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10 Must-haves for great cocktails

Sandy Smith is a food writer, editor, recipe developer, and pastry chef. She lives in New York's Mid-Hudson Valley with her awesome family of painfully honest, unfailingly supportive taste-testers.

Bar basics

You could choose from literally hundreds of different spirits and liqueurs to stock your cocktail bar, but really, you can put together an excellent basic bar with a handful of classics and an assortment of mixers, garnishes and tools. Be sure to have a selection of suitable bar glassware on hand, too.

Bottles of Whisky

You'll need at least shot, rocks, and highball glasses. Specialty glassware you might also want to have on hand are cocktail (aka, "martini") glasses, Margarita glasses, Collins glasses, hurricane glasses, snifters, red and white wine glasses, and pousse-café or coffee glasses.

1. Gin -- For classics like the martini, the Tom Collins, and, of course, the gin and tonic.

2. Rum -- Rum and Coke, blended fruit drinks like piña coladas and daiquiris, and the ever-popular mai tai rely on this bar staple. Light rum is a must; dark rum is optional.

3. Tequila -- You'll need tequila if you want to make a margarita, and you almost certainly will! Also for tequila sunrises and the spicy, saucy bloody Maria.

4. Vodka -- This one almost goes without saying. Martinis, screwdrivers, salty dogs, sea breezes . . . the list of vodka cocktails is nearly endless. Buy plain originally and stock up on flavored vodkas as you expand your collection.

5. Whiskey -- Whiskey neat, whiskey sour, whiskey swirled into eggnog -- be sure to get a reliable brand; flavor counts.

6. Vermouth, sweet and dry -- You can't make a Manhattan without the sweet, and you can't make a martini without the dry; stock both.

7. Triple Sec or Cointreau -- You'll use either of these orange liqueurs in a variety of cocktails, including crowd pleasers like margaritas and strawberry daiquiris.

8. Mixers -- These are critical for the well-stocked bar. You can go all out stocking exotic fruit juices and all flavors of soda, but a basic list of mixers would include tonic water, cola, seltzer or soda water, ginger ale, sour mix, grenadine, bitters, orange juice, grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, lemon juice, lime juice and simple syrup.

9. Fruit and other garnishes -- Orange slices, maraschino cherries, lemon slices and twists, lime slices, cocktail olives and onions, and cubed and crushed ice

10. Toolkit -- Essential tools to have in your arsenal include: Ice scoop, muddler, paring knife and cutting board, cocktail shaker and strainer, pitcher, bottle opener, long-handled spoon, bar towels, sink, jiggers, corkscrew, and a salt and sugar rimmer.

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