Each year at about this time I get lots of questions about how to set up a cocktail bar for holiday parties, so I’ve worked out a new solution. I want to encourage people to splurge a little on the kinds of spirits that make the best cocktails, but I also want to show home bartenders how a well-edited group of bottles can work together to create multiple drink variations. I know, for instance, that I would be a little irritated if someone told me to buy, say, a $50 bottle of Chartreuse but gave me only one recipe that called for a half-ounce. What can I use the rest of the bottle for, I’d want to know.
To that end, I’ve come up three packages of bottles and mixers that will work for making cocktails at a modest party of eight to 12 people: a three-bottle bar, a four-bottle bar and a five-bottle bar. The booze for each of the three options costs less than $125. Add fresh citrus, bitters, simple syrup and mixers such as ginger beer, tonic and sparkling wine, and the packages each cost about $165 or less.
For each of these bars, I’ve suggested at least eight cocktails you can make: either new recipes or selections from our Recipe Finder archive. From those ideas, a host might offer guests a short menu of three or four cocktails from the assembled bottles, one or two of which the guests could easily make themselves.
The 3-Bottle Bar: Old-fashioned and effervescent
With only slightly more effort than it takes to assemble a basic party bar setup, you can offer a number of simple cocktails, such as the Dark and Stormy or a basic daiquiri or an Old Fashioned. But a step further opens up options. Add Cointreau to the Dark and Stormy, and you have created an Anejo Highball. Open a bottle of sparkling wine and add a splash to make a Seelbach Cocktail (basically a fizzy Manhattan) or an Airmail (basically a fizzy daiquiri).
And don’t worry: Your guests who stick to rum and Coke or bourbon and ginger will still be happy.
The liquor: Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Flor de Cana 7 year old Gran Reserva, Cointreau; about $80 total.
The mixers: Inexpensive sparkling wine (such as cava or prosecco), ginger beer, tonic, Coca-Cola, Angostura and Peychaud bitters, honey syrup and simple syrup (which you can make at home), limes, lemons and oranges (for freshly squeezed juice, twists and garnishes); about $40 total.