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A Rookie’s Guide to Building an At-Home Bar for the Holidays

We hate to add another thing to your holiday to-do list, but in addition to pulling out your sparkly frocks and hanging the mistletoe, it’s time to get your bar cart in order. If you’re starting from scratch, don’t fret. We asked some of our favorite bartenders, sommeliers, and industry experts to break it down with six easy tips. Read on to find out which booze to stock and how to serve it.

Stock Your Bar With the Essentials

It’s possible to get away with only having one type of spirit on hand—and if that’s your (booze) bag, Eben Freeman, the Director of Beverage for AvroKO Hospitality Group, recommends cognac. “Cognac is classy. You can sip it straight after dinner or make a cocktail before dinner,” he says. Ignacio “Nacho” Jimenez, head bartender at The Daily, has a slightly more extensive list: He recommends a bottle each of gin, bourbon, tequila, and whisky (Japanese single malt will impress your guests), as well as bitters, citrus for garnish, and brandied cherries. As for tools, you can’t go wrong with the Izola 4-in-1, which can uncork wine, open a beer, measure mixers, and break up ice cubes.

Bubbles Are Never a Bad Idea

It’s always good to have a few bottles of something sparkling on hand for last-minute festivities. Mitch Einhorn of Chicago’s Lush Wine and Spirits suggests grower champagnes, also known as “farmer fizz.” Made by the growers of the grapes themselves rather than the big champagne houses, these champagnes offer better quality at slightly gentler prices than the Veuves and Moets,” he says. Einhorn recommends the Launois Pere & Fils Special Club (we found a magnum for $59.99), a good mid-range bottle. A more affordable pick (around $20) is the Luis Pato Baga Bruto, a sparkling wine from Portugal.

Upgrade Your Party Cups

We’re fans of saving your stemware for more intimate affairs, but that doesn’t mean you need to go the Solo cup route. Master sommelier Laura Maniec loves the Govino glasses for larger get-togethers. They look classy, won’t break, and can accommodate wine and cocktails. Her genius tip: “Write guests’ name on them with a Sharpie and they can have them for the entire party.”.

Invest In a Scene-Stealing Punch Bowl

Punch is an easy and cost-effective crowd pleaser, especially when you serve it in something beautiful, says Jimenez. We’re obsessed with this vintage pressed glass set from Etsy, but you can also repurpose a large serving bowl like this bright one by Jonathan Adler. As for a recipe, try this big-batch version of an Old Fashioned—it will warm your guests right up.

Coasters Are Always Classy

In addition to being a fun way to add a bit of flare to your holiday soiree, coasters are a practical way to ensure that your guests protect your tabletops and furniture surfaces. “Coasters can also help distinguish whose drink is whose,” says Einhorn. These gold glittery ones from Kate Spade will make even the simplest cocktail feel fancy.

Ice is Key

If you want to get creative with your ice, we’ve got a few ideas for how you can step up your cube game. But, “sometimes all a drink needs is a little ice (or whisky stones!) to chill it down,” says Einhorn. Masa Urushido, head bartender at Saxon + Parole, advises investing in different types of ice trays. “Whether you’re looking to make Kold Draft-like cubes or larger squares for Manhattan or Old Fashion cocktails, having a variety of trays on hand keeps you flexible.” If you just want to serve your tipples with a smile, Kikkerland ice trays come in quirky shapes like mustaches and sunglasses.

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