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Best bar none

Best bar none
Taste of Home

Seasoned holiday entertainers have a secret: When guests stop by early or before the host is ready for them, they don’t stress. Why? Their home bar is stocked and ready to go to keep their guest occupied.

But if you’re setting up a home bar for the first time, or haven’t topped off your stock in a while, it can feel a bit overwhelming. Figuring out what alcohol to get, what kind of glasses to put out and gathering miscellaneous mixers is a lot to add to an already lengthy holiday to-do list. To make things a bit easier, follow our guide on how to stock a bar cart, complete with setup instructions, product recommendations and festive additions.

You should aso follow our 15 tricks for keeping your sanity if you’re hosting Christmas.

Choose a bar station and location

Choose a bar station and location
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A home bar means different things to different people. For some, it may mean an actual bar cart that can easily be rolled from room to room. It could also be a built-in bar or perhaps a cabinet-turned-home bar. Or maybe it just means a cupboard where the liquor bottles live.

Wherever your home bar may reside, just make sure that it’s out of the way of busy cooks, overly-excited kiddos and dining room chairs to prevent bumps and spills. It’s also great to place a side table or something similar next to smaller home bars so guests have ample space to mix their cocktails.

Follow these tips on how to get a party started and keep it moving.

Grab a few staple spirits

Grab a few staple spirits
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It’s important to remember that you don’t need to have a selection of liquors rivalling your local watering hole. Mix-and-match 2-4 bottles of vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila and gin, adjusting the number of bottles to how many guests you’ll have, preferences and your budget. Despite the festive occasion, don’t feel like you need to splurge for a fancy brand or specialty flavoured alcohol.

With a combination of these key base spirits and a couple of mixers (see below), you’ll be able to make most any guest happy.

Pick your wine and beer

Pick your wine and beer
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Along with the most common spirits, it’s a good idea to have a bottle or two of both red and white wine for dinner, and some sparkling wine. For specific types and bottles, you can do a food and wine pairing, or ask your local bottle shops

When it comes to beer, keep things simple. Store a couple of six-packs of beer in the fridge and encourage beer aficionados to bring a sampling of their favourite beer to the party.

Want to keep your drinking under control this festive season? Follow these 16 tips to drink a little less.

Choose mixers

Choose mixers
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Basic mixing staples such as tonic water, soda water, cola and lemon-lime soda, fruit juices and ginger ale provide enough options for most. Your personal preference will dictate how many, or few, options you choose to keep on hand.

It’s also good to have a liquor or two on hand for classic cocktails like vermouth for martinis, Cointreau for margaritas and cosmos, Campari for Boulevardiers and Negronis, Amaretto for Amaretto sours and so on.

Then there are the mixers that tend to be used in small amounts: Angostura bitters, simple syrup, grenadine and sour mix. Pick up or make a small batch of these ingredients that are used in a wide range of old-school and custom cocktails.

Pick and prep garnishes

Pick and prep garnishes
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A cocktail just isn’t a cocktail without a garnish. It’s like wearing a nice dress without jewellery—it looks nicer with it than without. Knowing your go-to concoctions will help you determine your garnishes, but lemons, limes, maraschino cherries, olives and/or fresh herbs (mint and basil) are good items to have around. These tend not to stick around as long as liquor does, so make sure to add these to your grocery list when you’re shopping for your next party.

Learn how to freeze herbs.

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Collect bar tools

Collect bar tools
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Now, onto the hardware. A thoughtfully stocked bar includes the tools used to tackle cocktails. Common items include an ice bucket, bar spoon, muddler, jigger, a cocktail shaker or mixing glass and strainer. Most of these tools can be found in a cocktail set, or can be purchased separately. And don’t forget a wine bottle opener, wine chiller and coasters if you have wood tables.

Select glassware

Select glassware
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If you’ll be making a variety of cocktails, it’s nice to have a combination of rocks glasses, martini glasses and highball glasses. If you don’t already have all of these, don’t fret! A range of shorter and taller glasses, regardless of if they match perfectly or not, is just perfect. Now’s a good time to take inventory of your glassware.

For wine, consider basic stemmed glasses suitable for white or red wine rather than two separate sets. If you’re planning on keeping wine glasses on the dinner table, just give your guests a heads up to use the glass at their seats.

Choose a non-alcoholic option

Choose a non-alcoholic option
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There is nothing worse than attending a party and feeling left out because you’re refraining from alcohol. Be sure there are 1-2 non-alcoholic options at your home bar like soft drink, tea, juice blends, sparkling water and lemonade.

Or, consider offering a non-alcoholic version of your signature cocktail, garnished just as nicely. Just be sure to label which ones are which.

Offer a signature cocktail

Offer a signature cocktail
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It’s completely optional, but having a signature cocktail eliminates the pressure of needing to play bartender. Guests can even make their own drinks and have fun with garnishes!

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