In this guide I'm going to provide a number of recommendations in each of these categories, at different price points within the category. It's a truism that price increases faster than quality, so in each category I'll declare a "PoDR Pick" (Point of Diminishing Return), this being something I feel is about as good as you can get but still manages to avoid costing an arm-and-leg. You can spend more (in many case lot more) than the PoDR Pick, but you will achieve only an incremental increase in quality (in many cases none at all).
My recommendations are based on a combination of personal experience (and I've had a lot) and on the scores, ratings and opinions of others, some being "professional" tasters and some being consumers who have posted their assessments in online forums (examples being beeradvocate.com and tequila.net). My approach, when evaluating something new, is to research as many different sources as possible, and then try it myself.
Here’s where you really should spend the extra dollars. Basic American beers, such as Budweiser and Coors, are mediocre at best. These are officially known as “American Adjunct Lagers”, the word “adjunct” referring to the fact that they have some other grain (rice or corn) in there along with the barley malt. They cost around five and a half dollars per six-pack, and for a mere two or three dollars more you can get beer that is an order of magnitude better. Good brews from companies like Deschutes generally don’t cost any more than $9 per six-pack, and are frequently on sale for less (just this week I paid $11.99 for a 12-pack of Deschutes).
At a minimum you should stock two types, the first being either a Pilsner style lager or a pale/blonde/amber ale, and the second being a light beer.
A Pilsner style lager is what most American Adjunct Lagers purport to be. Of those readily available I'd suggest Full Sail "Session" Lager. Normally available in only 12-packs (for $10-13), it comes in these weird, stubby 11 ounce bottles. Somewhat better is Samuel Adams "Noble Pils" (usually about $9 per six-pack but I just saw it for $6.79 at Fred Meyer). Unfortunately it's a seasonal offering, available only from January through March. This is a real shame, because it's a very good Pilsner and is my PoDR Pick. If you want to try to find something a little better, try tracking down some Victory "Prima Pils"; your best bet would be Corvallis Brewing Supply on Fourth Street. Be prepared to pay about $1.85 per bottle for this, and be prepared to be disappointed if you're expecting it to be an order of magnitude better than the Sam Adams.
An alternative to Pilsner is pale/blonde/amber ale. These are typically a little fuller bodied, but usually not significantly hoppier (i.e., more bitter), and are a little darker in color (I lump them into a "pale/blonde/amber" supercategory because it's not really possible to define where "pale" ends and "amber" begins, given that some "pale" ales are darker than some labeled "amber"). Sierra Nevada “Pale Ale” is excellent, but if you want to keep your dollars in Oregon, Deschutes “Mirror Pond” is behind it by only a nose. My PoDR Pick is Deschutes “Red Chair NWPA”; it's better than the Sierra Nevada, but is a seasonal offering, available from only January through April (why, oh why, don’t they make it year-round?).
In pale/blonde/amber ales, it’s difficult to improve on the ones recommended above. Deschutes “Hop Trip” is a candidate, but is available only from October through December. It's part of their "Bond Street" series, which come only in 22 ounce bottles and cost upwards of $5 per bottle.
Orval Trappist Ale, a Belgian pale ale, may be as good as you can get in a pale ale. It’s qualities are subtle, however, and you need to give it your attention to realize how good it is (unlike, say, the Deschutes “Red Chair NWPA” which sorta gets in your face and shouts, “HEY! I’M A GREAT BEER!). Also be advised that the Orval has sediment in the bottom and you have to decant it. You can find it a Corvallis Brewing Supply; price is $5 for a 12 ounce bottle.
Light beer. Q: how is light beer like making love on the beach? A: it’s [expletive deleted] close to water. Nevertheless, I guess you have to have some on hand, because there are those who will ask for it. The best one I’ve had is Sam Adams Light. The only place in Corvallis I’ve seen this is at Albertsons and at University Market at 1149 Van Buren.
If you want to add additional categories of beer, I'd start with India Pale Ale followed by a stout.
India Pale Ale (IPAs are “hoppier”, i.e. more bitter than the typical pale/blonde/amber ale). Deschutes "Inversion" is very good and easy to find. Stone IPA is excellent, but costs a bit more, about $12 per six pack (and is my PoDR Pick).
