Winter Bar on the Cheap


We officially have a chill in the air as fall has taken hold and winter approaches.  Following up from July’s Summer Bar Stocking on the Cheap, what are you to do if you’ve realized that your home bar has shrunk over time as the weather outside gets frightful?  I am going to give you some options for stocking the alcoholic components of a winter bar on the cheap. For this 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 am going to tell you to keep a bottle of gin (or vodka if you must) in your winter bar. I adore a good Martini, so I am going to need some gin to make a nice one. We had chosen Pinnacle Gin in the Summer edition, but I want something with a bit more “oomp” as far as flavors go this time.  Warning – I am picking a gin with a lot of juniper as opposed to the summer choice with less – I am choosing New Amsterdam Gin ($15/750ml) as a London Dry Gin that has strong juniper and is in the affordable range for everyday drinking.  Other options include the old standby of Gordons ($13/750ml) which will do you well.  Aside from the Martini, think about whether you want more Negronis in your winter cocktail loadout as you move forward when we get to the freestyle section.
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.


Once again we want to look to an aged rum that carries a bit more flavor and “warmth” for colder months.  For the budget bar, you would do well to look for rums like Gosling’s Black Seal rum ($19/750ml) which delivers consistent deeper flavors with the sweetness you expect from a rum.  If you want to go a little less mass-produced, El Dorado makes a 5 Year aged rum($20/750ml) that as good here as the 3 year rum was in the summer.  Its fascinating to see what those two years of difference will do.


In the winter, I don’t gravitate to tequilas, at least not budget tequilas very much.  If I am going to grab both bourbon and rye below, I’ll drop the tequila to keep an aged rum in the mix for the colder months.  If you are a tequila connoisseur, you will already be skimping somewhere else to make this buy.

Whiskey, meaning Bourbon AND Rye

Here is where my winter drinks reside – a lot more whiskey comes out when there is a chill in the air.  We mentioned Bulleit Bourbon & Rye in the summer, both of which are great choices, but to expand on those options around the same price point we have a Bourbon in Old Grand Dad 100 Proof ($19/750ml) and Old Overholt Rye ($17/750ml).  Be careful about that 100 proof Old Grand Dad, but it is certainly delicious at that price point with hints of burnt sugar and vanilla hiding in there. I will certainly admit that Old Overholt has seen some better days, but it is still a perfectly mixable rye whiskey with good spice and a classic flavor profile:


Specifically, look for your Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and Hot Toddys/Whiskey Skins in the Winter


I am cheating here because I am going to go with something that is almost a vermouth in Cappelletti ($17/750ml).  Cappelletti has more herbal and tangy undertones than the current Campari with less sweetness reminding me of the Campari of ten years ago. Even with its modest proof, it should comfortably last 3 or 4 months if you keep it in the refrigerator … assuming you don’t just drink it faster.


This is a quick little riff on the Americano, hence the related name.
  • 1.5oz Gin
  • 1oz Cappelletti
  • Club Soda
  • Orange Peel for Garnish
  1. Add the gin and Cappelletti to an ice filled rocks glass.
  2. Top with club soda
  3. Stir briefly to combine
  4. Garnish with Orange twist


IMG_5780IMG_5778A martini is not a martini, in my opinion, without the dry vermouth.  My “everyday” dry vermouth is Noilly Prat ($12/750ml) because of its crisp finish and salty and complex herbal nature.  If I am pushing Manhattans (again), 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 caramelized richness behind the flavors.  One little reminder on vermouth – once you open the bottle, move it to the refrigerator and use it within a month.


By this point, you should have about $35 left in the pre-tax budget and your personal preferences are going to come into play. You could drop off the Cappelletti and get a bottle of Campari leaving you with about $20 to sink into a budget tequila or to upgrade your preferred whiskey.  Another option here would be to get a blended scotch like J & B ($24/750ml) rounding out your whiskey collection for the winter.
Limoncello is readily available in most liquor stores for a little blast of sunshine through the winter around $20 per bottle. My choice, however, is to get a Fernet – one of those deeply herbal and slightly bitter Italian liqueurs.  While I have enough in the leftover to get the most famous of the Fernet’s, I would go with the Luxardo Fernet ($22/750ml) so I could still pick up some  Fee Brother’s Black Walnut Bitters ($6/4oz) and call it a trip.
So that is our basic bar on the cheap for winter, 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 winter? Sound off in the comments below.
  • Stacy Markow

    I love Cappelletti. It should be in every home bar.