Summer Bar on the Cheap

Summer is in full swing, and a refreshing libation is on your mind.  What to do if you’ve realized that your home bar has shrunk over time?  I am going to give you some options for stocking the alcoholic components of a summer bar on the cheap. For  post, I am going to be mentioning specific brands, but I have not been compensated in any way for my recommendations.  I am also going to use a single local store, though you may find price differentials if you shop around.  This is a snapshot in time of Little Rock, Arkansas if you have around $150 to spend on your bar.

Gin, or Vodka

I prefer gin.  I think that a gin and tonic is far more refreshing and delightful than a vodka and tonic, but I’ll grant that some readers may not yet have come around to the glories of a nice gin.  I am choosing Pinnacle Gin ($13/Liter) because I find it to be a well balanced gin for its price point.  It has slightly less of a juniper flavor than other options, like Gordons ($13/750ml).  It goes well in a Gin & Tonic, Negronis, or a Pimm’s Cup depending on your free liquor spot.
Pinnacle Gin
Rocktown VodkaIMG_3983
If you are going for the vodka here, I would stick with Pinnacle ($12.50/750ml).  Avoid the various flavored vodkas that they have put out, and get the plain blue bottle.  It is a perfectly serviceable vodka, but you can get the 80 Proof Smirnoff ($14/750ml) or the Brandon’s Vodka ($12/750ml) just as well.


While there are many amazing rums out there, they can quickly mount up in price.  Here, we will start with a light rum perfectly suitable for a Mojito or a Daiquiri to cut through the summer heat.  I like the El Dorado 3 year aged rum ($15/750ml) is a fantastic rum full of flavor for a bargain price.  Really, it is hard for me to recommend a different rum at that price point here.
El Do 3yo


There is a lot of politics and controversy surrounding tequila and the use of diffusers in tequila production right now, but if you are just trying to mix a Margarita or Paloma at home, El Jimador Blanco($16.50/750ml) does a stand up job.  If you happen to be a tequila connoisseur, upgrade this choice first but you already knew that.
El JImador


2oz Tequila
4oz. Grapefruit Soda
Grapefruit twist for garnish
1. Build the drink in a highball glass filled with ice.
2. Give the drink a brief stir to incorporate the ingredients and garnish

Whiskey, meaning Bourbon or Rye

IMG_3978 IMG_3979
Why put a whiskey into the mix here? Because a a Mint Julep or a Whiskey Buck makes for a refreshing drink. This is one of the harder categories to choose, and I went a little pricier here, but if the Bulleit Bourbon and Rye ($23/750ml) are a great value right now.  They are both smooth expressions of the sweetness and spiciness that you want from a bourbon or rye respectively.  Choose whichever you feel a greater fondness for, I go with Rye but I certainly won’t begrudge you bourbon drinkers out there.

Whiskey Buck

2oz. Bourbon or Rye
4oz. Ginger Beer or Ginger Ale
Juice of Half a Lemon
Crushed lemon half and lemon twist for garnish
1. Fill a tall cooler glass 1/3 full of ice and add the whiskey, lemon juice, and spent lemon half.
2. Stir the incorporate.  Fill the glass with ice and add the ginger ale or soda.
3. Give the drink a brief stir to incorporate again and add the lemon twist.
Whiskey Buck


Cointreau($25/375ml) is the bellweather for good curcaco even claiming to invent the generic term Triple Sec, and arguably invaluable to a Margarita.  However, the Pierre Ferrand Dry Curcacao ($29/750ml) may be even better.  Top top it all off, the PF Curacao is only a few dollars more for a full fifth compared to a Cointreau half bottle.



In the summer, I love Negronis.  I have loved Negronis for years and years.  I can think of few things more refreshing than the bitter, citrus, and herbal alchemy that plays on my tongue.  For that, you need Campari ($27/750ml). But, I am going to make a suggestion, especially if you are not yet sold on the flavor of a Negroni, to get Aperol($25/750ml) instead.  Aperol is from the same class of libation as Campari, but has a lower proof, a less assertive bitterness, and is a few dollars cheaper per bottle.  Your Negroni won’t be as “in your face” with Aperol, but you may like it more.


If I am pushing Negronis, I have to push for some sweet vermouth as well.  Here, I go with a classic Cinzano sweet vermouth ($12/750ml).  It is sweet, with some herbal notes and a little bit of burnt or carmalized richness behind the flavors.
Cinzano Sweet


By this point, you should have about $35 left in the pre-tax budget and your personal preferences are going to come into play.  My choice is Pimm’s No. 1 ($23/750) so I can make Pimms Cups, the refreshing and intriguing drink I’ve waxed poetic about before.  Throw in a bottle of Fee Brother’s Grapefruit Bitters ($6/4oz) and I would call it a trip.  Other ways to spend this excess can be found in trying to upgrade your ingredients above, especially if you are a particular fan of one of the base liquors we mentioned, looking for a limoncello, or buying a nice saison beer. At the very least, consider that excess to go to your sales tax that they will add at the register and call it a trip.
So that is our basic bar on the cheap, fully outfitted at retail for under $150, though the tax rate is never something to forget when you go shopping, exclusive of your mixers and fruits. What else would you add or do you lean on during the summer? Sound off in the comments below.