Double (aka Imperial) IPA is stronger (7.5-9% ABV) and often a little hoppier. The best I've ever had is Bear Republic “Hop Rod Rye”; Corvallis Brewing Supply has it for $6 per 22 ounce bottle. One held in equally high regard is Stone "Ruination"; I've yet to try this, and should mention it's a lot easier to find.
Stout. Deschutes “Obsidian” is considered to be a world class stout and in my view (and that of many others) you really can't do any better (obviously it's my PoDR Pick). It’s great on its own or can be combined with a lighter beer for a “black and tan”.
The tricky thing is that they vary from vintage to vintage. You should, of course, check my blog (http://www.corvallisepicurean.com/) at least once a month for current wine picks. There are a few that are pretty consistent, however.
Reliably good wine under $10 is a challenge, particularly when you factor in vintage variation. A red to look for is Agricola Borja “Borsao”, which can usually be found for under $9 (try Wineopolis and Avalon). Another red to look for is La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux (look for the chickens on the label), also for usually under $9. There’s also Charles Shaw (aka “Two Buck Chuck”) Merlot ($2.99 at Trader Joe’s) which is actually drinkable. Going up in price leads to Louis Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($12-15; the 2006 and 2007 are both good) and to Bodegas Borsao "Tres Picos" ($15-19), a friendly, approachable Grenache.
In whites, the basic Beringer Napa Chardonnay (not the “California” bottling) can be found for under $10 (though it’s usually priced $11-13), and is pretty good (the 2008 got an 89 score from The Wine Advocate). From Spain, the Bodegas Nekeas Vega Sindoa Viura/Chardonnay/Viognier is another one to look for. Higher in price, but worth it, are Kendall-Jackson California Chardonnay “Grand Reserve” ($16-20; both 2006 and 2007 are good) and Chateau St. Michelle “Eroica” Riesling ($20-24). The 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 Eroica all received the same score – 91 – from The Wine Advocate (how do they do that?).
For casual drinking, there is no reason to upgrade from those recommended above. Higher quality wines tend to demand your attention, and a social gathering this is not what you want (unless it’s a dinner party, where the focus is, after all, on the food and wine). Furthermore, better wines are not something you’re likely to find on a last minute shopping trip. If you want better wine, you’ll need to do some research to identify it and might need to make an extra effort to get it. You should buy it in quantity and store it in a cool (below 65°), dark and humid place. Even then, opening a $60 Chardonnay is kind of silly if there’s only one person requesting white wine, particularly if they want just a glass or two. Open the better stuff only if more than one person wants a wine of that type.
The biggest selling category of distilled spirit, and the one for which the principle of diminishing returns is the most applicable. High priced "luxury" vodkas are probably the biggest scam in the beverage industry, rivaled only by bottled water (were you aware that Evian spelled backwards is naive?). 99% of vodka is used in mixed drinks, and the subtle differences between brands quickly disappear in a glass of orange juice, tomato juice or whatever. For this purpose all you need is one that isn't marred by a funky medicinal alcohol smell and taste, and Gordons (about $8.50) meets that requirement quite well.
Among those who drink vodka straight, the majority are college students and Russians, neither of whom keep it in their mouth long enough to taste it. There is, however, a tiny minority who enjoy a vodka martini (6:1 with white vermouth) and for those few, the character of the vodka actually matters. If you or someone you know is one of them then I recommend Sobieski ($12). A Polish vodka made from instensely flavorful Dankowski rye and very pure water, it provides the martini with a level of interest that few other vodkas can match. Sobieski has won numerous competitions, handily beating the likes of Grey Goose and Absolut, and a typical score is the 95 points given it by the Beverage Tasting Institute. As you've probably already guessed, it's my PoDR Pick in vodka. Here in Corvallis you can find it at the liquor store on Washington Avenue.
For that handful of folks who like vodka on the rocks, I suggest Stolichnaya. The best known Russian vodka, it's made with water having a high mineral content, which provides its signature "wet stone" character. The regular version goes for $23.50, so the extra $2.50 for the super-smooth (almost creamy) Stolichnaya Gold may be justified. This is, I think, as much as one should ever spend on vodka. If we take the BTI scores at face value, consider that the highest score they've ever given a vodka is 97 for Stolichnaya "Elit" ($60). Compared to Sobieski (95, $12), this represents a 2% increase in quality for a 500% increase in price. Compared to Stolychnaya Gold (94, $26) the Elit offers a 3% increase in quality for a 230% increase in price. The numbers speak for themselves, and only someone with more dollars than sense would spend that kind of money on vodka.
