Expert Advice: Stock Your Holiday Bar

It’s time for holiday entertaining. Do you have the basics?

AMC’s hit series Mad Men may not inspire you to swill Scotch at client meetings, but it does make you appreciate the stylish panache of a well-equipped bar. Jamie Ryan, wine consultant at Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits, offers this advice on creating a respectable home setup:

Bourbon A less expensive bourbon is fine if you’re serving a younger crowd likely to mix it with cola. Upgrade to something pricier such as Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, or Blanton’s if you’re serving it neat or on the rocks.

Vodka Start with a versatile brand such as Ketel One—though a spirit with a heavier texture, such as Grey Goose, may best hold the complex ingredients of a martini. Trendy, flavored vodkas are not requisites, as you can always add flavorings.

Scotch You will satisfy most guests with a better-grade blended Scotch such as Dewar’s. Aficionados will be happy with a twelve-year single-malt such as the Macallan. Splurge on something older and finer only if you really want to impress.

Gin For starters, avoid anything with too much juniper or too many herbs. For example, choose regular Bombay over Bombay Sapphire. Tanqueray is always a favorite.

Rum and tequila Key ingredients in summery drinks such as margaritas and mojitos, these are not so important in the winter.

Beer Keep at least one light and one regular variety on hand. Local or microbrews can be good conversation starters.

Wine Pinot noir is a crowd-pleasing red. A soft Chardonnay, possibly French or unoaked, will usually satisfy fans of rich and buttery or lighter whites. Add a sparkling wine for holidays.

Liqueurs An orange-flavored liqueur such as triple sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier is used in many popular cocktails. Add Chambord or cassis if you like mixing them with bubbly.

Miscellaneous Dry vermouth, Rose’s lime (and grenadine), olives, and juices (orange, cranberry, pineapple, Bloody Mary mix) in single-serving cans round out the essentials. And, of course, you will need tonic, diet tonic, club soda, ginger ale, cola, diet cola, and lemon-lime soda.

“Think about whom you normally entertain,” advises Ryan. “Pay attention to what they drink when you are out. If you don’t have a lot of friends who drink tequila, there’s really not a call for you to stock tequila. But you might have that friend who drinks brandy. There’s always that wild-card person.”