It’s good to have thicker grains, like a coarse sea salt or turbinado sugar. Or you can use crushed candy or chocolate. For your dessert cocktails, you’ll want chocolate syrup to drizzle inside the glass.
Some other options include edible flowers, thinly sliced cucumber, or cinnamon sticks. You can get crazy matching your garnishes to specific cocktails. Try adding marshmallows to a chocolate martini, or lavender to a gin fizz. You can even freeze garnishes in ice cubes to add some fun color to a drink.
Now go out there and get your bar cocktail-ready. You’ve got the liquor, you’ve got the mixers and garnishes. The only things left for your perfect home bar are tools and glassware, which I’ll break down in part three. Happy mixing!