The second highest selling category of distilled spirits, rum comes in an incredible diversity of styles. I don't have a breakdown of sales by subtype, but suspect the most popular is white rum made in the "light and dry" Cuban style. Under $16, there's really no standout white rum. Appleton ($16) and Cruzan ($15) are both acceptable, and if you're looking for value, I'd probably go with whichever happened to be on sale that particular month. For a slight increase in price (to $19.50) you can achieve a slight increase in quality (basically going from B- to B) with Mt. Gay Eclipse Silver.
If you're interested in pursuing better quality white rums, or are interested in gold, aged or dark rums, please refer to my Guide to Rum.
Canadian and American Blended Whiskey
In Scotland, Ireland and Canada a "blended whiskey" is one which mixes a minority percentage of whiskey distlled below 160 proof (80% alcohol) with a majority percentage of whiskey distilled between 160 and 190 proof (usually called a "grain" whiskey). In the USA you can substitute "grain neutral spirits" (distilled at 190 proof) for the grain whiskey. What is "grain neutral spirit"? You know it as vodka. That's right - the USA is the only country in the world where it's legal to sell something that's 80% vodka as "whiskey" (they add caramel coloring to make it dark enough).
For this reason I recommend a Canadian blend over an American as a better choice for a mixed drinks whiskey. Canadian Club (the six year old) is pretty good and goes for $15. The ten year old version is better and cost only two dollars more (both are frequently on sale); it's good enough to drink on-the-rocks or even neat, but if you're looking for one to drink on its own I'd suggest moving up to Forty Creek ($24). This is a very good sippin' whiskey and is my PoDR Pick in this category. I should add that it is exclusively a sippin' whiskey, being finished in ex-sherry barrels, and thus is not very compatible with soft drinks. Crown Royal Reserve ($47) might be a bit smoother but is definitely not worth double the price (of course, you do get the classy bottle).
Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey
When you say "Bourbon" most people think Jack Daniels. This is a mistake for a couple of reasons; first, it's "Tennessee Whiskey", not bourbon (I'll pay you $100 if you can find the word "bourbon" on the label), and second, it's not all that good. The Bourbon cognoscenti like to describe JD as "a good twelve dollar whiskey", the point being that JD sells for $23 (for the black label; the even-less-wonderful green label costs $21). There are any number of Bourbons that are both better and cost less.
For a mere $15.00 you can get Very Old Barton (six year old, 90 proof). This is brilliant stuff and is one of the great bargains in whiskey (you have to pay $40 to get a Scotch this good). It's great on its own and I always feel a twinge of guilt when I mix it with Coke (though it helps to remind myself how little it costs). Unfortunately there are no Corvallis area liquor stores that sell it, the closest being Big Y in Eugene. More readily available is Old Ezra (seven year old, 101 proof; $16) or Evan Williams Black Label which is no better than JD Black but at least has the virtue of costing $10 less. Normally priced at $23 but frequently on sale for $19 is Jim Beam Black Label; when you see it for the lower price it's definitely worth buying.
In the $20 to $30 range there are a lot of excellent Bourbons, but one favored by almost all Bourbon aficionados is Buffalo Trace ($25). Another one to look for is the 2000 vintage of Evan Williams Single Barrel ($27.50). A vintage-dated Bourbon, the 2000 is the best one since the 1995.
Spending $37 will get you a bottle of Wild Turkey "Rare Breed". This is a truly great Bourbon and my PoDR Pick. You can spend a lot more (e.g., $95 for Wild Turkey's own 14 year old "American Tradition") but you're not likely to get a significantly better whiskey.
Bourbon comes in a wide variety of styles. Although all of it is made from at least 51% corn (by law) there are ones with a high rye component, ones with a low rye component and ones which substitute wheat for rye. If you're intersted in learning more about Bourbon, I strongly urge you to request a copy of my Guide to Bourbon (my E-Mail address is available via my profile page). Please don't feel awkward about doing that; I promise I won't tell anyone that you requested one.
Although there are a number available that are made in the traditional Dutch "genever" style, the type of gin with which most people are familiar is the "London Dry" style. A good value gin is Gordons ($9), but stepping up to Bombay ($21) is worth it, particularly if you like very dry martinis. Bombay Blue Sapphire ($26) is as good as you can get in a London Dry. There are more expensive gins, but none are better (it's thus the PoDR Pick in gin). If you want to spend your money on an Oregon product, Bend Distillery's "Desert Juniper" ($30) is pretty good.
