As great as whiskey is on its own, adding a little bit extra can transform the spirit into a knockout cocktail. Be sure to keep your bar stocked with sweet vermouth, so you can take bourbon from neat to Manhattan or gin from zero to Negroni with ease. There are plenty of options for sweet vermouths on the market now, but if you want the traditional flavor, go for Carpano Antica Formula ($16 for 375ml). If you want something a little more modern, try bitter-twinged Vya Sweet Vermouth ($14 for 375ml) instead.
Just as sweet vermouth is important to a spate of classics, dry vermouth is a necessary ingredient for cocktails ranging from the Martini to the Bronx. Add a little soda water and a slice of lemon to a measure of the aromatized wine, and it also makes a wonderfully refreshing summer spritz. We recommend investing in the inexpensive but tasty Cinzano Extra Dry ($8) or the floral and fun Lo-Fi Dry Vermouth ($25). Whatever you do, just be sure to keep both your dry and sweet vermouths in the refrigerator after opening them—otherwise it will oxidize, making your drinks taste a little off.
Once liqueur gets involved, the home bartending fun can really start. Orange liqueur Cointreau ($20 for 375 ml) is a staple in many a cocktail, and its sweet, citrusy qualities are a wonderful way to add some zest to drinks. Once you secure a bottle, use it to whip up a Sidecar or Cosmopolitan, and experience all the wonders of this beloved liqueur.
Though you can make so many wonderful cocktails with the basic booze on this shopping list, you also want to keep yourself and your guests inspired with something a little...different. And there’s almost no drink category so expansive and fascinating as liqueurs. You could go the way of Italian amaro and slide a bottle of bitter Campari ($26), Aperol ($20) or Cynar ($27) onto your bar cart to make it seem even more sophisticated. Or you could even grab a whimsical bottle like elderflower-tinged St-Germain ($35) that’s both flavorful and visually stunning. If none of those flavors strike your fancy, however, peruse the selection at your local liquor store until you come across something that does. Whether you choose an herbal Chartreuse ($58) or a chocolate- or- coffee-flavored bottling, this is the bottle that will inspire you to break out of your cocktailian shell and mix up something new and exciting.