Great hosts know this one cardinal rule: You never want guests to have to search for a drink.
And though it may be a cocktail world gone mad, that doesn't mean you have to create your own speakeasy to set up a well-stocked bar for a party. Some basic equipment, a half dozen base spirits and a few mixers will have you ready to whip up a surprising number of classic cocktails. For your guests who prefer their beverages a little lower proof, be prepared with a selection of wine (both red and white) and beer. And plan to go through about one to two pounds of ice per guest each hour.
Make sure your bar is properly stocked for your next party by following these simple tips. Drink 'em in, then let your guests drink up.
Start with the hardware. You'll need a cocktail shaker and strainer; a bar spoon for stirred cocktails; a muddler for pressing fruits, mint and other herbs; and a jigger for measuring liquids (a great cocktail is a balanced cocktail). For glassware, make sure you have a short glass, a tall glass and one with a stem—there's no need to offer separate red and white wine glasses at cocktail parties.
Stock the liquor. For a full cocktail bar, you'll need gin, vodka, white rum, cognac, bourbon, tequila (look for one made from 100 percent agave), Cointreau, red vermouth, white vermouth and bitters. With this collection, you'll be able to make everything from sidecars and screwdrivers to martinis and Manhattans. Invest in quality spirits for better-tasting drinks. When trying to sort out amounts, know that you'll get roughly 22 drinks out of a one-liter bottle of alcohol. Expect your guests to have two drinks within the first hour of the party and one drink per hour after that.
Don't skimp on the mixers. In the same way great chefs insist on the freshest ingredients, the best home bars rely on the best quality fixings. Source garnishes the same way you would source your produce and take the time to squeeze fresh fruit juice. It's a good idea to rely on the wide variety of top-notch bartender helpers available today, such as Jack Rudy tonic and the whole line of Bittermilk products.
Create a signature drink. The best way to keep the bar line moving (and the drink supplies to a minimum) is to designate a signature cocktail or two. This might be a large-batch punch you make ahead of time or a drink that's easy to make to order. Remembering 100 classic cocktail recipes is tough. But having one or two really great ones in your repertoire gives the party a little personality and makes it easy to whip up an impressive drink without a lot of stress. Print out the recipes on laminated cards and keep them by the bar to let your guests make their own.
Hire a bartender. With so many cocktail bars opening, the number of drink slingers has risen exponentially. Why should you sweat the proportions of a perfect French 75 when you can have a professional do it? Ask around your favorite bars to see if any of the staff work private parties (the answer is usually yes). Depending on the gig, you can pay them a flat fee, hourly or, for less formal, less intimate events, put out a tip jar.
Offer a booze-free option. Not everyone drinks. And there's nothing worse than being an adult and relegated to the beverage version of the kids' table with water, tea or cola. Have ingredients on hand to create noteworthy nonalcoholic drinks, such as sparkling water, small-batch grenadine, fresh-squeezed juices, drinking vinegars (Pok Pok, McClary Bros., Shrub & Co.) and alcohol-free bitters (El Guapo, Fee Brothers).
Drink responsibly. These days you can support better farming practices with what's in the glass in addition to what's on your plate. Sustainable spirits and biodynamic wines are becoming easier and easier to find. Leaders in the spirits field include brands like Square One Vodka, WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey, Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye and Peak Spirits CapRock Organic Gin. Whole Foods and many boutique wine markets now feature biodynamic selections, and importers, such as Calypso Organic Selections, specialize in importing wines that are certified organic and biodynamic.