By Mexican law Tequila must be made from at least 51% blue agave. Those with less than 100% agave are known as "mixto" Tequila and most of these aren't very good. This is all you're going to find for under $25, but if that's all your budget can accommodate, then Sauza blanco ($18) is an acceptable ingredient for margaritas (I wouldn't drink it straight). Moving up to $30 will get you Milagro, which is very good and probably the best blanco Tequila under $40. It's frequently on sale for $26 and at that price is a heck of a buy. Spending $46 will get you Casa Noble Crystal. This may well be the best blanco tequila on the market; as such it's the PoDR Pick. It's definitely the best Tequila I've ever had (it's great on the rocks with a slice of lime) and it gets the highest score (95) of the over 200 blanco Tequilas reviewed at Tequila Net (14 reviewers for the Casa Noble). Spending $200 on a bottle of Patron Platinum is merely a demonstration that you have money to burn, something you can do less ambiguously by lighting your fireplace with a $100 bill. You can find the Casa Noble at Santiam Liquors in Albany.
An añejo Tequila is one that's been aged at least one year in a barrel. These are an acquired taste, one that I've yet to acquire. On the basis of a lot of favorable reviews I picked up a bottle of El Tesoro ($48). It was very smooth, but had a briney character that reminded me of Laphroaig Scotch (and I don't mean that in a good way). Of course, there are a lot of people who like Laphroaig, so what do I know? Anyway, based on what I've read, the Sauza Gold ($18) is again a good pick in the mixto price range. Getting a really good añejo means spending at least $40 on a bottle of Milagro, but if you're willing to spend that much you may as well spend the extra $8 on the El Tesoro. The Casa Noble gets good reviews as well; I'm not sure of the price (it's not on the standard OLCC list, but I think it goes for about $55). I suppose the "ultimate" añejo is the Tesoro "Paradiso", which goes for about $120 (I think I've seen it at Big Y in Eugene). However, if we take the Beverage Tasting Institute and Tequila Net scores at face value, the regular El Tesoro gets 96 and 94, while the Paradiso gets 97 and 95, meaning you'd get a 1% quality increase for a 250% increase in price, making the regular one the clear PoDR Pick.
A reposado Tequila is one that's aged from two to eleven months. I've never quite seen the point of these. If someone requests one and you happen to have both a blanco and an añejo on hand, you could simulate one by mixing the other two (I suspect I've just commited Tequila heresy, but I can live with that).
Brandy (including Cognac)
Technically any distillate, aged or unaged, made from the fermented juice of any type of fruit, and not to be confused with liqueurs labelled "(whatever)
Hennessy "Paradis" Cognac is the best brandy I've ever tried. I had this over twenty years ago at a tasting of high-end Cognac. Included was the fabled Remy-Martin "Louis XIII", but the Paradis was better, in my not so humble opinion. At the time the Paradis was about $100 and the Louis XIII about $500; currently these go for around $400 and $2,000 respectively. Germain-Robin also has some brandies that cost several hundred dollars per bottle. I've never had any of these, and it might be that they're better than any Cognac in existence.
The basic Germain-Robin is widely available, but you'll have to go to Big Y in Eugene to get the Shareholder's Reserve, and to the liquor store at the corner of 23rd Place and Burnside in Portland to find the XO.
A mix of whiskies, the majority component being grain whiskey and the minority being a number of Scotch single malts. Teacher's Higland Cream ($22) is a good one, as is the somewhat maltier The Famous Grouse ($26.50). Achieving a significant increase in quality over these two brings you to Johnnie Walker Black Label, but at its usual price of $38 it's priced too close to some good single malts to deserve a recommendation. However it's frequently on sale for $33 or $34 and at that price it's a good "all around" Scotch and a PoDR Pick (Chivas Regal? Umm...no....).
