HAVANA CLUB ANEJO RESERVA, $27.95/750 ml, LCBO 443903
A good home bar must have bottles that work in whatever cocktail guests deign to test you with. But since many ask for simple concoctions with just two or three ingredients, it also has to stand up on its own. This Havana Club Anejo Reserva does the trick. It mixes well into your mojitos and your daiquiris, but maintains its sweet, spicy flavour when mixed with Coke or poured over ice with a lime twist.
EL JIMADOR TEQUILA REPOSADO, $29.95/750 ml, LCBO 460360
A sophisticated party can turn sloppy when someone suggests tequila shots. Avoid the inevitable cleanup by stocking a quality bottle that won't set off gag reflexes. El Jimador Reposado is 100 per cent agave-derived and surprisingly smooth. And if someone asks you for a margarita, you'll be ready.
FORTY CREEK BARREL SELECT $29.95/750 ml, LCBO 603688
Given the rising popularity of brown spirits, one or even two bottles of whisky may not be enough. But Forty Creek Barrel Select is a crowd-pleaser. This young Canadian brand offers some of the best notes of rye, bourbon and Scotch - spicy rye, nutty barley, sweet corn - and it's made right here at home. It's an "entry-level" whisky that'll satisfy the snobs, but it also goes great in an old-fashioned or Manhattan or just with a touch of ice.
KETEL ONE VODKA, $29.95/750 ml, LCBO 456095
For one of the most popular spirits in the world, vodka is turning into quite a polarizer. Some denigrate the potato-based spirit for its ability to, well, blend in. Sure, it doesn't have as strong or nuanced a taste as many of the other liquors battling for space on your shelf, but most of your guests are going to be asking for mixed drinks, not solo sippers. So, within our budget, Ketel One gets the nod. It's smooth, clean and has very few frills. In a word: mixable.
TANQUERAY, $27.45/750 ml, LCBO 2691
Gin is the base for any number of cocktails from the Tom Collins to the Negroni to the "true" martini (especially for those who disdain vodka), but the drink you're probably going to be asked for the most is the one that takes the least effort: the good old gin and tonic. Tanqueray's assertive juniper taste can be a bit sharp if served straight, but combining it with tonic brings out a light, refreshing citrus note. Plus, prominent mixology apprentice Snoop Dogg name-checks Tanqueray in the essential bartending guide, Gin & Juice.
TEACHER'S HIGHLAND CREAM SCOTCH WHISKY, $23.95/750 ml, LCBO 4465
Scotch is always a tough category for home entertaining. Chances are at least one self-proclaimed expert is going to be disappointed, especially if you're working within a budget. But Teacher's is an uncontroversial choice: peaty and smoky, warm and accessible. And you won't shudder when mixing it with soda.