In my last post I offered a list of basic spirits that will serve you and your guests well. But drinkers do not live by spirits alone, for the most part, and everyone enjoys a little variety. So what else should you keep on hand so you can have a delicious cocktail any day of the week?

Fresh lemons and limes and oranges are great, though you’re the only one who will know if you use bottled juice. (I keep bottles on hand myself, in case my fruit goes bad or I just don’t feel like squeezing. Purists will damn me for it, but whose drink is it anyway?) You can get larger bags of citrus at a warehouse store like Costco, and if you drink a cocktail or two a day (or several on weekends), you will generally use them up before they turn brown or grow mold. A half-lemon or half-lime produces around 1 oz of juice, but if you’re OK with your cocktail being on the tart side, don’t get too precise: just squeeze in half the fruit and get on with it. Thus one lemon or lime makes two drinks, which is probably more than your doctor would be happy about, but at least you can tell him you’re adding fresh juice to your diet.

Mixers: Tonic water, club soda, ginger ale. I don’t use tonic or ginger ale much, so I spend a bit more on the six-pack of tiny bottles so I don’t waste it. I can make about two Gin & Tonics from one of those little bottles, which makes for a nice happy hour. But I go through gallons of club soda (because I also drink it straight), so I pick up the 5-for-$4 liter-bottle deal at my local supermarket. If you use them often, keep your mixers in the fridge – you will not enjoy the watery result when room-temp soda hits the ice. My policy is one-out, one-in, so I always have at least one chilled bottle on hand.

Bitters: Angostura bitters are readily available at supermarkets and are used to add some depth and (obviously) a slightly bitter flavor to many of the common sweet cocktails. It’s tempting to look at the per-ounce price and go for the large bottle, but until you have a reason to shell out for that much (like, you’re writing a cocktail blog and do a lot of taste-testing), just buy the small one. You’ll only use a few drops at a time, and the small bottle will last a good while.

I also recommend orange (or blood orange) bitters, which are stocked at most larger liquor stores. There are several classic cocktails that call for them, and you don’t want to miss out on a more complex flavor for want of a simple ingredient.

Vermouth: Keep a small bottle each of red (sweet) and a white (dry) vermouth. If you tend to drink Manhattans or Negronis frequently (recipes below!) and know you’ll use it up, go for the larger size. But this is an inexpensive, widely available ingredient, so just restock when you need it.

Campari: I have used a surprising amount of Campari since I started drinking cocktails. It’s a bitter herbal liqueur that’s shockingly red in color, which makes an attractive drink. I used to think it tasted like cough syrup (and it does, somewhat), but it makes a very nice balance to vermouth and other sweet flavorings. It can be an acquired taste, so pick up a small bottle at first, and experiment with the proportion of Campari-to-sweetness in your Negroni or Boulevardier. You may find you enjoy it more than you expected.

Other liqueurs: I happen to like Chartreuse and St-Germain (floral/herb-based liqueurs), and I keep 750ml bottles in my bar because I use them. But many specialty liqueurs are available in small sizes or even miniatures behind the counter at your neighborhood liquor store, so you can sample something new without shelling out for a huge bottle that may end up gathering dust. (More recipes to come in future posts using those and other “exotic” ingredients!)

Garnishes: Ordinarily I don’t bother with garnishes because they seem a little high-maintenance for a drink you just want to sip while heating leftover spaghetti and catching up on the evening news. But there is a science behind their use, and I’ll get into that in a future post.

RECIPES! I referred to a few cocktails above, so here are the recipes that use many of the ingredients in this post.

Manhattan: 1 oz each whiskey (preferably rye) and sweet vermouth, with a dash of Angostura bitters. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Boulevardier: 1 oz each bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari, stirred in a short glass with ice.

If a Manhattan or Boulevardier is a little too sweet for you, you may enjoy the Old Pal: 1 oz each whiskey, dry vermouth, and Campari, stirred in a short glass with ice.

If you like your Boulevardier on the bitter side, you could expand your repertoire to the more astringent Negroni: 1 oz each gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, stirred in a short glass with ice.

The ice helps blend and smooth out the flavors in each drink, and the slight chill is reviving.

Now you have a choice of four simple cocktails to help your no-hassle transitions from workday to evening. Cheers!