These exist in such a bewildering variety of styles that it's difficult to make recommendations. If there's one that qualifies as a "must have" it would be triple sec, the orange flavored liqueur that you need to make a margarita. At the value end of the category, I'd suggest Bols ($8), but if you're already spending the money for a 100% agave Tequila then you should spring for a bottle of Citronge ($24). We really like this; it has a wonderfully pure orange flavor and less burn than some other brands of triple sec (it's my PoDR Pick). It's a little less sweet than most, so if you have a sweet tooth, you might want to add a bit of bar syrup to your margarita. The original triple sec is Cointreau ($41.50), which is excellent but I don't feel it's worth $17 more than the Citronge.
Also popular is Amaretto. Di Amore ($11.50) is a good value choice, but the most recognized brand is di Saronno ($24). Irish Cream is popular too; Baileys ($22) is the original and best-known, but Carolans is almost as good and costs only $15.
A lot of liqueurs are used only in mixed drinks, and if you and your crowd favor certain cocktails that require specific types of liqueurs and you want to make these at home, then you obviously need to stock the needed liqueurs. If you're not sure of the ingredients, there are numerous online sites that provide cocktail recipes, plus there are books on the subject at most bookstores.
Absinthe, illegal in the USA until a couple of years ago, is used in a number of "classic" cocktails. There aren't any cheap ones, but fortunately most recipes call for only a very small amount, so a single bottle should last for quite a while. Pernod ($66) is a good one (not to be confused with the same company's anise liqueur, which costs $32).
One final note about liqueurs; most are available in 375ml bottles, and since you likely won't be consuming them at the same rate as other spirits (vodka for example), then if you have budget and/or space constraints you might want to consider getting them in the smaller size.
Off the Beaten Path
If you want to stock some additional categories, here are some suggestions:
Offering beer types beyond the types already described means you're catering to very individualistic tastes, but here are a few more categories anyway:
Porter. Porters are as dark as stouts, but unlike stouts, which use dark roasted malt, porters are made from a mix of pale malt and some variety of very dark malt, such as "chocolate" malt. These, as you might expect, have a distinct chocolate flavor and it's fun to serve a low-hopped one to someone who thinks they don't like beer. Again, the offering from Deschutes, their "Black Butte", is world class.
Wheat beer. Try to track down some Lagunitas “Little Sumpin’ Ale” or Bear Republic “Red Wheat”. As for those made in the traditional German "hefeweizen" (unfiltered) style, the Sierra Nevada "Kellerweis" or Paulaner Hefeweizen are both excellent (Oregon’s own Widmer Hefeweizen is, sadly, not all that good).
Red lager or ale. Bear Republic “Red Rocket” is really good, but is so dark that it flirts with being a stout, and even has some of the chocolate overtones one associates with stouts and porters. $5+ for a 22 ounce bottle at Corvallis Brewing Supply.
Bock beer. Rogue’s “Dead Guy Ale” is, technically, what is known as a maibock (a style slightly lighter than a regular bock) and is, believe it or not, considered to be one of the better ones (also my PoDR Pick despite the fact that it's about $10-12 per six pack). Pensylvannia Brewing's "St. Nickolaus Bock Bier" has a very slight edge over the Rogue, but it's a seasonal offering (winter), and available in only eight eastern states (including Florida, which is why I'm familiar with it).
If you want to offer something beyond red and white table wine, the obvious choice is a sparkling wine, with the next option being a sweet one. Gloria Ferrer is a good sparkling wine in the $14-20 price range. Someone wanting a sweet wine is likely to ask for sherry or port. A decent sherry is Dry Sack Medium (about $13-16) and a good port is the Buller “Victoria” Tawny ($22) from Australia.
Irish Whiskey and Single Malt Scotch are both interesting, and rye whiskey is becoming more popular.
Jameson ($27) is probably the best under $30 choice, and is as much as you should spend if you plan on using it in "Irish Coffee". Somewhat maltier is Bushmills "Black Bush" ($38). Spending $52 will get you a bottle of Red Breast twelve year old, and this is as good as Irish whiskey gets (at least in the USA; not imported is the 15 year old version, which some claim is even better). It's a PoDR Pick as there are Irish whiskeys that cost more, but none are better and most aren't as good. Perhaps the worst quality/price ratio in the liquor industry is achieved (not sure if that's the right word) by Midleton Very Rare, a good but definitely not excellent whiskey that sells for over $130. I sampled it in a bar once and was not impressed, and professional reviewers rarely give it scores higher than the upper 80s (whereas Red Breast gets scores ranging from 90-96). The easily-parted-from-their-money types who buy it, however, will tell you it's the nectar of the gods.
