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If there’s ever a time of year when you need a well-stocked drinks cabinet, it’s Christmas and New Years. Whether it’s a planned drinks reception or visiting family or friends, the festive season is a busy one for “drinks”, toasts and “oh go one then, it is Christmas!” With the Bella’s bar closed until the spring, we’re here to help you with the next best thing and share with you all how to stock your home bar like The Bella’s without breaking the bank, so that you’re prepared for thirsty guests and can enjoy yourself instead of playing bar tender all evening.
Home Bar Theory
You want to spend your evening enjoying the company of your guests, not making them drinks. To ensure that this happens, we’d recommend creating a basic home bar set-up that allows you to offer a small selection of drinks and classic cocktails, or that your guests can help themselves to. If you’ve planned a large gathering then we’d recommend making a bowl of warming winter punch (here’s our festive punch recipe using Wheadon’s Gin), but otherwise you can offer a small menu of the classic cocktails such as martinis, negronis and gimlets (click for links to recipes) using very few ingredients.
Which Spirits to Stock
A small selection of high quality basics will serve you better than a large range of lower quality spirits. With gin and tonics being a perennial favourite and gin being the base spirit for so many classic cocktails, we’d suggest building your bar on this foundation. Now, we’d obviously recommend one or more bottles from our range of Wheadon’s Gin here, but if you have a friend or family member who enjoys their martinis then consider also including a smaller bottle of a more juniper-forward gin (such as Six O-Clock or The Botanist). The Channel Islands Liquor Co’s new Indica Rum is bound to prove a hit with rum aficionados, and to cover most other bases then a small bottle each of quality vodka and bourbon will round out your basics. It’s better to buy small bottles first if possible, and upsize if you need to.
If you have a bottle of Wheadon’s mandarin lime and hibiscus infusion then a bottle of Campari and a sweet red vermouth will allow you to offer negronis, whilst a bottle of dry vermouth is all you’ll need to mix a martini. For non-drinkers, consider also including a distilled non-alcoholic option (such as Seedlip) so that they aren’t left resorting to sugary soft drinks.
Small cans or bottles of Indian tonic water (we’d recommend Fevertree) are preferable to large bottles that can go flat once opened. If you have a bottle of Wheadon’s Gin yuzu, lemongrass and green tea infusion then ginger ale makes a great alternative mixer, and it’s . If you want to offer gimlets then a bottle of Rose’s lime cordial will be required. A small bottle of aromatic bitters (such as the classic Angostura, in a small paper-wrapped brown bottle with a yellow lid) and some homemade simple syrup (made by heating equal quantities of sugar and water and then allowing to cool) will complete the basic home bar line-up.
Ice and a Slice
Ice is an essential. For a large party, bag ice from the shops may be required. You can also, for some cocktails served in rocks glasses, such as negronis, pre-make large ice-cubes in special moulds or even by part-filling clean old yoghurt pots with water and freezing at an angle in your freezer. A large insulated ice bucket will save you opening and closing your freezer door all evening. As well as ice, you’ll need garnishes; oranges, limes, lemons and (for all of those Wheadon’s rock samphire and pink grapefruit G&Ts) pink grapefruit.
Home-measures are notoriously generous, and whilst some guests may thank you for such hospitality, a measure or bar jigger will mean that you can create balanced drinks without racing through your supplies or leaving guests unsure of how much they’re drinking. Pourers for the most popular bottles will save on spillage. The easiest way to set your home bar up though, if you are starting from scratch, is to purchase a basic bar kit that will include these things alongside a Boston or cocktail shaker, hawthorn strainer and bar spoon for less than £15. For those garnishes, you just need to borrow a sharp knife, chopping board and citrus juicer from your kitchen.
It’d be such a shame to fall at last hurdle and serve your guests drinks in glassware not befitting of the quality of their contents. A set of large wine glasses make a multi-purpose vessel for Wheadon’s and tonics and wine alike (they’re the precursor to the now iconic Copa de Balón) and readily available high-ball glasses for long drinks are all that you need to get started. A small set of rocks glasses (short tumblers) and Champagne coupes/saucers will add to the versatility of your home bar.
We’d suggest that when it comes to setting up and stocking your home bar or cocktail trolley, “quality over quantity” is a great mindset. A small selection of spirits that can produce some classic cocktails will impress your guests and make the evening enjoyable for you as host.
If you need to stock up, the Bella’s bottle shop (in the hotel reception) is open and well stocked with Wheadon’s Gin, Pink Granite Gin and Indica Rum at the following times up to and including Friday 20th December: