With just a little good planning and some smart shopping, you can be drinking fancy cocktails in no time—all in the comfort of your own home, and for less money than you might think. I typically buy mid-range liquor brands for mixed drinks, and reserve higher-priced top-shelf booze for drinking straight.
Here are a few pointers on how to set up a bar on a budget. Invest in these basics first:
Vodka, gin, and light rum, $12 to $15 each for 750 mL
These are the building blocks of nearly every cocktail—and the most versatile spirits to have around, making them extremely cost-effective.
Recommended brands: Seagram’s (vodka and gin), Castillo (rum)
Brandy, whiskey, and bourbon, $13 to $16 for 1 L
Not as versatile for cocktails, but essential for hot drinks such as toddies and Irish coffee. If your budget doesn’t stretch to three bottles, buy bourbon before whiskey.
Recommended brands: Paul Masson (brandy), Jameson (whiskey), Evan Williams Black (bourbon)
Triple sec, $6 to $9 for 1 L
Of all the various liqueurs and cordials, triple sec is your single best investment. When it comes to mixed drinks, it is the most used liqueur—and it’s cheap!
Recommended brands: Aristocrat, Arrow, Hiram Walker
Other liqueurs, $5 to $12 for 750 mL
Buy these only as needed, or when you get a craving for a particular cocktail. Get the smallest bottles you can--they’re typically very sweet, and a little goes a long way. Some of the most popular flavors include peach, raspberry, melon, amaretto and sour apple.
Garnishes, $3 to $6
Invest in a jar each of maraschino cherries and good green olives, as well as a bottle of Angostura bitters, which will last longer than anything else in your bar.
Now that you’re stocked, it’s time to get mixing. Follow a recipe, or get creative, starting with a basic formula for cocktail creation: 2 parts main liquor (vodka, gin, rum, etc.), 1 part cordial or liqueur, and 3 parts juice or other mixer.
Just add ice, shake (or stir, if using soda) and pour into glasses and garnish. Happy sipping!
These are my favorite bar starters, but I'm always looking for ideas. If you've got one, do share!