Single Malt Scotch
Now that Glen Moray ($33) has mysteriously disappeared from Oregon liquor stores, there are none under $40 that I can recommend, other than Aberlour 12 year old when it's on sale (usually $33). However at $40 we find ten year old Glenmorangie, which is a delightful whisky. It's moderately peaty, super smooth and has this great caramel thing going. Don't take just my word for it; professional reviewers such as John Hansell (editor of The Malt Advocate) and Jim Murray (author of The Whisky Bible) give it scores in the mid nineties, and it's a definite PoDR Pick. Nonetheless, spending $92 will get you a bottle of eighteen year old Highland Park, a whisky that features a perfect balance of malt, peat, oak, Bourbon and sherry flavors, and has a polished character that reminds me of a top Cognac. The spirits reviewer Paul Pacult calls it “the best whisky in the world” and although I wouldn’t go that far (after all, Bourbon is better than Scotch), I will say that the 18 year old Highland Park is the best Scotch I’ve ever had. The liquor store on Circle (just off 9th) tries to keep it in stock but there are apparently enough people in Corvallis who know about this stuff such that its spot on the shelf is frequently empty.
As with Bourbon, there is a wide diversity of styles in single malt Scotch, and if you're interested in pursuing that, please request a copy of my Guide to Single Malt Scotch. Again, I promise not to tell anyone that you did so.
Many "mixologists" feel rye is better than Bourbon for many classic cocktails, such as the Sazerac or the Old Fashioned. A great value is Wild Turkey rye, at $23. Another increment in quality is acheived with Sazerac ($29), which comes in a funky old-time bottle. The PoDR in rye is the thirteen year old Van Winkle Family Reserve (about $55). You won't find this in Corvallis, but they occasionally have it at Big Y in Eugene. There are even older ryes around (18 and older) and most cost over $100. Often these are over-oaked and not worth the money.
And don't forget
There’s other stuff you need too. Bitters, for example. Angostura is called for in many drink recipes, and you may want to also get some Peychaud’s. Fees orange bitters work well in many tropical drinks.
You’ll also need vermouth; Noilly Prat ($9) is a good white, while the Martini and Rossi ($8) will serve just fine for a red. If you want something better, I can recommend Vya (both red and white) but it's pricey ($11 for a 375ml bottle), plus it's not normally stocked anywhere in Corvallis. You might be able to get someone to order it. If not, order it yourself from K & L . Do this during the cooler months.
Bar syrup – make your own. Homemade will always be better than anything you can buy in a bottle (not to mention cheaper). One part water to one part sugar (by volume). While it’s still hot, steeping a handful of crushed mint leaves in it for 30 minutes produces a version that works great in Mojitos.
Mixers – Club soda, tonic water, ginger ale (Schweppes for all three), lemon-lime soda (Seven-Up is a better mixer than Sprite), cola (Mexican Coca-Cola is sweetened with sugar and is better than the high-fructose-corn-syrup domestic stuff; try a Mexican grocery or Costco), orange juice (fresh squeezed if you can). Tomato juice if you or your guests are into Bloody Marys, but get the organic kind from the cooler.
Hot sauce and celery for those Bloody Marys, #8 olives (w/o pimento, if possible), pearl onions, Maraschino cherries, limes, and, of course, coarse salt for Margaritas.
Swizzle sticks. Straws. Little paper umbrellas.
And, yes, you should have something for the non-imbibers. The soft drinks will suffice, but we also like to offer sparkling cider. Martinelli’s is good stuff, and available almost everywhere. In addition to the basic apple, they have a bunch of apple/whatever varieties, too many to list here.
For the kids, root beer is always a favorite. Virgil’s is really good (I drink it myself).
For folks on a diet, I also recommend the diet versions of Virgil’s (cola and root beer). These are sweetened with stevia, a natural sweetener which is much better for you than aspartame (“NutraSweet”) or sucralose (“Splenda”). Unfortunately they don’t make a lemon-lime soda, so you’re stuck with diet Seven-Up.
Water is frequently overlooked, in the sense that people feel tap water is adequate. Dissolved iron (present in Corvallis water) can really mess up a good whiskey, so have a good bottled water on hand, or a pitcher of some run through a Brita filter (which is what we do).
Tools – a blender, a good cocktail shaker (and not one of those little ones) and a muddler.
I think that covers it!