Stocking a Holiday Bar: Southerner’s Edition Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
Holiday time means many things to different people, but in the South it’s all about the get togethers – planned or not. And one thing no self-respecting southerner should be caught without is a properly stocked bar. But where do you begin? Stick with these tips and tricks and you’ll be sure to please any guests that grace your doorstep this holiday season.
First Things First: The Bourbon
A Southerner’s bar is not complete without bourbon, so please those bourbon lovers by offering a good variety. I like to include a few bourbons that can either be enjoyed in cocktails or savored neat with a splash of water. Choose a few of these and you’ll cover a wide spectrum of guests:
• Buffalo Trace: Buffalo Trace’s entry level bourbon is anything but. At approximately 8 years old there’s a tremendous amount of complexity and balance for neat sipping or cocktail savoring. Approximately $20
• Four Roses Small Batch: No other distillery uses a higher percentage of rye grain in their recipe than Four Roses. The distillery’s small batch offering is a blend of their ten recipes, bringing a combination of bright fruit and spice that seriously elevates any cocktail. Less than $28
• Four Roses “Yellow Label”: This is Four Roses’ mainstay bourbon. At 80 proof it’s softer and sweeter than the Small Batch, but with all of the flexibility. Less than $20
• Larceny: Challenge your guests to try something other than Maker’s Mark this season. Larceny is a wheated recipe (replacing rye grain with wheat) bourbon in the Maker’s Mark style, but with a bit more zip. You’ll give your friends and family something familiar, but might also arm them with a new favorite. Less than $25
• Wild Turkey 101: Perhaps Wild Turkey’s finest bourbon is also one of their least expensive. WT 101 is a sharp, crisp, dry number with lots of rye and mint influence — a superior cocktail bourbon for those that enjoy something in the higher proof variety. Less than $22
The Rest: Vodka, Gin & Rye
The truth is not everyone loves bourbon. It’s a southerner’s duty to educate, but being a crowd pleaser is equally important. You can easily round out your bar with one good quality Vodka (I’m fond of Polish Vodka like Sobieski and Belvedere), Gin (St. George Spirits, Hendricks, or Tanqueray No. 10), and Rye Whiskey (Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond or Sazerac). For those looking for the simplicity of a vodka tonic -you’ll have them covered.
The Software: Mixers, Bitters, and Twists
The term “cocktail” is hundreds of years old. It was originally a mixture of spirits, sugar, water and bitters used to calm the nerves (or work up there nerve perhaps). The last decade has seen a vigorous return to classic cocktail culture. Gone are the days of sticky pre-made mixers and canned fruit. Today, using high quality, artisanal bitters, fresh fruits and other ingredients have elevated modern mixology to new heights. There’s no reason your home bar can’t offer similar possibilities in a smaller setting. Here is what you’ll need:
• Small wedges of lemon and lime
• Thin (1/8 inch) slices of orange
• Twists of all three (simply slice fruit into rounds, snip one side and remove the pulp and white pith from the rind.)
• Good quality tonic and seltzer water
• Cans of good quality ginger ale (it’s okay to keep some cola at the bar too)
• Bitters: my favorites are the classic Angostura brand bitters (easy to find) and Fee Brothers West Indian Orange bitters.
• Noilly Prat Dry and Rouge (Sweet) Vermouth: High end vermouth is all the rage, but Noilly Prat has a great balance of availability, tastes great, and the price is right. Vermouth, like wine goes bad…if opened for too long — toss it out!
• Sugar cubes
• Cherries — brandied cherries provide more interest and depth, but maraschino is fine.
The Hardware: Trays, Bowls and Utensils
This is where a careful balance of well thought out execution combined with unstuffy design yields the finest results. Silver trays are quite common to place bar items on. I do recommend having one or two handy for this purpose, but it’s also perfectly acceptable to sit larger items off to the side, utilizing the tray to keep any drips off of your furniture. My recommended hardware for a fully stocked bar:
• Sturdy rocks glasses: cheap, plastic glasses seriously downgrade the experience. Use good quality glasses – it’s the holidays!
• Ice bucket filled with clean, odor-free ice (if in doubt – buy bags from the store)
• Small bowls for fruit, twists, sugar and cherries. Keep the bowls simple – I like silver.
• Silver tongs and small spoons for retrieving
• Stirring sticks or small plastic straws
• Simple, white paper cocktail napkins
Bond isn’t always right: most cocktails taste absolutely fine stirred rather than shaken. Forgoing the shaker will eliminate the mess and cleanup.
Bar Setup: Location, Location, Location
You have spent some time, effort, and money assembling a well-stocked bar. Placing it in a proper location is a critical step for easy entertaining. Choose a spot near the main gathering area(s) of your home, but out of the way. This will allow guests to interact and quickly refresh their drink without having to wander too far from conversation.
Depending on the size of your home and entertaining area, perhaps two bars stocked with identical items, or broken up to create separate spaces, will make cocktail assembly easier for your guests. Just be sure to allow enough room for multiple people to gather around and mix their cocktails.
Most importantly, rest easy knowing your bar is ready when your guests are. Enjoy this Holiday Season with friends and family – it’s what it’s all about!
One for the Road
When I think about perfect cocktails for the holidays a few things come to mind – bourbon, sweets and the smell of fragrant oranges. Few cocktails deliver on this as well as the classic Old Fashioned cocktail. People are passionate about how to make a proper Old Fashioned. Here’s my version:
3 ounces bourbon
1 sugar cube (depending on desired sweetness)
3-5 dashes Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters
In a rocks glass gently muddle sugar, bitters, and orange slice until sugar is dissolved. Add half the bourbon and stir to properly mix with the sugar mixture. Fill glass with clean ice. Stir the cocktail for 15-20 seconds. The stirring ensures the proper dilution into the cocktail. Add remaining half of bourbon. Stir another 10 seconds. Serve and enjoy.
Jason Pyle is an American Whiskey writer. Born and raised in the South, Jason is passionate about southern culture and of course Bourbon. You can find Jason on his website, www.SourMashManifesto.com.