Offseason Project: Stock a Bar

National Signing Day is less than a week away; the offseason is about to get real, y'all. I don't know about you, but the only way I can deal with the crippling depression that accompanies the knowledge that football is seven months away is to keep myself busy. And why not stay busy by getting ready for football's triumphant return?

Like many of you, I don't make it back to Athens for games as often as I would like. Accordingly, I wind up watching a lot of games at home, and I try to recreate the tailgate atmosphere by having friends over. But contrary to what beer commercials have been trying to tell us for years, having a successful tailgate involves a little more effort than showing up in a jersey with a six pack. A professional-grade tailgate involves a full bar, among other things, and, if you've ever had the misfortune of attending a bad party, you know that stocking a bar is a little more complicated than it seems. But never fear: I'm from the internet, and I'm here to help. You can stock a full bar for about $100, and since you can pick up pieces here and there over a couple of weeks, it makes for a perfect offseason project.

The basic foundation of any bar is liquor. There are five primary types of liquor: gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey. The vast majority of popular cocktails contain at least one of these types of liquor. Each has a unique flavor. Gin is made by flavoring a high-alcohol neutral spirit with juniper berries, and that's why bad gin can have a medicinal taste. Rum comes from fermenting and distilling sugarcane and its byproducts, so it tends to be mild or even sweet with little or no bite. Tequila is made from blue agave, a plant indigenous to Western Mexico, and it tastes like chaos. Vodka is mostly water and ethanol, with the distinctive flavors of each brand arising from impurities left over from the distillation of the various grains, potatoes, or fruits that can be fermented to make it. Whiskey, my personal favorite liquor, is distilled from a fermented grain mash, and it tastes like, well, whiskey. (Fun fact: scotch and bourbon are both types of whiskey, a/k/a the best types.)

Every bar should have at least one bottle of each of the five primary liquors. Here's a little chart that lists some of my favorite brands:

Liquor Standard (under $20) O U Fancy, huh? ($20+)
Gin Beefeater
Bombay Sapphire
Tanqueray Ten
Rum Appleton Estate Mount Gay XO
Tequila Jose Cuervo Patron Silver/Gold
Vodka Smirnoff Ketel One
Whiskey Jim Beam
Jack Daniels
Johnnie Walker Red
Maker's Mark
Crown Royal
Johnnie Walker Black/Green/Gold/Blue

In addition to liquor, every bar should have a few other essentials. The first is a cocktail shaker. The second is a wine key; I swear by this one because it doubles as bottle opener and fits neatly into a back pocket. Third, you should stock up on Rose's Lime Juice. You'd be shocked how many recipes call for it, and, if you happen to screw up a recipe, adding a splash of sugared lime juice almost always helps. Finally, if you're an aspiring bartender, you'll want to buy a giant bottle of Triple Sec. It's an orange-flavoured liqueur that's in a tremendous number of cocktails and shots. (Hint: if any recipe calls for Cointreau or Blue Curaçao, you can substitute Triple Sec; it won't look quite right, but it will taste the same.)

Once you have all of that stuff on hand, you really only need the mixers to have a party. Coke and Diet Coke are a must, and they mix well with rum and whiskey. Orange juice goes well with all the liquors except whiskey. Tonic and soda are good staples for gin and vodka drinks, but be warned that they go flat extremely quickly. Cranberry juice is a must if you're trying to impress the fairer sex, but be sure to get PURE cranberry juice and NOT cranberry juice cocktail. (Check the label: cranberry juice cocktail is usually less than 20% cranberry juice, and it's almost always the reason why drinks made at home with "cranberry juice" often taste worse than they do at the bar.) I'll count fresh limes as a "mixer" because you can garnish nearly every drink you make with one as a nice touch. And don't forget the ice.

So now that you've built your bar and you know basic mixers, what's next? You could start filling out your collection with your favorite liqueurs, like Jägermeister or Kahlúa. (A liqueur is a flavored alcoholic beverage, which generally has less alcohol than a liquor. Most liqueurs are 30 to 60 proof, i.e., 15% to 30% alcohol, whereas most liquors are 70 proof or higher, i.e., at least 35% alcohol. They're much less versatile than liquors, and they're generally the culprit when a home bar has dozens of bottles but no one can figure out how to make anything potable.)

If you're into whiskey, you owe it to yourself to buy a nice bottle of scotch or bourbon. (I like Laphroaig and Basil Hayden's, respectively.) Sipping tequilas are also starting to become a big thing now, but I don't know enough about them to make a recommendation. Vermouth is a must if you like martinis; it comes in both dry and sweet varieties, with the former being more popular and versatile. If you're feeling really fancy, you can even keep a bottle of wine or two in your bar.

What's essential for your bar?

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