How to Stock Your Bar for the Holidays: Don’t Let Guests Leave Thirsty!

Well friends, the holiday season is upon us. This week I received four invitations for upcoming gatherings and this exciting flood of requests will continue throughout December. To help us get in the mood for nonstop merriment, I am devoting this post on Entertaining Family to creating a well-stocked bar. If not for your celebrations, then for your sanity during this whirlwind time of year.

Stocking your bar can be a costly endeavors, so these tips are designed to give you the biggest bang for your buck while still focusing on high-quality products.

In our home, the bar is centrally located and we refer to her as “The Mother Ship” or TMS, for short. She has won the affection of many a house guest, and she is spectacular! I realize that most people don’t have the room or the desire to house a formal bar, but creating a dedicated space for wine and spirits is important for party flow. Whether you use a side table, a portable cart, a built-in cabinet, or a kitchen counter, you will want a space where you can store bottles, an ice bucket, a shaker, and some glassware.

To stock your bar for a season of entertaining, always start with wine! Whether you are throwing a dinner party, cocktail party, or brunch, a lot of people will gravitate to this staple. I stock 8 bottles of wine per 10 guests.

Choosing wine can be overwhelming when you consider how much is out there! As a rule of thumb, I always pick a red and a white. My go to red is Meiomi Pinot Noir from the California coast. This wine is incredibly silky and flavorful, and it is reasonably priced, retailing for about $20 a bottle. Seriously, give it a try and then let me know how much you love it!

Meiomi Pinot Noir

For white wine, I tend to go with a Riesling which is slightly sweeter than most whites, though not sickeningly so. Over the course of my entertaining life I have found that guests tend to prefer sweeter white wines to those that are really dry. The one that I purchase most frequently is Kung Fu Girl which usually scores over 90 points and retails for under $20. Win, win.

Tip: If you aren’t already on the email list of your local liquor and wine shop, make sure to give them your contact information. I am constantly getting emails about special deals on bottles and cases of great wine. This makes stocking up all the more affordable!

Choose one or two mixed drinks that will be your “signature cocktails” during the holiday season – then just shop for the ingredients you will need. I stock 4 bottles of liquor for 10 guests.

When you consider all of the drinks you could be mixing over the holidays, it can be overwhelming. One person wants a gin and tonic, another wants a whiskey sour, another a martini…. Though you are stocking a bar, you are not a bar tender and you don’t need to offer a myriad of options. To simplify things, I choose one or two cocktails to make for guests.

I often use Pinterest to organize drinks that match flavor profiles I’m interested in and save them on my “entertaining” board (I also keep a few cool vintage cocktail books on hand for inspiration). Then I narrow the field by choosing the cocktails that are most celebratory and easy to create. Often I pick one cocktail that has a clear liquor (ex., gin, vodka, tequila) and one that has a dark liquor (ex., whiskey, bourbon, rum). This season, I will be making a smoky Cranberry Mezcalrita and a Jean Harlow cocktail…recipes will be forthcoming!

Don’t forget to purchase a few bottles of bitters which will add complexity to your cocktails.

By adding a dash of delicious bitters, which can be found at any liquor store, you can take your cocktail up a notch. Bitters are concentrated spices, roots, herbs, flowers, and fruits that add aromatic, flavorful notes to mixed drinks. In our bar, we stock bitters that range from grapefruit (for whiskey sours) to celery (great in gin and tonic) to habanero (perfect for a margarita). If you’ve seen any of our drink recipes on Entertaining Family, than you know that we love them…if you’re curious, check out Craft Cocktail or Lychee Fruit Margarita. My brother makes his own bitters, and they are wonderful! He has given us batches that include: Thai herbs; Mole; and Jamaican spice. We’re going to visit him in San Francisco soon and maybe we’ll come home with a new collection (hint, hint). Check out this Huffington Post article with video to find out how to make your own!

Collection of bitters

If it fits within your budget, choose one high-end sipping liquor that can be served on the rocks or neat. I stock one bottle for 10 guests.

For sophisticated cocktail parties, I like to offer one sipping liquor that is a splurge. My husband and I like to choose a Van Winkle bourbon, or our current favorite, Don Julio 1942 tequila. This isn’t for shots, people…it’s for savoring! Serve it to those guests that will appreciate the flavors and aromas of a well crafted liquor.

Finally, don’t forget to wash and wipe down your glassware. Shot glasses, wine goblets, tumblers, snifters, etc….

Make sure your glasses don’t have spots from their last cycle in the dishwasher. This is always the thing that I forget about! Ugh. As guests are scheduled to be at my door, I’m wiping everything down with a cloth. Please, do as I say and not as I do! After you finish reading this, pull out your glasses and give everything a good cleaning.

Hope this helps! Writing this has made me thirsty…I’m going to pour myself a drink….

The joy of stocking a bar

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