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Summon the Spirits: Five Essential Spirits for Your Home

A trip to the liquor store can be overwhelming for a beginning bartender. That's why it's important to know the basics. The spirits below are the base for just about all cocktails, and will serve you well from party to party.

Vodka

Here's what you should know about vodka. One, vodka is the top-selling spirit in Canada. Two, flavoured and unflavoured vodkas are the foremost spirits in thousands of cocktails. Vodka is a neutral spirit; quality unflavoured vodka has no odour, scent or colour. This is why it's the base spirit in many popular cocktails like Cosmopolitans, White Russians, Caesars and many flavoured Martinis. The ingredients to make vodka are starch (e.g., wheat, potatoes) and sugar (sugar beet, sugar cane, grapes).

Rum

Like limbo contests and pirates, rum is synonymous with the Caribbean. This classic spirit is distilled from sugar cane and is the base for party favourites like the Mojito, Captain & Cola, and Piña Colada. Rum's complex and varied flavours tend to go well with citrus mixers. In addition to the drinks above, you may also want to serve up a Rum & Ginger Ale or a spiced rum cider.

Gin

The botanicals integrated into gin during distillation give it a unique smell and flavor. Traditionally the base spirit in Martinis, gin is commonly served with an astringent-like vermouth or a lime slice-to put a twist on its dry taste. Sought-after gin drinks include the Tanqueray & Tonic and the Tom Collins.

Tequila

Breaking out the blender for a pool party? Need a warm-weather twist on a snowy day? Tequila is the base spirit for many of the popular drinks you may want to serve. The most well-known drink made with tequila is the Margarita, but you may want to mix up a favourite like the Tequila Sunrise.   And don't expect to find a worm in the bottle. Those slithery guys only exist in bottles of mezcal, a spirit closely related to tequila.

Whiskey

Here's the scoop on some single malts-scotch, bourbon and Canadian whisky. Experts consider scotch one of the more complex spirits distilled today. Some of the best ways to enjoy its intricate flavors are by serving it on the rocks, or mixing it with sweet vermouth in a Manhattan.

Bourbon's distinct color and flavor come from the charred barrels in which it's aged. Bourbon's unique character and high mixability make it the most popular brown spirit in the country, so it's a good idea to have a bottle, especially if you're making Mint Juleps.

Canadian whisky is made and aged just like bourbon, except it's blended for a more balanced flavour. Popular recipes for this whisky include the Old Fashioned, and the Sidecar.

These are the basic spirits you'll need for your home bar. There are several varieties of each spirit, so review drink recipes before you purchase them. And most importantly, remember to serve responsibly!